We can all pretty much agree that 2020, as a calendar year, was pretty much a tire fire. And with less than a week to go before it comes to a merciful end, it’s difficult to believe there are many people who aren’t looking forward to turning the page to 2021.
But from a hockey perspective, 2020 was not a complete loss. In fact, it actually had its moments. Before play was suspended in mid-March, the league was humming along quite nicely. And if you cared to watch, and judging by the television ratings that was a rather select group, the bubble playoffs provided plenty of entertainment and intrigue.
So rather than remember 2020 as the year we’d rather forget, let’s take a moment to celebrate some of the triumphs. So, without further ado, we present THN’s 2020 Hindsight Awards.
THE WAYNE GRETZKY PLAYER-OF-THE-YEAR AWARD
From Jan. 1 through the end of the playoffs, Nikita Kucherov scored 27 goals and 79 points in 57 games and was plus-36. Only Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl scored more regular-season points from Jan. 1 than Kucherov did, but nobody outscored him when it mattered most in the post-season. There would not have been a huge uproar had Kucherov won the Conn Smythe trophy over Victor Hedman. There were a number of players who could make a strong case for the best player of 2020, but Kucherov breaks the tie by being an enormously impactful player on a Stanley Cup winner.
THE DOMINIK HASEK BEST GOALIE-OF-THE-YEAR AWARD
If anyone had told you before the playoffs that the Dallas Stars would ride career backup Anton Khudobin to the Stanley Cup final, well, that probably would have been an extremely tough sell. But Khudobin stepped in and was at times impenetrable, delivering the Stars playoff wins they had no business getting. From Jan. 1 through the playoffs, Khudobin sported a .923 save percentage. Not too shabby. And whether it was English or Russian, the guy was a playoff quote machine. When asked in Russian about seeing the Cup before Game 1, he quipped, “Told the guys, ‘Maybe we just steal it and run?’ ”
THE KEN DRYDEN ROOKIE-OF-THE-YEAR AWARD
Only Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi scored more regular-season points from Jan. 1 on than Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks did. But when you factor in the playoffs, Hughes blows everyone away with seven goals and 41 points in 46 games. As the season progressed, so did Hughes. Canucks coach Travis Green felt more comfortable putting Hughes out in more situations and handing him more responsibility. His playoff performance served notice that he and the Canucks are going to be heard from a lot in the future.
THE SERGEI MAKAROV TOO-OLD-TO-BE-A-ROOKIE ROOKIE-OF-THE-YEAR-AWARD
This one has to go to David Ayres, who lived out every kid’s dream when he was called in to play in an emergency for the Carolina Hurricanes against the Toronto Maple Leafs Feb. 22. After allowing goals on the first two shots he faced, the 42-year-old Zamboni driver stopped the next eight shots and secured a 6-3 win for the Hurricanes. That he surfaces the ice at the Leafs practice rink and often subs in at practices for their American League affiliate made it all the more compelling.
THE BOBBY ORR DEFENSEMAN-OF-THE-YEAR AWARD
Roman Josi won the Norris Trophy and Victor Hedman the Conn Smythe, but nobody had a more dramatic effect on his team’s fortunes in 2020 than Miro Heiskanen of the Dallas Stars. He’s not just the Stars’ best young player. He’s their best player. Full stop. And he proved that in the playoffs, finishing third in post-season scoring and playing almost 26 minutes a game.
THE CYCLONE TAYLOR GOAL-OF-THE-YEAR AWARD
It’s pretty humiliating to be beaten by a 42-year-old Zamboni driver, but there’s no shame in giving up an all-time eye-popping goal to the best player in the world. That’s what happened Jan. 6 when Connor McDavid, coming down the left side of the ice on Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly, made the defenseman bite when he looked as though he was going to pass, then blew by him before going top shelf against Leaf goalie Michael Hutchinson. Rielly had perfect gap control and was ready, but McDavid burned him with his shirt-flapping speed. “What a move! What a play! What a goal!” was the call. When asked what possessed him to make the play, McDavid responded by saying, “I’m not going to give up any of my secrets. I was just trying to make a play.”