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The Envelope, Please. And the Penguins’ Winners Are …



Marcus Pettersson overtime goal celebration 1/27/24

The NHL is in the process of handing out individual honors and awards earned during the regular season and, to the surprise of absolutely no one, the Pittsburgh Penguins will come out of the process empty-handed.

That’s generally the fate of any team that doesn’t play well enough to claim a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Still, that doesn’t stop us from presenting a localized version of those league honors. Kind of like the Tony Awards for a community theater group.

Here we go:

Adams (Top coach) — In the NHL version of this award, the honoree is a head coach. Because this space has no such restrictions — and because no one on the staff has been accused of coaxing a better-than-expected performance out of a particular unit (or the entire team) in 2023-24 — let’s go with goalie coach Andy Chiodo, who helped Alex Nedeljkovic get his career back on track after a couple of subpar seasons in Detroit. If nothing else, his work was good enough to preserve his spot on the payroll, which obviously was not the case with former associate coach Todd Reirden.

Lady Byng (sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct) — Although the Penguins weren’t very hostile — they averaged just 7.4 penalty minutes per game, which tied for the third-fewest in the league — they also didn’t have anyone who emerged as a serious Byng candidate. Maybe Valtteri Puustinen, who had 10 penalty minutes in 52 games, should get the nod, but let’s go with a somewhat unconventional choice, Jake Guentzel. He absorbed a lot of punishment and wasn’t shy about sticking up for himself (whether he should have had to is another matter), but rarely initiated the illegal stuff.

Calder (top rookie) — Seven players who dressed for the Penguins during the 2023-24 season qualified as rookies; none did anything that threatened to have them overtake the likes of Connor Bedard, Luke Hughes or Brock Faber in the Calder competition. Puustinen is the default selection, since his 20 points in 52 games are 13 more than the other six managed in 70 combined man-games. Honorable mention to Jack St. Ivany, who didn’t make it to the NHL until the final weeks of the season, but acquitted himself well.

Hart (MVP) — Oh, come on now. This one had less suspense than the average North Korean election. The choice surely would have been unanimous, even if it wasn’t made by a selection committee with just one member. The only possible question would be whether Sidney Crosby should have finished first, second and third instead of simply landing in the top spot.

Masterton (Perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication) — Crosby was the Penguins’ official nominee, as selected by members of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, but since he’s already going to take home some of the mythical hardware being handed out here, let’s go with Bryan Rust. Although injuries forced him to sit out a quarter of the season, Rust still scored a career-high 28 goals and did some quality penalty-killing.

Norris (top defenseman) — Marcus Pettersson is neither the Pittsburgh Penguins’ most talented offensive defenseman — that would be Erik Karlsson — nor does he have their best two-way game on their blue line. That distinction belongs to Kris Letang, at least when he’s relatively healthy. But Pettersson was a stabilizing force on the Penguins’ defense, playing a responsible game that gave his top-four partner, usually Karlsson, the latitude to some offensive chances, knowing that Pettersson would cover for him.

Selke (best defensive forward) — Forty-one players received votes in balloting for the Selke, which went to Florida’s Aleksander Barkov. Crosby was the only Penguins player on that list. That he only made it into ninth place suggests that many of the voters focused on Crosby’s considerable offensive abilities rather than his 200-foot game, which just might be the best in the league. Accept that premise, and it’s hard to deny Crosby’s defensive effectiveness, since 75 of those 200 feet are inside the defensive blue line.

Vezina (top goalie) — Tristan Jarry and Nedeljkovic had almost identical goals-against averages and save percentages (Jarry: 2.91, .903; Nedeljkovic: 2.97, .902). The difference between them was that while Jarry, who certainly has the higher ceiling of the two, didn’t consistently perform to his potential, Nedeljkovic exceeded the modest expectations most had for him when he was signed as a free agent last summer. That the coaching staff stuck with Nedeljkovic during the Penguins’ late-season run at a playoff berth was pretty compelling evidence of which goalie had their trust at that time.