You can learn a lot after 20 games.
Example: The fast, deep and dangerous Dallas Stars look capable of challenging for the top spot in the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Kings are ready to rebound after missing the playoffs last season. And injury or not, Connor McDavid is every bit as good as his pre-draft hype suggested.
You can also see some players establishing themselves as early favorites to capture some hardware. Safe to say a lot can happen over the next 60 games, and the guys who look like obvious choices now could fade back into the pack, allowing other contenders emerge before it’s time to tally up the votes for real. But based on what we’ve seen so far, here’s a look at the top candidates to claim this season’s major awards.
Vezina Trophy: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
No surprise that the King is in the running for the award. He’s finished among the top-six vote-getters in each of his 10 previous seasons, including 2012 when he won the award for the first time, and with a quick start this season Lundqvist has established himself as the early favorite to capture it again. The Rangers star is tied for the league lead in wins (10) while posting a 1.71 GAA and .946 save percentage, well ahead of the pack in both categories. He also leads in adjusted save percentage (.961) and is second in high-danger save percentage (.929).
Even when he’s lost, Hank’s been good. His save percentage was above .925 in three of his five defeats (including OT), and even after coming up short in a 1–0 loss in Tampa Bay on Thursday, he became the first Rangers goalie to allow two goals or fewer in 10 straight road appearances since John Ross Roach in 1930-31. That’s some historical dominance there.
Also in the mix: Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils; Marc-André Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins; Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Norris Trophy: John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
The Stars have been looking for their next Sergei Zubov ever since the sadly underappreciated Russian star hung up his blades back in 2008. Finally, it looks like they’ve found him.
Klingberg, like Zubov, gets noticed primarily for his eye-popping offensive numbers. His 18 assists lead the league and he ranks fourth among all scorers with 22 points. But like Zubov, the 23-year-old also plays a quietly effective defensive game. There’s nothing that really stands out about Klingberg’s play in his own zone ... unless you’re watching carefully. Then you’ll notice his immaculate positioning, his canny stickwork and his incredible poise under pressure. Klingberg has the courage to hold on to the puck for that extra split second that ensures he makes the right decision even though he knows hell end up getting plastered as a result. That’s why he’s been credited with just 11 giveaways on the season, a staggeringly low number for someone who handles the puck as often as he does. It’s also one of the clear indications that he’s been the league’s top defender in the early going.
Also in the mix: P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens; Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
His defensive numbers might not be as overwhelming as in seasons past, but the steady excellence of Bergeron has become even more apparent as the Bruins have melted down around him. He consistently draws the toughest defensive assignments, is dominant in the face-off circle, and with 18 points in his first 18 games he’s on pace for the best offensive season of his career. Bergeron’s already won the award three times in his career. A fourth would tie him with Bob Gainey for the most Selke wins ever.
Also in the mix: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks; Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals
Jack Adams Award: John Hynes, New Jersey Devils
It has always seemed patently unfair to me that coaches who have an extensive legacy of success—think Mike Babcock or Joel Quenneville, for example—are routinely overlooked in this category in favor of first-year bench bosses who guide a team to a short-term turnaround. And yet during a season in which veterans like Lindy Ruff, Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien are doing some excellent work, it’s impossible to overlook what Hynes has done with a talent-starved Devils roster. Here’s a team that was expected to be among the league’s cellar dwellers, but instead it finds itself in the thick of playoff contention thanks in large part to improved special teams play. The Devils rank third on the power play, scoring on 22.6% of their chances (up from 18.9% last season) and ninth on the penalty kill at 83.3% (up from 80.6%). Team defense has also improved, going from 2.55 goals-against last season to 2.33.
Hynes has set a tough pace to maintain, especially given the talent he has on hand, but he has clearly made a strong opening impression.
Also in the mix: Dan Bylsma, Buffalo Sabres; Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers; Lindy Ruff, Dallas Stars
Lady Byng Trophy: Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
For years now, the Lady Byng has been a consolation prize for some of the league’s most skilled players when the Hart Trophy was just out of reach: think Pavel Datsyuk, Martin St. Louis, Joe Sakic and latter-day Wayne Gretzky. Seguin clearly fits that bill. His recent crime spree notwithstanding (he took two minors in one game last week against Winnipeg), Seguin plays the game clean as a whistle while maintaining an almost unmatched level of excellence. He’s fourth in goals, second in assists and points and fifth in shots and has played a leading role as the Stars have emerged as the top success story of the first quarter.
Also in the mix: Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks, Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
Calder Trophy: Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks
With six pro seasons in the KHL under his belt there’s more than a whiff of Sergei Makarov-style controversy to Panarin’s candidacy. That said, there’s no denying his immediate and dynamic impact as part of the best line in the game. He’s certainly benefited from skating alongside Patrick Kane, who has been involved in 18 of his 21 points. At the same time, Panarin has been part of 18 of Kane’s league-leading 30 points.
“Make no mistake, he’s been a big part of Kane's success. A big part,” a league exec told SI.com, pointing out that having two players who can enter the zone and make a play with the puck is a devastating combination. “They have that hive mind ... they think the game the same way and that’s been to the benefit of both of them.”
Also in the mix: Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes, Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues; Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings; Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
Hart Trophy: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
His selection will probably make a lot of people uncomfortable, if not flat-out angry, but there’s no denying that Kane has been the most electrifying and effective player through the season’s first quarter. The league’s leading scorer with 13 goals and 30 points, Kane is also tops in plus/minus (+13), power play goals (6) and game-winning goals (4).
“[Kane] has consistently been the most dangerous player on the ice, night-in and night-out,” the same exec said. “I don’t think he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder. He’s finally got some help on his line ... and that’s allowed him to do more by doing less.”
In other words, because he’s not forced to carry the whole load, we’re finally seeing the best of Kane. He’s shooting more often (10.8 per 60 minutes) and more effectively, scoring on a career-high 18.1% of his chances.
The result: a breathtaking 129-point pace. To put that into perspective, just one player has hit the 125-point mark in the past 10 years (Joe Thornton, 125 in 2005-06). Kane might not keep it up the rest of the way, but he’s clearly the class of the filed to this point.
Also in the mix: Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars; Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
The numbers game
• Nicklas Backstrom, who assisted on the goal that made Alex Ovechkin the NHL career leader in tallies by a Russian-born player was also credited with a helper on Sergei Fedorov’s goal that broke Alexander Mogilny’s league mark on Oct. 24, 2008 at Dallas.
• Tyler Seguin is the now the first Stars/North Stars player to score 28 or more points in the first 20 games of a season since Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli (24-15-39) in 1986-87.
• With 30 career shutouts, Ottawa’s Craig Anderson now ranks third among active U.S.-born goaltenders in that category behind Jonathan Quick of the Kings (38) and Ryan Miller of the Canucks (36).
• His Thursday night hat trick against the Wild only reinforced the difficulty of the decision the Bruins must make regarding the future of Loui Eriksson. An extension is possible, but with the B’s looking to get younger, the smart money says they end up trading the pending UFA.
• Could the Isles trade Travis Hamonic to the Avalanche? Here’s a roundup of the latest rumors.
• Why was this New Jersey Devils executive found sleeping on the streets of New York?
• Movember isn’t just a chance to rock a sweet muzzy. Here’s a video starring Jets forward Mark Schiefele that explains the reason for the season.
• There are probably dozens of reasons why Marie-Phillip Poulin is cooler than the rest of us, but here’s 10 to start.
• The Southern Professional Hockey League is expanding next season with another daffily named franchise.