Mid-season award predictions

So it’s the official midpoint of the season even though many teams are around the 50-game mark, well past the official midway point that is 41 games. But anyway, here’s a look at who might, will, and/or should win the respective NHL awards that are handed out following the season.

Hart Trophy: Brent Burns, San Jose- This award will probably go to Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby but Burns is why the Sharks lead the Pacific Division and are in the running to repeat as Western Conference champions. He’s been on the ice for 36 percent of San Jose’s goals, according to puckalytics, which compares to 28 percent for McDavid and 22 percent for Crosby. His 51 points in 50 games leads the team.

Vezina Trophy: Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota- What a story this will be. The once forgotten about, cast away to the AHL only to get another chance and thrive goaltender in Dubnyk finally getting his due. He’s statistically been right up there with Carey Price among the game’s best netminder over the past few seasons and he’s been unconscious once again this season. He leads the league in save percentage (.936) and GAA (1.88), and is second in wins (27). The only thing that separates him from the goaltending Triple Crown at the moment in Sergei Bobrovsky, who has one more win than Dubnyk.

Norris Trophy: Brent Burns, San Jose- For all the reasons mentioned above, and then some. He’s having an historic season for a defenseman, and is making a serious push at the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading point-getter. Should Burns win the scoring title – he’s eight points off the current perch held down by McDavid – he’d be just the second blueliner in NHL history to lead the league in scoring. The other is Bobby Orr.

Selke Trophy: Ryan Kesler, Anaheim- Kesler has been Anaheim’s best player this season. He has 39 points in 51 games while his 21:48 of ice time per game is a second behind Patrick Kane for the league-high among forwards. Kesler has taken a league-high 1,119 faceoffs, his 57.6 success rate on the draw third in the league behind Patrice Bergeron and Ryan O’Reilly among players that have taken greater than 900 faceoffs. Watch out for a late surge from Bergeron, whose offensive numbers aren’t there but numbers on defense, faceoffs, and possession remain through the roof.

Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews, Toronto- In what has been the Year of the Rookie in 2016-17, Matthews stands alone in the race for the Calder. That’s how good he is, and that’s how much higher a level he’s on than everybody else. Forget rookies, Matthews has been one of the top five players in the league this season. He looks like he’s been in the NHL for 10 years. He’s tied with Alex Ovechkin for fourth in the NHL with 23 goals.

Jack Adams Award: John Tortorella, Columbus- The Blue Jackets have broken out this season, emerging as one of the league’s best teams, highlighted by a 16-game winning streak that stretched from November to January. It’s another feather in the cap for Tortorella, whose best known for going into young clubs and getting guys to realize their potential, as he did in Tampa Bay and New York.

General Manager of the Year: Peter Chiarelli, Edmonton- Chiarelli has done a fine job reconstructing the roster in Edmonton, and the Oilers are on track to erase an 11-year playoff drought as a result. Of course, it all starts with Connor McDavid, but a Chiarelli bringing in a number of players over the past two years, such as Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Andrej Sekera, Mark Letestu, and Kris Russell has changed the identity of the team. While he traded an elite talent in Taylor Hall, it’s looked like the shake up the Oilers needed.

Lady Byng Trophy: Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis- He’s having his best season yet, with 47 points in 49 games while carrying a Blues team that isn’t as good as years past. He’s done so by staying out of the box, with just eight penalty minutes.

Masterton Trophy: Craig Anderson, Ottawa- Anderson hasn’t played since December 5th, away from the Senators to be by his wife’s side as she undergoes treatment for cancer. However, he’s nearing a return as his wife has completed treatment.

Art Ross Trophy: Brent Burns, San Jose- He’s a long shot but what the heck, let’s have some fun here. I’ll be rooting for the story.

Richard Trophy: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh- Crosby has slowed off the pace when it comes to putting the puck in the net after a torrid start to the year, but nobody has really caught up.

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The John Tortorella Effect Taking Shape in Columbus

If you’re a general manager of a young, talented, up-and-coming team seeking a coach to get the right message across, John Tortorella should be atop your wish list.

There’s no better proof of that than Tampa Bay, where he took over a fledgling team representing a fledgling franchise in a fledgling hockey market and made it into a Stanley Cup champion. In the process, he kickstarted the careers of longtime stars Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Pavel Kubina, and Dan Boyle.

Should you have a coach in your back pocket should the best laid plans go awry? For sure. The message might wear on the guys in the room as the years go on, as happened later in Tortorella’s Tampa years – which, in fairness, happens to most coaches. It was rinse and repeat, after all, in New York when despite not winning a Cup molded the careers of Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Brandon Dubinsky, Chris Kreider, Henrik Lundqvist, Michael Del Zotto, and Carl Hagelin, among others. The Rangers didn’t reach the Stanley Cup in his tenure, but did qualify the year after his 2013 Broadway dismissal.

Now he’s doing it again with the Blue Jackets.

After Tortorella’s reputation was torn to shreds in a disastrous 2013-14 season in Vancouver, in which he was a bad fit in a bad situation, he landed in Columbus in October 2015. Taking over a club that was out to an 0-7 start under Todd Richards, the Jackets went 34-33-8 the rest of the way. While Columbus missed the playoffs, things were at least stabilized following the coaching change.

The Blue Jackets have taken off in season two, a full offseason under the lead of the 58-year-old coach (save for a hiatus in September to coach Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey, in which Tortorella didn’t come out looking good, to put it nicely).

Out to a 20-5-4 record, the Jackets’ 44 points are good enough for third place in the Metropolitan Division, a standing that is no indicator of just how strong this team has through one-third of the season. Columbus is the hottest team in hockey with nine straight wins, and sits a point behind Pittsburgh and three behind the Rangers in the Metro. The Jackets have three games in hand on the Penguins, five on New York.

Columbus is a franchise that has seen no success since setting up shop in 2000, with just a pair of playoff appearances scattered among a bevy of disappointing seasons. It’s a situation not dissimilar to what Tortorella walked into in Tampa Bay when he took over the 2001. Only thing is Tortorella finds himself on a bench closer to contention this time.

Few goaltenders have been as good as Sergei Bobrovsky since he was traded to Ohio from Philadelphia in 2012. Among goalies to play 180 games since the start of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season (in which Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy), Bobrovsky is tied with Cory Schneider and Henrik Lundqvist with a .922 save percentage. Only Carey Price (.927), Tuukka Rask (.924), and Corey Crawford (.923) have stopped pucks at a higher rate over that span. The 28-year-old is playing his best hockey yet, with a .932 save percentage and 1.94 GAA in 26 games.

Columbus is good in front of Bobrovsky as well, much better than in recent years. The Blue Jackets are a combination of quick, strong, and skilled on the back end while being heavy and creative up front. Zach Werenski has been one of the league’s best rookies, while Seth Jones joins him as a budding star on the blue line. Jack Johnson and David Savard are reliable defenseman that aren’t too old but have experience and can play big minutes. Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Sam Gagner, Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad, and Alex Wennberg have brought the blend of brawn and skill to the forward position.

This team has been among the more talented, young squads in the NHL for some time. The Jackets have been no stranger to the trendy ‘breakout pick’ in recent falls.

That breakout appears to be happening, and it’s all coming together under Tortorella. Just as it did in Tampa Bay. Just as it did in New York.

When Tortorella won his 500th game by way of the Jackets 4-3 overtime win at Vancouver on Sunday night, he entered unchartered territory among American-born coaches. He joined a fraternity that includes just 24 of the 362 coaches (per hockey-reference.com) to command an NHL bench. He joins a group of 10 active coaches in Joel Quenneville (823), Ken Hitchcock (774), Lindy Ruff (715), Barry Trotz (677), Darryl Sutter (611), Alain Vigneault (589), Paul Maurice (571), Mike Babcock (568), Dave Tippett (534), and Claude Julien (529). Not bad company. And it comes as no fluke.