The NHL Awards are taking place in Las Vegas on Wednesday, with some pretty interesting storylines surrounding this year’s hardware. Some winners have already been determined (Jamie Benn, meet Art Ross), but plenty of the biggest awards are still up for grabs.
So here’s a look at the main honors that will be handed out this week, with an extremely quick, twitter-length argument for each of the finalists…
Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year)
Aaron Ekblad, D, Panthers – Lived up to the hype as the No. 1 overall pick in last summer’s draft. And he made playing defense in Florida look simple — as an 18-year old!
Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Flames – Already one of the most exciting players in all of hockey. His 64 points tied him for the NHL lead among all rookies, and helped trigger an impressive — and surprising — playoff run for Calgary. He’s actually older than Ekblad (21), but looks like he’s 12.
Mark Stone, RW, Senators – Started slow, managing just three goals in his first 25 games. Then he erupted for 23 goals over his final 55 contests. Not surprisingly, Ottawa made a miraculous run down the stretch as well. Coincidence? No.
James Norris Memorial Trophy (Top Defenseman)
Drew Doughty, D, Kings – Somehow Doughty has never won this award, but he will. The undisputed anchor of one of the best defenses in hockey, he led the NHL in shot attempts differential (SAT). In short, he’s the sort of guy everyone hates playing against.
Erik Karlsson, D, Senators – Led all d-men in total points (again) with 66, while also captaining Ottawa to an improbable 23-4-4 stretch run that culminated in a playoff berth at the expense of Boston. Already won the Norris in 2012.
P.K. Subban, D, Canadiens – Captured the Norris in 2013, and probably had a better all around year this season. Averaged 26:12 of ice time to lead a defense corps that allowed the least goals per game in the league (2.24) while also setting career highs in goals (15), assists (45) and total points (60).
Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year)
Bob Hartley, Flames – A strong case can be made that Calgary’s remarkable turnaround was the best team story in the league this year. And Hartley – the perfect fit for that young lineup – was a major catalyst.
Peter Laviolette, Predators – Despite the past success of Barry Trotz, Nashville really seemed to benefit from having a new boss behind the bench. Well, that and they got a healthy Pekke Rinne back in net.
Alain Vigneault, Rangers – Vigneault had a great year, and is clearly one of the best coaches in the game. But it’s tough to envision him winning over the other two finalists because a) New York is loaded so it’s not like he was part of a huge turnaround and b) he already claimed the Adams back in 2007, and this isn’t an award that sees a lot of repeat winners.
Hart Memorial Trophy (League MVP)
Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals – It’s entirely possible this was the best all-around season Ovi has delivered so far in his illustrious career. He embraced the more defensive system preached by his new coach, yet still led the league in goals (53) – by ten – including 11 game-winners. For good measure, he’s already won this award three times.
Carey Price, G, Canadiens – Price led the league in basically everything – wins (44), save percentage (.933) and goals against average (an insane 1.96). No goalie has won the Hart since Jose Theodore did it back in 2002 but, by all indications, that drought is going to end this week.
John Tavares, C, Islanders – Tavares has rapidly developed into one of the brightest stars in this league. Not only did he bounce back from an injury-riddled 2013-14 campaign, he finished second in the NHL scoring race with 86 points and led the Isles to their most wins (47) since 1984. You’d absolutely love to have this guy on you team. Love to. But he’s not winning the Hart this year.
Vezina Trophy (Top Goalie)
Devan Dubnyk, G, Wild – Dubnyk’s season reads like a movie script. After wallowing in the minors a year ago, he revived his career with Arizona, was dealt to Minnesota and promptly started 38 consecutive games – in dominant fashion – to save the Wild’s season. That’s all. Oh, and he went 5-1 with a 0.99 GAA against Edmonton, the team that gave up on him in 2013-14. So that’s nice.
Carey Price, G, Canadiens – Well let’s see – most people think he’s a lock for the Hart, so let’s do the math here…
Pekka Rinne, G, Predators – In a normal year, Rinne wins this going away. This wasn’t a normal year though.
Frank J. Selke Trophy (Forward Who Best Excels at Defense)
Patrice Bergeron, C, Bruins – Bergeron won the Selke in 2014, edging out, um, Kopitar and Toews. He also won it in 2012, then finished as the runner-up to Toews in 2013. See the pattern here? This time around, he led the NHL in faceoff percentage (60.2%) while taking a league-high 1,951 draws.
Anze Kopitar, C, Kings – Finished No. 1 in puck possession among forwards and would probably win this award a lot if it weren’t for the two guys he’s always up against.
Jonathan Toews, C, Blackhawks – Toews did typical Toews things all season long, including – but not limited to – captaining Chicago to another Stanley Cup. For all the scoring the ‘Hawks have at their disposal, they actually led the Western Conference in goals allowed (2.27) and Toews was a major reason why.
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (Best Example of “Perseverance, Sportsmanship and Dedication to Hockey”)
Devan Dubnyk, G, Wild – Seemed like he was closer to being out of the NHL than in it about 12 months ago. Now he’s a legitimate Vezina finalist.
Andrew Hammond, G, Senators – Career minor leaguer didn’t make his first NHL start until age 27, then proceeded to go 14-0-1 in his first 15 starts. He also earned the nickname “The Hamburglar”, which prompted fans in Ottawa to throw all-beef patties onto the ice and – by extension – Curtis Lazar to eat one of them. That has to be worth something.
Kris Letang, D, Penguins – Came back from a scary head injury in 2014 to not only lead Pittsburgh in ice time (25:29), but make a legitimate run at the Norris as well. His absence in the playoffs spoke volumes, as the Penguins clearly missed his ability to move the puck and trigger the offense.
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (“Gentlemanly Conduct Combined With A High Standard of Playing Ability”)
Pavel Datsyuk, C, Red Wings – Datsyuk has won this award four times, yet somehow hasn’t won it in five years. Go figure. He’s basically the personification of what the Lady Byng honors.
Jiri Hudler, C, Flames – Did you expect Hudler to finish eighth in the entire league with 76 points? Of course you didn’t. His previous career high was 57, set six years ago while playing on a team with Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. He was the perfect veteran piece in Calgary’s unlikely playoff puzzle this year though, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him get rewarded for it.
Anze Kopitar, C, Kings – Kopitar just keeps doing his thing, which somehow includes “getting close but never actually winning a major individual NHL award” so far. Of course, it also includes “hoisting the Stanley Cup every other year”, so he’ll be fine.