Filling Out My 2020 NHL Awards Ballot
With the 2019-20 regular season officially over, the league chose to send out ballots to writers for the 2020 NHL Awards on Monday, June 9. Finalists for awards have been announced throughout the week. Though there won't be a huge awards show spectacle in Vegas this year, that doesn't make the awards any less important or deserved.
My ballot must have been lost in the mail, because I still haven't received it, and since Gary isn't answering my emails, I'm going to assume it's not coming. So instead, I'll put my picks here, @NHL. Feel free to count my votes a few extra times, especially if they're for a Flyer.
Awarded "to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team."
2018-19 Winner: RW Nikita Kucherov (TB) - 41 G, 87 A, 128 PTS
My Ballot (Yes, I know the writers get five picks, but then they are made into a final three, so I'm just going with that):
1. LW Artemi Panarin (NYR): After signing a massive 7-year, $81.5 million deal on July 1, Panarin lived up to the hype with 95 points, tied for third in the league. Panarin is far and away the best forward on the Rangers, evident by how he pulled his usual center Ryan Strome to a career-best 59 point campaign. The Rangers were 11th in the East at the time of the pause, but were also one of the hottest team in the league. But the fact the Rangers may not have made the traditional playoffs may be a sticking point for some.
2. G Connor Hellebuyck (WPG): After losing three of their four best defensemen over the summer, the Jets needed to be Hellebuyck to a be a superstar if they were going to have any chance of making the playoffs. Winnipeg was close to making the playoffs (9th in the West by points percentage), and yes, Hellebuyck was a superstar. His six shutouts led the league, and his .922 save percentage seventh. Analytics love his game even more; his 22.4 goals saved above average are just a hair behind Tuukka Rask for best in the NHL.
3. C/LW Leon Draisaitl (EDM): Draisaitl led the league 67 assists and 110 points, which is thirteen more than second place. However, second place happens to be his teammate and most frequent linemate, Connor McDavid. Though Draisaitl performed well away from McDavid, having the best hockey player on your line for a significant chunk of the season definitely provides a boost to your scoring. It comes at the expense to those who take the "most valuable to his team" part seriously.
Honorable Mentions: Nathan MacKinnon (COL), Alex Ovechkin (WSH)
James Norris Trophy
Awarded to "defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position."
2018-19 Winner: Mark Giordano (CGY) - 17 G, 57 A, 74 PTS
1. Roman Josi (NSH): The Norris Trophy should go to the best all-around defenseman, not just the blue-liner who puts up the most points. That's the way it goes most years, but that's not what I want to see this year. Roman Josi puts up plenty of points (65, second most among defenseman), but what puts him over the top is his work in his own-zone and on the PK. The Predators captain gets my vote.
2. John Carlson (WSH): If Carlson kept up his 100-point pace from the fall, then that would probably be enough to secure my vote. While his 89-point pace is still impressive, it's not quite high enough for me to give him the nod. Carlson was a bit of a mess in his own zone, and the gap in scoring between him and Josi isn't big enough for me to forgive him fully. Carlson is certainly a worthy candidate, but he's runner-up for me.
3. Dougie Hamilton (CAR): Yeah, he only played in 47 games. But the fact the rest of the league only got to about 70 makes it a little easier to include Hamilton, who was having an outstanding year. Hamilton has taken at least one shot on goal in 294 (!!) consecutive games dating back to April 2016, the longest active streak in the NHL. He's not elite in his own zone, but Hamilton isn't a total liability either.
Honorable Mentions: Victor Hedman (TB), Alex Pietrangelo (STL)
Awarded to the goaltender "adjudged to be the best at this position."
2018-19 Winner: Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB) - 39-10-4, .925 SV%, 26.4 GSAA
1. Connor Hellebuyck (WPG): He was second on my Hart ballot, so yeah, he's getting my vote for Vezina. Putting up the numbers Hellebuyck did in front of the defense he had is incredibly impressive, and he's the biggest reason the Jets didn't fall off the face of the Earth this season.
2. Darcy Kuemper (ARI): I thought last year was a career year for Kuemper, but he backed it up with an incredibly 2019-20 season. Yes, he missed a couple months due to injuries, but when Kuemper was healthy, he (and the Coyotes) were very good. Kuemper's .928 save percentage was seventh in the NHL and he stopped an impressive 16.65 goals above average (which would be even higher if he played a full season). If he was healthy the entire season, the Coyotes probably would've been in position to make the regular playoffs, rather than barely qualify for the expanded one.
3. Tuukka Rask (BOS): No goalie saved more goals above average than Rask's 22.51 (he and Hellebuyck were the only ones above 18). Playing in front of an amazing Bruins defense and splitting the crease with arguably the best backup in the league in Jaroslav Halak help, but Rask was great in his own right. Rask probably would've won the Conn Smythe if the Bruins won Game 7 last year, and he hasn't slowed down since.
Honorable Mentions: Ben Bishop (DAL), Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB)
Awarded "to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League."
2018-19 Winner: C Elias Pettersson (VAN) - 28 G, 38 A, 66 PTS
1. D Cale Makar (COL): It's a battle between two smooth-skating, puck-moving Western Conference defensemen for rookie of the year. In the end, I think Cale Makar (who got a bit of a head start by playing 10 games in last year's playoffs) had a little bit better of a season, so he finishes a little bit higher in my ballot. Makar put up 50 points in only 57 games (missing about a dozen contests due to injury) and was a force to be reckoned with on Colorado's backend. Makar had big shoes to fill with the departure of Tyson Barrie (118 points in 2017-18 and 2018-19 combined), and boy did he ever.
2. D Quinn Hughes (VAN): The only reason that Makar won't run away with this award is because Hughes is just about as good. The brother of another rookie with a lot of hype coming into the season (2019 #1 overall pick Jack Hughes, my preseason pick to win the Calder), Quinn had an outstanding year as Vancouver's number one defenseman. Hughes scored 53 points (the fifth most by an NHL defenseman) and was great as both a power-play quarterback and at 5-on-5.
3. LW Dominik Kubalik (CHI): It's hard to score 30 goals in the NHL, especially as a rookie, especially in only 68 games, especially on a team tied for 18th in the NHL in goals for. But that's exactly what Dominik Kubalik did, flying under the radar the whole way. Victor Olofsson got off to the hotter start, but Kubalik was a constant offensive threat for a Blackhawks team that desperately needed another cheap scorer (especially with Alex DeBrincat taking a bit of a step back).
Honorable Mentions: D Adam Fox (NYR), RW Victor Olofsson (BUF)
Frank J. Selke Trophy
Awarded "to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game."
2018-19 Winner: C Ryan O'Reilly (STL) - 77 PTS, 53.44% Corsi, 20:48 TOI
1. Sean Couturier (PHI): This is a long-time coming for Coots. The long underrated defensive middle-sixer had his third straight 70-point pace season this year, thrusting him into the heart of Selke candidacy. Couturier is an elite defensive center who leads Flyers forwards in Corsi and ice-time at both 5-on-5 and the PK. He routinely faces other teams top lines and shuts them down with relative ease. He was the PHWA's midseason pick for the award, and I don't see any reason for him to fall out of the top slot.
2. Anthony Cirelli (TB): Out with the old, in with the new. I'd be surprised if Cirelli finished this high because you usually have to work your way slowly up the Selke ballot as guys with a great reputation get all of the love (regardless of how good their actual season was). Cirelli is definitely underrated, as he hides behind bigger names like Stamkos, Point, and Kucherov in Tampa Bay. However, Cirelli is just as important to Tampa Bay's success, as he's turned into a dynamic defensive center and play-driver.
3. Ryan O'Reilly (STL): Last year's winner (and Stanley Cup champion) deserves at least a partial vote this year. The Selke is an award based on reputation, and everyone knows that Ryan O'Reilly is one of the best two-way forwards in the sport. He backed it up with another great season, scoring 61 points while leading all Blues (including defensemen) in short-handed time-on-ice. O'Reilly drove play well and is a complete #1 center on one of the best teams in the league.
Honorable Mentions: Philip Danault (MTL), Patrice Bergeron (BOS)
Jack Adams Award
Awarded to the coach "adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success."
2018-19 Winner: Barry Trotz (NYI) - 48-28-7; Beat PIT 4-0, Lost to CAR 4-0
1. Alain Vigneault (PHI): Only four teams had more points in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season than the full 2018-19 campaign - the Oilers, Avalanche, Rangers, and Flyers. Both Edmonton and Philly brought in new coaches over the summer, I believe Edmonton's turn-around has more to do with Dave Tippett just being competent rather than being an actually great coach.
Alain Vigneault is certainly the latter. Despite the Flyers losing two of their top young weapons (Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick) for most of the season, Vigneault turned the Flyers into a powerhouse that was only getting better as the season progressed (9-1-0 in their last 10 games, #1 in the NHL). All of the Flyers new acquisitions filled in seamlessly, and almost every returning player had a strong season. Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom took a step forward, and Ivan Provorov bounced back in a big way under Vigneault's watch.
2. John Tortorella (CBJ): Not many people expected the Blue Jackets to be anywhere near the playoffs this year. After losing star forwards Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene and two-time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky to free agency, Columbus was pegged to be somewhere between extremely mediocre and actively bad. After winning their first playoff series in franchise history last year, CBJ was basically guaranteed to take a step back.
Somebody forgot to tell that to Joh Tortorella know. Columbus' fiery head coach pressed all of the right buttons with his group, keeping the Blue Jackets in playoff contention all season long. Columbus was 9th in the East in points percentage when the season paused, actually one point ahead of the New York Islanders for the last playoff spot but having played two more games.
The Blue Jackets were the perfect definition of what a "team" should be, as they played greater than the sum of their parts. Despite losing starter Joonas Korpisalo, star defenseman Seth Jones, winger Oliver Bjorkstrand and many more to injury and not having a single 50-point scorer (though defenseman Zach Werenski put up an impressive 20 goals), Columbus was in the thick of the hunt the whole way.
3. Travis Green (VAN): This is a bit out of left field compared to most ballots, as I haven't seen Travis Green get much hype for the Jack Adams. But the Canucks haven't made the playoffs since 2015 and haven't won a round since 2011, and Green had Vancouver in position to likely accomplish the former and maybe the latter in his best year since becoming head coach in 2016. The Canucks ended the regular season 7th in the West, which is even more impressive when you consider star goalie Jacob Markstrom and elite sniper Brock Boeser were on the shelf down the stretch.
Green (and GM Jim Benning) have slowly been building the Canucks back up towards their glory days from the early 2010s, and this year felt like a tipping point for them. Vancouver was in the hunt for the Pacific Division title for most of the year, and although they did slide off a little at the end, they were still in good position to make the playoffs. While emerging talents like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Boeser probably would produce under any coach, Green has gotten a lot out of them. He also oversaw a career year from first-year Canuck J.T. Miller.
Honorable Mentions: Mike Sullivan (PIT), Paul Maurice (WPG)
Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award
Awarded to the top NHL general manager as voted by "a 41-member panel that included all 31 general managers, five NHL executives and five media members."
2018-19 Winner: Don Sweeney (BOS) - 49-24-9; Beat TOR 4-3, Beat CBJ 4-2, Beat CAR 4-0, Lost to STL 4-3
1. Joe Sakic (COL): This award has been a long time coming for Sakic, who has arguably been the best GM in hockey since the end of Colorado's nightmare 47-point 2016-17 season. Depth signings of Pierre Eduoard-Bellemare, Valeri Nichushkin, and especially Joonas Donskoi have paid off in spades. Acquiring Nazem Kadri from Toronto gave the Avs the strong second-line center behind MacKinnon they desperately needed. It cost them a great offensive defenseman in Tyson Barrie, but losing Barrie was a luxury Sakic could afford thanks to drafting Cale Makar 4th in 2017.
Sakic could have easily fired head coach Jared Bednar after the atrocious 2016-17 season, but didn't panic and was rewarded with a playoff appearance two years ago, a playoff series win last year, and the third best record in the year. Colorado has gotten consistently better over the last few seasons, and Sakic's shrewd moves have been a huge reason why.
2. Chuck Fletcher (PHI): Wow, a Flyer nominated for an award that doesn't win? What a shock, huh. The Flyers had one of the busiest offseasons of any NHL team and although his moves weren't all popular, they pretty much all worked out. Kevin Hayes' contract may age poorly, but the Flyers desperately needed a good second-line center, and Hayes was just that. Matt Niskanen bounced back and helped Ivan Provorov returned to top-pair form. Justin Braun and Tyler Pitlick were important depth defensive players. And he hired an official Jack Adams candidate in Alain Vigneault. The man just hasn't missed since coming to Philly, and that earns him a nod on my ballot.
3. Ken Holland (EDM): Having Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl automatically puts your team in a good position. However, the Oilers missed the playoffs by wide margins each of the last two years despite those two combining for 439 points in those seasons. Enter Ken Holland, who looked like he might be over his head after an awful last few seasons in Detroit.
Yet somehow, Holland pulled out all of the stops and led the Oilers to what (almost certainly) would've been their second playoff appearance since 2006 if the season finished like normal. Granted, this was mostly achieved by Holland not tripping over his own feet like Peter Chiarelli always did, but hey, that counts for something. Deadline acquistions Tyler Ennis and Andreas Athanasiou could be great linemates for the speedy McDavid, but they'll need more time to prove themselves. His signature move is hiring Dave Tippett as head coach, which worked out extremely well.
Bill Masterton Trophy
Awarded "to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey."
2018-19 Winner: G Robin Lehner (NYI) - Overcame alcoholism to put up a career best season, sharing the William M. Jennings Trophy and being nominated for the Vezina.
1. Oskar Lindblom (PHI): Lindblom was enjoying a breakout season, scoring 11 goals in 30 games to start the season. The Swedish born advanced stats darling was thriving as a constant in the Flyers top six, and was well on his way to becoming an impact player.
Then, tragedy struck. In December, Lindblom was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. The diagnosis ended Lindblom's season, but his impact on the Flyers remained. His teammates, the Flyers fanbase, and the entire hockey quickly came to Oskar's side in his fight.
Incredibly, Lindblom wrapped up his treatments on July 2, ringing the bell at Penn Medicine to signal that there is no longer any evidence of cancer in his body. Lindblom signed a 3-year extension a few days ago, and GM Chuck Fletcher expects Lindblom to join the Flyers in the bubble at Toronto, counting as one of the 31 players the club can bring. It remains to be seen whether Lindblom will be able to return this season, but he has already made great progress in this difficult battle.
2. Jay Bouwmeester (STL): The 36-year old defenseman experienced the greatest high of his NHL career last June when he won his first Stanley Cup as a member of the St. Louis Blues. The 2002 3rd overall pick signed a 1-year deal with the Blues shortly after raising the Cup. He likely expected his NHL career to finish at the end of the contract.
Instead, it likely ended in January, when Bouwmeester suffered a cardiac arrest event on the bench in the first period of a Blues-Ducks game. The medical staff at Honda Center rushed to Bouwmeester's aid and may have saved his life with the use of a defibrillator (and later, an artificial pacemaker was inserted at the hospital). Bouwmeester's lengthy career is likely over, but he was a warrior on the ice and the entire hockey community is thankful to still have him.
3. Bobby Ryan (OTT): In November, Ryan announced that he was leaving the Senators team to join the NHLPA's Drug and Substance Abuse program. Addiction is a very serious issue, as last year's Masterton winner Robin Lehner can attest too. Ryan was away from the Senators for over three months before rejoining the club on February 25th for a game in Nashville.
However, it was Ryan's second game back, February 27th at home against the Canucks, that made the headlines. Ryan recorded his fifth career hat-trick, his first since 2014. After his game-sealing empty-netter, "Ryan" chants rang throughout the Canadian Tire Centre. Ryan was overcome on the Senators bench as the clock ticked down in one of the feel-good moments of the hockey season.
Honorable Mentions: Stephen Johns (DAL), Connor McDavid (EDM)