Predicting the 2020 NHL Award Winners

The end of a typical NHL season is usually hallmarked by 3 events: the Stanley Cup Final, the NHL draft, and the NHL Awards, which recognize the game’s top players. However, as we all know, this is not a typical NHL season, as it was interrupted by the global coronavirus pandemic in March. As a result, all three events were postponed, and we did not know when they would take place until recently. The NHL announced that as part of its Return To Play format, the Stanley Cup Final will begin on September 22, and will run till October 4 at the latest. Additionally, the two-day draft ceremony will take place virtually from October 9-10.

While the NHL has not revealed any information on when the virtual NHL Awards ceremony will be, or if it will even take place at all, they have released the finalists for the awards. The voting body varies between awards, but voting took place once the NHL announced that the regular season would not be resumed. The season was about 80% complete when it was halted, so by this point, voters generally had a good idea of who they would be voting for. But, now that we known who the nominees are, which players deserve to bring home the hardware?

Before we begin, I should acknowledge that the NHL has stated that they will reveal the finalists for the GM of the Year Award and King Clancy Memorial Trophy, given to the player that is a leader on the ice and has made a significant humanitarian contribution off the ice, at a later date, so they will not be judged here. Additionally, I will not be evaluating the finalists for the Ted Lindsay Award because it is voted on by the players and very similar to the Hart Trophy; I won’t be discussing the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy either because the award is given to a player who has experienced a significant off-ice setback, and it does not feel right to subjectively debate what player had the “worst” personal situation. Now, without further ado, let’s go through each of the major awards and quickly break down the cases for each nominee.

Lady Byng Trophy

Description: Awarded to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.

Nominees: Nathan MacKinnon (COL), Auston Matthews (TOR), Ryan O’Reilly (STL)

MacKinnon had yet another MVP-caliber season in 2019-20, as evidenced by his other nominations for the Ted Lindsay Award and Hart Trophy. MacKinnon is the highest scorer on this list with 93 points, good for 5th in the league. Over the course of the entire season, he only had 12 PIM. He did this while averaging over 21 minutes per night for the Avalanche, who have been in contention for 1st place in the Central all season.

From a purely on-ice perspective, Matthews makes a strong case for the trophy. He had the second-most goals in the league with 47, one shy of tying David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin for the league lead. He had a career-high 80 points and averaged just shy of 21 minutes per game, while only serving 8 PIM this season. However, it’s Matthews’ well-documented off-ice conduct that should raise a few eyebrows for his nomination. He was cited for disorderly conduct in Arizona on May 26, 2019 after Matthews and a group of friends approached a car with a female security guard inside and attempted to enter the vehicle; when confronted by the security guard, Matthews pulled his pants down and mooned her.

O’Reilly scored the least amount of points of the nominees with 61, but besides that, certainly holds the pedigree to take home the trophy. The four-time finalist for this award, including being the runner-up last season, O’Reilly led the league in faceoff wins for the 3rd straight season and led St Louis’ forwards in ice time, while only taking 10 PIM in 71 games this season.

Who should win: MacKinnon. Who will win: MacKinnon.

O’Reilly’s season, while good, was not on the level of MacKinnon’s nor Matthews’. Had Matthews not been involved in the disorderly conduct citation, he and MacKinnon would be in a run-off for the award. This is MacKinnon’s award to lose.

Jack Adams Award

Description: Given to the coach selected to have contributed the most to his team’s success.

Nominees: Bruce Cassidy (BOS), John Tortorella (CBJ), Alain Vigneault (PHI)

Cassidy received his second Jack Adams nomination for good reason. His Bruins were one win shy of hoisting the Stanley Cup last season, and they came back from that crushing defeat even better than they were before. The Bruins were on fire from the moment the puck dropped in October, going 44-14-12 and taking home the Presidents’ Trophy for best regular season team.

Tortorella’s nomination is the most interesting of the bunch. A 5-time nominee for this award, winning twice, Tortorella notably suffered major roster downgrades in the offseason, with free agent stars Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky choosing to leave Columbus and sign elsewhere. Despite this, he admirably led his team to a 33-22-15 record this season, finishing 6th in the Metropolitan Division, while his already-depleted roster was mired by injuries.

This past season, Vigneault showed why he is a 5-time nominee for this trophy. After suffering through mediocre seasons under their previous head coach, the Flyers, in Vigneault’s first season as their bench boss, rocketed up the standings to a 41-21-7 record, good for 2nd in the Metropolitan and 4th in the Eastern Conference. Vigneault’s success is more impressive when you recall that one of the team’s blossoming players was diagnosed with cancer two months into the season, and his starting goalie struggled on the road for major stretches.

Who should win: Vigneault. Who will win: Vigneault.

Despite a fellow Brotherly Puck writer arguing otherwise, Tortorella should not even be sniffing this award, as his team was in the bottom half of the division all season. If the season was played in full, it’s very likely the Blue Jackets would not have made the playoffs. The trophy comes down to Cassidy and Vigneault, and both are deserving of this award. In the end, I think Vigneault will win due to the immense turnaround Philadelphia has taken this season under Vigneault’s watch.

Calder Trophy

Description: Given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL.

Nominees: Quinn Hughes (VAN), Dominik Kubalik (CHI), Cale Makar (COL)

Hughes has been in the conversation for this award all season, and rightfully so. The 2018 7th overall pick led rookies 1st in assists (45), points (53), and power-play points (35), while his 21:53 minutes of ice time per game ranked second. He ranked 4th on the Canucks in points, and his numbers for assists and power-play points were new records amongst Canucks rookies. Oh, and he did this as a defenseman.

Kubalik is seen as the most surprising name on this list due to the strong seasons posted by multiple rookie goaltenders this year. However, his inclusion shouldn’t come as that much of a shock. The 24-year-old Blackhawks forward scored 30 goals and 46 points in 68 games this season, ranking 1st and 3rd, respectfully, in both categories. He also ranked 1st among rookies in even-strength points (38), even-strength goals (26), and shots on goal (157).

Makar is the other player that, like Hughes, has been in the running for this award since the beginning. He ranked 1st among rookie defensemen in goals (12), power-play goals (4), and even-strength goals (8), and was second among all rookies in assists (38), points (50), and power-play points (19). Though he was just shy of the lead for TOI amongst the Avalanche’s defensemen with 21:01, Makar was second on his team in scoring behind MacKinnon.

Who should win: Hughes. Who will win: Makar.

It’s not every day that a rookie scores 30 goals and isn’t a shoe-in for this award, but here we are. Kubalik’s season, while strong, does not match up to the value that Hughes and Makar have provided to their respective teams, as Kubalik’s Blackhawks are the last-seeded Western Conference team in the qualifying round. Both Hughes and Makar are deserving of this award, and I would not be surprised if it went either way. To me, Hughes’ season is more impressive because Vancouver does not have a lot of big names on defense, and Hughes led the categories for multiple important rookie marks. However, it’s Makar who will likely take home the trophy due to his place on the Avalanche’s point totals and his efforts in turning the Avalanche into a juggernaut.

Selke Trophy

Description: Given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game

Nominees: Patrice Bergeron (BOS), Sean Couturier (PHI), Ryan O’Reilly (STL)

Patrice Bergeron finds himself on the list of nominees for the Selke again, making it his ninth-straight nomination for this award. He cracked the 30-goal mark for his third straight year, and scored 56 points (31 goals, 25 assists) in 61 games. Bergeron ranked 4th in face-off winning percentage, 7th in faceoffs taken, and fifth in face-offs won. He also played about 18 minutes per game as the first-line center for the Presidents’ Trophy winning team. The Bruins also took 56% of all shots when Bergeron was on the ice, and, thanks in part to Bergeron’s defensive prowess, the Bruins allowed the least amount of goals in the NHL. Should he win this award, he would be the all-time leader in wins for the Selke, breaking his tie at 4 with Bob Gainey.

Sean Couturier had another stellar year of two-way prowess for the Philadelphia Flyers, and was rewarded with his second nomination for this award.The 27-year-old center put up 59 points (22 goals, 37 assists) in 69 games for the Orange and Black and led the NHL in face-off win percentage at 59.6%. His part in leading the Flyers back to the playoffs is displayed in his usage; he ranks first in ice time on the Flyers at 19:50 minutes per game, and first on the team in shorthanded ice time. Couturier shuts down opposing lines, and when he is on the ice, his line scores 76% of the goals at 5-on-5.

The winner of the Selke Trophy last season, Ryan O’Reilly earned his second nomination with another excellent season. O’Reilly had the highest point totals of the nominees, with 61 points (12 goals, 49 assists) in 71 games. He also led the league in face-off wins for the 3rd straight season, while also leading the league in face-offs taken at 1,556. O’Reilly led his team in both average ice time (20:34 per game) and shorthanded ice time (2:04 per game).

Who should win: Couturier. Who will win: Couturier.

Though Bergeron is a perennial nominee, he did miss a significant period of time with injuries, and that will likely stop him from bringing home the trophy. This is a two-horse race between Couturier and O’Reilly, as their point totals were almost identical. Couturier is the better playmaker of the two, while O’Reilly had better defensive metrics. In the end though, Couturier will be crowned the winner. He exudes sheer dominance on the ice and is the engine that drives the Flyers. Long underrated as a candidate for this award by the national media, Sean Couturier now has the hockey world’s full attention.

Vezina Trophy

Description: Given to the goalkeeper selected to be the best at the position.

Nominees: Connor Hellebuyck (WPG), Tuukka Rask (BOS), Andrei Vasilevskiy (TBL)

Connor Hellebuyck had another stellar year in net for the Jets. The 2017-18 runner up for the Vezina, Hellebuyck started over 50 games for the fourth-straight season and had a 31-21-5 record and 2.57 goals against average. He ranked 1st in the league in shutouts with 6, while also ranking 2nd in wins and 7th in save percentage with .922. He posted these numbers in front of a subpar defense corps that saw most of its key players leave via trade or free agency. Hellebuyck’s stellar play helped keep the Jets afloat this season, making him a worthy nominee for this award.

Tuukka Rask had another impressive season between the pipes for the Bruins. In his 41 starts this season for the Presidents Trophy winners, Rask went 26-8-6, and allowed two or fewer goals in 27 of those games. He led the League in GAA with 2.12, ranked 2nd in the league in save percentage (amongst goalies who played over 20 games), and tied for 2nd in shutouts with five. He, along with backup Jaroslav Halak, won the Jennings Trophy for least goals allowed in the NHL, with only 167 goals let in. This was Rask’s best season since 2013-14 – the last time he won the Vezina Award.

Andrei Vasilevskiy followed up his Vezina-Award winning year last season with a season that was just as good. In 52 starts for the Lightning, the Russian goaltender posted an excellent 35-14-3 record. He led the League in wins for the third straight season, a .917 save percentage, 2.56 GAA, and 3 shutouts while guiding Tampa Bay to a 43-21-6 record, good for 2nd in the Eastern Conference. This is Vasilevskiy’s third straight nomination.

Who should win: Hellebuyck. Who will win: Hellebuyck.

Though Rask and Vasilevskiy had impressive seasons, they both have the luxury of playing on incredibly good teams. Hellebuyck was the primary reason that the Jets stayed competitive for a playoff spot all season long, and as a result, will bring home his first Vezina Trophy.

Norris Trophy

Description: Given to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-round ability in the position.

Nominees: John Carlson (WSH), Victor Hedman (TBL), Roman Josi (NSH)

John Carlson has been the favorite for the Norris since the season began in October, and rightfully so. He recorded 75 points in 69 games while playing nearly over 24 minutes a night for the Capitals, who sat atop the Metropolitan Division when the season was paused due to coronavirus. He ranked 1st among defensemen in points, assists (60), and game-winning goals (6), while ranking 2nd in powerplay points. His 1.09 points per game rate is the highest by any defenseman since Al MacInnins in 1993-94. This is Carlson’s first nomination.

Hedman is highly touted as one of the best defensemen in the NHL, so it’s not a surprise to see him nominated for the third year in a row after another great season. Averaging just over 24 minutes per game in 66 games, Hedman finished 3rd among defensemen in points (55) and assists (44). The 2017-18 Norris winner, Hedman helped the Lightning to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Roman Josi finds himself nominated for his first Norris Trophy after a phenomenal year in Nashville. In 69 games this season, the Predators captain posted 65 points, 23 of which were on the powerplay, while also averaging 25:47 minutes per game, good for 3rd in the NHL. Josi ranked 2nd among defensemen in points (65) and assists (49), while tying for 2nd in goals with 16. Should he win, he would be the first Norris Trophy winner in Predators history.

Who should win: Carlson. Who will win: Josi.

Hedman’s year was great, but he ranked behind Carlson and Josi in all the major categories. Carlson blitzed the League this year and recorded the best season by a defenseman in over 25 years. His dominance should see him walk away with the Norris this year, but I suspect Josi will come away with the honor. However, Carlson has a much better team around him than Josi does. Josi is one of the few remaining pillars of Nashville’s defense, and he had almost 20 more points than the next leading scorer on his team. Josi has helped keep Nashville in the playoff hunt all season, and the Predators would be nowhere near as good without him.

Hart Trophy

Description: Given to the player selected to be the most valuable to his team. 

Nominees: Leon Draisaitl (EDM), Nathan MacKinnon (COL), Artemi Panarin (NYR)

Leon Draisaitl was the best player on his team this season, which is already a remarkable feat considering that he plays with Connor McDavid. He ran away with the League’s scoring title, racking up 110 points in 71 games this season; he was the only player this season to score over 100 points. He ranked 1st in points per game (1.55), assists (67), and powerplay points (44). He also was 1st among forwards in average ice time per game (22:37) and was 4th in the NHL in goals with 43. Draisaitl’s offense was crucial to the Oilers’ success this season: they were 24-5-2 when he scored a goal and 13-20-7 when he couldn’t find the back of the net. He guided the Oilers to 2nd place in the Pacific Division, and his presence was especially crucial when McDavid was out for an extended period with an injury. This is Draisaitl’s first Hart Trophy nomination.

Nathan MacKinnon had a phenomenal year for the Avalanche. In 69 games this season and averging over 21 minutes per game, MacKinnon ranked 5th in league scoring with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) in 69 games. His goal total ranked 9th in the NHL, while his assists total was 6th. However, this is even more impressive when you consider that MacKinnon did not have the offensive help that the other nominees had; he finished with 43 more points than the next highest scorer in Colorado. MacKinnon was everything the Avs needed him to be and more this season, and he is the biggest reason why they were 2nd in the Central Division when the season was paused. This is MacKinnon’s second nomination, and his first since being the runner up for the Hart in 2017-18.

Artemi Panarin made a splash in his first season with the Rangers. In 69 games this season while averaging over 20 minutes per game, the Russian winger scored 95 points, which were 3rd in the NHL. His 63 assists were tied for 2nd in the NHL, and he was 1st in the League in even-strength points with 71, even-strength assists with 46. Panarin’s offense drove the Blueshirts this season, as he ended with 20 more points than the next highest scorer on the Rangers. Panarin’s prowess was a major catalyst for the Rangers’ surge towards a playoff spot.

Who should win: MacKinnon. Who will win: Draisaitl.

This award has the tighest race, and it would not be shocking to see any of these finalists win. However, it can’t be ignored that when the season ended, Panarin’s Rangers were 7th in the Metropolitan Division. Even though they were trending upwards when the season was abruptly stopped, it’s not a gurantee they would have made the playoffs, and it is a long-held belief that in order to win the MVP award, your team needs to make the playoffs. That leaves MacKinnon and Draisaitl. I think MacKinnon should win the Hart because he ranked near the top of every major category, and was the glue that held the Avs together. He took on more repsonsibility when linemate Mikko Rantanen missed a large portion of the season due to injury, as evidenced by how much more he scored than the rest of his teammates. However, I imagine the fact that Draisaitl ended the season head and shoulders above his peers in all the scoring categories, combined with the fact that the Oilers didn’t falter under his watch with McDavid gone, will win the voters over.

Do you agree with my predictions? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter!

Header image credit to NHL.com

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