Here’s the thing about voting on the NHL Awards: The regular season has to end before any of that can begin.
With the NHL season suspended since March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unclear whether we’ve already seen the end of the regular season, or whether it gets restarted in some shape or form during the summer. The league still contends that its goal is completing the season in full; although with each passing day, that prospect becomes less likely.
The NHL hasn’t discussed how and when the 2019-20 NHL Awards will be handed out to players, coaches and general managers. The league has said nothing of that nature can be determined before there’s certainty — or closure — on the season.
For argument’s sake: Let’s say the regular season has ended. The stats and accomplishments of players are crystalized. When the awards votes are cast, it will be for the hockey we’ve all watched since October, and nothing more.
This would have been the final NHL Awards Watch of the regular season. So we’re turning it over to you. We’ve narrowed the fields down to the most likely contenders for each award. It’s time to cast your votes for the players and coach that you believe should win this season’s awards.
Keep in mind that the Pro Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) votes for the Hart, Norris, Calder, Selke and Lady Byng; broadcasters vote for the Jack Adams; and general managers handle the Vezina. Let them know your picks!
Hart Trophy (MVP)
The finalists: Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton Oilers; Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche; Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs; Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers; Artemi Panarin, LW, New York Rangers; David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins
If the regular season is done, Draisaitl will win his first Art Ross Trophy for leading the NHL with 110 points in 71 games, while also leading in points-per-game average (1.55). Pastrnak finished tied with Alex Ovechkin in most goals (48), although the Capitals star did it in 68 games to Pastrnak’s 70. McDavid is second to Draisaitl in points per game (1.52), with 97 in only 64 games.
The other three candidates all have strong cases based on the context of their teams. MacKinnon’s 93 points are 43 points better than the Avs’ second-leading scorer (Cale Makar, 50). Panarin’s 95 points are 20 points better than the Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad (75), although the latter player did that in only 57 games for a 1.32 points-per-game average — Panarin’s was 1.38. Matthews finished 13 points better than Mitch Marner having played 11 more games, so they had identical 1.14 points-per-game averages. But he finished 16 goals better than the Leafs’ second-highest goal scorer, William Nylander.
From an analytics perspective, Panarin led the NHL in goals scored above average (24.9). MacKinnon was sixth (19.8), Pastrnak was 11th (17.8), Matthews was 16th (15.9) and McDavid was 18th (15.9). Draisaitl was lowest of the potential finalists at 15.4. It was the same order of finish in wins above replacement, with Panarin leading the NHL (4.4).
Regular readers of this space know we have a strict “gotta be in it to win it” edict when it comes to the Hart Trophy and the playoffs. Welp, it doesn’t apply here, because there’s every chance that teams around the bubble like the Rangers could end up in an expanded postseason tournament. So, cast your votes unburdened by that caveat.
Norris Trophy (top defenseman)
Carlson’s 1.09 points-per-game average is the highest for any defenseman since 1993-94. The question is whether his admittedly incredible offensive season — 75 points in 69 games — is overwhelming enough to overcome his average-to-deficient defense.
Consider that Carlson had an expected goals percentage of 50.85, and Josi is at 54.50%. The Predators’ defenseman has 65 points in 69 games, skating over a minute more (25:47) per game. The notion that Josi is within range of Carlson’s offense while being much better on defense seems to have cemented as a narrative. The Athletic had 41 writers, most of them in the PHWA, cast awards ballots recently. Over 63% of them chose Josi. That’s a heck of a sample of the electorate.
Hedman finished third on that ballot, which fits: He has been a Norris finalist for the past three seasons, winning in 2018. Pietrangelo has never been a finalist but had a heck of a season ahead of unrestricted free agency: His 18.2 goals scored above average are third among defensemen, and the best for any of these finalists, right ahead of Hedman (fourth, 8.1), Josi (fifth, 17.9) and Slavin (seventh, 16.5). Carlson? He was 41st, at 7.6 goals scored above average.
Slavin might seem like an odd finalist here, with players like Kris Letang of the Penguins and a bunch of great rookies not making the cut. But his plus-30 rating is second among defensemen, his 36 points are a career high and this might be his moment as the league’s preeminent “defensive defenseman” to get a little Norris love.
Calder Trophy (top rookie)
The finalists: Mackenzie Blackwood, G, New Jersey Devils; Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks; Dominik Kubalik, LW, Chicago Blackhawks; Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche; Elvis Merzlikins, G, Columbus Blue Jackets; Victor Olofsson, RW, Buffalo Sabres
This was the most difficult category to narrow down. Obviously, you start with the stone-cold locks: Hughes is fourth among defensemen with 53 points in 68 games, solidifying the Canucks’ blue line in skating 21:53 per game. Makar is third in points per game among D-men at 0.88, with 50 points in 57 games and skating 21:01 per game. They’re the two best defensemen among an incredible crop of rookies that also includes Adam Fox (New York Rangers), John Marino (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Ethan Bear (Edmonton Oilers).
Is it possible three defensemen account for the three finalist spots? Potentially. But we think it’s Hughes, Makar and a different position.
Kubalik has 30 goals, 10 more than any other rookie this season. His 46 points are higher than any other rookie forward, in 68 games. Olofsson had his outstanding season truncated due to injury but still finished with 42 points in 54 games. His 0.78 points-per-game rate was tied for second in the NHL among all rookies.
Few goalies in the NHL this season had the run that Merzlikins did. From Dec. 14 through the season’s pause, the Blue Jackets’ goalie earned points in 18 out of 23 games (13-5-5). His .923 save percentage in 33 games led all rookie goalies. But Blackwood put up a .915 save percentage in 47 games, playing behind one of the worst teams in the conference in the Devils.
Vezina Trophy (top goaltender)
Note: The NHL’s general managers vote for this award
Hellebuyck is the heavy favorite here. He was tied for the league lead with 58 appearances, and had an outstanding .922 save percentage, 2.57 goals-against average and a league-best six shutouts. He leads the NHL in goals saved above average (26.7) and wins above replacement (4.8). Sometimes the Vezina serves as a de facto “goalie MVP award.” Where would the Jets have been without Hellebuyck, considering the losses they suffered on defense?
Rask leads the NHL in save percentage (.929) and goals-against average (2.12), and is second in goals saved above average (19.7) and WAR (3.5). But there’s one catch: Due to the Bruins’ goalie platoon, he played only 41 games.
Bishop is fifth in goals saved above average (15.1); he’s a three-time finalist, including last season. Vasilevskiy doesn’t have a strong analytics argument (he’s 20th in goals saved above average), but he leads the league in wins (35-14-3) with respectable traditional stats. Binnington doesn’t have a strong stats case, but he’s 30-13-7 and might have the residual goodwill with the general managers (who vote on the award) after last season’s Stanley Cup run.
Some other strong candidates: Frederik Andersen (Toronto), Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver), and a collection of other goalies — Darcy Kuemper, Elvis Merzlikins, Pavel Francouz and Tristan Jarry — who might not have the workrate for the award.
Selke Trophy (best defensive forward)
The finalists: Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins; Anthony Cirelli, C, Tampa Bay Lightning; Sean Couturier, C, Philadelphia Flyers; Ryan O’Reilly, C, St. Louis Blues; Mark Stone, RW, Vegas Golden Knights
Couturier is the favorite here because he has been the “anointed one” all season: a dynamic two-way center who has been a finalist only once in his career, and has been waiting for his moment. His 56.25 Corsi for percentage leads the Flyers, he wins a bunch of faceoffs and has been solid all around. But a case can be made that Cirelli has had the better season, skating 18:28 per game, killing penalties and posting a better defensive goals above average (3.5) than Couturier (1.5).
O’Reilly won this award last year and has been tremendous again this season, with a 2.01 expected goals-against average in 71 games, which is better than Couturier (2.08) but not as good as Cirelli (1.94) or Bergeron (1.86), who continues to put up defensive deity-level numbers.
Stone finished second in the Selke voting as a winger, which is quite an accomplishment. His 3.70 takeaways per 60 minutes is second most in the NHL. His defensive profile should put him in the mix again this season.
Lady Byng Trophy (gentlemanly play)
The finalists: Aleksander Barkov, C, Florida Panthers; Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche; Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs; Ryan Suter, D, Minnesota Wild; Teuvo Teravainen, LW, Carolina Hurricanes
Once again, determining an award for gentlemanly play shouldn’t be up to the hockey writers, and not just because many of us are unqualified to identify the behavior. In theory, it should be up to the on-ice officials and/or the NHLPA, who would know best.
That established, the award usually goes to the players with the most points and the fewest penalty minutes. So that would probably be MacKinnon (93 points, 12 PIMs), Matthews (80 points, 8 PIMs), Teravainen (63 points, 8 PIMs) or last season’s winner Barkov (62 points, 18 PIMs).
But here’s a wild card: Suter, who played 69 games, skated 24:38 per night and had just 12 penalty minutes. Only one defenseman (Brian Campbell in 2011-12) has won the Lady Byng since 1954.
Jack Adams Award (best coach)
Note: The NHL Broadcasters’ Association votes on this award.
The finalists: Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins; Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets; Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins; Dave Tippett, Edmonton Oilers; John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets; Alain Vigneault, Philadelphia Flyers
Interesting category here. Vigneault took the Flyers from a .500 team to a .645 points percentage team in second place in the Metro Division, including a remarkable improvement defensively. Tippett was also a debut-season wonder, improving Edmonton’s offense and defense while leading the Oilers to a .585 points percentage — although having Draisaitl and McDavid to deploy makes life easier. The same goes for Maurice, whose Jets entered the pause in a wild-card spot. Yes, he kept the Jets together after trades, defections and whatever you’d call the Dustin Byfuglien situation decimated their back end — but then again, so did Connor Hellebuyck.
Sullivan coached the heck out of the Penguins during their preposterous run of injuries this season, and much of the same could be said of Tortorella, although both coaches had the benefit of some unexpected goaltending success. Cassidy led the Bruins to the best record in the NHL with 100 points, as Boston once again was the league’s top defensive team.