The regular season is a distant memory, the post-season has come to a conclusion and following a Stanley Cup final that spanned, oh, three decades or so, the NHL’s ultimate prize has been handed out. But before we can finally conclude the 2018-19 season and close the book on the campaign that was, there’s one more matter that needs addressing: the annual awarding of some end-of-year hardware.
Wednesday night in Las Vegas, the NHL is hosting its annual awards ceremony, and with it some of the game’s best and brightest will have their accomplishments from the past season celebrated.
We already know some of the winners, of course. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov will receive the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s scoring champion. Washington Capitals super sniper Alex Ovechkin will accept yet another Rocket Richard Trophy, the eighth (!) of his career, which means he has officially led the league in goal scoring in more than half of his seasons since arriving in the big league. We’ll also see Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss awarded with the William M. Jennings Trophy, an honor bestowed upon them for their parts in backstopping the New York Islanders to the league’s fewest goals against.
What about the other winners, though? Who wins the Calder Trophy? Who takes home the Norris Trophy? Or how about the Vezina Trophy and the Hart Trophy? Despite our best guesses, we won’t officially know those winners until the hardware is presented. But as those awards are handed out, we’ll be keeping you up to date with the winners, loses and the voting totals, so you can see each award recipient’s path to victory. Follow along throughout the night.
CALDER TROPHY – Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
Psst. We’ll let you in on a little secret: This section on Pettersson was actually written before the award was handed out. But, I mean, come on? Can you really blame us? Consider the season Pettersson had. In 71 games, the Canucks freshman scored 28 goals and 66 points in 71 games, the latter total breaking Vancouver’s franchise record for rookie scoring. That’s all the more impressive when you remember this is the franchise with which Pavel Bure broke into the league. Not only did Pettersson put up points, though, but he wowed with his offensive ability almost from the outset of the season. One can’t help but wonder if he wouldn’t have also broken the Canucks’ rookie goal-scoring record, too, if he hadn’t missed 11 games this season. The voting totals confirm everything we thought about this award going into the night, too. It was Pettersson’s to lose from about the midpoint of the season, and lose it he did not.
The Runner Up:Kudos to Jordan Binnington. Even before he had guided the Blues to the Stanley Cup, the rookie netminder caught the eye of voters for his season saving play in St. Louis. His .927 save percentage, five shutouts and league-best 1.89 goals-against average – not to mention incredibly 24-5-1 record – made him worthy of this.
The Oddity: Nothing is too off here, but Marcus Pettersson's 10th-place finish – ahead of Colin White, who finished fifth in rookie scoring – is somewhat bizarre. When you get down to those votes, though, it's all splitting hairs. The difference there was one fifth-place vote.
LADY BYNG TROPHY – Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Only one forward, the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl, played more minutes than Barkov this season, who skated 1,833 minutes. Those aren’t easy minutes, either. He draws all the toughest matchups against the best lines and plays a remarkable two-way game. So, given that, one would assume he’s probably taken a few minor penalties here and there. And a few is exactly right. Only four times all season was Barkov whistled for infractions, and he didn’t go to the box once in the first 33 games of the season.
The Runner Up:Ryan O’Reilly is a mainstay here, but he received about half the support Barkov did. That’s how big the gap was between the two. Sean Monahan was a distant third.
The Oddity: It’s not who received a vote, but rather who failed to get support. One of these days, a defenseman is going to win this award, but this wasn’t the year. Samuel Girard only took three penalties all season despite averaging nearly 20 minutes per game on the Avalanche blueline.
GM OF THE YEAR – Don Sweeney, Boston Bruins
The lone award that's voted on during the post-season, which is why it usually features three of the four GMs who've built a conference finalist. This year, it was Sweeney's savvy moves instead of his blockbuster decisions that earned him the honor. At the deadline, the Bruins GM could have gone big. Instead, he went with a few smart, cost-effective additions: Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson. And how did that pan out for Boston? Well, it brought them within one win of the Stanley Cup. It was an unfortunate finish, but Sweeney has built a consistent contender with a cap-friendly core that will compete for years to come. And if he keeps operating like he did at the past deadline, the Bruins are in good hands.
The Runner Up:Funny how these things work out, right? Doug Armstrong did all his work in the off-season and built a team that had to claw its way back from the brink in order to make the post-season, but because the vote happens before the final, he finished second to...Sweeney, whose team Armstrong's Blues bested in the final.
The Oddity: That's far less love for Jarmo Kekalainen than most would have expected. The Blue Jackets GM was remarkably bold at the deadline and went all-in, which resulted in his team winning its first ever playoff series and sweeping the record-setting Tampa Bay Lightning to make that happen. Not enough to break crack the top-five here, though.
NORRIS TROPHY – Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
A rightful – and dominant – winner. Giordano, who had never been a finalist for the award in the past despite his remarkable play with the Flames, wins the award in his first trip to the NHL Awards, and he absolutely earned it. Offensively, Giordano exploded this season, posting 74 points, far and away the best total of his career. His production was also paired with remarkable play at both ends of the ice. Among the 171 defensemen who played at least 750 minutes at 5-on-5, Giordano finished fourth in Corsi percentage (57.3), seventh in shots percentage (56), fifth in scoring chances percentage (56.5) and fifth in goals for percentage (60.8). His only mediocre underlying number was his high-danger scoring chance percentage (54.1).
The Runner Up:Brent Burns, who led all defenseman with 83 points, was the obvious choice for second place. The bearded blueliner continues to be among the best offensive defensemen in the NHL and a true weapon from the back end. If the Sharks were more sound defensively, he may have presented a greater challenge to Giordano.
The Oddity: Nothing against John Carlson, but who expected Morgan Rielly to finish fifth in voting? Rielly had a great offensive impact and better defensive numbers. He was also a mid-season favorite, so to see him finish fifth instead of fourth, which is where most expected to see him once the finalists were announced, is surprising.
SELKE TROPHY – Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
What a year for O’Reilly. Traded to the Blues in July, he leapt into the top-line center role and was almost inarguably the team’s MVP throughout the season. He capped off his campaign with a brilliant post-season and exceptional Stanley Cup final performance that led St. Louis to the league crown and O’Reilly to the Conn Smythe Trophy. And now? The Selke Trophy. He’s a worthy winner, too. He started less than 50 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone at 5-on-5, and of the 108 players who did so with at least 500 minutes played, O’Reilly’s Corsi percentage ranked eighth (53.4), shots percentage ranked seventh (54), scoring chances percentage ranked seventh (54.8) and his goals for percentage ranked sixth (62.2).
The Runner Up:The surprise here is that it was Mark Stone and not Patrice Bergeron who finished second, and it's likely that was the case because the Boston Bruins pivot missed nearly one quarter of the campaign. It's incredible to see a winger finally get some love for the award, and that gives hope that other talented two-way wingers could work their way into the conversation in the future.
The Oddity: The allocation of first-place votes, particularly the votes given to Anthony Cirelli and Nick Bonino. Also, Mat Barzal received a second-place vote, and that was his lone vote for the award.
JACK ADAMS AWARD – Barry Trotz, New York Islanders
Almost nobody, and we mean nobody, picked the Islanders to make the post-season. New York lost their superstar captain and had what was, on paper, a so-so summer. The biggest move, though, was hiring Trotz, and nabbing the Stanley Cup-winning coach from the Washington Capitals turned out to be a coup. Not only did the Islanders buck all expectations, they turned into the league’s best defensive outfit – at least as far as goals against is concerned – overnight, thanks in large part to the play of Lehner and Greiss. Year-over-year, the Islanders had a 23-point improvement. That’s remarkable, and something no one saw coming.
The Runner Up: Jon Cooper coached the Lightning to the Presidents' Trophy and a record-tying 62-win season. The thing is, though, he had the kind of talent in his lineup that Trotz did not. Unfortunately, that went against Cooper in this instance. The vote was rather close, though.
The Oddity: The Winnipeg Jets had a disappointing season in which they finished with 15 fewer points than the year prior and nearly lost home ice advantage in the first round thanks to poor late-season play, yet Paul Maurice landed a first-place Jack Adams vote. One season too late on that one.
VEZINA TROPHY – Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
Hoo-boy. Let the wins debate rage on. Though the feeling among stat-heads was that the tremendous play of Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop made this a head-to-head battle among the Islanders and Stars netminders. Instead, it's the NHL victory king, Vasilevskiy, who is crowned the winner by the NHL GMs. That's not at all to say Vasilevskiy wasn't a worthy candidate. He had an impeccable 39-10-4 record this season and boasted a stellar .925 SP and 2.40 GAA. Only once this season did Vasilevskiy lose back-to-back games in what was a dominant season for Tampa Bay.
The Runner Up:The NHL GMs cared naught about voting for the story that was Lehner's bounce back season. In fact, he didn't receive a single first-place vote. Instead, two of the three first-place votes that didn't go to Vasilevskiy went to Bishop, who finished a distant second despite posting a league-leading .934 SP.
The Oddity: Marc-Andre Fleury? A first-place vote? Sure.
HART TROPHY – Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
The best player from the best team and one that matched the highest win total in NHL history. This was Kucherov’s award from the moment he started to pull away from the pack. There, of course, was always going to be arguments against him winning, be it those based on the talent around him or questions about how value is determined. But the fact of the matter is that, as noted below in discussion of the Ted Lindsay Award, Kucherov had the best offensive season any player has had in the NHL’s post-lockout era. One last thing: Kucherov pulled ahead in the scoring race on Dec. 27. He didn’t once relinquish the lead thereafter. That means he was the top scorer for 55 percent of the season. As good as the Lightning were, the offense wouldn’t have been quite the same without Kucherov.
The Runner Up: Kucherov lapped Sidney Crosby despite the Penguins captain playing some of the best hockey of his life this past season. He was a two-way dynamo – just look at the Selke vote – and Pittsburgh without Crosby would have fared far worse than Tampa Bay without Kucherov. That doesn't make Kucherov's performance any less impressive, however.
The Oddity: More than anything, it's the near unanimity of the first-place vote. It seemed like great cases could be made for Crosby and McDavid, and cases that would have swayed more voters in one direction or the other. Instead, Kucherov landed all but seven first-place nods. One also has to imagine Calgary Flames fans are going to have some fun with Johnny Gaudreau's two first-place votes to Connor McDavid's one.
TED LINDSAY AWARD – Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Combo breaker! Connor McDavid has won the Lindsay, awarded to the league's most outstanding player as voted by the players, in each of the past two seasons, but Kucherov's absolutely dominant offensive performance this season was enough to unseat McDavid. Kucherov led the league with an incredible 128 points, including a league-high 87 assists. His point total is the single-highest in the post-lockout era, besting the previous high set by Joe Thornton during the 2005-06 season. As it's the players who vote for the award, no voting breakdown is available.
Other Winners: Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild (King Clancy Memorial Trophy); Robin Lehner, New York Islanders (Bill Masterton Trophy); Wayne Simmonds, Nashville Predators (Mark Messier Leadership Award)