The NHL’s season has been suspended for nearly two months now and while a few ideas to conclude the season have been explored, none are yet to come to fruition. As sports fans, many are taking this time to reflect on the season in case it actually does end in cancellation. A huge part of a season are the end of season league awards which reward the best players for their great contributions in a given season. Not everyone agrees on who the rightful recipients are and so I thought that I’d share my perspective. I’ll vote for awards as if I were an actual voter.
Of course, I could not vote on the Art Ross, William M. Jennings, Rocket Richard, or Presidents Trophy as those are already determined. Leon Draisaitl wins the Art Ross, the Bruins tandem of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak win the Jennings, the Rocket is shared between David Pastrnak and Alexander Ovechkin, and the Bruins earned the Presidents Trophy. I could not vote for the Ted Lindsay either as that is voted upon by the players who likely share a unique perspective.
As for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, I’ll leave that for now. Bobby Ryan will likely (and understandably) be a popular choice. So will Connor McDavid who returned at top form after suffering an extremely gruesome injury against Calgary last season. Jacob Markstrom might be a finalist too with a very quality season in a year where he lost his father. Otherwise, I’m not too familiar with the other candidates and ranking tragedies during a tragic time seems mildly inappropriate. I'll leave that one for when the season concludes and the time for voting actually arrives.
The NHL Awards show is one of many events that have been postponed with the presence of a global pandemic so who knows when the actual voting will take place. It typically occurs immediately after the conclusion of the regular season but that too has been suspended with plans of summer hockey.
If the NHL decides to cancel the 2019-20 season, which seems very unlikely, this is what my ballot would look like. Obviously I would not be voting for the actual awards. My credentials are nowhere near a level that allows that opportunity. It is still a way to provide insight and hopefully a good read during quarantine.
Hart Memorial Trophy:
1. Nathan MacKinnon
2. Artemi Panarin
3. Leon Draisaitl
4. Nikita Kucherov
5. David Pastrnak
Leon Draisaitl seems to be the frontrunner for the Hart due to his spectacular season offensively but I actually believe that Nathan MacKinnon and Artemi Panarin are the more deserving players. Both are much better defensively and are in the same realm offensively. In fact, Panarin actually lead the league in even strength points. What Draisaitl has done is certainly commendable and that is evidenced by my placing of him at third but hockey isn’t only about points. The other two derive value where Draisaitl loses some.
How well Nathan MacKinnon has been able to perform on a team mired by injuries is nothing short of spectacular. He has 43 more points than second place on his team and is a large reason why Colorado could finish first in the conference. The Hart Trophy is awarded to “the player judged most valuable to his team” and he is certainly that.
James Norris Memorial Trophy:
1. Roman Josi
2. John Carlson
3. Alex Pietrangelo
4. Victor Hedman
5. Dougie Hamilton
This is another race that is seemingly between two players. Both are exceptional offensive players. Carlson was on pace to reach an extremely impressive total of 89 points. Josi’s pace may not be quite at the same level but he is a very capable offensive player too and leads all Predators in points by 17.
As seen with my Hart trophy winner, accounting for defensive ability is important. When determining the best defenceman, that aspect becomes a necessity. John Carlson has been amazing this season but Roman Josi’s overall impact propels him above Carlson.
Frank J. Selke Trophy:
1. Sean Couturier
2. Ryan O’Reilly
3. Anthony Cirelli
4. Patrice Bergeron
5. Phillip Danault
The Selke always seems to be the hardest award to vote for because it’s difficult to quantify defensive contributions. That’s exactly why the Selke is an award of reputation. Of course, analytics have progressed to a point where they can be reasonably used as a solid source but they still seem lack some contextual aspects. It’s nearly impossible to account for factors resulting from extended usage such as fatigue as it often varies.
The description states that the award is given to the forward who best excels at defence but historically the voting is based off offence as well. Makes me wonder why it doesn’t say “most complete” instead. Anyways, I’m in no situation to change how the award is traditionally voted on so offensive impact will be given consideration as well.
I considered both reputation and analytics to formulate my opinion. I also believe that it’s important for players to have played a large role on their team so all players that I have considered averaged at least 18 minutes per game. For that, I rank Couturier first. He has consistently been one of the best two-way forwards in the league and this season has been no different. He’s averaged 19:50 per game which ranks him 25th among all NHL forwards in ice time and a face-off percentage that rounds to 60% makes him even more reliable.
1. Connor Hellebuyck
2. Tuukka Rask
3. Ben Bishop
4. Corey Crawford
5. Jacob Markstrom
Connor Hellebuyck was by far the best goaltender this season. No disrespect to Risk who had a very quality season of his own, but Hellebuyck played at an elite level on a team with awful defending. Using evolving-hockey.com’s goals saved above expected data, he stopped more than second and third did combined. If the Jets make the playoffs, a case could certainly be made for the Hart as well. He was just that good.
Numbers four and five might surprise some but I think it’s deserved. The next tier after the top-3 is between them, Mikko Koskinen, and Carter Hart and while an argument can be made for either of those four to occupy two of the spots, the similarly impressive stats on much worse defensive teams gave them the edge. The Blackhawks and Canucks are two of the bottom-4 teams in shots against per game.
Calder Memorial Trophy:
1. Quinn Hughes
2. Cale Makar
3. Adam Fox
4. Mackenzie Blackwood
5. Nick Suzuki
The Hughes versus Makar debate has been ongoing for years and has likely reached its pinnacle with the Calder trophy at stake. This isn’t the typical Calder debate, we’re comparing two rookie defenders who had historically good seasons. One can’t really go wrong with their choice. Both Hughes and Makar have demonstrated that they are already among the NHL’s best and are both deserving of the trophy. My choice to opt with Hughes as the winner comes down to a few factors.
Hughes was second on his team in ice time while Makar was third. Hughes also started more of his shifts in the defensive zone. Both are quality two-way defenders but Hughes dealt with a heavier burden and still ended up outproducing Makar, albeit with more games played. While Makar had the higher points per game, the Calder is given to the rookie who had the best season. An argument could be made that he was the better player this season but his season remains relatively incomplete regardless. For those reasons, I lean towards Hughes.
Still, I doubt that we see a season in the near future where a rookie defender produces at a 60-plus point pace and certainly not one where said player finishes second in Calder voting.
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy:
1. Nathan MacKinnon
2. Brayden Point
3. Ryan O’Reilly
4. Teuvo Teravainen
5. Mika Zibanejad
The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy is awarded to the "player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” I don’t think that there’s a better recipient than Nathan MacKinnon. Not only was he one of the NHL’s top players, he played a very disciplined style with only 12 penalty minutes. There are certainly plenty of great candidates and that group expand beyond my list but MacKinnon was the best of the best.
Jack Adams Award:
1. Jared Bednar
2. John Tortorella
3. Paul Maurice
4. Alain Vigneault
5. Mike Sullivan
Each of the five could easily win. All great candidates. What John Tortorella and Paul Maurice have done with depleted rosters is incredible. Their teams however are not in a playoff spot by points percentage and that will likely hold them back. What Alain Vigneault and Mike Sullivan did to reinvigorate two teams that had disappointing results last season is impressive too. Each has a legitimate case for winning. My choice however is Jared Bednar. The constant progression of a Colorado Avalanche team that was historically bad in 2016-17 is one thing, but the step taken to become of the best teams in the league despite a series of injuries to key players is perhaps even better. Not to mention, additions like Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky having the best seasons of their career just adds to the argument.
Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award:
1. Joe Sakic
2. Jim Rutherford
3. Jeff Gorton
4. Don Sweeney
5. Ken Holland
Like Bednar, Sakic has done a really quality job at improving the team. Whether it’s adding the right pieces for the right price or making the appropriate personnel decisions, Sakic has constantly made the right decision. It absolutely doesn’t hurt that they were able to obtain two elite prospects at the 2019 draft either.
Sakic is the fourth member of the Avalanche organization to win an award.
It will certainly be interesting to see how these players perform once they return, if the league does decide to conclude the regular season. The probability is continuously increasing but with a situation as fluid as this, one can never be certain. I doubt that the rankings will be greatly affected though. With every team having already played nearly 70 games, most of the season is already complete. The main focus for the league is playoff hockey.