This has been anything but a normal year in the NHL. We know this. But even in a normal year, handing out NHL Awards is a difficult task – talent is in the eyes of the beholder, and whatnot.
With the close of the regular season, some major awards are already decided, as Connor McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy for leading the NHL in points, Auston Matthews won the Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the NHL in goals, and former Blackhawks goaltender Robin Lehner split the Williams Jennings Award with his goaltending partner Marc-Andre Fleury for allowing the fewest goals this season.
But today is the deadline for PHWA voters to get their NHL Awards ballots in for everything else, and I want to chime in. However, I am not a PHWA member and don’t get a vote … so we’re going to just do our own thing (and see how close we can get).
James Norris Memorial Trophy (Best Defenseman)
Winner: Adam Fox
Runner-Up: Cale Makar
Victor Hedman was not part my top-two, nor was Drew Doughty. I’m a big believer that yearly awards need to be given out to players who earned it that year. There’s no “body of work” awards here. The Norris is always a difficult award to measure because tallying points as a defenseman is great, but the “best” defenseman is not always the one lighting up the scoresheet. Looking at a player’s all-around impact from the blue-line, it is hard to argue that Adam Fox didn’t make the biggest difference at both ends of the ice for the Rangers this season.
Fox led the Rangers in ice-time in his second NHL season and was second in the NHL in points among defensemen with 47 in 55 games. He was tasked on a nightly basis with playing against the best players in the NHL’s best. His most common forwards faced this season included the likes of Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand, and Alex Ovechkin and he regularly held them in check. If it were not for Makar missing a dozen games due to injury, or roughly 21.4% of the season this year, my vote may have been different.
Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year)
Winner: Kirill Kaprizov
Runner-Up: Jason Robertson
The rookie of the year this season had a number of Chicago Blackhawks candidates earlier in February. But those players tailed off and two candidates made their cases as Kirill Kaprizov almost single-handedly pulled the weight of the Minnesota Wild this season and Jason Robertson came on strong in the second-half of the season to nearly push the Dallas Stars into the postseason.
Kaprizov did more with less than Robertson this season and did it more consistently. He led all rookies with27 goals and 51 points in 55 games, good for a 0.93 points per game pace. That pace over an 82-game season would have given him 76 points, which would have theoretically ranked 12th in the last 30 years. Should there be an age-limit for the Calder? I don’t think so since it’s awarded to the best “first-year NHL player”, not “best teenager” in the NHL.
Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender)
Winner: Andrei Vasilevskiy
Runner-Up: Marc-Andre Fleury
Another award that could have gone multiple ways this season is the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender. Although not one of the awards voted on by the PHWA (voted on by NHL general managers), it’s my ballot so I get to vote on whatever I want. For me the Vezina Trophy race came down to four guys: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Marc-Andre Fleury, Connor Hellebuyck, and Phillip Grubauer. Ultimately, the tipping point for me to give the award to Vasilevskiy over Fleury was the amount of shots each faced.
It’s not an attempt to punish Fleury for playing on a team that provided better defense in front of him, but just a measure of the volume of work. Vasilevskiy faced the second-most shots in the NHL this season, behind only Hellebuyck, and was one of just seven goaltender to make 1,000 or more saves this season. He led the league in wins and ranked third in the NHL with five shutouts and 42 starts.
Frank J. Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward)
Winner: Aleksander Barkov
Runner-Up: Joel Eriksson-Ek
I didn’t say this was easy. Much like the Norris, the Selke is one of the hardest awards to measure the impacts of forwards playing on the defensive side of the puck. Is it the center with the best face-off percentage and the highest point total? Most minutes on the penalty-kill with the most points? Dig into the analytics? It’s a mixture of all of those factors, plus some. For me, Barkov was asked to do it all in Florida and was a rock for their success this season in all three zones.
Barkov finished second on the Panthers in points with 58 in 50 games, trailing Jonathan Huberdeau’s 61 points, but playing in five fewer games. He led all the Panthers forwards in minutes per game this season and was one of 19 forwards to play more than 20 minutes per game. He was one of ten forwards to take 1,000 or more faceoffs in the NHL this season with a 54.9% win-percentage that ranked sixth out of those ten players. He’s the kind of player you build a franchise around and doesn’t get the league-wide recognition he deserves.
Jack Adams Award (Best Coach)
Winner: Joel Quenneville
Runner-Up: Rod Brind’Amour
Speaking of the Panthers, they were headed up by Joel Quenneville this season, his second year with the team and he had them playing some of the best hockey the franchise has seen in quite some time. Playing in a modified Central Division along with the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars, the Panthers were walking into a buzz-saw of a season. Quenneville led them to a second-place finish in the Division with 79 points, one behind the Hurricanes, and their .705% points-percentage this season was the best marker in franchise history. Their expectations were high, but not this high this season.
Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP)
Winner: Connor McDavid
Runner-Up: Auston Matthews
The main event and quite literally the easiest award to vote on this season was the Hart Memorial Trophy for league MVP. It’s Connor McDavid. If he does not finish this season as the unanimous choice for league MVP, it’ll truly be a shame. Even with having Leon Draisaitl to play along with him, the Oilers would not be in the position they are as a franchise without him.
With McDavid on the ice at 5v5, the Oilers outscored opponents 64-48 and out-chanced opponents 524 to 418. With him off the ice, the Oilers were outscored 68-51 and outchanced 711-602. His race for 100 points this season was must-see television and his 36 points over his final 14 games of the season was absolutely electric. His 21-point gap between him and Draisaitl as the top-two scorers in the league is something we haven’t seen since the 1998-99 season and his 1.88 points per game pace is the highest the league has seen since Mario Lemieux’s 2.30 per game pace in the 1995-96 season. In a season unlike any other, McDavid had a season unlike many other.