May 01, 2012 1:23 PM
With the 2011-12 season officially over, Director of Digital Media Paul Branecky and Voice of the Checkers Jason Shaya pick their award winners in 10 different categories ranging from Most Valuable to Most Improved.
Weigh on on these picks or let the authors know your own on Twitter @PaulBranecky and @Jason_Shaya.
BRANECKY: Bobby Sanguinetti
With as much trouble as the Checkers had scoring goals at various points throughout the year, where would they be without the contributions of Sanguinetti? The fourth-year blueliner posted career highs in all offensive categories and scored 44 points in his last 44 games of the season after returning from a broken foot. Those are impressive numbers for any player, let alone a defenseman, and were unmatched by any of the team’s forwards. Combine that with his excellent play and competitiveness in his own end, and this choice isn’t too difficult.
SHAYA: Bobby Sanguinetti
I heard a rhetorical question posed several times during the later stages of the season that summed up this issue, “Where would we be without Bobby?” When you begin to compile evidence to make for a single player to be labeled “most valuable,” Bobby has what lawyers call an open and shut case. He was simply the most effective player in virtually any scenario during the season for the entire squad. On a team of players that underachieved, Bobby Sanguinetti carried an entire organization on his back and almost got the job done by himself.
BRANECKY: Chris Terry
Though Terry was no different than the team’s other top forwards in that he went through hot and cold stretches offensively (though his hot stretches were hotter than most), he found other ways to contribute. One of the only players on the team to play extensively at even strength, on the power play and on the penalty kill, Terry’s versatility and durability (he has yet to miss a game due to injury in three pro seasons) give him the nod here. He was also a bright spot during the worst of the team’s struggles in the final months.
I can’t answer this question in good conscience. The fact is, the team that was stacked with offensively gifted players had an extraordinarily difficult time scoring goals at even strength. There isn’t a single forward with the exceptions of Chris Terry and Zac Dalpe that deserve consideration, and I think those two deserve a lot of credit for trying very hard to turn the ship in the right direction. There simply wasn’t a “best” forward - the team only had “forwards.”
BRANECKY: Bobby Sanguinetti
For all of the reasons outlined in the MVP section above, plus the fact that he was easily the team’s best puck mover from the back end. Whenever he was out of the lineup due to injury or his first recalls to the Hurricanes, the team lacked that element to its game and tended to struggle on the power play, where he scored 30 of his 50 points to rank second among all AHL defensemen.
SHAYA: Bobby Sanguinetti
Once again, this is an easy choice to make. Sanguinetti’s offensive numbers were stellar. This year, he was heavily relied on in the dying moments of games when the team needed to stave off a goal or get one to tie things up. He was the best defenseman, not only on the Checkers, but in in the entire league. The fact he was passed over for the first or second all-star teams was an embarrassing oversight.
BRANECKY: Justin Peters
Easily the toughest award to give, because one can make a case for all three goalies that played significant minutes this season. Though John Muse’s numbers are fantastic, I’ll give the award to Peters based on his larger body of work. That includes his AHL Goalie of the Month award from November and, most importantly, the way he stepped up and grabbed the starter’s reigns at the end of the season. If you hold the five goals allowed in the last game against him, consider that all three goalies started three games in three nights at some point and all three struggled in game three.
SHAYA: John Muse
The first time John Muse stepped into a game in Charlotte was after Michael Murphy was pulled, and he won. For nearly the duration of his time in Charlotte, that’s pretty much all he did. Maybe it’s not always pretty and he has work to do in order to continue his evolution as a professional goaltender, but when the clock starts tickin’, he starts kickin’. In a season that is nearly forgettable, the emergence of John Muse isn’t to be taken lightly. His 1.89 goals-against average and .941 save percentage are simply spectacular. Numbers don’t always tell the story but in this case, they fill volumes.
BRANECKY: Nicolas Blanchard
Blanchard gets this award based on effort more than anything. He doesn’t have a particular skill that sticks out, but few on the team can claim to work harder night in and night out. He hasn’t gotten a chance in the NHL just yet (he came very close at the end of this season), but he impresses the Hurricanes’ staff every year just based on how he runs drills in training camp, which is hard to do. He’s one of the team’s best penalty killers and one of its toughest players who constantly went up against the other team’s best scorers.
SHAYA: Sean Dolan
Stepping into a team midway through the season, the Checkers were looking for an effective shut down centerman. With Dolan, they hit a homerun. Plucked from the South Carolina Stingrays, the former Wisconsin Badger was the ideal pivot to help the team. He has size and was excellent in the defensive zone. As he grew more confident, he was granted more ice time and chipped in offensively at times. In short time, along with Brett Sutter and Nic Blanchard, Dolan became a valuable penalty killer. Despite ending his season early with an injury, Dolan can establish himself in the American Hockey League with the kind of cerebral play he displayed this season with Charlotte.
BRANECKY: Justin Krueger
Plus/minus is an arbitrary stat that doesn’t come close to telling the whole story, but when a player is so far away from his teammates (in either a positive or negative way), it begins to mean something. As one might expect of a team that finished with a minus-24 goal differential at even strength, very few Checkers (three) finished the season with a positive rating. Krueger’s plus-16, which was 11 points higher than second place, was clearly in a class of its own.
SHAYA: Justin Krueger
A lot can be said about the plus/minus stat of Justin Krueger, if only for the reason that he was almost the only player who ended the year on the plus side, and by a lot. The team didn’t score a lot of goals while at even strength, yet somehow Krueger not only managed to play a safe shut-down game, he helped put the puck on net from the back end and it resulted in great offensive chances for the team.
BRANECKY: Nicolas Blanchard
Blanchard, who served as an alternate captain again this season, wins this one as well. Besides leading by example, he also speaks up when necessary as he demonstrated by initiating the closed-door, players-only meeting following the tough loss to Peoria on March 20 (the Checkers convincingly won the following night’s rematch). He also served as a mentor to younger players, most notably rookie Sean Dolan, who he played with at even strength and on the penalty kill.
SHAYA: Brett Sutter and Chris Durno
It was very hard for me to choose between these two men. Sutter was named the captain of the team for a reason. He plays the game with heart and you always know what you are getting when he steps onto the ice. There is no doubt in my mind he has the capacity to be a very good NHL bottom six forward. He is smart, skates well and has the necessary tools. Off the ice, he is a gentleman and is respected by his peers. I can’t say enough good things about Brett.
Chris Durno’s role can’t be overlooked. He is a first-class player and person. He was the captain of the Norfolk Admirals last year and wore the “A” on his jersey in Charlotte for good reason. Although he didn’t have the offensive year he hoped for and battled a concussion, Chris was a very important piece of the equation when he was in the lineup. Down the stretch, his line with Matthew Pistilli and Nic Blanchard was the hardest working line every night.
BRANECKY: Zac Dalpe
Dalpe’s 17 penalty minutes in 56 games played earn him the Checkers version of the coveted Lady Byng Trophy. Though he did get into one fight this season (against Norfolk’s Alexandre Picard), I won’t hold that against him. In fact, I think it helps his cause, because it actually inflates his PIM total and means he took just six minor penalties all season despite getting plenty of ice time in all situations. He took just one minor in his last 29 games, a tripping penalty at Rockford in the last week of the season. This probably goes against the spirit of the award, but he gets bonus points for doing very well in that fight.
SHAYA: Michal Jordan
Along with Brett Bellemore, he probably averaged the highest amount of ice time all season. Yet, he plays composed and doesn’t take bad penalties. Even when he hammers the puck into his own bench for virtually no logical reason, he does it with a gentlemanly poise. Thus, I deliver my vote for MJ.
BRANECKY: Nicolas Blanchard
As someone who covers this team, I determine the winner of this award by asking myself the simple question of, “Who was the most impactful player that I interviewed the least?” In that way, I’m guiltier than anyone of making Blanchard my unsung hero. That guilt may be showing in my award choices.
SHAYA: Brett Sutter
This might seem strange to give the award to the captain of the team. However, with all the firepower that Charlotte had up-front, sometimes the guy who does all the dirty work gets overlooked. In this case, I would award Brett Sutter as Unsung Hero. As a coach, there must be a good feeling when you know that if you put a guy out there in any scenario, he will do whatever it takes to get the job done. Look at his playoff numbers from the 2010-2011 season to realize how important a guy like that is when the pressure time comes around. The bigger the moment, Brett always seems to elevate his game.
BRANECKY: Rasmus Rissanen
Even at training camp, the 20-year-old rookie had the look of a talented yet very raw player. The tools, namely his skating and willingness to use his size and strength, were always there – it was just a matter of adjusting to the pace and making better decisions. After rotating in an out of the lineup as a healthy scratch while he worked on the latter, he made good on his potential in the second half. Arguably the sneakiest NHL prospect on the team (he was a sixth-round pick in 2009), I think he has a chance to win this again next season.
SHAYA: Rasmus Rissanen
Anytime anyone suggests to me that I’ve “improved” I always feel insulted. It’s as if to say, “You used to be terrible, now you’re only half bad.” Perhaps that’s because I’m a lifelong cynic. However, in the case of Rasmus Rissanen, while he did struggle early on this season, you could see it was a matter of time before he figured out what the Canes already knew; he will be an NHL caliber defenseman with enough time. Rissanen worked very hard all season long and along with Justin Krueger was one of the steadying forces for Charlotte all year.