Over the last two weeks, we presented candidates for Defensive Defenseman of the Year and Assistant Coach of the Year. Our third and final award of the season will go to the Best Grinder of 2009-10.
"Grinder" is an all-encompassing term we're using for players you will rarely find on their team's top line. Among the kinds of players eligible for the honor: checking forwards, penalty killers, designated hitters, agitators, fighters and intangible performers.
Here are the 12 candidates for Best Grinder of 2009-10. Vote in the poll and explain your selection in the comments:
Troy Brouwer, Chicago Blackhawks: At 24, has developed into a Mr. Everything for the Blackhawks -- scorer (21 goals), defender, scrapper, leader.
Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers: Relentless right wing made the Olympic team on guts and determination. Second among NHL forwards in hits, third in blocked shots.
David Clarkson, New Jersey Devils: "The Randy McKay of the new generation of Devils," emailed an Atlantic Division assistant coach. "He's the most effective bottom-six forward in the league." Hurting his candidacy: he missed half the season with an injury.
Dan Cleary, Detroit Red Wings: The most experienced player on this list, the 31-year-old Cleary's versatility helped keep the Red Wings in the playoff hunt as the injuries piled up.
Cal Clutterbuck, Minnesota Wild: In a down year in the State of Hockey, the trash-talking, hard-hitting Clutterbuck earned a three-year contract extension. Leads NHL forwards in hits.
Steve Downie, Tampa Bay Lightning: Averaging less than 15 minutes a game, the intense 22-year-old right wing has 21 goals, 24 assists, 204 penalty minutes and is a plus-16.
Eric Fehr, Washington Capitals: Maybe not a traditional grinder, but merits inclusion for this remarkable stat line -- just 12 minutes average icetime, 21 goals.
Paul Gaustad, Buffalo Sabres: The 6-5 center is fifth in the NHL in faceoff percentage and has become a heart-and-soul player for the Sabres.
Scott Nichol, San Jose: First in the NHL in faceoff winning percentage and one of the best defensive forwards in the league.
Steve Ott, Dallas Stars: "Probably my least favorite player in the league," said a Western Conference head coach, "so I guess he deserves your award."
Michael Rupp, Pittsburgh Penguins: Gives the defending Stanley Cup champions a fourth-liner who could fight, hit and play. Doubtful the Penguins penciled him in for 13 goals.
Wayne Simmonds, Los Angeles Kings: Developing wing makes the most of his third-line minutes for the Kings, with 16 goals, 23 assists, 104 penalty minutes and a team-high plus-20.
Now it's your turn to vote for the NHL's Best Grinder of 2009-10. Three finalists will be announced next week. Thank you for your participation.