The Hockey News' 2019-20 mid-season awards: the Johnny Carlson show - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

The Hockey News' 2019-20 mid-season awards: the Johnny Carlson show

Halfway through the year, a few stars have strangleholds on the awards races. Can anyone catch Carlson for the Norris?
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“Wide open” typically describes NHL award races at this time of year. A recency bias in end-of-season voting often leads to a late-surging player taking home major hardware – as Taylor Hall did the 2017-18 Hart Trophy after an epic second-half scoring streak helped hoist his team into the playoffs. So the mid-season trophy favorites don't always end up the winners.

The 2019-20 awards race might not follow that pattern, however. The favorites will be tough to topple on the second half. Our nine-member editorial staff cast ballots for our top three candidates to win the Hart, Vezina, Norris and Calder Trophies and Jack Adams Award – and most of the votes (a) weren’t close, with one player running away with the award or (b) were close but only between a couple candidates. Things are looking top-heavy this year.

Here’s a look at the results. First-place votes were worth three points, second-place votes were worth two, and third-place votes were worth one, meaning 27 points qualifies as a unanimous first-place victory.

HART TROPHY (Most valuable player)

1. Connor McDavid, Oilers (20 points)
2. Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche (19 points)
3. Jack Eichel, Sabres (4 points)

The past couple seasons, McDavid was still widely acknowledged as the game’s best player, but his team missing the playoffs hurt his case in the eyes of enough Hart voters to cost him the award. With the Oilers holding a playoff position right now, the standings aren’t the greatest threat to his chances this time. Leon Draisaitl is, as the presence of the league’s top two scorers on the same team could split some votes. The other threat, of course, is MacKinnon, who has carried the Avs on his shoulders during some injury absences for his all-world linemates, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. MacKinnon has more than double the points of his closest teammate. Eichel has finally busted out into the elite scoring tier, as he was always projected to, but he’s a long shot for MVP status with Buffalo slipping out of the playoff hunt.

Also receiving votes: Brad Marchand, John Carlson, David Pastrnak, Artemi Panarin, Auston Matthews

VEZINA TROPHY (Best goaltender)

1. Connor Hellebuyck, Jets (22 points)
T-2. Ben Bishop, Stars (7 points)
T-2. Darcy Kuemper, Coyotes (7 points)

Hellebuyck doesn’t lead the league in the obvious categories such as goals-against average or save percentage, but he’s been excellent on a Jets team that lost Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot from its blueline in the summer. The depleted ‘D’ has yielded a much more difficult workload for Hellebuyck, which makes his performance all the more remarkable.

Among 31 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, he faces the fourth most shots against per 60 minutes and has the fourth-highest expected goals against per 60, yet he still has the third-highest overall 5-on-5 SP at .933. He’s third in the league in goals saved above average per 60 minutes. If the Jets didn’t have such a putrid penalty kill, Hellebuyck’s surface numbers would be stronger, but he’s been outstanding anyway despite a monstrous workload. No goalie has played more games or faced more shots this season.

Tied for a distant second, Bishop has been the best goalie in the league since the start of last season and looks poised to be a Vezina finalist for a fourth time, while Kuemper has carried over his great second-half play from last season.

Also receiving votes: Tristan Jarry, Tuukka Rask, Frederik Andersen, Jordan Binnington, Semyon Varlamov

NORRIS TROPHY (Best defenseman)

1. John Carlson, Capitals (27 points)
2. Roman Josi, Predators (13 points)
3. Dougie Hamilton, Hurricanes (11 points)

Here’s our first unanimous vote. It really couldn’t have been easier. Not only has Carlson played most of this season on a scoring pace of better than 100 points, but he also plays close to 25 minutes a night and blocks shots with aplomb. At this point, he’s as important to the Capitals as any player – even Alex Ovechkin.

In most other seasons, the work Josi and Hamilton have done would vault them to the top of the Norris race. Josi, who functions as a roving fourth forward on the ice, is producing the best numbers of his career, while Hamilton, finally getting a chance to play more (almost a four-minute increase year over year!), has been an all-around juggernaut of goal-scoring, shutdown ability and possession dominance.

Also receiving votes: Alex Pietrangelo, Victor Hedman, Thomas Chabot

CALDER TROPHY (Best rookie)

1. Cale Makar, Avalanche (27 points)
2. Quinn Hughes, Canucks (17 points)
3. Victor Olofsson, Sabres (9 points)

This vote was so concentrated that only one ballot even named a fourth rookie. Makar, the brainy, dynamic offensive blueliner compared to Erik Karlsson coming out of the 2017 draft, is beyond living up to the hype. Makar is scoring at a rate not seen among rookie blueliners since Brian Leetch in 1988-89. Hughes, similarly small and gifted with the puck, would also be on pace for the best offensive season by a rookie defenseman in years if Makar didn’t exist. Each guy sits in his own tier. Olofsson, the mature 24-year-old rookie armed with a lethal shot, has done nice damage playing with Eichel, but a multi-week injury absence could open the door for another freshman to earn a finalist nod by year’s end.

Also receiving votes: John Marino

JACK ADAMS AWARD (Coach of the year)

1. Craig Berube, Blues (11 points)
2. Rick Tocchet, Coyotes (10 points)
3. Sheldon Keefe, Maple Leafs (9 points)

The Blues came from last place to win the Stanley Cup under Berube’s tutelage last season. This time around, there’s no sneaking up. They’ve been front-runners in the standings all year, which is particularly impressive considering they’ve been winning without their best goal-scorer, Vladimir Tarasenko. Berube deserves a lot of credit for that. Tocchet, as well-liked among the players as any coach in the league, has the Desert Dogs creeping toward their first playoff appearance since 2011-12. They do a great job limiting high-quality scoring chances in his system. The Leafs appear to have unlocked their vast offensive potential since Keefe took over for Mike Babcock in November. Keefe has directly defied Babcock in so many roster tweaks (playing stars more, demoting Cody Ceci, etc.) that it’s difficult not to attribute the majority of the team’s recent success to the coaching change.

Also receiving votes: Barry Trotz, Mike Sullivan, Todd Reirden, Dave Tippett, Jared Bednar, Gerard Gallant, Bruce Cassidy

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