Hart attack and change in the major NHL awards races
It all seemed so clear the last time we considered the favorites to take home this season’s major honors.
But things have changed—in some cases, quite a bit—over the past quarter of a season. Braden Holtby is winning games, but his sinking numbers have knocked him out of Hart Trophy contention and seen him drop in the race for the Vezina as well.
Connor McDavid returned from a long stint on injured reserve to turn the Calder hunt into a two-man race.
The consistent excellence of the Capitals has vaulted Barry Trotz into the lead for the Jack Adams though Anaheim’s Bruce Boudreau has come from out of nowhere to insinuate himself into the mix.
Alex Ovechkin has tallied 20 goals in his past 23 games to throw his name in the Hart hat and Joe Thornton has established himself as a defensive dynamo and entered the chase for the Selke.
With three-quarters of the season in the books, here’s our take on the top candidates to claim the major awards in June.
Hart Trophy (MVP)
PATRICK KANE, BLACKHAWKS
With Braden Holtby stumbling (more on him in a moment), it's impossible to deny Kane any longer. Here we are at the three-quarter mark and he's already surpassed the 87 points that earned Jamie Benn last season's Art Ross Trophy. He's averaging 1.33 per game, more than any player since Sidney Crosby clicked at 1.56 per when he put up 56 points in just 36 games back in 2012-13. Kane tops the charts at both even strength (47) and on the power play (41). And it's not just on offense that he's making an impact. When his line is on the ice, the Hawks boast a blistering .951 save percentage. At this point, it's no longer a contest.
In the mix: Jamie Benn, Stars; Erik Karlsson, Senators; Patrice Bergeron, Bruins; Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Calder Trophy (rookie of the year)
ARTEMI PANARIN, BLACKHAWKS
Look, Connor McDavid is the best rookie in the game and there's really not much room for argument here. Unfortunately, the top pick in the 2015 draft has been limited to just 29 games after losing three months to a broken collarbone and, for the moment anyway, that's too much ground lost to Panarin. The 24-year-old Blackhawks winger has more than held his own on the best line in hockey, dazzling with his creativity, his reliability and his finishing touch. He's running away with the rookie scoring race, holding a 16-point lead over Arizona's Max Domi, and his 59 points are good for 12th among all players. And he's impressed with his consistency: Panarin has gotten on the scoresheet in 36 of his 63 games, and has never gone more than three games without putting a point on the board. Hard to knock that kind of performance.
In the mix: Connor McDavid, Oilers; Shayne Gostisbehere, Flyers; Max Domi, Coyotes
Vezina Trophy (best goalie)
COREY CRAWFORD, BLACKHAWKS
My, how things change. Midway through the season, Braden Holtby was the runaway favorite to claim the Vezina and a highly viable candidate for MVP. But an 18-game stretch during which he's been pulled four times and posted a very pedestrian .905 save percentage has opened the door for other, more consistent keepers in this category.
Consider Crawford. He's posting some of the best numbers in the league, including a .928 save percentage, which leads all goaltenders who have played at least 35 games. He also has a .937 save percentage at five-on five (second) and an .889 save percentage on high-quality chances, tops in the league according to War-On-Ice.com. He leads the league with seven shutouts, is second in wins with 34, and he's put up these numbers while facing 1,584 shots, the second-most any goalie has faced this season. All things considered, he's the best puckstopper in the game right now.
In the mix: Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers; Braden Holtby, Capitals; Ben Bishop, Lightning
Norris Trophy (best defenseman)
DREW DOUGHTY, KINGS
I've heard the case made for Erik Karlsson and when you factor in the insane numbers he's putting up with the Senators it's pretty convincing. But the Norris, in my mind anyway, is always going to be weighed more heavily on what a player can do in his own end of the ice. Doughty’s shutdown game is second to none. He's a beast on the penalty kill. And in the last minute of a game, whether my team is up or down by a goal, there's no defenseman I'd rather have on the ice than Doughty. Night after night, he simply makes better decisions with and without the puck than any other blueliner.
In the mix: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes; Erik Karlsson, Senators; Roman Josi, Predators
Selke Trophy (best defensive forward)
PATRICE BERGERON, BRUINS
Buying a ticket to see the Bruins? Come for the game, stay for the clinic that Bergeron offers on a nightly basis. There are others who work diligently on their two-way game—Anze Kopitar and the surprising Jumbo Joe are other standouts—but Bergeron is on another level. He consistently lines up against the toughest opponents and is the go-to option for defensive zone starts (389, second most in the league). And if the eye test doesn't make it clear how efficiently he handles those challenges, the fancystats certainly do. And while he's asserting his dominance defensively, he's also enjoying a spectacular offensive season, ranking 13th in goals (25) and 14th in points (56). No wonder he was one of the first 16 named to Team Canada for the upcoming World Cup. Bergeron does it all.
In the mix: Anze Kopitar, Kings; Joe Thornton, Sharks; Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks
Jack Adams Award (coach of the year)
BARRY TROTZ, CAPITALS
I love what Mike Babcock is doing with that lineup of scraps in Toronto, and Bill Peters deserves a parade for what he's accomplished with the Hurricanes, but this has been the year of the Caps and Trotz deserves as much credit for that as anyone. It goes beyond what he's done to maximize the impact of Alex Ovechkin, although that draws a lot of attention. What really impresses is his team's ability to avoid the skid. The Caps have never lost more than two games in a row this season, and on the two occasions they lost a pair, one of the defeats came in overtime or the shootout. A genuinely nice man, he deserves this success and more.
In the mix: Bruce Boudreau, Ducks; Gerard Gallant, Panthers
Lady Byng Trophy (gentlemanly play)
LOUI ERIKSSON, BRUINS
There are a number of solid candidates for this award, but Eriksson's all-around game gives him a slight edge. The veteran winger is one of those guys who goes about his job so effectively that he rarely finds himself in a position where he's forced to foul an opponent. He's taken four minors all season while being a top defensive forward, and is enjoying a return to form offensively, tallying 24 goals and 49 points.
In the mix: Ryan O'Reilly, Sabres; Jordan Eberle, Oilers; Chris Tanev, Canucks
The numbers game
• This is the first season in NHL history when three teams have had double-digit win streaks: Blackhawks (12), Panther (12) and Ducks (10).
• There have been 27 tying goals in the final minute of regulation this season. The team that potted it has gone on to win 19 of those games. Adam Henrique, the most recent player to deliver one, is now the fourth Devil in franchise history to also bag the winner is the same game. The others: Patrik Elias (11/9/01), Joe Nieuwendyk (1/22/03) and Jamie Langenbrunner (1/30/09).
• Jagr watch: One more point and Florida's grand geezer will pass Gordie Howe into sole possession of third on the all time list, with 1,851. Jagr needs 58 goals to catch Mr. Hockey for No. 2 in that category and 856 assists to tie Wayne Gretzky at No. 1. Piece of cake ...
• Jonathan Toews, Henrik Sedin, Zdeno Chara and other NHL stars weren't always millionaires. Here's what they did for their first jobs.
• Blues coach Ken Hitchcock describes this player's on-ice style as “a cross between hockey and Comedy Central.”
• Every good story needs a villain. The Stars have battled the same nemesis for the past decade.
• The Lightning have lost a contractual battle to disgruntled winger Jonathan Drouin.
• You'll never be able to skate like P.K. Subban, but this will help you copy his workout program.
• A 30-year-old stolen jersey mystery has bubbled back to the surface.
• Finally, Arizona prospect Christian Dvorak scored the easiest goal of his life thanks to this assist from Toronto draft pick Mitch Marner.