Predicting the 2019 NHL Awards
It's already been a busy offseason. No team has made more trades since the trade deadline than the Flyers (three). The draft starts Friday. A week from Sunday, unrestricted free agency will begin.
Yet with all the attention on the future, Wednesday night will be a time to celebrate the past. The NHL Awards Ceremony returns to Vegas for what seems like the twelth straight year, as a select group of the league's finest will be honored for their outstanding 2018-19 campaigns.
With that in mind, it's time to predict who will take home the hardware. I don't have one of those fancy models that can predict the TONY's at 98% accuracy, so my C- level Pre-Calc brain will have to do. One important distinction - this is who I think will win, not who I think should win. Without further adue, here's who I see going home with the prizes tomorrow night.
Selke Trophy - Best Defensive Forward
The Finalists: Patrice Bergeron (BOS), Ryan O'Reilly (STL), Mark Stone (VGK)
Last Year's Winner: Anze Kopitar (LA)
Key Traits: The Selke is often determined on seniority. It's a trophy based on reputation as much as it is on your season. Obviously, you need to be good defensively, but at least decent offense numbers (> 55 points or so) to be considered. Advanced stats that determine possession and quality of competition are becoming more commonplace though. Also worth noting that a winger has not won the award since Jere Lehtinen in 2003.
Previous Finishes: Bergeron has won the award four times since 2012; O'Reilly has received scattered support for the award over the years, but playing in a bigger market helped his cause. Stone has long been known as the best defensive winger in hockey, but has never placed higher than 6th in voting.
The Pick: Patrice Bergeron (BOS) - Seniority rules, for better or for worse. If it was up to me, I'd pick Stone. Well, actually, I'd take Sean Couturier. Because why not?
Lady Byng - Most Gentlemanly Player
The Finalists: Alexsandor Barkov (FLA), Sean Monahan (CGY), Ryan O'Reilly (STL)
Last Year's Winner: William Karlsson (VGK)
Key Traits: Don't take a lot of penalties, especially misconducts or majors. Draw a lot of penalties. Don't be Brad Marchand. That's about it.
Previous Finishes: Barkov has been nominated twice, but never won. Monahan finished 5th in 2014-15 and received support the year after. And O'Reilly won the award with the Avalanche back in 2014 and was runner-up a year ago.
The Pick: Alexsander Barkov (FLA) - His eight (!!!) penalty minutes were the lowest of the group. Spoiler alert: he's no longer underrated.
Masterton Trophy - Dedication to Hockey
The Finalists: Nick Foligno (CBJ), Robin Lehner (NYI), Joe Thornton (SJ)
Last Year's Winner: Brian Boyle (NJ)
Key Traits: Have a good season, number one. But more importantly, be coming off a down year or years. It can be caused by injury, age, off-ice situations, or randomness. But this is essentially the bounce-back player of th year.
Previous Finishes: None of this year's finalists have ever received a vote, which isn't too uncommon for the Masterton.
The Pick: Robin Lehner (NYI) - A year ago, he was battling substance abuse and other off-ice issues while posting a .908 save percentage for the NHL-worst Sabres. This season, he was a Vezina finalist, and all indicators are his personal life is moving in the right direction. This one shouldn't be too hard.
Vezina Trophy - Best Goaltender
The Finalists: Ben Bishop (DAL), Robin Lehner (NYI), Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB)
Last Year's Winner: Pekka Rinne (NSH)
Key Traits: Be an amazing goaltender. Save percentage is the key stat for this, but GAA and wins matter for the voters, probably too much. It's also important to make the playoffs, too, as you'll see with a lot of the other awards.
Previous Finishes: Bishop was nominated twice with Tampa, but came up just short both times. Lehner is a first time nominee. Vasilevskiy was runner-up last year, just his second season as a starter.
The Pick: Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB) - Even though he has the benefit of playing in front of one of the best backends in the league, Vasilevskiy has long had the reputation of a future stud. He proved that label true last year and solidifies it on Wednesday, schooling Lehner and his former teacher Ben Bishop.
Norris Trophy - Best Defenseman
The Finalists: Brent Burns (SJ), Mark Giordano (CGY), Victor Hedman (TB)
Last Year's Winner: Brent Burns (SJ)
Key Traits: Playing top pair minutes on a playoff team. Get special teams work on both the power play and penalty kill. Score at least in the upper 50s in points. Most time, it's a veteran up for this award, which all three of this year's candidates are.
Previous Finishes: Burns was the 2016-17 champion and has received votes in each of the last four years. Hedman was the guy who beat him last year, after coming up in 3rd the year prior. Giordano is the outlier here, as he has never placed in the top five before.
The Pick: Mark Giordano (CGY) - At 35, Giordano just put up the best season of his career. He's got the perfect combination of leadership, defensive ability, and point production to push him ahead of the pack.
King Clancy Memorial Trophy - Humanitarian Award
The Finalists: Oliver Ekman-Larsson (ARI), Henrik Lundqvist (NYR), Jason Zucker (MIN)
Last Year's Winner: Daniel and Henrik Sedin (VAN)
Key Traits: It helps to have been around for a while. It helps to wear a "C" or an "A." Being with the same team for a long time is another positive. Community work matters more for the award below, but it certaintly can't hurt here (or anywhere, for that matter). Don't forget about that good-old veteran presence!
Previous Finishes: None of these three have ever been nominated for the King Clancy.
The Pick: Henrik Lundqvist (NYR) - With Lundqvist's star falling fast, much like the Sedins are year ago, King Henrik gets himself some more hardware.
Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award
The Finalists: Mark Giordano (CGY), Wayne Simmonds (PHI/NSH), Justin Williams (CAR)
Last Year's Winner: Deryk Engelland (VGK)
Key Traits: Be a good old leader. Plain and simple. It's not too different than the King Clancy, with a greater emphasis on experience and leadership than consistency and on-ice performance.
Previous Finishes: Simmonds was the 2016-17 runner-up for the NHL Foundatin Player Award to Travis Hamonic. Other than that, it seems like another batch of rookies.
The Pick: Justin Williams (CAR) - Williams has long had a reputation as a leader and good clubhouse guy, even before being named the captain of the upstart Hurricanes this year. Helping lead the Canes to the playoffs for the first time since 2009 puts him apart.
Jack Adams Award - Coach of the Year
The Finalists: Craig Berube (STL), Jon Cooper (TB), Barry Trotz (NYI)
Last Year's Winner: Gerrard Gallant (VGK)
Key Traits: You have to make the playoffs, that's the first thing. Exceeding expectations is the most important thing, though. Setting some records along the way is also helpful.
Previous Finishes: Trotz won the trophy with Washington in 2016, but all three have had seasons before worthy of strong consideration.
The Pick: Barry Trotz (NYI) - No team in NHL history had gone from worst to first in goals against since the 1916-17 to 1917-18 Ottawa Senators. That stat alone gives Trotz, in his second incredible coaching season in a row, the prize.
Calder Trophy - Best Rookie
The Finalists: Jordan Binnington (STL), Rasmus Dahlin (BUF), Elias Petterson (VAN)
Last Year's Winner: Matthew Barzal (NYI)
Key Traits: By definition, you have to be a rookie. Beyond that, you need to separate yourself from your field, either via consistency or highlight reels. Preferably both, but nobody's perfect. Defenseman aren't usually nominated, but Dahlin was more than special enough to make an exception this year.
Previous Finishes: None, on account of their all rookies. No Matt Murray scenarios this year.
The Pick: Elias Petterson (VAN) - Binnington might be the most deserving, but Petterson's highlight-reel skill and shot pulls him over the edge.
General Manager of the Year
The Finalists: Doug Armstrong (STL), Don Sweeney (BOS), Don Wadell (CAR)
Last Year's Winner: George McPhee (VGK)
Key Traits: Very similiar to coach of the year - exceed expectations. However, you have to have done something, either a big free agent signing or trade, or both, within the last 12 months. The more the merrier here, too.
Previous Finishes: Armstrong won the award in 2012 during the beginning of his Blues tenure. Sweeney and Wadell are newbies to the podium, however. Sweeney has a longer track record, but Wadell exceeded expectations greater than the other two (at least at the time of voting).
The Pick: Don Wadell (CAR) - As mentioned with Williams, no one expected Carolina to make the playoffs. GM of the Year is voted on after the second round, meaning the Hurricanes' poor ECF showing wasn't taken into consideration. Topped off with a bunch of feel good stories (Williams, Mrazek) and a big mid-season move (Niederriter-Rask), Wadell takes it home.
Hart Trophy - MVP
The Finalists: Sidney Crosby (PIT), Nikita Kucherov (TB), Connor McDavid (EDM)
Last Year's Winner: Taylor Hall (NJ)
Key Traits: Usually a forward. Near the top of the league in scoring. On a playoff team, unless you're Connor McDavid, because everyone feels bad for the hell hole known as Edmonton he's stuck in. Have a reputation as one of the best players in the league. Make all of the highlight reels (playoff success not required, which is good because this year's crop combined for zero playoff wins - for maybe the first time ever).
Previous Finishes: Crosby has won the Hart twice, receiving at least one vote every year of his career except 2012 (probably because he lost to the Flyers in the playoffs). McDavid was the winner in 2017 and finished 5th a year ago. Kucherov has received votes before, but never finished in the top five.
The Pick: Nikita Kucherov (TB) - But only because the voters choose before the playoffs.
Bonus: NHL 20 Cover
The Pick: Johnny Gaudreau (CGY) - Most years, EA picks a Canadian born player on an American team to satisfy their two biggest markets. They flip the roles this year, going with Gaudreau. He's got everything you could want - skill, speed, and he seems to be a likeable guy. EA usually likes to promote all of those traits, so Johnny Hockey make sense.