When the Professional Hockey Writers Association announced its mid-season award winners ahead of last season’s all-star break, it gave us a peek into the potential winners of the end-of-season hardware. After all, the PHWA is the body that votes on several awards — the Hart Trophy, Norris Trophy, Selke Trophy and Calder Trophy, most notably – and thus the mid-season voting should give us valuable insight into which way voters are leaning ahead of the annual awards ceremony in Las Vegas.
Last year, for example, the mid-season awards ended up awfully indicative of who would take home a few notable pieces of hardware. The PHWA’s mid-season Hart winner was Nikita Kucherov, and the Tampa Bay Lightning winger did, indeed, win the award. The mid-season winners of the Norris, Calder and Lady Byng Trophy all held fast come season’s end, as well, as the Calgary Flames’ Mark Giordano, Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson and Florida Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov each won the respective awards. In addition, the mid-season voting on the Comeback Player of the Year, which is the Masterton Trophy dressed up another way, went to then New York Islanders netminder Robin Lehner, who wound up winning the Masterton at the annual awards show.
As it turned out, the only award on which PHWA voters have sway that didn’t go to the mid-season frontrunner was the Selke Trophy. The St. Louis Blues’ second-half surge vaulted Ryan O’Reilly to the top of the heap, sending mid-season favorite Patrice Bergeron tumbling to third place. Other awards that didn’t go to mid-season PHWA favorites – the Vezina Trophy and Jack Adams Award, for example – are voted on by other bodies; league GMs vote on the former, the broadcasters’ association on the latter.
With that in mind, as you peruse the following list of PHWA mid-season award winners, it should be noted that there stands to be some correlation between the list you see below and those who will eventually add the hardware to their respective trophy cases. We’ve also highlighted some snubs, who are either players who didn’t get their due or could sneak into the race and steal the accolade by the end of the campaign.
1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
3. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
Frontrunners: Any surprises here? Not really. With the Oilers in a playoff position, McDavid is a clear-cut MVP candidate and that was reflected in The Hockey News’ mid-season awards when the Edmonton captain edged out MacKinnon for top spot. The only change from our mid-season awards, in fact, is that David Pastrnak has replaced Jack Eichel, who finished third in our voting. Pastrnak did, however, receive votes in our compiling of the mid-campaign award favorites, and it should go without saying that Boston’s sniper is in the running. He’s been immense for the Atlantic Division-leading Bruins.
Biggest snub: It’s difficult to really say anyone was snubbed, so to speak, but considering the impact Artemi Panarin has had on a New York Rangers team that was expected to have no chance at earning a post-season berth this season, it’d be interesting to know where he finished in voting. Though the Blueshirts enter the all-star break 10 points outside the final playoff spot, the two games in hand the Rangers possess means they’re not as far outside the final wild-card spot as it may seem. Will Panarin win the award of finish among the top three? It seems all but certain with this voting that he won’t, not unless the Rangers manage to eke into the playoffs.
1. John Carlson, Washington Capitals
2. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
3. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes
Frontrunners: No voting totals were released along with the announcement of the mid-season award winners, but it seems fairly safe to assume that Carlson finished atop the heap in landslide fashion. Through 49 games, Carlson sits 10th in league scoring with 60 points, which means he’s maintained 100-point scoring pace. That would make Carlson the first 100-point rearguard since Brian Leetch hit the mark in 1991-92. At this point, though, whether Carlson actually hits the 100-point plateau or not. He’s leading this race and it’s not particularly close.
Biggest Snub: It really feels like Alex Pietrangelo isn’t getting his due. Offensively, he isn’t all that far back of the numbers Josi or Hamilton are posting. Matter of fact, his 40 points are level with Hamilton’s 40 points. Sure, Hamilton is sidelined and could be for the foreseeable future, but Pietrangelo has only played two additional games. Not exactly a chasm in per-game production there. But consider the other factors: Pietrangelo is logging the 15th-highest ice time of any rearguard, he’s patrolling the blueline for a conference-leading St. Louis Blues team and his underlying numbers are exceptional.
1. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
2. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
3. Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
Frontrunners: It’s a who’s who of the players who are most often regarded as some of the top two-way forwards in the NHL. Not a single surprise makes the cut. Couturier, who finished second in voting in 2017-18, is lying in wait as a future winner of the award, while Bergeron is the all-timer and O’Reilly is the defending champion. No one should have a gripe with any of these three being in the mix for the award that’s handed to the league’s best forward at both ends of the ice.
Biggest Snub: At some point, Phillip Danault has to start getting the appreciation he deserves as one of the best two-way pivots in the game. Does he put up gaudy point totals? Nope. He set a career high with 53 points last season and is on pace to end this campaign with 59 points. In the eyes of some, that will make him a fringe contender. But Danault is a glue guy who drives possession, suppresses opposition opportunities and does so with a heavy dose of own-zone starts. He’s a special player who is vastly underrated.
1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
2. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks
3. Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres
Frontrunners: No surprises here, unless you count the fact anyone even bothered voting for a third-place rookie. This race has been down to the top two rookie defenders, Makar and Hughes, since the early days of the campaign, and despite the Avalanche blueliner missing some time, he remains the frontrunner. That said, there should be a conversation had about the year Hughes is having, because when you dive into the underlying numbers, there’s a case to be made he deserves top billing. How much that matters when Makar is scoring at a rate of nearly one-fifth of a point per game higher than Hughes is the question.
Biggest Snub: Snub isn’t quite fitting, if only because it’s fairly easy to argue that Olofsson has been the third-best rookie in the league to this point, but there are four freshmen who should be knocking on the door for that third spot in the weeks to come. The Chicago Blackhawks’ Dominik Kubalik has been on fire of late and he is the only rookie to crack the 20-goal plateau to this point. He’s also only seven points off the scoring lead. Defenseman John Marino has been a revelation on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blueline. His point total likely isn’t enough to get him into the mix, but he has all the makings of a future top-pairing rearguard. And finally, Washington Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov and Columbus Blue Jackets netminder Elvis Merzlikins are pulling a Jordan Binnington, shining to start the second half and throwing their respective hats in the ring. The longer Olofsson remains sidelined, the greater the chance one of the other four rookies fight for his spot at the NHL Awards.
Lady Byng Trophy
1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
2. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
3. Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
Frontrunners: This is basically a list of top offensive forwards who have fewer than 10 penalty minutes. Need proof? Among players with fewer than 10 penalty minutes, MacKinnon ranks first, Matthews ranks second and O’Reilly ranks fourth. Done. Call it a day, I guess.
Biggest Snub: By the parameters that were seemingly used, that Teuvo Teravainen didn’t make the cut is bizarre. He skates 19-plus minutes per night, has eight penalty minutes and is five points clear of O’Reilly. Maybe it’s because he’s a winger? Who knows the reasoning. But if there’s any real gripe here – or a snub or two who could be listed – why, we ask, are defensemen given no love? In a game that has gotten faster, more skilled and harder to defend, the job of NHL blueliners has become incredibly difficult. Rearguards should get appreciation for putting up points, defending well and not committing infractions. Take Makar, who has six penalty minutes with an average ice time higher than O’Reilly and MacKinnon. Or how about Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen, who is averaging more than 24 minutes each night against top offensive talent and has committed three infractions.
1. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
2. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars
3. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes
Frontrunners: Expect this to change by season’s end. While Hellebuyck was the first half’s most excellent netminder, the defensive play in front of the Jets goaltender has fallen apart and his numbers have slipped drastically. He had a .926 save percentage through 30 games. In his past dozen outings, he has a .895 SP. As for Bishop and Kuemper, their status as frontrunners is contingent on the former staying healthy and the latter returning to the crease. The Coyotes keeper has been out for more than a month now. His games played total could hurt his case by season’s end.
Biggest Snub: Who knows how long Tuukka Rask will be sidelined, but the Bruins netminder seems as though he should be in the Vezina conversation. Sure, his team was expected to be a league leader, but that shouldn’t disqualify Rask in the midst of a campaign that has been excellent. Consider his numbers: among the 36 goaltenders with at least 1,000 minutes played at 5-on-5, Rask ranks first in SP (.939), first in goals saved above average per 60 minutes (0.59) and has a league-best .884 SP on high-danger shots. He’s been a wall.
Jack Adams Award
1. Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets
3. Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues
Frontrunners: What Sullivan has done in Pittsburgh seems to be under-appreciated by some. He has taken a roster that was thin on the blueline and has been banged up throughout the campaign and turned them into a legitimate Presidents’ Trophy contender. Yes, he has some excellent pieces, but the Penguins have been greater than the sum of their parts all season long. As for Tortorella, his recent work in turning a Blue Jackets team that was expected to have a lottery pick this summer into a wild-card contender has been exceptional. Berube has helped the Blues assert themselves as more than a one-season wonder.
Biggest Snub: Dave Tippett will be in the conversation if the Oilers make the post-season. He’ll have to be. The Edmonton bench boss has taken a roster that made zero significant off-season roster changes and has them fighting for a wild-card spot in the Western Conference. To be sure, it helps to be behind the bench of any McDavid-led team, but the Oilers needed a post-season appearance and Tippett seems to be driving them in that direction.
Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award
1. Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche
2. John Chayka, Arizona Coyotes
3. Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues
Frontrunners: Sakic used the off-season to add Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Nazem Kadri. He later inked Valeri Nichushkin, who has somewhat revitalized his career and is scoring at a 14-goal, 30-point pace. Don’t even bother with any of the other candidates. When the GM of the Year award is handed out, it should already have Sakic’s name inscribed.
Biggest Snub: There are none. Again, this is Sakic’s award. He has transformed the Avalanche into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender
Rod Langway Award
1. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes
2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Frontrunners: Slavin makes a world of sense as the leader for the non-existent best defensive defenseman award. He is the No. 1 shutdown defenseman on a team that plays some of the most limiting defensive hockey of any club in the NHL. Of the 161 defensemen with at least 500 minutes played at 5-on-5, Slavin ranks sixth in limiting scoring chances against and 24th in limiting high-danger chances against per 60 minutes. His 1.96 expected goals against per 60 minutes ranks 14th among that same group.
Biggest Snub: If this is an award for specialists, it seems as though specialists should be rewarded. Not to beat the Marino drum again, but it seems worth noting that the rookie defenseman has the third-lowest expected goals against per 60 rate despite the 77th-lowest offensive zone start rate among the 161 defensemen noted above. Others such as the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara and Lightning’s Ryan McDonagh stand out as better true defensive-defensemen options than Josi and Hedman.
Comeback Player of the Year Award
1. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
2. Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators
3. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights
Frontrunners: OK, maybe relative to his scoring rate last season, Nylander’s return to prolific scoring is notable. But to call him the comeback player of the year seems a stretch, particularly when Pacioretty is bouncing back by scoring at a higher rate than Nylander after consecutive campaigns in which the Golden Knights winger ended the season surrounded by talk about how his best days were behind him. Likewise, how does Duclair land behind Nylander? He’s on his fifth team and is finally hitting his stride when some thought his next logical step after this season might be a contract overseas.
Biggest Snub: Nichushkin seems as though he’d be the perfect player to receive this award. He was bought out in the off-season after a campaign in which he scored zero goals and 11 points. Some thought his signing with the Avalanche was a waste of cap space and a roster spot. But not only has he scored eight goals and 17 points in 44 games this season, the 24-year-old is on pace to end the campaign with 14 goals and 30 points. The former would tie his career-best mark and 30 points would be the second-highest total of his career. He has new life and has likely added years to his NHL career with his play this season.
(All advanced statistics via NaturalStatTrick)
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.