The winners of the individual awards are as difficult to predict as the playoff paths.
The only repeat winner may be of the Art Ross Trophy, which automatically goes to the scoring leader and was won by Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr for the third consecutive season. Jagr had 96 points, the lowest total since Chicago's Stan Mikita prevailed with 87 points in 1967-68.
But Jagr may not win the Hart Trophy (most valuable player) again because injuries limited him to 63 games, and Dominik Hasek's quest for a third Hart and sixth Vezina as the best goalie was derailed by a torn groin muscle that idled him several months.
Al MacInnis of St. Louis, winner of the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman last season, also missed considerable time because of injuries and is not expected to win again. Nor is Dallas forward Jere Lehtinen, sidelined most of the season because of a broken ankle, considered a top candidate for a third consecutive Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward.
Mighty Duck winger Teemu Selanne, winner of the first Rocket Richard Trophy last season as the top goal scorer, finished 16th with 33 goals. Florida's Pavel Bure, known as the Russian Rocket, won with 58 goals.
One other trophy can't have a repeat winner. The Lady Byng, given for sportsmanship, gentlemanly play and a high standard of playing ability, was won last season by Wayne Gretzky, who has retired.
Trophy winners are determined in voting by two members in each of the 28 chapters of the Professional Hockey Writers Assn. The exceptions are the Vezina, which is selected by general managers, and the Jack Adams Award, chosen by broadcasters.
The envelopes, please:
Hart trophy (most valuable player): Chris Pronger, St. Louis. Runners-up: Bure; Owen Nolan, San Jose; and Jagr.
Pronger is dominant defensively and added an element on offense with 62 points, second among defensemen. His physicality, stamina and smarts may make him the first defenseman to win the Hart since Bobby Orr in 1972. Bure elevated the Panthers' skill level and their offense, and Jagr is the franchise in Pittsburgh. Nolan's 44 goals and 84 points were vital to the Sharks, but Pronger had more impact in every game.
Calder (rookie of the year): Scott Gomez, New Jersey. Runners-up: Brian Boucher, Philadelphia; Brad Stuart, San Jose; Michael York, New York Rangers; and Simon Gagne, Philadelphia.
A strong crop. Gomez led rookies with 70 points and played major minutes on a veteran team. Boucher's 1.91 goals-against average in 35 games made him the first rookie goalie since 1950-51 to play at least 25 games and have an average below 2.00. Stuart is a rare young defenseman who played a key role, and York scored 26 goals with a bad team. Gagne brought speed and verve to an offense built around size and muscle.
Norris (best defenseman): Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit. Runners-up: Pronger and Sergei Gonchar, Washington.
Pronger transcends being a defenseman and may not win. Lidstrom is smart, smooth and prolific, with a career-high 73 points. He balances the Red Wing defense and made their power play the NHL's best. Gonchar was crucial to the Capitals' resurgence after a slow start.
Vezina (best goalie): Roman Turek, St. Louis. Runners-up: Olaf Kolzig, Washington, and Curtis Joseph, Toronto.
Turek was second in goals-against average (1.95) and wins (42) and was among the leaders in save percentage (.912). Kolzig (2.24 goals-against, .917 save percentage) was the backbone of the Capitals' drive to second in the East. Joseph's 2.49 goals-against average isn't great, but he's dependable in the clutch.
Selke (best defensive forward): Adam Oates, Washington. Runners-up: Steve Yzerman, Detroit, and Michal Handzus, St. Louis.
Oates excels on faceoffs, is good getting position and is tireless. Yzerman is a model of what a top center should be: strong on faceoffs, gritty and responsible at both ends of the ice. Handzus is conscientious on defense and generates offense with smart defensive play.
Lady Byng (sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct): Selanne, Mighty Ducks. Runners-up: Bure and Pavol Demitra, St. Louis.
Any of them would be a worthy winner because all combine high skill level with competitive but clean play.
Jack Adams (best coach): Joel Quenneville, St. Louis. Runners-up: Ron Wilson, Washington, and Alain Vigneault, Montreal.
Quenneville devised a solid system the players accepted and made the most of the few skill players he has. Wilson did a fine job nudging the Capitals back on course after they were 12-16-5-1 at Christmas. Vigneault's team lost more than 500 man-games to injuries, but he held them together and made a run at a playoff spot.
CAN'T DUCK THE ISSUE
While there's reason to believe the Ducks will be better next season, they should have made the playoffs this season.