Handicapping the NHL’s too-close-to-call 2017 awards races

Check out who Sportsnet's John Shannon thinks is in the conversation for the Calder, Vezina, Norris and Hart trophies, as well as who he thinks will take home the hardware.

Full disclosure: This hockey nerd got a little giddy when an email about the upcoming NHL Awards ballot arrived in the ol’ inbox Saturday.

Members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association cast their ballots at the end of the regular season, and it’s difficult to recall so many of hockey’s individual trophies being up for grabs this late in the game.

Much can change over the course of the next two weeks, but let’s dig in now and evaluate the leading candidates for the NHL’s major prizes, plus predict at who we think will walk away with the hardware if forced to guess right now.

(My personal ballot, as is customary, will be sealed in a titanium envelope, stuffed inside Brent Burns’ beard, and delivered straight to the hands of Warren Beatty.)

Hart Trophy
Who’s in the mix: Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Brad Marchand, Patrick Kane, Devan Dubnyk, Sergei Bobrovsky.

With so many fantastic individual performances this season, this will be the most hair-pulling Hart Trophy ballot in years. It’s arguable that no one man is more important to his team’s success than Karlsson to the Senators, Burns to the Sharks, or Dubnyk to the Wild.

But let’s be honest. Unless the forward crop is really bland, this one’s going to a scorer. D-men and goalies will snatch votes — writers are asked to fill out five slots — but, save Chris Pronger in 2000, a blueliner hasn’t claimed this award since Bobby Orr’s run in the early ’70s.

This is truly a race between McDavid and Crosby. The Kid and the kid.

The Oilers would not be snuffing out the NHL’s most tortuous playoff drought were it not for McDavid, who drives the Edmonton bus like Sandra Bullock in Speed.

But we’re giving Crosby one more year. He has the overall lead in goals (41) and points per game (1.23). Judging by recent theatrics, the best player in hockey will only need one hand to hoist his third Hart Trophy.

Our pick: Crosby
Who has a right to be angry with our pick: McDavid, every hockey fan in the West, people who think defencemen get no love

Art Ross Trophy
Who’s in the mix: Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Brad Marchand, Nicklas Backstrom.

Heading into Thursday’s action, a scant seven points separate the scoring race leader (McDavid, 85 points) from its fourth runner-up (Backstrom, 78). With roughly 10 games left, this feels like 2014-15 all over again, when Jamie Benn swooped in on the final night to post four points and steal the crown from John Tavares.

Crosby and Backstrom have a game in hand over the others. A tie goes to the player with more goals. (Just ask Gretzky or Lindros.) This favours Crosby and, perhaps, Marchand.

It’s a toss-up, but we’re betting on Crosby by a nose, because a.) we think he’s determined to win it and b.) he could light up the four teams with below-average save percentage he’ll face down the stretch (Flyers, Islanders, Hurricanes, Devils).

Our pick: Crosby
Who has a right to be angry with our pick: McDavid

Norris Trophy
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 into an Atlantic powerhouse at both ends of the rink. He’s second only to Burns in points (70 to 66) but has more assists (52) and takes fewer shots. Karlsson also skates nearly two minutes more per night, although Burns is no slouch either averaging 24:55. The Senator has committed himself on the ugly end of the ice; he leads all NHLers with 196 blocked shots. Incredible.

Naturally, we think Burns will win. He has more points. Also, his 2016 Cup Final appearance and his flirting with the Art Ross have put him more front of mind. He could also reach 30 goals and has a much better plus/minus (+22 to +6).

“What Burnzie’s doing is great,” Karlsson told the Canadian Press. “It’s good for the league. It’s good for everybody. It shows that it’s possible.”

Our pick: Burns
Who has a right to be angry with our pick: Karlsson, the Internet

Vezina Trophy
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, and now the Columbus Blue Jacketsnew-attitude No. 1 has the lead in save percentage (.930), goals-against average (2.04) and wins (39). Toss in the fact that the Blue Jackets are enjoying their greatest year in franchise history and could even claim the Presidents’ Trophy, and this one is now Goalie Bob’s to lose.

Meaning, ridiculously strong performances by Dubnyk and Holtby (NHL-best eight shutouts) will go trophy-free.

Our pick: Bobrovsky
Who has a right to be angry with our pick: Dubnyk, Holtby.

Calder Trophy
Who’s in the mix: Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, Matt Murray, Zach Werenski, William Nylander, Matthew Tkachuk.

Mike Babcock was asked recently where he thought Marner stood in the Rookie of the Year race. The coach answered with a question of his own.

“If he wins the scoring race, where does that put him?” Babcock said. “Ask me at the end.”

The Calder race already has two 33-goal scorers in Laine and Matthews, 2016’s top two draftees. Marner is smack on their heels, points-wise, and leads all freshmen in assists with 39. Patrick Kane recently raved about the winger’s defensive game. He’s arguably the most complete 200-foot forward under consideration.

Matthews plays a more important position (centre) and skates on an all-rookie line. Laine benefits from the remarkable Mark Scheifele. How much will that weigh into voters’ minds?

Will Marner and Matthews cost each other a few votes because they play for the same team? Is this simply a matter of who finishes with the highest point total? Does playoff qualification matter? Or the fact Matthews is American? My head hurts.

Unfortunately, Werenksi (47 points from the blue line) and Murray (No. 1 goalie on a championship team) might not even get invited to Vegas. What a class.

Our pick: Matthews
Who has a right to be angry with our pick: Laine, Marner, Murray, Werenski.

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 we don’t envy the broadcasters who do.

Babcock might guide a last-place team full of children to the playoffs. 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 Alain Vigneault, Todd McLellan, Mike Sullivan and Barry Trotz as well.

But if Tortorella can take a disastrous, lottery-destined Blue Jackets team to the Presidents’ Trophy race while still taking mornings off, well, he must be the pick.

Our pick: Tortorella
Who has a right to be angry with our pick: Boucher, Babcock, Quenneville

Frank J. Selke Trophy
Who’s in the mix: Mikko Koivu, Ryan Kesler, Patrice Bergeron, Mikael Backlund, Jonathan Toews, Mark Stone.

Another tough race, believe it or not. Bergeron and Toews are familiar favourites, but neither has wowed with their offensive numbers this season, opening the door for a penalty-killing and faceoff beast like Kesler (who won the award in 2011 and ranks second in scoring on the Ducks), or the underrated Koivu, or a even takeaway monster like Stone (whose injury could harm his chances). Backlund is an unlikely but legitimate contender, too.

Our pick: Koivu
Who has a right to be angry with our pick: Kesler, Backlund

Lady Byng Trophy
Who’s in the mix: Mikael Granlund, Vladimir Tarasenko, Johnny Gaudreau, Aleksander Barkov, Brandon Saad, Oscar Klefbom.

Shout out to all the gentlemen who patiently read through this whole list searching for 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 big numbers while staying out the box. Gaudreau doesn’t retaliate when opponents slash his hands to mush.

How about the case for Klefbom? He’s arguably the Oilers’ best defenceman and somehow he’s taken just three minor penalties all year. 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: If he’s so angry, maybe this isn’t the award for him.