Decision time is upon us.
By 7 p.m. ET Wednesday — that’s when the puck drops on the Stanley Cup Playoffs — all voting members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association must electronically cast their ballots for the major NHL awards.
We began taking a closer look at the contenders two weeks ago, but plenty has changed in the days since. Some trophy races loosened and a clear winner emerged, while others got even more confounding. Enough to rejig our ballot.
Connor McDavid bolted away with the Art Ross Trophy, Sidney Crosby’s 44 goals secured for him the first Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy he doesn’t have to share with anybody, and the brilliance of Braden Holtby — now a serious threat to win back-to-back Vezinas — led to a William M. Jennings Trophy for the Washington Capitals.
As we fill out our NHL Awards sheet, we discuss our rationale for why we picked the following winners for the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Calder, Jack Adams, Selke, and Lady Byng.
Who's in the mix: Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Brad Marchand, Patrick Kane, Devan Dubnyk, Sergei Bobrovsky, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Braden Holtby
Heading into the final two weeks of the season, we pegged this as a two-horse race between Crosby and McDavid. Well, one of those thoroughbreds left the other in his dust as he rounded the turn. Speed kills.
Not only did McDavid's 30 goals, 100 points and league-best 1.22 points-per-game average secure his first Art Ross Trophy, the 20-year-old turned a tight scoring race into a laugher when he finished the season on a 14-game streak that saw him rack up 25 points.
Some fantastic individual performances by D-men and goalies should garner votes — writers are asked to fill out slots for five candidates — but anyone who doesn't type McDavid's name on top is just being negligent.
He's the reason the Oilers lifted the NHL's longest active playoff drought and will be a trendy pick to defeat the defending Western Conference champs, San Jose, in Round 1 of the playoffs.
Our pick: McDavid
Who has a right to be angry with our pick: Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion, who's been telling everyone that no player is more valuable to his team than Karlsson
Who's in the mix: Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Duncan Keith, Victor Hedman, Ryan Suter
All due respect to the others, but this is a two-horse race between Burns and Karlsson — and we shouldn't be angry about either one of these masters winning it (but, oh, some people will be). Last year's debate boiled down to Karlsson, the point hoarder, and Drew Doughty, the all-rounder. Doughty won.
Now Karlsson has upped his two-way game, captaining Ottawa to Atlantic powerhouse status at both ends of the rink. He finished behind Burns and the still-underrated Hedman in points but had more assists (54) than Burns and more goals (17) than Hedman and skates about two minutes more per night (26:50) than both of them. The Senator has committed himself on the ugly end of the ice; he finished second among all NHLers with 201 blocked shots.
Then he goes and scores an impossible-angle goal on one leg. Incredible.
"He's the most dynamic player in the league," says Dorion.
Naturally, we think Burns will win. He has more points (76, to Karlsson's 71). Also, his 2016 Cup Final appearance and his mid-season flirtation with the Art Ross have put him more front of mind.
Burns' production dipped and the Sharks swooned down the stretch, however. The Bearded One fell just shy of 30 goals, while Karlsson closed the gap on plus/minus and helped secure home ice for the Senators. Slumping San Jose will start the playoffs in Edmonton.
In short, Karlsson's performance in April swayed our vote, and Hedman's resilience secured his spot in our top three.
Our pick: Karlsson
Who has a right to be angry with our pick: Burns, Hedman
Who's in the mix: Sergei Bobrovsky, Devan Dubnyk, Braden Holtby, Cam Talbot, Carey Price
A month or so ago, we would've handed the Vezina to Dubnyk without a blink. (Note: Writers don't vote on this one; the GMs do.)
The gap narrowed. Bobrovsky, the Columbus Blue Jackets' new-attitude No. 1, finished with the lead in save percentage (.931) and goals-against average (2.06). That, and 41 wins, should be enough to snatch his second Vezina (2013).
But, man, did he turn this into a tough call.
Goalie Bob rounded out this stellar season with four consecutive losses, allowing Holtby (NHL-best 42 wins and nine shoutouts) to make a serious case here.
It might not be the fairest decision, but we'll give the nod to Bobrovsky based on .006 save-percentage points and the fact he plays behind a less defensively sound squad than Holtby does.
Talbot (42 wins, seven shutouts) and Dubnyk (40 wins, .923 save percentage) are as good a Tier 2 as you can ask for.
Our pick: Bobrovsky
Who has a right to be angry with our pick: Holtby, Dubnyk
Who's in the mix: Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Mitchell Marner, Matt Murray, Zach Werenski, William Nylander, Matthew Tkachuk
Another trophy battle that used to be super close until it wasn't at all.
Matthews finished topping all rookies, including draft foil Laine, in goals (40), points (69) and game winners (eight). While developing into a dangerous two-way centre, 2016's first-overall pick snapped longstanding freshman franchise records for goals and points.
He was the only NHLer to register a shot in every game played this season, and he had moments: the four-goal debut, the Centennial Classic overtime winner, and the empty-netter 40th to wrap a bow on the Maple Leafs' first playoff berth in four years. Oh, yeah: He did all this with a couple of rookies on his wings.
Unfortunately for Laine (36 goals), Werenksi (47 points from the blue line), Murray (No. 1 goalie on a championship team), Nylander (61 points) and Marner (42 assists), they picked the wrong year to begin their NHL careers.
Our pick: Matthews
Who has a right to be angry with our pick: Laine, Murray
Jack Adams Trophy
Who's in the mix: John Tortorella, Mike Babcock, Bruce Boudreau, Todd McLellan, Joel Quenneville, Glen Gulutzan, Guy Boucher
So many coaches have shone this season, some more dramatically than others. We're kind of glad we don't actually vote on this one, and don't envy the broadcasters who do.
Boucher has proven to the world that, yes, Karlsson and the Senators can play responsible defence and still win games. Quenneville never gets enough accolades for consistently driving a core that's won it all and a cast of nobodies (yet) to the top of the league. Gulutzan has steadied a wild ship in Calgary through injuries and ugly slumps and bouts of puck-scared goaltending. There are cases to be made for Todd McLellan, John Tortorella, Mike Sullivan and Barry Trotz as well.
All Babcock did was guide a last-place team full of children into the playoffs. That the Leafs' bench boss has never won this trophy makes this one not only deserved but long overdue.
Our pick: Babcock
Who has a right to be angry with our pick: Boucher, Tortorella, Quenneville
Frank J. Selke Trophy
Who's in the mix: Mikko Koivu, Ryan Kesler, Patrice Bergeron, Mikael Backlund, Nicklas Backstrom, Mark Stone, Joe Thornton, John Tavares
The Selke may be one of the toughest trophy races of the year. It's so close, the Anaheim Ducks sent out a press notification Monday outlining the merits of Kesler's all-around game this season, for your consideration.
Backstrom seldom gets enough love for his defensive contributions to Washington's success, but this could be his year. The centre finished fourth overall in scoring, while winning 51.4 per cent of his faceoffs.
Problem is, Backstrom is not the penalty-killing machine that is Kelser or Bergeron, the most familiar name on the list and a de facto favourite. The underrated Koivu and takeaway monster Stone deserve a look. While Backlund emerged as an unlikely but legitimate contender, too.
John Tavares, whose improvement on the defensive side of the puck is illustrated nicely by Andrew Berkshire here, is in the mix, but it's always a little tough to give a major award to a player whose team failed to make the playoffs.
Our pick: Kesler
Who has a right to be angry with our pick: Bergeron, Koivu, Stone, Backstrom
Lady Byng Trophy
Who's in the mix: Mikael Granlund, Vladimir Tarasenko, Johnny Gaudreau, Auston Matthews, Marcus Johansson, Brandon Saad, Oscar Klefbom
Shout out to all the gentlemen who patiently read through this whole listicle in search of the really important award.
Basically, the Lady Byng goes to a good player who keeps his PIMs under control. We could see any one of the kind hearts above winning it. Tarasenko continues to rack up pinball numbers (39 goals, 75 points) while staying out the box (12 PIM). Gaudreau (two minor penalties total) doesn't retaliate even when opponents slash his hands to mush. And we wrote in detail about Matthews being on our Lady Byng ballot here.
How about the case for Klefbom? He's arguably the Oilers' best defenceman, he contributes offensively (38 points), and somehow he's taken just three minor penalties all season. We think he's a long shot worth voting for, although only one D-man has captured this award since 1954 (Brian Campbell in 2012).
Our pick: Tarasenko
Who has a right to be angry with our pick: Matthews, Gaudreau, Klefbom