Saturday, June 9, 2012

Zlatá hokejka time again

It's almost time once again for the awarding of the Zlatá hokejka, the Golden Stick, to the best Czech hockey player of the past season, regardless of where in the world he played. Ten finalists have been announced, and on June 23, some of the best Czech hockey players in the world, along with other important and well-dressed people will gather at the prestigious Grand Hotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary to crown this year's winner.

Will Patrik Eliáš win his 2nd Zlatá
hokejka? Photo: James Teterenko
For me, this is the second Zlatá hokejka campaign that I have followed closely. Last year, based on the list of ten finalists, I concluded that David Krejčí of the Boston Bruins should have been the winner. Had the vote not taken place before the Final, he still might have been, but I figured he had still done enough to win, considering he was leading the Stanley Cup playoff scoring race. Coming from a Vancouver Canucks fan, fresh off an excruciating defeat, that was a bold prediction. But I forgot to factor something in.

That something is, if Jaromír Jágr has a chance of winning, he will.

Last year, he had 50 points in 49 games with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League before leading them to a defeat in the Gagarin Cup quarterfinals. In the World Championship, he turned on the gas, recording 9 points in nine games, including his first-ever hat trick for the Czech national team, en route to a bronze medal. A fine season, to be sure, but was it the finest of any Czech hockey player that year? I say no, but then, I'm not Czech.

The question this year is, does Jágr have a chance of winning his unprecedented 11th award? Returning to the NHL, he recorded 54 points in 73 regular season games, then 8 points in 11 points, as the Philadelphia Flyers were eliminated in the second round. He declined an invite to play in the World Championships after his team was finished, which may take him out of the running, as so much weight seems to be given by voters to success in that tournament.

So, if not Jágr, then who? The next group of players after him to look at are those from the so-called Zlatá generace (Golden Generation), the group of players that formed the core of the team that won five World Championships and one Olympic gold medal between 1996 and 2005. Though it can be debated exactly which players belong in that class, one player in the top 10, Patrik Eliáš, is certainly a member. This past season, at age 36, Eliáš recorded 78 points in 81 games for the New Jersey Devils, which made him far and away the most productive Czech in the NHL, 16 points ahead of Krejčí and Radim Vrbata. In fact, Eliáš's season isn't even finished yet, as his Devils are currently playing in the Stanley Cup Final. Eliáš has won previously, in 2009.

Of course, New Jersey's playoff success kept Eliáš from playing in the World Championship. However, despite the Czech Republic's bronze-medal finish, the team lacked an outstanding individual performance that they got in 2011 from Jágr and Ondřej Pavelec, who is again a finalist this year. Somewhat surprisingly, goaltender Jakub Kovář did not make the cut this year. The only World Championship players in the top 10 are Martin Erat, Milan Michálek, Petr Nedvěd and Tomáš Plekanec. Plekanec registered 7 points in 10 games, while Erat arrived midway through and got 4 points in five games.

Nedvěd might be a sentimental choice, as he led the Czech Extraliga in scoring at age 40, and also recorded 13 points in 21 games internationally, his first time representing the land of his birth since 1996. I'll slide him into the #2 spot behind Eliáš, however, as no Extraliga player has won the award since Jiří Dopita in 2001.

So that settles it, Eliáš will definitely probably win.

Below are a list of the ten finalists, followed by past winners of the award:

Roman Červenka     C       Avangard Omsk (KHL)
Patrik Eliáš       C/LW    New Jersey Devils (NHL)
Martin Erat        L/RW    Nashville Predators (NHL)
Jaromír Jágr       RW      Philadelphia Flyers (NHL)
Milan Michálek     L/RW    Ottawa Senators (NHL)
Petr Nedvěd        C       Bílí Tygři Liberec (ELH)
Ondřej Pavelec     G       Winnipeg Jets (NHL)
Tomáš Plekanec     C       Montreal Canadiens (NHL)
Jakub Voráček      RW      Philadelphia Flyers (NHL)
Radim Vrbata       R/LW    Phoenix Coyotes (NHL)

Past Winners:

1969 - Jan Suchý
1970 - Jan Suchý
1971 - František Pospíšil
1972 - František Pospíšil
1973 - Vladimír Martinec
1974 - Jiří Holeček
1975 - Vladimír Martinec
1976 - Vladimír Martinec
1977 - Milan Nový
1978 - Ivan Hlinka
1979 - Vladimír Martinec
1980 - Peter Šťastný
1981 - Milan Nový
1982 - Milan Nový
1983 - Vincent Lukáč
1984 - Igor Liba
1985 - Jiří Králík
1986 - Vladimír Růžička
1987 - Dominik Hašek
1988 - Vladimír Růžička
1989 - Dominik Hašek
1990 - Dominik Hašek
1991 - Bedřich Ščerban
1992 - Róbert Švehla
1993 - Miloš Holaň
1994 - Roman Turek
1995 - Jaromír Jágr
1996 - Jaromír Jágr
1997 - Dominik Hašek
1998 - Dominik Hašek
1999 - Jaromír Jágr
2000 - Jaromír Jágr
2001 - Jiří Dopita
2002 - Jaromír Jágr
2003 - Milan Hejduk
2004 - Robert Lang
2005 - Jaromír Jágr
2006 - Jaromír Jágr
2007 - Jaromír Jágr
2008 - Jaromír Jágr
2009 - Patrik Eliáš
2010 - Tomáš Vokoun
2011 - Jaromír Jágr

Most Wins:

10 - Jaromír Jágr
5 - Dominik Hašek
4 - Vladimír Martinec
3 - Milan Nový

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