As we draw ever so close to game 82, it’s time to start handicapping the trophy races. Barring something bizarre, here’s one man’s perspective from the cheap seats on whose trophy case will get the big prizes.
HART TROPHY (MVP)
The Winner: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning.
Kucherov is putting up the season of a lifetime on the best team in the league. In other words, he’s the best player on the best team. In an ideal world this is automatic. However, this is the NHL, where #EastCoastBias gave one-dimensional Taylor Hall the Hart last year over Anze Kopitar because no one in the East stays up to watch the Western Conference games. Kucherov is on pace for 130 points (he would be the first player to reach that plateau since 1995-96), leads the league in power-play points, and is third in even strength points.
Runner-up: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He’s a one-man wrecking crew, 14 points better than the Capitals’ next-leading scorer and 24 goals better than their second-highest goal scorer. Pause and go back to the opening sentence. The greatest goal scorer of all time has more than double the next-highest goal total on his team. He’s the sole reason the Caps leads their division and will be back in the playoffs to defend their Stanley Cup.
ART ROSS TROPHY (Points Leader)
The Winner: Kucherov
ROCKET RICHARD TROPHY (Leading Goal Scorer)
The Winner: Alex Ovechkin (45 goals)
Others in contention: Patrick Kane and Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (40 goals)
Another night, another Alex Ovechkin goal pic.twitter.com/ifPCGH8BdI— FanDuel (@FanDuel) March 7, 2019
VEZINA TROPHY (Best Goaltender)
The Winner: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
He’s put together an impressive season, sporting a 31-8-4 record, a .931 save percentage, and the best goals saved above average (29.58) in the NHL. Hopefully only playing in 43 games so far this year won’t dissuade the best year a goalie has seen in quite a while.
Save of the Year candidate: Andrei Vasilevskiy pic.twitter.com/EuGRCrTaLs— NHL (@NHL) December 14, 2018
Runner-up: Robin Lehner, Islanders. He’s got the narrative, coming back from his battle with addiction and bipolar disorder. He’s near the top of the league in save percentage (.929) and goals against average (2.08).
NORRIS TROPHY (Best Defenseman)
The Winner: Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
This award has morphed from being given to the top defenseman, which is still how it’s officially defined, to the best offensive defenseman. So despite the fact that ageless Mark Giordano (35 years old) is having a career year (63 points, a 56 percent Corsi rating, and second in the league with a +28), he will lose it to Brent Burns who is not the best defenseman, but is the best offensive defensemen in the NHL (73 points). Since I have a bias against the San Jose Sharks, it’s not fair if I don’t mention that he averages 25 minutes per game, is a +16, and possesses a nifty Corsi rating of 56.5.
Runner-up: Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
JACK ADAMS AWARD (Coach of the Year)
My Winner: Willie Desjardins, Los Angeles Kings
What other coach could effectively gift wrap Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko with his, uh, coaching. The Kings are this close to wrapping up one of the first two picks in the 2019 Entry Draft. What would you rather have? A playoff spot or a generational player destined to have his jersey hanging in the rafters? Yeah, me too.
The Real Winner: Barry Trotz, New York Islanders
The Isles traded John Tavares for Trotz and got better. The team expected to produce 70-75 points is within two wins of the Metro Division lead. No one expected that.
Runner-up: Claude Julien, Montreal Canadiens. Montreal was expected to be one of the worst teams in the league, but Julien made them a playoff team again without having Shea Weber for the first half of the season. He’s also revived the careers of Max Domi, Carey Price, and Tomas Tatar.
SELKE TROPHY (Best defensive forward)
The Winner: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Here’s another award that morphed away from its true meaning. The Selke used to be awarded to the top defensive forward, but now goes to the best two-way forward. When he retires, the NHL may change the name to the Bergeron Trophy. Not even missing 16 games this year will stop him from gaining a record fifth Selke.
Runner-up: Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues. He’s been runner-up strong all year wining 58 percent of face-offs, a 53 percent Corsi, and only taking four minor penalties all year leading the Blues back into the playoff hunt.
CALDER TROPHY (Rookie of the Year)
The Winner: Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues
Binnington is 16-3-1 with a .928 save percentage, a 1.80 goals-against average, and has a quality starts percentage of .789. He, and interim head coach Craig Berube, are the reasons that the Blues have gone from last in the NHL standings to firmly in the playoffs.
Runner-up: Elias Petterson, Vancouver Canucks. Leading all rookies with 53 points (26G, 27 A), Petterson’s has seven game-winners and lifted a team that looked like it was going to battle for Jack Hughes into a playoff contender.