- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2011

The real season is almost here as the Capitals try to put last year’s playoff flameout in the past. But before it all gets under way Wednesday night, the Washington Times’ Stephen Whyno hands out some invisible hardware.

Dale Hunter Award (Most Outstanding Player): Alex Ovechkin

Really, who else could get this? Ovechkin’s numbers are down from a year ago - just 85 points after 109 last season - but he has 53 assists and is undoubtedly still one of the top five players in the world. His commitment to Bruce Boudreau’s defensive system can’t be overlooked, either.

Rod Langway Award (Best Defenseman): Karl Alzner

He is never going to put up flashy numbers, but Alzner has established himself as a No. 1 NHL defenseman and helped along John Carlson, too. Because Alzner is dependable and makes few mistakes, even for a young player, he and Carlson have been able to more than make up for Mike Green’s injury-shortened season.

Olie Kolzig Award (Best Goaltender): Michal Neuvirth

Well, this one was easy, too. While players have expressed confidence in all three goalies - also Semyon Varlamov and Braden Holtby - it’s clear Neuvirth is the man. He went 27-12-4 with four shutouts and a 2.45 goals-against average. When the playoffs open at Verizon Center, Neuvirth will be between the pipes.

Alex Ovechkin Award (Best Rookie): John Carlson

The closest battle of any award was between Carlson and Marcus Johansson, who has put Mathieu Perreault in the dust in the old argument of which young center would have a brighter NHL future. Johansson has been solid and improved, but Carlson (seven goals, 30 assists) is a stronger defensive game away from being a perennial Norris Trophy winner.

Kelly Miller Award (Best Trade Acquisition): Jason Arnott

Scott Hannan could have easily received this honor, but Arnott’s ability to improve Alexander Semin’s game and the veteran’s budding friendship with Ovechkin makes him invaluable in the locker room and on the ice. General manager George McPhee doubled the amount of Stanley Cup rings with the Caps by grabbing Arnott, and it’s a move that will continue to pay off in the weeks ahead.

Brendan Witt Award (Best Leader): Mike Knuble

Ovechkin wears the “C” but if the Caps have a real spokesman among players, it’s Knuble. He has taken over that role from Brooks Laich and is the kind of respected voice in the room that can lead to a deep playoff run.

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