I know it’s early and we are still 12 days away from the end of the regular season but it’s just about the time to look at who should win the NHL’s regular season awards. There are a few we may not truly be able to know until the end but that’s part of the fun! We will start with one of the ones I think is pretty much wrapped up.
*stats as of 3/29/16
Braden Holtby (2.17 Goals Against Average, .923 Save %, 46 wins)
Henrik Lundqvist (2.41 GAA, .922 SV %, 33 wins)
Ben Bishop (2.02 GAA, .928 SV%, 33 wins)
Honorable mention: Corey Crawford, Cory Schneider
For me, no one has been more impressive between the pipes than Holtby because he has backstopped a team that has ratcheted up the pressure on the rest of the NHL to the tune of an NHL leading 54 wins and a guaranteed President’s Trophy. Holtby has won 46 of those 54 games and proven to be a workhorse for the Capitals on their run to what they hope is a Cup winning season. While they are a well built team, I think they are built from the goalie position on. Last year’s playoff performance by Holtby was his coming out party and I think he is showing what he is made of. He played in 13 games last year posting a 1.71 GAA and .944 SV%, winning 6 of the 13 games before the Caps bowed out to the New York Rangers in the 7th game.
As for the Rangers, Lundqvist has held them in the playoff race on his back alone. Once again they’ve built a team designed to win around Hank. The Rangers leading scorer Derek Brassard has 57 points (27 goals -30 assists) and isn’t even in the 20 in points or the top 20 in goals (26). If the Rangers expect to beat the Capitals in the Eastern Conference they’ll have to rely on defense and Lundqvist.
Quietly Ben Bishop has powered the Tampa Bay Lightning to 93 points and a tie with Florida atop the Atlantic division. While we’ve heard about Florida’s resurgence, the Lightning have quietly come on thanks in large part to Bishop’s play in net. As long as he continues to play strong he’ll have a chance to take that top spot in the Atlantic.
The Corey-Cory tandem both have played well and it was hard to keep them off the board but the top three candidates couldn’t be overlooked. Crawford has kept the Hawks in many games but the offense in front of him has overshadowed his work many times. I don’t believe he’s the top tier goal like the other three. Schneider is a top tier goaltender but he’s been hurt by New Jersey’s lack of depth. Once the Devils get the pieces in place, they have a great goalkeeper in place to get them where they want to be.
Honorable mention: Max Domi
Some may question the fact that Panarin is 24 and played for 6 years in the Russian KHL before coming over to the NHL. By the NHL standards however, Panarin is a rookie and stands to win the Calder hands down with 64 points, which is good for 17th in the league, the best by a rookie.
Eichel is at 50 and Gostisbehere, the Flyers’ D-man, has 42 points for a team that is gunning for the playoffs as best they can. Eichel has looked good for the Sabres, a good runner-up prize for the team that missed out on “can’t miss” prospect Connor McDavid that Edmonton took with the first overall pick.
Meanwhile Max Domi has shown flashes of brilliance in his time in a Coyotes sweater, even scoring on his father, Tie’s old team Toronto this year as he has amassed 48 points.
Honorable mention: P.K. Subban
Erik Karlsson has been a revelation once again in Ottawa. A defenseman leading the league in assists? Yup that’s him. The gold standard of offensive defenseman. But he’s always on the ice for his team, 30 minutes plus 30 or more times this year. Karlsson has 62 assists and it is the most by a defenseman since Nicklas Lidstrom in the 2007-2008 season when he had 60. He won the Norris that year.
Doughty has played well on the blueline for the Kings. He’s been one of the reasons that the Kings have performed so well and are contenders for the Cup. Burns has been a point producer as well. But both can’t really come close to what is Karlsson’s best and arguably magical season even though the Sens won’t make the playoffs it is an individual award and he has played the best season for a D-man.
P.K. has had some missed games due to injuries although he has brought his offensive game to the Canadiens this year. When he’s come to the rink he’s been explosive. He’s been physical and solid. The team has struggled because of lack of depth and that has affected his numbers but I still see that Norris trophy D-man on the ice. Not as good as the other three but he’s up there.
Honorable mention: Erik Karlsson, Henrik Lundqvist
Patrick Kane is the guy that checks all the boxes here, leader in points, second in goals, second in assists and plays on one of the NHL’s best teams. But I’m struggling with this decision. This is the one that I have a hard time with. Do I think the Blackhawks would win without him? No. But do I think the Penguins win without Crosby? No way.
In fact the Penguins have been a way different team in 2016 then in 2015. On January 2, 2016 before facing the New York Islanders, the Penguins sat on 40 points – good for 10th in the Eastern Conference and 5th in the Metropolitan Division. Now they are at 92 points, 3rd in the Metropolitan and 5th in the Conference, a hell of a swing in three months.
As for Gaudreau, the Flames would have struggled without his 28 goals and 45 assists. Johnny Hockey put the Calgary team on his back this year and even though they won’t make the playoffs, there is no doubt in my mind, this young lad is going to make this team a contender as long they continue to put complementary pieces around him.
As for my honorable mentions, I believe Karlsson will win the Norris and that speaks for itself, as well as Lundqvist’s play in net for the Rangers.
I can’t really throw anyone else in the mix because as long as he’s playing this is pretty much Bergeron’s trophy to lose. Bergeron does everything you want a forward to do. He wins faceoffs, kills penalties, back checks and is one of the best all around forwards. His play is so good he makes everyone around him look good.
But if you are inclined, I’ll give you two names that could be included in the runner up spot:
You happy? It still should be renamed the Bergeron trophy. For as long as he’s playing, it will be his.
This one should be a lot easier than it was. But Mike Sullivan was gifted a talented team, the same that former Penguins coach Mike Johnston couldn’t get to produce. On December 12, 2015 the Penguins introduced Mike Sullivan as coach and begin to see results. As I stated above they are now knocking on the upper echelons of the Eastern Conference and this is thanks to Mike Sullivan who produced in Wilkes-Barre Scranton with the “Baby Pens.” Many of his players there were brought up and have continued to produce in his system. It’s worked well for him and I think it’s shown what a good coach can do with hard work and players that believe in a system. You don’t always have to have the Kanes and the Karlssons to win.
Speaking of not having talent, Mike Babcock has done wonders with a Toronto Maple Leafs team that has stripped down the organization’s foundation to the core. Babcock has worked well with the younger players brought up from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and the Leafs have seen a resurgence not only on the ice but with the fan base as well. It has given a once proud team reason to look to the future again.
Barry Trotz was given the keys to a Ferrari this year. He was expected to drive the Ferrari as fast and as far as he could. He has done that. But he has also exceeded expectations. Trotz has been able to guide the team through the ups and downs of the regular season without too much drama and changed the culture of the organization in two seasons. He should have been nominated for this award last season. Unfortunately I don’t see him winning it this year either.
Who do you think will win?