From the beginning of 2010 to the end of 2019, the Pittsburgh Penguins provided fans of hockey a decade filled with memorable moments produced by memorable players. This month, past and present writers of the Pensblog cast ballots for the Penguins’ best players during the approximate decade beginning with the 2009-10 season to the current 2019-20 season.
The Pensblog created four trophies to commemorate all-decade player achievements: the Ron Francis Award (best defensive forward), the Michel Briere Memorial Award (best rookie season), the Kris Letang Award (best All-Around Defenseman) and the Sidney Crosby Award (Most Valuable Player).
For each award, writers were asked to consider regular season and playoff perfomance combined using any reasonable statistical or subjective information deemed appropriate. There were no games played or seasons played minimums/maximums for a player to be eligible for an award (with the obvious exception of the Michel Briere Memorial Award which by definition is a one-season award). Writers were discouraged from discussing their ballots with one another prior to submission to maintain independent opinions and to avoid potential biasing of results.
Ten Pensblog writers returned ballots (nine current and one alumnus) between December 4 and 18, 2019. For the purpose of transparency and reader interaction, all ten writers consented to their full ballots being publicized.
Below, for each award, we present:
- additional award criteria
- full vote totals
- each writer’s individual ballot
- brief commentary about each award winner, other players and noteworthy voting results
Note: Vote totals tables and individual ballots may be hard to read on mobile devices. Turn your device sideways, open them in a new window or download the table for best results.
RON FRANCIS AWARD (BEST DEFENSIVE FORWARD)
Writers listed their top three (3) choices for best 2010s Penguins defensive forward. Ballots were tabulated on a system that rewarded 5 points for the top (#1) defensive forward, 3 points for #2 defensive forward and 1 point for #3 defensive forward, i.e. a 5-3-1 points basis.
Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby is the Pensblog Ron Francis Award winner, the team’s best defensive forward during the past decade. The decade began with a memorable defensive play by Crosby in the 2010 playoffs against Ottawa along the Pittsburgh goal line, but in recent seasons, advanced stats have helped confirm what the eyes have long suspected: Crosby is an elite defensive forward. Crosby has earned Selke Award votes in each of the past seven seasons, finishing a career-best fourth in voting last year, a campaign that may have been his best all-around season.
Jordan Staal placed second in Francis Award voting. While Staal only played three seasons with Pittsburgh at the beginning of this decade, he was always a fine penalty killer, a Selke finalist in 2010 and arguably the league’s best third-line center when he wore black and gold.
michel briere memorial award (best rookie season)
Writers listed their top three (3) choices for best 2010s Penguins rookie season. A rookie is a player who is younger than 26 years old at the start of the season and has not played more than 25 NHL games in any preceding seasons, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons. Ballots were tabulated on a 5-3-1 points basis.
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray is the Pensblog Michel Briere Memorial Award winner, in honor of producing the best rookie season among all Pittsburgh freshman this past decade. Murray had the distinction of two eligible seasons as he maintained rookie status in both 2015-16 and 2016-17. This was the closest margin of victory by voting points of the four awards as Murray topped forward Jake Guentzel’s 2016-17 rookie campaign by 11 points. While Guentzel was the only player named on all ten ballots, Murray earned a clear edge in first-place votes over Guentzel, 8-2.
Murray at 22 years of age, turned in an historic rookie campaign during 2016-17. For rookie netminders who played the same or more minutes as Murray, only four others in NHL history were better than him in both save percentage and goals saved above average (GSAA).
KRIS LETANG AWARD (BEST ALL-AROUND DEFENSeMAN)
Writers listed their top five (5) choices for best 2010s Penguins all-around defensemen NOT NAMED Kris Letang. Ballots were tabulated on a 7-4-3-2-1 points basis.
With the exception of maybe one annoying individual in the Penguins’ fan-base, Kris Letang is acclaimed as the team’s top defenseman of the decade. That’s why we declared him ineligible in voting for this award that bears his name. Hundreds of years from now, a sacred hockey history volume will be compiled and like the Bible, it will be a Book of books with names like 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, etc. In 1 Chronicles chapter 58, Letang will be properly honored as one of the best blueliners of this era.
The Pensblog Kris Letang Award winner is Brian Dumoulin. The 28-year old Boston College alumnus was almost a unanimous selection receiving nine of 10 first-place votes. Dumoulin has been one of the most reliable defensemen for Pittsburgh in the latter half of the decade. His relative Corsi For % has been positive for all of his five full career seasons including this one. Only Letang can match that level of consistency. The Penguins are simply better with Dumoulin on the ice.
Paul Martin finished solidly in second place in our voting. He had the misfortune of playing in a Penguins uniform during the in between-Cup period, but ironically, he contributed to the 2016 Cup win when his split-second-too-late reaction three years ago, allowed Nick Bonino to score his legendary Game 1 goal against the Sharks.
SIDNEY CROSBY AWARD (MOST VALUABLE PLAYER)
Writers listed their top ten (10) choices for most valuable 2010s Penguins players NOT NAMED Sidney Crosby. Players from any position (LW, C, RW, D, G) were eligible. In addition to playing ability, writers considered other factors such as sportsmanship, being a good/bad teammate and durability/injury-proneness. Ballots were tabulated on a 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points basis.
There is no question Sidney Crosby was the most valuable Pittsburgh Penguin this decade (and last decade). Therefore, analogous to the Letang Award, Crosby was ineligible for all-decade MVP voting.
Evgeni Malkin is the Pensblog Sidney Crosby Award winner, adding to his enormous trophy chest that includes the Calder Trophy, the Hart Trophy, the Ted Lindsay Award, two Art Ross Trophies, the Conn Smythe Trophy, three First All-Star Team selections and most importantly, three Stanley Cups. Not bad for a player who did not qualify for the anti-Russian NHL All-Century squad.
We could regale you with stats both traditional and new, but allow us a brief statement about Evgeni Malkin:
Season after season, many media and fans, who should know better after watching #71 play for 13+ seasons, try to find some little aspect of Malkin’s game to nitpick or totally fabricate a negative narrative about his desire and work ethic. It is ridiculous, defamatory and eminently nauseating. Even now, as doomsayers predict the Penguins’ downfall due to injury after injury after injury, Pittsburgh has instead flourished principally due to Malkin.
Of the many contributors driving the Penguins in 2019-20, Malkin is the head, leading the brigade, beating the drum, carrying the flag and bringing opponents to their knees. This is not new news. He has been doing this for more than a decade. When will the slack-jawed proles finally notice?
Eighteen different Penguins received MVP votes from our team of Pensblog writers. Malkin received eight first-place votes while Kris Letang and Phil Kessel each received one. Only Malkin and Letang were named on all ten ballots though a group of five players – goaltenders Matt Murray, Marc-Andre Fleury and forwards Kessel, Jake Guentzel and Chris Kunitz were listed on nine of ten ballots.
Letang finished second in MVP voting while Kessel edged Murray 66-64 for third place, largely due to Kessel earning the aforementioned first-place vote and one second-place vote while Murray finished no higher than third on any writer’s ballot.
Pensblog writers seemed to fairly balance consideration for early-decade contributions or ex-Penguins with players currently in the Pittsburgh organization. Indeed, 11 of the 18 players receiving MVP votes are no longer Penguins.