Well we’ve reached the halfway mark of the NHL season so I figured I might as well jump on the guess-who-will-win-awards train as so many do at this time of year.
The only distinction I want to make is that I am not stating who I would give awards to if the awards were handed out today; I am projecting and guessing who will get the awards at the end of the year. Anyone can see that Pat Kane leads the league in points right now, so it’s very easy to give him the Art Ross. But let’s see if I predict any surprises come the end of the year.
As to not be prejudice against any awards, I’m just going to tackle each one in the reverse order that they are listed on the NHL.com website (I will not comment on the NHL Foundation Award or the King Clancy Trophy, as I do not know enough about the humanitarian contributions NHLers make). And, as to not make this a ten page essay, I am only going to guess at individual awards, so no President’s trophy. And I’ll leave my playoff predictions for another time (though right now I have the LA Kings over the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup. Now that’s how you bury the lede, folks!).
Anyways, we’ll start with the three stat-based awards, since they don’t need much commenting.
William M. Jennings Trophy
This award goes to the Goalie(s) who have played at least 25 games for the team with the fewest goals against in the regular season.
So this is a total guess but right now the Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals and LA Kings goalies are the front runners, and I don’t see the Panthers staying at the top all year. Down to the Caps and Kings, I think Braden Holtby is having a better year than Jonathan Quick (more on that later in the column), so I’ll give it to Holtby
Maurice Richard Trophy
This award started in 1999 and goes to player who leads the NHL in goals.
Real easy: Alex Ovechkin has won this award the past three years, just potted his 500th career goal, and will go on a tear from here until the end of the year. Another trophy in the case for Ovi.
Art Ross Trophy
This award should be called the Wayne Gretzky Award, but it’s given to the NHL’s leading scorer in points at the end of the regular season.
Patrick Kane jumped out to what I think is an insurmountable lead in this category so, as much as I think Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are going to push, Kane is taking this one home.
Ok, now the opinion stuff. Let’s get into this!
General Manager of the Year
First awarded in 2010, this award recognizes “the work of the league’s general managers,” and is voted by the 30 club general managers and a panel of NHL executives, print and broadcast media at the conclusion of the regular season.
For me, the contenders for this award are Nashville Predators GM David Polie and Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan. Polie a lot for the deal he just made to get Ryan Johansen to the Preds. If that deal works out and the Predators vault to the top of the standings, then Polie could be looking at this trophy in his office come year end, but I am going to guess that MacLellan and the Capitals are going to win this one for 2015-16.
Why? Well, because Alexander Ovechkin is no longer the Capitals most important player. Note that I am not saying he’s not their best player, as he is certainly still their most talented player; but he is not their most important player anymore, which is huge for the Capitals.
The reason I, in the past, have doubted Washington is because Ovechkin was both their best and most important player, and the difficulty with that is that Ovechkin, as terrific as he is, is still fairly one dimensional. He’s abysmal defensively still and so, when he’s not scoring, he’s not doing much else to positively affect the game. When your most important player can’t affect the game at all times, scoring or not, your team is in trouble. MacLellan has finally been able to add pieces, develop, and structure the Capitals so that even when Ovechkin is not lighting the lamp, the team is still solid top to bottom.
Bridgestone Messier Leadership Award
Awarded since 2006-07, this award goes to “to the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice during the regular season.” Votes are taken into consideration, but this award is ultimately chosen by Mark Messier.
I don’t know, this award is kind of stupid in my opinion. It’s basically just Messier picking a guy he likes throughout the year. Aside from 2007 to Chris Chelios, this award has gone to a player who was the Captain of his team, but since there is precedent of a non-Captain winning, I’m going to say give this award to Roberto Luongo out in Florida. Who had the Panthers doing this well this season? And though he’s not the Captain, Luongo is the leader of that team and he’s the guy whose good play has been so infectious to spread to the rest of the squad, so Luongo is going to win this one.
Ted Lindsay Award
First awarded in 1971-72, the Ted Lindsay Award goes to the most outstanding player in the NHL as voted by members of the NHLPA (other players).
This one is going to Patrick Kane for the simple reason that I believe his 26-game point streak did enough to engrain him in this spot to his fellow players. Which it should. 26 straight games with a point is insane, and it’s not like he’s slowed down at all, either. He’s currently leading the league in points and baring a big slump, I don’t see Jamie Benn catching up. Kane’ll win this award, though I do think Benn will get some votes (as well as the guy who I have as the MVP).
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy
The NHL Writer’s Association has awarded this trophy since 1968 to “the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.”
Last season Devan Dubnyk won this award, not only because he worked his way back into the NHL after being cast aside by a couple NHL teams and even struggling in the AHL, but also for working his way into Vezina conversations. Typically, however, this award goes to a player who has suffered some sort of significant injury or life event. Dominic Moore’s perseverance after his wife’s passing; Josh Harding battling MS; Phil Kessel beating testicular cancer. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a player who is overcoming something like this (although I’m sure there is one), so I’m thinking, give the award to Jagr.
The fact that he’s playing in the NHL (and playing well) at 43 shows his perseverance and dedication, and he’s only taken ten penalties all year, so there’s his sportsmanship. More than that, the people love Jaromir Jagr again. Yes, we’ve forgotten that there was a time when Jagr jolted from team to team, chasing whatever the biggest payday was; we’ve forgotten that he used to be criticized for not giving his all, all the time; and we’ve forgiven him for leaving the NHL to go play in Russia. Now that he’s back in the NHL and playing, at 43, just for the love of the game, we all love him again.
And you know what? He’s one of the greatest players ever, and if it were not for that little stint in the KHL, he’d easily be the 2nd highest scorer in NHL history and the only guy remotely close to catching Gretzky, so give him a trophy this year, because we don’t know how many more chances we’ll get to give him one.
Jack Adams Award
Voted by the NHL Broadcaster’s Association, the Jack Adams goes to the NHL Coach judged to have contributed the most to his team’s success. This award has been given out since 1974.
Mike Babcock, right Leafs’ fans? I mean, quite honestly, Babcock might deserve it at the end of the year because the Leafs are so dramatically better than last year with a—on paper—worse roster, but the candidates are going to be Gerard Gallant of the Florida Panthers, Lindy Ruff of the Dallas Stars, and Barry Trotz of the Washington Capitals.
I’ll knock Ruff off right now, because as much as the Stars have improved this year over last, they underachieved last year, so the improvement is a little sullied.
Gallant is going to get a nice long look at this, because as I said before, no one thought the Panthers were going to be this good this year. The only thing going against him is, how many of you would know who Gerard Gallant is, if I didn’t say he was the Florida Panthers’ Coach?
That leaves Trotz, which works perfectly because I believe the Jack Adams and GM of the Year awards sync up really nice. Again, the Capitals aren’t the Ovi Show anymore, and it’s helped their team tremendously. And, for as many Coaches that the Caps have had go in there and try to fix Ovi’s game, Trotz is the only Coach to go in there and fix the TEAM, which was much more important.
Frank J. Selke Trophy
Might as well be called the Pavel Datsyuk-or-Patrice Bergeron trophy, this award was first awarded in 1977-78 to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game. Why isn’t there an award for the defenseman who best excels in the offensive aspects of the game? No clue. Forwards get all the love.
Since Pavel Datsyuk first won this in 2008, this award has basically gone to the highest scoring forward who isn’t a liability in his own end, which is why Datsyuk and Patrice Bergeron have dominated this award (with a little Jonathan Toews mixed in) the past couple years.
That said, it’s looking like Bergeron’s trophy to win again this year, but I’d just like to remind voters that Jamie Benn is a beast in his own end too, so don’t forget about him.
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
Awarded since 1925 (!), the Lady Byng goes to the player judged to “have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” Why does the NHL need two awards that judge sportsmanship (Byng & Masterton)? Because the Byng requires you to still be good at hockey; while the Masterton can deviate from that requirement, if need be.
Jagr. Give as many awards to Jagr as we can. Like I mentioned, only ten penalties so far this year (sportsmanship), he was voted to the All-Star Game (high standard of playing ability), and because, “He’s one of the greatest players ever, and if it were not for that little stint in the KHL, he’d easily be the 2nd highest scorer in NHL history and the only guy remotely close to catching Gretzky, so give him a[s many] troph[ies as we can] this year, because we don’t know how many more chances we’ll get to give him one. “
Calder Memorial Trophy
The Calder Memorial Trophy goes to the best NHL rookie. It’s pretty self-explanatory and has been given out since 1933.
I want it to be Max Domi because I love Max Domi, but it’ll be Artemi Panarin edging out Dylan Larkin.
Listen, I think Larkin deserves all the credit in the world. When you’re a 19-year-old who the Red Wings determine can play in the NHL, writers—who vote on the award—take notice (it doesn’t happen often). Include the fact that you’ve got a shot to lead the league in +/-, and you’re second in rookie scoring (and not playing with Patrick Kane), that’s a whole lot to be considered. But, by the end of the year, Panarin is going to run away with the scoring lead, and that’ll get him the votes. Plain and simple.
James Norris Memorial Trophy
Another award voted by the Writer’s Association, the Norris goes to the NHL’s best defenseman. It is important to note that the award is to go to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest ALL-ROUND ability at the position. Not just, which D can score the most…although scoring helps a ton.
Erik Karlsson is going to be looked at because he’ll lead the NHL’s defense in overall scoring, but I think this is going to come down to two players: Brent Burns and Drew Doughty. Now, I think Brent Burns might score 40 goals, which is totally insane for a defenseman to do, but I kind of think NHL writers are going to force Doughty into the conversation because it’s totally insane that he hasn’t won a Norris yet.
But, when it’s all said and done, Brent Burns is taking this trophy back to Barrie, Ontario. If he gets over 30 goals it’s a lock (17 already).
Best Goalie in the NHL Award
Last year Carey Price won this award and the MVP award, as he is the best hockey player in the planet. However, he’s hurt this year and another dude in pads has been both the best goalie and the best player in the NHL. So, let’s mix in the….
Hart Memorial Trophy
Awarded since 1924, the Hart goes to the player judged most valuable to his team by the Writer’s Association.
Braden Holtby, man. For me, he’s going to win both the Vezina and the Hart. No goalie is playing better than him this year, and no player is more valuable to his team than Washington’s net minder.
Like I said earlier, Ovechkin is no longer Washington’s most important player. Braden Holtby is. There is no real stat to show “stealing a game,” but I challenge you to find another NHL team who was able to sit 1st in the league and have their starting goalie be in the top ten for shots against. Roberto Luongo and Cory Crawford are also in the top ten, and their teams are within striking distance of 1st place, but 1) they’re not in 1st place, so they’re disqualified, and 2) even if their teams were all tied for 1st, Holtby is 2nd in the league in Goals Against Average, while Luongo is 6th and Crawford is 12th. No matter which way you look at it, Holtby is having the better year.
Braden Holtby is the biggest reason the Caps are in the Hunt for the President’s Trophy and he deserves to get both the Hart and the Vezina.
And I know Patty Kane is going to get a lot of love for the Hart this year too because of his points streak and everything, but the voters can’t get caught up in the better headline competition. Kane might have made the news more, by Holtby is impacting his team much, much more, and he deserves all the credit in the world, so I’m giving him both the Hart and Vezina this year.
But check back with me in June because I might change my mind.