We’re coming into the home stretch so I want to get my picks in for the NHL awards! Technically you’re not supposed to consider playoff performances so it makes the most sense to commit this to paper before the playoffs can influence one’s thinking. (Also, sorry, yeah , I know it’s Thursday. My bad)
Hart – It’s always my inclination to give the Hart to the best player on a bubble team. Like, Nikita Kucherov’s 106 points is pretty mindblowing in today’s NHL, but he’s not exactly surrounded by pylons. Tampa Bay gives him the tools to get it done every night, and he’s been quite up to the challenge. Patrick Kane is second in scoring but he’s also got a strong supporting cast. If he’d elevated Chicago into a playoff spot he’d be my pick. Connor McDavid’s next up, but with Leon Draisatl being 5th in scoring, and Edmonton still being awful he’s not my guy either. I’m increasingly inclined to give it to someone very off brand, like Nathan MacKinnon, Alex Ovechkin or Artemi Panarin. How about Marc-Andre Fleury? He leads the league in wins (tied with Frederik Andersen) and shutouts, and is the marquee player on a legit Stanley Cup Contender. He’s also one of the nicest guys in Hockey. This means a lot coming from me, who has been highly critical of him his entire career. But no one’s been more important to making Hockey in Vegas relevant, and he should probably get bonus marks for that.
Selke – I don’t know. In these newfangled times we live in, the internet age means we can form a reasonably informed opinion on certain players based on statistics. However, the internet age also enables random argument, one of the most popular is “well, you OBVIOUSLY don’t watch many Coyotes games if you have X opinion of this player.” Well, yeah, I don’t watch Coyotes games. Does anyone? (zing!) I watch my home team religiously, as much playoff hockey as I can, Canadian West Coast games if I’m up late and certain marquee matchups of teams I like (Washington Vs. Pittsburgh is always worth a watch). So how do I know that Minnesota’s 4th line centre is the league’s most unsung hero? I don’t. I use reputation, faceoff win %, shorthanded goals, +/-, the team’s record, goals against and penalty kill ranking. By this logic I think my pick might be…Sebastian Aho? He’s tied for the league lead in +/- and shorthanded goals. He’s been a major part of Carolina’s ascent to relevance. He’s lousy at faceoffs though…who’s your Selke guy?
Norris – Mark Giordano. I’m in the curmudgeonly camp that’s frequently annoyed that the Norris goes to the highest scoring defenceman whose party trick is abandoning his post to make frequent odd man rushes. Yes, that is a dig directly at Erik Karlsson. Giordano is the Captain of the Western Conference leading Calgary Flames, and brings plenty of old school grit to the table. He’s tied with Morgan Rielly for second in plus minus, and is one point behind Rielly for third in scoring. Should I be cheering Morgan Rielly to win as a Leaf fan? Kind of? But I assure, as someone who watches Rielly a lot he is NOT the best defenceman in the NHL. He’s good all around with a flair for an excellent offensive contribution. There’s a reason the Leafs D is considered their Achilles heel. Giordano brings a level of crusty defence that RIelly can’t compete with. I suppose Burns should be considered as well for his league leading 72 points off the back end, but I’ve heard lousy things about his defensive contributions. He’s also deployed in very favorable powerplay setups, but I guess that should be a positive. Still, Giordano for Norris.
Jack Adams – Barry Trotz. So Trotz inherits a middling squad who just lost their best player to free agency in a very acrimonious divorce. What does he do? He turns the team into a defensive powerhouse, despite the lack of a true #1 goalie. Bill Peters quietly turning Calgary into a powerhouse deserves some recognition as well, but Trotz is the horse I’m backing here.
Calder – Jordan Binnington. Elias Pettersson was my early season candidate, but he ran into some setbacks with injury and reduced productivity. Binnington on the other hand is leading in goaltending ratios, and has been the missing piece in St. Louis being a contender. Rasmus Dahlin has quietly put together an excellent season for a rookie defender but Binnington has seriously reversed his team’s fortunes in a very short period of time.
Vezina – Marc-Andre Fleury. Again, I will bury my homerism and say the while Frederik Andersen is a worthy nominee he’s like the 4th highest profile Maple Leaf. He might be Toronto’s best player but MAF is definitely Vegas’ best player. He might be the best player in the whole league. I’m having a hard time coming up with a third nominee, I’m thinking Binnington and his small sample size should round out the nominees. Andrei Vasilevskiy has the numbers too, but I feel like playing nets in Tampa Bay involves a lot of yawning and leaning on his goalstick. Also, in his absence Tampa didn’t miss a beat.