To wrap up my pre-season predictions – you can find my projections on the Metropolitan Division here; the Atlantic Division is here; the Pacific Division is here; and the Central Division is here – I’m turning my attention to the NHL’s individual player awards.
As noted in those picks, readers should understand they’re solely my picks, and not THN’s official predictions. Those are here. I’m just spitballing, really. These are educated guesses. In any case, let’s get right to them.
In The Running: Auston Matthews, Toronto; Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado; Alexsander Barkov, Florida
The Winner: Connor McDavid, Edmonton
Why? Because McDavid is still only 24 years old, and he’s still improving. Because his Oilers team would not be a playoff lock without him. And because he does what he does with such amazing speed and pinpoint accuracy. Matthews and MacKinnon garnered many second-and-third place votes for the Hart last season, and they’re going to be just as good this year. Same with Barkov, who is the centerpiece of a dynamic, promising Panthers team. They’re all franchise players, but they’re a hair or two behind McDavid for overall dominance and value.
Art Ross Trophy
In The Running: Auston Matthews, Toronto; Connor McDavid, Edmonton; Patrick Kane, Chicago
The Winner: Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton
Why? Because Draisaitl could do what he did in 2019-2020, when he scored a career-best 43 goals and 67 assists, eclipsing teammate McDavid that year by 13 points. This is not a negative commentary on McDavid, who almost assuredly will be challenging to win the Art Ross for the second consecutive year; rather, it’s an appreciation of what the almost 26-year-old Draisaitl is capable of.
Matthews (and teammate Mitch Marner) also will generate a ton of offense, and now that his old friend Jonathan Towes is returning to action this season, Kane could put up bigger numbers than he did last year, when he posted 51 assists (for the second straight year) and 66 points for the Blackhawks and finished sixth overall in NHL points. Kane’s career-low of 15 goals scored in 2021 put a dent in his overall point total, but at age 32, he’s still got lots left in the tank, and could be a 30-plus-goal-scorer this year.
In The Running: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay; Darcy Kuemper, Colorado; Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida
The Winner: Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg
Why? Because Hellebuyck was dominant for the Jets again last season, posting a 2.58 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 45 games. There’s no reason to believe that will change, as the 28-year-old gives his team a chance to win every game he plays in. Hellebuyck won his first Vezina two seasons ago with very similar numbers that he had last year, so expect him to be a Vezina frontrunner again this season.
Vasilevskiy finished second in Vezina voting last season (after winning his first Vezina in 2018-19), and he’ll still be playing behind one of the best rosters in the sport. Kuemper is going to find life in Colorado far easier than it was in Arizona, where he put up solid stats (2.56 GAA, .906 SP) on an awful Coyotes team. He should thrive with the Avalanche. Bobrovsky is looking to bounce back from a roller-coaster 2021 season that saw him benched in the playoffs in favor of backup Chris Driedger, who now plays for the expansion Seattle Kraken. I think Bobrovsky is going to have a bounce-back year with the Panthers. He’s 33 years old now, but I think he’s got pride and motivation to shake off last year, and focus on being Florida’s clear No. 1 in the post-season.
James Norris Memorial Trophy
In The Running: Adam Fox, New York Rangers; Cale Makar, Colorado; Shea Theodore, Vegas
The Winner: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay
Why? Because Hedman remains one of the best of the best, and now has a pair of Stanley Cup championships on his resume. He’s 30 years old now, and he posted 45 points in 54 games with the Lightning last year. Over a full 82-game schedule, he’ll likely finish this season with 10-15 goals and 55-65 points, while working as a smart, efficient defender on the back end. Hedman led the Bolts last year in average time on ice (25:03), and he’s got an elite group of D-men around him. He’s consistently terrific, and deserves his second Norris. Fox (who won last season’s Norris) and Makar are both 22 years old and still developing, which should frighten opponents.
And Theodore, at age 26, is one of the Golden Knights’ top point producers (a career-best 34 assists and 42 points ) who also eats up more than 22 minutes a game. Theodore has thrived in Vegas, and his steady ascent to the group of the best defensemen in the game looks like it’s going to continue. But yeah, Hedman can do it all, and do it extremely well.
In The Running: Moritz Seider, Detroit; Jamie Drysdale, Anaheim; Michael Bunting, Toronto
The Winner: Cole Caufield, Montreal
Why? Because Caufield will start the season playing on the Canadiens’ top line (with center Nick Suzuki and left winger Tyler Toffoli), and he’s going to rack up points galore. Caufield also will show you don’t need size (he’s 5-foot-7) to generate offense, and if Montreal is to make the playoffs in the tough Atlantic Division, they’ll need a sizeable contribution from the 20-year-old Caufield. Seider is a key piece of the puzzle in Detroit, and he should make a splash on the Red Wings’ second-defenseman-pair alongside veteran Nick Leddy. Bunting is a hunch for me here. He has a small sample size (11 goals and 14 points in 26 career games played), but the 26-year-old quickly earned the term “greasy rat” in training camp – and his tenacity is what the Leafs need more of. If he earns a spot in Toronto’s top-six group of forwards, he could be a tremendous threat.
Rocket Richard Trophy
In The Running: Alexander Ovechkin, Washington; Mikko Rantanen, Colorado; Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton
The Winner: Auston Matthews, Toronto
Why? Because Matthews is now at full strength (he underwent wrist surgery in August), and he’s looking to repeat as the Rocket Richard champion. If Matthews was that good last year – and he was, with eight more goals than second-place finisher McDavid – imagine what he’ll do now that he’s healed and 100 percent healthy.
Ovechkin had an off year in 2021, with only 24 goals and 42 points in 45 games last year. Some players would love to have that kind of down season, but Ovechkin has always scored at a 50-60-goal pace, and should bounce back this year. Rantanen plays on arguably the best line in the NHL (with MacKinnon and winger Gabriel Landeskog), and he’s still only 24 years old. He finished fifth in the Rocket Richard race last season, and he’ll be in the mix for it again in 2021-22. Draisaitl finished fourth in the goal-scoring race last season (31 goals in 56 games), and he’s going to be a frontrunner, along with teammate McDavid, for this award this season.
Jack Adams Award
In The Running: Joel Quenneville, Florida; Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay; Rick Bowness, Dallas
The Winner: Barry Trotz, New York Islanders
Why? Because Trotz has already won two Jack Adams Awards for a reason. He’s meticulous, savvy, and almost always squeezes every drop of value from the players that are working for him. The Isles are likely going to be tremendous this season, and Trotz is going to be chiefly responsible for it. He’s not a shoo-in for the 2021-22 Jack Adams Award, but he’s very likely to be in contention for it.
Quenneville has a deeper, better Panthers team to work with, and his structure and bluntness will serve Florida well as they look to leapfrog past their intra-state rivals in Tampa Bay. If that happens, Quenneville might be the odds-on favorite to win his second Jack Adams Award; the first time he won it was 20 years ago, when he coached the St. Louis Blues to a 51-19-11-1 record. Florida could win 50 games this year, and Quenneville still won’t be happy. But that’s the sign of a talented coach. He’ll always want more.
Cooper has yet to win a Jack Adams Award, and that doesn’t feel appropriate when we’re talking about a back-to-back Stanley-Cup-championship team that Cooper has been in charge of. The Lightning are going to be marvelous this season, and Cooper needs to be acknowledged as a great bench boss. And the understated Bowness could surprise people by leading the Stars up the Central Division ranks and into a bona fide Cup frontrunner. Bowness is a hockey lifer, and he’s got a veteran lineup that can do serious damage. He’s a dark horse in this Jack Adams race, but he’s got to be in consideration for it.
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
In The Running: Auston Matthews, Toronto; Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles; Jaccob Slavin, Carolina
The Winner: Aleksander Barkov, Florida
Why? Because, in this subjective category, Barkov is a good bet to challenge, and win, the Lady Byng. In his eight NHL seasons, Barkov has never been penalized more than 18 minutes per year – and he only racked up 18 minutes one time. In four seasons, he’s averaged 10 minutes or less. Barkov has already won one Lady Byng (in 2018-19), and he’s averaged nearly 21 minutes of ice time per game. He’s a smart, calming force who channels his energy into smart decisions.
Matthews averaged 21:33 of ice time last year, and he’s always the main target for opponents. So when he went out and led the league in scoring (and was tied for fifth overall in points, with 66), he played a clean game, and only very rarely retaliated to opponents’ attempts to distract him and clamp down physically on him. He could win his first Lady Byng this season. Kopitar won his first Lady Byng in 2015-16, and although he’s now 33 years old, he finished last season with the eighth-most votes for the Award, he’s going to be playing on a rejuvenated Kings team, and he’s going to have more help on the defensive end. This could be his last great shot at the Lady Byng, but it’s there for the taking, so long as Kopitar keeps an even keel and stays focused.
Slavin was the runaway Lady Byng winner in 2021, with 82.7 percent of the votes, and 73 first-place votes. The next-best vote-getter was Minnesota Wild blueliner Jared Spurgeon, who also will be in the Lady Byng mix this season. But Barkov (who finished fourth in voting last season) should be the winner here.
Frank J. Selke Trophy
In The Running: Aleksander Barkov, Florida; Patrice Bergeron, Boston; Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis
The Winner: Mark Stone, Vegas
Why? Because Stone is an all-encompassing threat whenever he steps on the ice for the Golden Knights. He’s a point-per-game forward on the offensive side; and on defense, he uses his size and instincts to grind down the opposition and force them off the puck. Stone, Bergeron and Barkov were last season’s Selke finalists, with Barkov ultimately winning it for the first time. Bergeron, who already has a whopping four Selke Trophies to his credit, is always a threat at both ends of the rink, even at age 35.
O’Reilly, who won his first Selke in 2018-19, finished fifth in voting for the Trophy last season. At age 30, O’Reilly is in his prime, and he always plays a responsible defensive game. He can be a 60-70-point player again, and serve as the engine that powers the Blues’ game plan. But Stone is poised to have a huge year for Vegas, and I think he wins his first Selke Trophy in a close vote.