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Which of Nashville’s awards finalists have best chance to win?

One week from today, the NHL will host its Awards Show in Las Vegas. Back in the spring, four members of the Nashville Predators were named finalists for major NHL awards – GM David Poile, goaltender Pekka Rinne, defenseman Shea Weber and forward Mike Fisher. Which one of these four have the best chance to win the awards they were respectively named finalists for, and what does their competition look like?

David Poile, GM of the Year
Poile’s competition: Doug Armstrong, Blues; Dale Tallon, Panthers

Poile’s case to win…
First of all, this is an award that should be voted on in June because moves that GMs make are graded on how they helped a team in the playoffs, much more so than the regular season. But I digress.

To be honest, I was a bit surprised Poile was nominated for a third straight year. There are a lot of general managers – Philadelphia’s Paul Holmgren, Ottawa’s Bryan Murray, Phoenix’s Don Maloney, to name a few – who were worthy of a nomination.

However, that doesn’t mean Poile didn’t do a stellar job this season. The big ticket item was re-signing Pekka Rinne to a seven-year deal in November. It was a sizeable moment for the franchise, as Rinne was given the largest contract in Predators history. A lot was made of what Poile would do with the ‘Big Three’, and he locked one of them up early.

Poile made a few deadline trades to bring in Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad, acquisitions that helped the Predators finish fourth in the Western Conference. Poile also played a role in bringing Alexander Radulov back from the KHL.

“The length that he’s been here and the job he’s done, it speaks volumes,” Rinne said of Poile. “It’s not his first time being nominated and he’s there for a reason. Since I’ve been here our team has improved every single year.”

The competition’s case to win…
Tallon should be viewed as the favorite. He completely re-tooled the look of the Florida Panthers, bringing in 17 new faces between the end of last season and this year’s trade deadline, as well as hiring Kevin Dineen as the new bench boss. It all resulted in the Panthers’ first playoff berth since 2000.

As for Armstrong, I don’t know why he’s in here over aforementioned names like Holmgren, Murray and Maloney. He fired Davis Payne and hired Ken Hitchcock at the right time of the year, but other than that what did Armstrong do? He did find a nice bargain in Brian Elliott in the off-season, but Hitchcock has made a bigger impact on the Blues’ surprising success than Armstrong.

Pekka Rinne, Vezina Trophy
Rinne’s competition: Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers; Jonathan Quick, Kings

Rinne’s case to win…
Rinne won’t win the award, but he has a decent case to have been voted ahead of Lundqvist and Quick.

No other goaltender saw the workload Rinne did in the regular season. He faced the most shots in the NHL (2,153) and made the most saves (1,987) in 72 starts, second only to Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller’s 73. Rinne also led the league with 43 wins, four more than Lundqvist and eight more than Quick.

One thing that will go unnoticed nationally is how valuable Rinne was in the first 20-25 games of the season. His stats won’t show it; he went 10-9-4 with a .923 save percentage in his first 23 games. However, the young Predators couldn’t find any inconsistency in the first half – not until mid-December. Rinne was the only consistent piece of the team.

“For some reason we’ve struggled the past few years at the start of the year. When you’ve got a guy like that back there making huge saves and giving you a chance to win every night, that was probably a key time for him to keep our season on track,” said Shea Weber.

On top of all that, Rinne proved on a near-nightly basis that he is one of the world’s top netminders with one highlight reel save after another.

The competition’s case to win…
Why won’t Rinne win? Lundqvist and Quick are the heavy co-favorites.

Lundqvist, who is also a Hart Trophy finalist, had a stellar season for a Rangers team that surprisingly finished atop the Eastern Conference. He set career-best numbers in wins (39), goals-against average (2.27) and save percentage (.930) in his fewest amount of starts (62) since his rookie season in 2005-06. When the Rangers were the NHL’s most consistent team from late October to mid-February, going 34-10-2 as a team, Lundqvist posted a 1.63 GAA and .944 save percentage in 34 starts.

As much as Lundqvist meant to the Rangers this season, you can make a strong argument that Quick meant more to the Kings.

Los Angeles was a sexy preseason pick to be a contender to win the Western Conference, but they failed to live up to expectations all year. They scored the second-fewest number of goals, yet finished eighth in the West. Why? Jonathan Quick. He singlehandedly carried the Kings through their tough stretches of the year (and there were a lot of them). Quick ended the year with a 1.95 GAA and an NHL-high 10 shutouts.

Shea Weber, Norris Trophy
Weber’s competition: Zdeno Chara, Bruins; Erik Karlsson, Senators

Weber’s case to win…
It’s pretty simple. The Norris Trophy is annually “given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position,” as stated by the NHL. By definition, Weber should win the Norris.

The defenseman that shoots like Al MacInnis and hits like Scott Stevens had a typical Norris Trophy-type campaign. Weber finished the 2011-12 season with a plus-21 rating and an average of just over 26 minutes of ice-time per game. He also played the hard minutes in all situations against the best the opposition had to offer.

Offensively, Weber was key to a Predators attack that finished fourth in the Western Conference in goals. He co-quarterbacked a power play unit that was the NHL’s best in efficiency, compiling 22 power play points. Weber also had 19 goals, one shy of a third 20-goal season for his career. If it weren’t for his concussion, maybe he would have reached that plateau?

Numbers aside, there is no statistic that shows someone is a game-changer – which is exactly what Weber is. The Predators captain is a dominant force on the defensive end of the ice and can be a difference-maker offensively with his patented slap shot.

“There are lots of good defensemen in this league, but [Shea] brings the overall package, which I think the [Norris Trophy winner] should have,” defenseman Kevin Klein said. “He does it all.”

The competition’s case to win…
Out of the two other Norris finalists, Weber’s biggest competition is Karlsson. If the Pro Hockey Writers’ Association voted by definition, Karlsson should be edged by Weber for the award.

Karlsson had a fantastic season for the Senators; he was undoubtedly their MVP. But should that translate to winning a Norris? He stood out offensively with 78 points (25 more than the defenseman that finished with the second-most points), but he’s not exactly known for his defensive prowess like Weber is. Karlsson logged 33 seconds of shorthanded ice time per game. While he improved his defensive game, Karlsson just wasn’t the all-around defenseman that Weber was all year.

Boston’s Chara is the other finalist for the Norris. Chara won the award in 2009 and was nominated last season. Like Weber, the Bruins captain is annually regarded as one of the league’s top defensemen. Chara ended the season with 52 points (career high) and a plus-33 rating (tied for career high), and saw an average of 27:21 of ice time per game. However, Chara has put together better seasons and wasn’t better overall than Weber.

Mike Fisher, NHL Foundation Award
Fisher’s competition: John-Michael Liles, Maple Leafs; Matt Moulson, Islanders

While Poile, Rinne and Weber get all the accolades for their aforementioned awards nominations, Fisher is a finalist for an important award as well.

The NHL Foundation Player Award recognizes an NHL player who applies the core values of hockey – commitment, perseverance and teamwork – to enrich the lives of people in his community. Fisher was very active in the Nashville community this season and is a deserved finalist for the award. From the NHL’s press release:

Since coming to Nashville in February 2011, Fisher has developed strong relationships with a number of non-profit organizations: Room In the Inn, a full-service homeless facility located a few blocks from Bridgestone Arena; Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and Cottage Cove Urban Ministries, a Nashville based non-profit organization that serves inner city youth. Fisher donated $40,000 to Cottage Cove to purchase a van for the youth center and renovate their music room. He has not only given additional substantial financial contributions, other donations and made unannounced visits but has also purchased tickets for the Fisher’s Friends ticket program for youth organizations. In September 2011, Fisher released Defender of Faith: The Mike Fisher Story, a book highlighting his faith journey that was written for 9-11 year olds. All sales benefit World Vision , with autographed copies at Bridgestone Arena raising money for Room In the Inn. Fisher and his wife also are seen at various charity fundraisers in the Middle Tennessee area, including events for The Peterson Foundation for Parkinson’s and Rocketown and he is an annual participant in the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation program.

One of the biggest rewards of winning the award is the NHL Foundation will present a $25,000 donation to the chosen charitable organization of the recipient. If Fisher beats out Liles and Moulson for this award, it would help the Nashville community greatly and bring light to the relentless work the Predators organization does away from the rink during the season.

The NHL Awards Show from Las Vegas can be seen next Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. central on NBC Sports Network.

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