The Stanley Cup is over so that means it’s awards season in the NHL, alongside the craze leading up to the draft and free agency.
The awards will be handed out next Wednesday in Las Vegas.
Who will win the Hart Trophy as the MVP of the NHL? Or the Calder Trophy as the the league’s best rookie? Or the Vezina Trophy for the NHL’s best goalie?
Here’s a breakdown of what we could expect:
The big one, the NHL’s most valuable player. The field was wide open this year, with a solid seven or eight guys who made strong bids but unfortunately there’s only three finalists and just one can win it.
It came down to Taylor Hall, Anze Kopitar, and Nathan MacKinnon.
The case for Hall: The Devils reached the playoffs for the first time since 2012 this past season with a game largely built on pace. Hall was the nucleus of all that, and carried New Jersey for much of the season. The 26-year-old led the team in goals (39), assists (54), and points (93). To demonstrate how much of the load Hall carried, here’s who ranked second on the Devils in those respective categories this year:
Goals: Kyle Palmieri (24) / Assists: Will Butcher (39) /Points: Nico Hischier (52)
The case for Kopitar: The 30-year-old’s already sky-high responsibility got a little bigger this season when No. 2 center Jeff Carter missed a majority of the regular season with an ankle injury. Kopitar logged a career-high 22:05 while posting 92 points (35-57), becoming the first Kings player to record 90 points since Wayne Gretzky in 1994, when the Great One put up 130. And while the disparity from first to second isn’t as wild as Hall’s in New Jersey, Kopitar still finished with 31 more points than the player with the second-most, which was Dustin Brown.
The case for MacKinnon: Three players cracked the 100-point mark in the NHL this season, the first time that had happened since 2009-10. If MacKinnon didn’t miss eight games in February with an upper-body injury, there would’ve been four. The 22-year-old finished with 97 points (39-58) in 74 games this season, helping Colorado reach the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The Avs were in the playoff picture when MacKinnon went down, then fell out while he was hurt. When he came back, they quickly climbed back into it.
Player that made the best case for four finalists: Evgeni Malkin – There was a period between December and February where Malkin was taking over games on a consistent basis for the Penguins. His 77 points from December 1-on was tied with Connor McDavid for the most in the NHL.
No defenseman has won the Norris in back-to-back years since Nicklas Lidstrom won three straight from 2006-08. We’re assured of having a new winner this season, as last year’s winner, Brent Burns, missed the cut.
Finalists Drew Doughty and P.K. Subban are among the seven different winners we’ve seen over the last nine years while Victor Hedman looks to win his first.
The case for Doughty: Doughty led the NHL in time-on-ice per game, at 26:50, playing all 82 games for the fourth straight season. He set career-highs with 50 assists and 60 points, while finishing with a plus-23 rating.
The case for Subban: Subban is one of the NHL’s top powerplay producers, recording 25 points on the man-advantage while averaging 3:05 per game. Overall, he finished with 59 points while playing more than 24 minutes per game.
The case for Hedman: Hedman’s 63 points was the highest among the three finalists while his plus-32 rating was second to only Josh Manson among defensemen. The 25:51 time-on-ice for Hedman was fifth-most in the league.
Player that made the best case for four finalists: John Carlson – The Capitals ace blueliner was one of one of Washington’s most valuable pieces this season, and he proved that with his performance in the playoffs, helping the Caps win their first Stanley Cup. Carlson, a pending unrestricted free agent, led all defensemen with 68 points this season while playing 24:47 per night. The 28-year-old was on the ice for just about every big situation for Washington this season.
A contest between three goalies that have never won the award before. Obviously the big name here is Pekka Rinne, who is one of the best active goalies to never win one, while Connor Hellebuyck and Andrei Vasilevskiy come in on the heels of breakout campaigns.
The case for Rinne: Rinne has been one of the game’s premier netminders for a decade now, and he may have turned in his best season this past year. The 35-year-old won 42 games this season while posting a 2.31 GAA and .927 save percentage. His eight shutouts were a career-high.
The case for Hellebuyck: For the first time in their franchise history, the Jets received elite-level goaltending. All they did was reach the Western Conference Final. Hellebuyck had a lot to do with that. A player who had a lot of success at every level, particularly his two-year run in the NCAA for UMass-Lowell, Hellebuyck finally put it together this season, going 44-11-9 with a .924 save percentage, 2.36 GAA, and six shutouts. Hellebuyck also played a lot of hockey this season, his 3,965:54 nearly a full game higher than Sergei Bobrovsky, who was second in the league at 3,911:34.
The case for Vasilevskiy: Like Hellebuyck, Vasilevskiy won 44 games. His averages (.919/2.62) were hurt by a late-season malaise but the 23-year-old still managed eight shutouts, which tied Rinne for tops in the league.
Player that made the best case for four finalists: Tuukka Rask – I honestly think they got it right with these three guys. Rinne, Hellebuyck, and Vasilevskiy were head and shoulders above everyone else in the league this season. But Rask was sensational after a slow start to the season. In a 37-game stretch between the beginning of December and prior to a 3-game losing streak to end the season, Rask went 30-3-3 with a .927 save percentage and 2.07 GAA. Those are foolishly good numbers.
There was no Matthews, McDavid, or Laine coming into this year but the crop of rookies didn’t relent. It’s amazing how much young talent is in the game these days. The finalists this year were Mathew Barzal, Brock Boeser, and Clayton Keller, and there’s more that could’ve been finalists.
The case for Barzal: The Islanders rookie, who just turned 21 in May, ran away with the rookie scoring title, finishing 20 points above Clayton Keller at 85 points. Barzal is just the sixth rookie to record 85 points in the past 25 seasons. The other five? Teemu Selanne, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Joe Juneau, and Evgeni Malkin. Decent company.
The case for Boeser: The 21-year-old scored 29 goals in 62 games, as his rookie campaign was cut short in early March due to a lower-back injury. Boeser’s 29 goals and 55 points in 62 games was on par with Pavel Bure’s rookie season in 1991-92, when he finished with 34 goals and 60 points in 65 games.
The case for Keller: The 19-year-old came flying out of the starting gates, with 11 goals and 17 points in his first 16 games. While he cooled down, Keller finished with 23 goals and 65 points, his 18:05 time-on-ice the most among rookie forwards.
Player that made the best case for four finalists: Kyle Connor – Connor leading all rookies with 31 goals comes with a couple caveats. First, the 21-year-old had the fortune of playing with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler much of the season. Second, Brock Boeser leads the league if he doesn’t get hurt. All fair. But don’t be mistaken, the showing by Connor this past season was a sign of what should be great NHL career to come. Connor has been an elite goal scorer at every level. You might not say ‘elite NHL goal scorer’ just yet, but this past season he proved he can put the puck in the net in The Show just like he had in the AHL, NCAA, and USHL before that.
If named the NHL’s best defensive forward for a fifth time, Patrice Bergeron will pass Bob Gainey for the most Selke Trophies ever. Meanwhile Anze Kopitar looks to win his second in three years and Sean Couturier will look to win his first.
The case for Bergeron: The Bruins top line of Brad Marchand, Bergeron, and David Pastrnak is the best 200-foot line in the NHL. Bergeron is the heart and soul of not just that line, but the whole Bruins team. In 64 games, Bergeron managed to put up 30 goals and 63 points while handling the biggest responsibilities in all other ends of the ice, all other situations of the game. He’s the been the game’s premier two-way player for the better part of a decade, and shows no signs of ceding that throne.
The case for Kopitar: He led all forwards with 22:05 ice-time per game this season while cracking the 90-point mark, finishing with 92 points.
The case for Couturier: Couturier broke out this past season with 31 goals and 76 points to go along with a plus-34 rating. A number that becomes more impressive when you consider the Flyers had a plus-eight goal differential.
Player that made the best case for four finalists: Aleksander Barkov – Eventually Barkov will become a perennial finalist. But he belonged among these three this year. In 79 games, Barkov averaged 22:04 per night, one of just two forwards to average 22 minutes (the other being Kopitar). Barkov keyed the Panthers monstrous second-half run that nearly landed Florida in the playoffs, playing in all situations and taking on heavy assignments.
Toronto Marlies win Calder Cup
The Marlies, the AHL affiliate of the Maple Leafs took down the Texas Stars in a seven-game series, the first Calder Cup to go the distance since 2003. Andreas Johnsson was the playoff MVP after he led the tournaments with 24 points (10-14) in 16 games.
Other performances of note:
- Trevor Moore – 17 points (6-11) in 20 games
- Carl Grundstrom – 8 goals and 14 points in 20 games
- Calle Rosen – 11 points (5-6) in 16 games
The Maple Leafs future is really, really bright, in case you haven’t heard.
Things you should read – Capitals edition
*Alex Ovechkin finally reaches hockey’s summit.
*The Capitals journey from perennial playoff disappointment to Stanley Cup champion.
*Honestly, read any and all Capitals content in the Washington Post. They’re doing an amazing job.
*More Ovechkin: This time from Alex Prewitt, who wrote a great piece for Sports Illustrated.
*Can the Capitals keep the band together?
Taking you out of the blog and into the weekend: This day in 2011, the Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in 39 years