|Peter Budaj (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)|
So can anyone from the California Five win an individual award?
The brutal truth about the AHL's award system is that it is incredibly biased toward statistics. Matt Murray, the winner of the Rookie of the Year and Bastien awards last year, never played a single game west of Hershey, PA. Sean Shapiro and I, the media voters for the Texas Stars ballot, still put him at the top of both of those award ballots. The numbers were eye-popping and the general chatter was positive. It is a tough thing to justify and we fight and grapple with it every year, comparing all the information we can find short of watching all the games again. It's the reason we tend to focus our votes on Western Conference players. It's not bias; it's just what we know.
So that brings us to the point at hand.
Let's take a theoretical race for the MVP, which has been awarded to the top scoring player in the league in 8 of the last 11 years. It's as good a proxy as we can get for the winner and it's probably a good way to predict for the award's top candidates anyways. I'll also add that usually the MVP award, like the Heisman, usually comes from a team that is at the top of the standings or certainly is making the playoffs. That's not as relevant right now since our top candidates are all on playoff-positioned teams.
Alright, now who is the top candidate from a California team? Probably Derek Grant (23-15-38 in 30 GP) or Matthew Ford (20-18-38 in 41 GP).
Grant is our most likely candidate from Stockton (ignoring the fact that Stockton is in sixth place in the division). The Heat have 26 games left in the season after this weekend, and Grant has amassed 38 points so far. Even if he scores at exactly the same blistering pace (1.27 points per game) the rest of the way, he will only make it to 70 points. There are at least four players from the rest of the league (all from playoff teams) that will easily beat that total in their 76-game schedule: Chris Bourque, Seth Griffith, T.J. Brennan and even Travis Morin.
The only player that I could see making a run at any post-season award is Peter Budaj. He has played in all but seven of Ontario's games this season with a 1.58 GAA and 0.935 SV%. That's a pretty reasonable games played total for players in any division. For comparison, Matt Murray, last year's winner, played just 40 games in a 76 game schedule.
The wrinkle here is that Budaj is now in Los Angeles after injury to Jonathan Quick. Word is that Quick is on the mend. Every game that Budaj does not play in Ontario is another mark against him in the 68 v. 76 debate.
For the California teams, Budaj is their only hope for individual recognition.