A couple weeks ago, various NHL websites and publications began releasing their picks for the "quarter-season awards," and the Los Angeles Kings were absent from pretty much every list. It's tough being a team without players who get extraordinary scoring totals or are forced to carry their teams, isn't it?
The last player to win an individual regular season award was Rob Blake, who won the Norris Trophy in 1998. (I am excluding Dustin Brown's 2011 NHL Foundation Player Award, though it was cool and all.) We'd like to see that drought end, so we'll take a look every month to see which players have a shot at bringing home some hardware.
The major awards are listed in order of the probability that a King will win it.
Likeliest recipient: Anze Kopitar
You're probably aware of the "Kopitar for Selke" campaign, even though it hasn't really gotten off the ground yet outside of Los Angeles. Anze Kopitar finished a distant fourth in the Selke voting last season, and it's hard to see a scenario where someone out of last season's top five wins the trophy this year. You can probably rattle off the names if you've obsessed over this enough: defending champ Jonathan Toews, perennial favorite Patrice Bergeron, former shoo-in Pavel Datsyuk, and fellow up-and-coming candidate David Backes. Kopitar, of course, is the only one of those players in the Pacific Division.
It shows in the quarter-season awards picks. USA Today selects Datsyuk with runners-up Bergeron and Toews, which is the standard ballot for just pressed "Auto-Complete" in their browser. TSN gives Backes the runner-up behind Bergeron, which is okay, and... Dave Bolland, Chris Higgins, Kyle Turris, and Brandon Dubinsky . Still no Kopitar. But why? Scott Cullen explains...
Some things don't change and both Bergeron and Backes have continued in their roles, taking on the toughest matchups for their respective teams, while still controlling puck possession. Keeping the puck away from other teams' best players is a great way to defend, by the way, and the continued excellence of Bergeron and Backes in their roles makes for a great competition.
Wait a minute. Cullen used PUCK POSSESSION in his argument and didn't mention Anze Kopitar?! The best part is that he's clearly aware of Kopitar's tremendous possession numbers, because he puts a Corsi chart in his article! With the sentence "Those Kings aren't bad, not bad at all"! Cullen's other criteria also validates Kopitar, who takes on the toughest matchups for LA. But at least he mentioned a Pacific Division candidate, Higgins; he starts in the defensive zone a lot, faces tough competition, and still has good possession numbers. Higgins also got fewer Selke votes than Henrik Sedin last season (ha!), so I don't know if he's got a shot.
So what does Kopitar need to do to earn a Selke? He's a top-20 faceoff man in the NHL, though he's not quite in Bergeron territory yet. As arbitrary as the stat is, he has as many takeaways has Bergeron or Toews (though Datsyuk has twice as many and always gets some Selke votes for that stat alone). He's averaging 2:19 of penalty kill time for the NHL's 7th-best PK unit, which is more that any of those other four candidates can boast in that department. He's even in the top 25 among forwards in blocked shots, not bad on a team which simply doesn't block many shots because they don't allow many shots.
Yeah, Kopitar is absolutely a candidate, and Jason Lewis over at Hockey Buzz has already covered why Kopitar might finally get a finalist nomination this season. But the Kings may have to win the division for Kopitar to get the necessary votes to win. How annoying.
Speaking of the division, you may have also noticed that aside from Tomas Hertl, the awards suggestions are pretty unkind to the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks. Coincidence? I think not!
Likeliest recipient: Tyler Toffoli
Toffoli has the third-most points per game of any rookie in the NHL. He has four game-winning goals, which is top-ten in the league and will get mentioned in the debate. He has decent name recognition because of his contributions during the 2013 playoffs. What's keeping Toffoli from winning? The fact that two other rookies (Tomas Hertl and Chris Kreider) have more points per game, and more importantly, get more ice time and better linemates. Darryl Sutter is not currently doing Toffoli any favors by giving him shifts with Colin Fraser and Jordan Nolan, and by limiting his power play opportunities.
With his teammates healthy, the only way Toffoli gets even strength time with a top center is if Darryl Sutter splits Carter and Richards, or if there's another big line shuffle. And if he doesn't get that even strength time, I don't like his Calder chances. If he does? Just keep racking up those goals and see what happens. Of course, there's always a chance that a defenseman like Seth Jones or Torey Krug could swoop in and grab the Calder.
Likeliest recipient: Drew Doughty
Doughty is top ten in the league in ice time, but he's only 22nd in points. Thanks to the voting styles of the past few years (where goals+assists=votes), that isn't good enough. Doughty might get a sniff if he steps up the points, or if the Kings climb the standings. That's how Doughty would open enough eyes to have a shot, because no, the voters aren't deciding this one on possession numbers. Or scoring chances.
Likeliest recipient: Ben Scrivens
Two years ago, Jonathan Quick received a Vezina nomination. One of the players he beat out to earn the nomination was Brian Elliott, who racked up nine shutouts in 36 starts and led the league in save percentage. The voters seemed to decide that Elliott simply hadn't played enough to be fully recognized for his excellence. That's why, unless Scrivens continues getting regular starts after Quick comes back, he probably won't get a look. That league-leading GAA and save percentage is pretty great, though.
Jack Adams Award
Likeliest recipient: Darryl Sutter
I don't see this happening unless the Kings go on an incredible run and win the Western Conference. Usually coaches get their best chance to win the Jack Adams when their team overachieves in a season where they were expected to miss the playoffs or finish with a low seed. Sutter skipped that step by, you know, winning the Stanley Cup.
Likeliest recipient: Kopitar
Kopitar has nowhere near enough points to be considered. Only a couple NHL players currently have the kind of reputation that would allow them to be considered without putting up at least a point per game, and Kopitar isn't one of them... yet.
(Speaking of which: read this article about Jonathan Toews being one of the world's best players, and plug in Kopitar's name for Toews'. Works pretty well.)
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
Likeliest recipient: Kopitar
Two penalties in one period against Anaheim?! So much hard gentlemanly work, undone in an instant.