Neutral sites. Play-in tournaments. Summer hockey. None has graduated from pie-in-the-sky idea to legitimately realistic option for the 2019-20 season’s future, but the fact all are being discussed is a pretty good indicator the NHL is nowhere close to pulling the plug on this season. That’s something to feel optimistic about for any fan hoping to see a Stanley Cup champion crowned before the end of the 2020 calendar year.
If we see the season resume, though, it’s a long shot that the league will play out the entirely of the regular season. The neutral-site games would be easier to stage with 24 or 16 teams than 31 and, given the need to for mini training camps and exhibition games before any resumption, finishing the regular season would draw out the season to the point that we might see the Stanley Cup awarded as late as December for all we know.
So an educated guess suggests we won’t see any more official regular-season games in 2019-20 no matter what. If that happens, the NHL Awards races may finish in their current positions. Leon Draisaitl would run away with the scoring title, since his 110 points topped the second-place player, his teammate Connor McDavid, by 13. David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin would edge Auston Matthews by a goal to win a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy with 48. Ovechkin would add to his NHL record by leading the league in goals a ninth time, but he’d miss out on the chance to equal Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons with nine.
Those are the key quantitative awards. But what about the qualitative ones? Many of the races were tight. Who had the inside track on the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Calder, Selke and Jack Adams?
1. Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – His performance in six games with McDavid out of the lineup might be the clincher. Draisaitl had 12 points and averaged more than 25 minutes a night. He was on pace for 127 points, one behind Nikita Kucherov’s 2018-19 record for the most in the salary-cap era.
2. Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – The speedy, powerful pivot overcame injuries to both his linemates, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon, to position the Avalanche as a Stanley Cup contender. MacKinnon had 43 more points than his closest teammate. Taylor Hall won the Hart in 2017-18 with a similar gap.
3. Artemi Panarin, Rangers – The Bread Man has been worth every penny of his $11,642,587 AAV. At 95 points with 13 games to play, he’d already beaten his career high by eight. Among forwards with 1,000-plus minutes played at 5-on-5, no one averaged more assists or points per 60. The Rangers sat outside the playoff picture as of the pause, but they had as much momentum as any team in the league and had clawed to within two points of a wild-card spot.
4. Connor McDavid, Oilers – As voting on the Ted Lindsay Award for most outstanding player as voted by the players has shown us in the past, most people still view No. 97 as hockey’s best player, period, and some Hart voters prefer to give it to the best player, period.
5. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins – Continued to build his legend as someone who blossoms with Sidney Crosby out of the lineup. Among players with 800 or more minutes at 5-on-5, Geno was the league leader in points per 60. He averaged his most points per game since his MVP 2011-12 season. No Pastrnak in the top five? He’s elite but will be hurt in the vote because he has two other MVP candidates on his own line.
Also in the Hart race: David Pastrnak, Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, Brad Marchand, John Carlson
1. John Carlson, Capitals – Pretty much a wire-to-wire favorite. Even though he’d fallen off his 100-point clip, Carlson was on pace for 89 points, easily the most by a defenseman since Ray Bourque had 91 in 1993-94, a season in which the NHL averaged almost half a goal per game more than it does now. Carlson isn’t a one-way player, either. He logs a lot of minutes in all situations.
2. Roman Josi, Predators – The NHL’s best rover functions as a fourth forward on the ice and remained one of the most consistent offensive forces in the game, flirting with point-per-game production. The Norris goes to the defenseman who generates the best all-around ability at the position, and Josi controls the game from his position as much as any blueliner in the league.
3. Victor Hedman, Lightning – Of the top three candidates, Hedman had the strongest defensive impact, and his offense was still top-end. If you had to win one game, chances are you’re picking Hedman before you pick the two names above him.
4. Alex Pietrangelo, Blues – Was about to destroy his career offensive highs – he’d already set one in goals with 16 – while still performing an elite shutdown role. In a contract year, no less.
5. Shea Theodore, Golden Knights – Here’s the sleeper. Theodore’s offense was never in question, but he blossomed into an outstanding all-around defenseman this season. No blueliner had a better overall impact on 5-on-5 possession than Theodore. Hurting his case is the fact he was more sheltered than the other top candidates. Theodore ranked near the very top of the league in offensive zone start percentage.
Also in the Norris race: Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, Shea Weber, Jaccob Slavin, Jeff Petry
1. Connor Hellebuyck, Jets – If the PHWA voted on the Vezina, Hellebuyck might be a runaway favorite. Despite having one of the league’s most difficult workloads in terms of expected goals, high-danger chances against and average shot distance against, Hellebuyck had some of the strongest numbers in the league. He’s been the best goalie this season, and it may not be close.
2. Tuukka Rask, Bruins – Rask has been incredible, and his surface numbers trump Hellebuyck’s, but Rask has an all-world defensive team in front of him. Based on expected goals, he had the easiest workload in the league this year. He’s been great, but the Bruins do a good job supporting him.
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning – the defending champ started slowly along with his team but, like the Bolts as a whole, steadily gained steam throughout the season. He had a .906 save percentage at the end of November and .923 from December onward. It’s the league’s GMs, not the PHWA, voting on the Vezina, and the GMs have a strong bias toward win totals when picking Vezina winners. Vasilevskiy leads the league in that stat a third consecutive season.
4. Jacob Markstrom, Canucks – Elias Pettersson is magical, and Quinn Hughes has been one of the league’s best defensemen as a rookie, but Markstrom has a case as the Canucks’ MVP this season. Among 54 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5, he ranked in the top third in goals saved above average per 60 despite having the fifth-highest expected goals against – ranking even higher than Hellebuyck.
5. Darcy Kuemper, Coyotes – He was phenomenal before his knee injury and didn’t miss a beat when he returned in March. His battery mate Antti Raanta was also great. That’s what makes the Vezina really hard to vote on these days. Starters play less than ever, so when a backup shares the load and posts similar numbers, teammates can steal votes from each other.
Also in the Vezina race: Ben Bishop, Pavel Francouz, Robin Lehner, Elvis Merzlikins
1. Cale Makar, Avalanche – His 0.88 points per game was the highest mark by a rookie defenseman since Brian Leetch in 1988-89. The hype for Makar was massive, and he still exceeded it.
2. Quinn Hughes, Canucks – The only two rookie D-men to notch 50 points in the past 27 years are Makar and Hughes. The margin between them is paper thin. There’s a perception that Hughes is asked to do more than Makar, but among 144 defensemen who played at least 800 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, Hughes ranked second in offensive zone start percentage, and Makar was fourth. Neither killed penalties, and they ranked 1-2 in power play ice time per game among rookie D-men. They were both sheltered, and that’s fine – they are the two most exciting offensive prospects on defense in many, many years. Let them do what they do best for now.
3. Dominik Kubalik, Blackhawks – A 24 year-old busting out for 30 goals is a nice return considering he only cost Chicago a fifth-round pick in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings in January 2019. Among forwards with at least 500 minutes played, he led the NHL in goals per 60 at 5-on-5, though he had some luck, ranking fourth in shooting percentage.
4. Elvis Merzlikins, Blue Jackets – Teamed with Joonas Korpisalo to make the Blue Jackets forget about Sergei Bobrovsky pretty quickly. Korpisalo got the All-Star Game invite, but Merzlikins’ peak was higher, with a .933 SP and five shutouts after Jan. 1.
5. Victor Olofsson, Sabres – A lower-body injury cost Olofsson 15 games, but he looked like a legitimate front-line goal-scorer before and after it. Armed with a lethal shot, he found nice chemistry with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Olofsson’s pace extrapolated to 30 goals over 82 games.
Also in the Calder race: Adam Fox, Ilya Samsonov, Mackenzie Blackwood, Igor Shesterkin, Nick Suzuki, Martin Necas, John Marino
1. Sean Couturier, Flyers – Had such a similar impact to the No. 2 guy on this list in terms of shot suppression and goal differential, but the tie could be broken by the fact Couturier is more of a difference maker offensively. It’s really a coin flip between first and second, though.
2. Ryan O’Reilly, Blues – Back to back wins for him? No player in the league had a bigger effect on shot-attempt suppression at 5-on-5. O’Reilly still dominates in the faceoff circle, kills penalties and plays 20-plus minutes per game.
3. Phillip Danault, Canadiens – The No. 1 possession forward in the NHL this season factoring in impact at both ends of the ice on team play at 5-on-5. Why don’t we talk about him more? It’s not like he plays in an obscure market.
4. Anthony Cirelli, Lightning – Doesn’t score like Couturier and O’Reilly but also isn’t asked to. Cirelli logged the fourth-most shorthanded minutes per game among all NHL forwards, and the Lightning scored more than twice as many goals as they allowed when Cirelli was on the ice at 5-on-5.
5. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins – Bergeron doesn’t handle the same type of workload as the top couple guys on this list but still centers hockey’s best line, dominates faceoffs and tilts the ice in his favor when he’s on the ice.
Also in the Selke race: Mark Stone, Brad Marchand, Teuvo Teravainen, Valeri Nichushkin
JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. John Tortorella, Blue Jackets – No Panarin, no Bobrovsky, no Duchene, the most man games lost in the NHL…and ‘Torts’ had this lunch-pail crew in a playoff spot. Remarkable.
2. Mike Sullivan, Penguins – The Penguins endured catastrophic injuries, too, most notably to first-liners Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, but stayed afloat – thanks to Sullivan but also thanks to Malkin’s herculean efforts.
3. Alain Vigneault, Flyers – Philadelphia transitioned from a bottom-barrel defensive team a year ago to one of the league’s best under his watch. The coaching change was great for young blueliners such as Ivan Provorov.
4. Craig Berube, Blues – The defending champs lost top goal-scorer Vladimir Tarasenko just 10 games into the season and remained a powerhouse under Berube’s system.
5. Dave Tippett, Oilers – While Edmonton made plenty of depth upgrades on paper, the most significant change came behind the bench. This team plays a much more structured game under Tippett. We can’t say the Oilers are in the playoffs merely because of McDavid and Draisaitl – both players were elite last year, too.
Also in the Jack Adams race: Travis Green, Bruce Cassidy, Jon Cooper, Jared Bednar, Sheldon Keefe
Advanced statistics courtesy of naturalstattrick.com
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