Here is a recap of the NHL awards

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Here is a recap of the NHL awards

From Comcast SportsNet
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Geno and the Swedes were hockey's biggest winners in Vegas. Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin won the Hart Trophy on Wednesday night, becoming the NHL's most valuable player for the first time. Three Swedish players also claimed major trophies at the annual NHL Awards postseason ceremony, but the Penguins' Russian superstar claimed three awards for himself. Malkin won the Hart for the first time at the Wynn Las Vegas casino, beating out Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Tampa Bay scorer Steven Stamkos. Malkin also collected the Art Ross Trophy as the league scoring champion and the Ted Lindsay Award from his fellow NHLPA members as the NHL's best player. "It's the best day of my life," said Malkin, known to teammates and fans as Geno. "It's very exciting." Malkin gathered the Hart, Ross and Lindsay awards next to him after the ceremony, only occasionally struggling in his ever-improving English to express his excitement. Malkin's 109-point season and steady leadership were even more impressive because he largely did it without teammate Sidney Crosby, who played just 22 games after his comeback from a concussion. "I can't believe I'm sitting here, and around me there are three trophies," Malkin said. "It's an unbelievable day for me." Malkin, who turns 26 next month, edged out Stamkos and Lundqvist, who still won the Vezina Trophy for the first time. Lundqvist's win in his fourth Vezina nomination topped the impressive list of Swedish winners. Ottawa's Erik Karlsson won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, and Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie. Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson also won the King Clancy Trophy for humanitarian contributions to hockey. "For sure, it's a great year for Sweden," Lundqvist said. St. Louis also had a pretty good day in Vegas: Ken Hitchcock won the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL's top coach for the first time in his lengthy career, while Blues general manager Doug Armstrong was selected he league's top executive. Blues goalies Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott also picked up their Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the regular season. Boston forward Patrice Bergeron won his first Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward. Florida's Brian Campbell became the first defenseman since 1954 to win the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanlike play, and Montreal forward Max Pacioretty won the Masterton Trophy for his comeback from serious injury. But the spotlight was on Malkin, who won his first MVP award after arguably the most impressive season of his six-year career in Pittsburgh. Malkin had a career-high 50 goals and 59 assists while carrying the Penguins during the extended injury absence of 2007 Hart winner Crosby. Malkin was the NHL's only 100-point scorer this season and the first scoring champion in a decade to win a second title despite being almost every opponent's top defensive target whenever they faced the Penguins. Malkin also grew into a more prominent role outside of Crosby's shadow. "Every year I'm a little bit more comfortable," he said. "I learn English, watch TV, go out with friends and teammates. I love this sport. I like my teammates, and I want to be the best." Malkin scored eight points in the Penguins' six-game loss to Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs. The four-time NHL All-Star then was named the MVP of the IIHF World Championships last month after leading the undefeated Russian team to the title. Malkin was a Hart finalist for the third time. He won the vote over Stamkos, who already had wrapped up the Richard Trophy with an NHL-best 60 goals. Lundqvist didn't seem disappointed about losing out on the Hart after the Rangers' tireless goalie finally claimed the Vezina. He went 39-18-5 with eight shutouts, a 1.97 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage while repeatedly keeping New York on track to the Eastern Conference's best record. Lundqvist beat out Nashville's Pekka Rinne and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick, who got two better prizes last week when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL's playoff MVP for backstopping the Kings to their first championship. Karlsson appeared overwhelmed by his selection as the NHL's best defenseman. The 22-year-old had a big week, agreeing to a seven-year contract extension worth 45.5 million on Tuesday before beating out Boston's Zdeno Chara and Nashville's Shea Weber for his first Norris. "It's a huge honor," said Karlsson, who led all defensemen with 78 points in his breakout season for the Senators. "I couldn't be more happy than I am right now. I've never been a part of something this big, and it's something that took me by surprise a little bit." Karlsson also recognized the symbolism of winning the Norris in the same offseason as the retirement of Niklas Lidstrom, his fellow Swede and a seven-time Norris winner, including last season. Lidstrom retired from the Detroit Red Wings on May 31 after a 20-year career. "He really took the game to another level and showed people how to play fun hockey," Karlsson said. "It's an honor to be mentioned in the same way." Landeskog, who beat out Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and New Jersey playoff hero Adam Henrique for the Calder, had 22 goals and 30 assists for the Avalanche, who chose him with the second overall pick in last summer. The former Ontario Hockey League forward had little trouble adjusting to the NHL grind, playing in all 82 games for Colorado. "To me, Ryan would have won it if he didn't get hurt, and if you counted the playoffs, Adam would have won it," Landeskog said. "I'm just trying to enjoy it, trying to soak it all in." Bergeron beat out St. Louis captain David Backes and Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, a three-time Selke winner. Boston's defensive stopper had 22 goals and 42 assists for the Bruins while racking up a plus-36 rating as a dominant two-way player. "Ever since I was probably 12 years old, I never wanted to get scored on when I was on the ice," said Bergeron, a Stanley Cup champion in 2011. Pacioretty broke a vertebra in his back and incurred a concussion on a hit from Chara on March 8, 2011, knocking him out for the season. He returned to the Canadiens last fall and had 33 goals and 32 assists for his most productive pro season. The 60-year-old Hitchcock was recognized for his remarkable turnaround job in St. Louis, where he took over for Davis Payne 13 games into the season and turned the Blues into the Western Conference's No. 2 team, winning the Central Division and reaching the second round of the playoffs. Hitchcock has a Stanley Cup ring from Dallas in 1999, but hadn't won the Adams Trophy in three previous nominations. "I'll keep doing this for as long as I feel like I have the energy," Hitchcock said. "This year was just great."

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.