It’s NHL awards voting time with ballots due by puck drop Wednesday night. Thanks as always to the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association for including me, allowing an opportunity to help select the Hart, Norris, Calder, Selke, Byng and Masterton winners. (The GMs pick the Vezina and broadcasters choose the Jack Adams.)
The league prefers we don’t reveal all of our choices at this time. After all, the idea is to leave some drama for the ceremony which is held June 22 in Las Vegas.
Choosing one player over another isn’t a slam; these are hard awards to vote for. Trying to explain that, of course, never works. It’s better to just go with this: if I don’t pick your favourite team or player, yes, it’s because I hate them — and you.
IT CAME DOWN TO: Jamie Benn and Patrick Kane. Kane is the likely winner and he’d be very deserving. His 17-point victory in the scoring race ties Sidney Crosby (2013-14) for the largest this century. You always assume Chicago finds another gear in April, but at times the Blackhawks looked like they were playing on fumes with all the extra games accumulated over the years.
Kane was the exception and he was brilliant from start to finish. For all of his on-ice greatness, this was probably the best regular season of his career.
When Tyler Seguin suffered his Achilles injury on March 17, Dallas was two points up on St. Louis and five on Chicago for first place in the Central. The Stars had 40 regulation/overtime wins (the first tiebreaker), tied with the Blackhawks and four more than the Blues.
Without Seguin, who could be a second- or third-team NHL All-Star, Dallas went 8-2, with every one of those victories coming in regulation. St. Louis also went 8-2, with one win in overtime. There were games when Benn’s possession numbers were great and he didn’t score much. There were others when those underlying totals were ugly but he found a way to get on the sheet.
Whatever the case, Benn racked up nine points in those 10 games. The Stars’ margin to hold onto the division and avoid a first-round meeting with the dangerous Blackhawks was very slim because the Blues were so good. The captain delivered when Dallas needed it most.
People are going to ask if the police investigation of Kane affected my decision. The answer is no. I don’t think he should be penalized or lauded for how he played through it.
ALSO ON MY BALLOT: Sidney Crosby, Braden Holtby, Joe Thornton.
OTHERS UNDER CONSIDERATION: Ben Bishop, Erik Karlsson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo, Alexander Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko.
IT CAME DOWN TO: Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson. For everything Doughty’s done, he burns to win this award. Even though Karlsson said two weeks ago he’s not thinking about it because Ottawa’s season was poor, do not underestimate the fire inside him either.
We’re 180 degrees from the end of last season yet face the same debate. Why did Doughty lose then? Because the Kings missed the playoffs. Hmmm.
ALSO ON MY BALLOT: Brent Burns, Roman Josi, Kris Letang.
OTHERS UNDER CONSIDERATION: T.J. Brodie, Aaron Ekblad, Oliver Ekman-Larsson (no one gets shafted more in Norris voting than OEL), Mark Giordano, Alex Pietrangelo, Anton Stralman, P.K. Subban, Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
IT CAME DOWN TO: Shayne Gostisbehere, Connor McDavid and Artemi Panarin. The hardest vote for sure.
Really, really curious to see where McDavid finishes. I’ve only spoken to a few voters but they were serious about making him their choice. I get the logic. Of all the rookies, he’s the best. Pure talent, skill — whatever. It’s McDavid. Only Kane and Benn had a higher points per game total. For me, the biggest question is consistency. In 2012, one of the reasons I voted Gabriel Landeskog over Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was games played. To appear in 82 games as an 18- or 19-year-old is impressive. McDavid is a generational talent and I wrestled with my voting history.
Gostisbehere was limited to 64 games but also had a huge impact: third in goals by defencemen, third in game-winners, first in overtime winners. His situation is a little different than McDavid’s. Should he be penalized by Ron Hextall’s patience? If he starts the season in Philadelphia, he’s on pace to play 78-80 games.
As for Panarin, people rip him for being 24 and playing with Patrick Kane. Every year I report on European players signing with NHL teams as free agents. Every year people ask, “Why do you pay attention to these guys? They’re garbage.” Making the transition is not easy. A top-10 scoring season is a tremendous accomplishment by any first-year player. As for lining up next to Kane, maybe a stiff could get 40 points but not 77.
ALSO ON MY BALLOT: Max Domi, Dylan Larkin.
OTHERS UNDER CONSIDERATION: Jack Eichel, Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko, Sam Reinhart, Jaccob Slavin.
IT CAME DOWN TO: Aleksander Barkov, Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar.
Sometimes I look at a good team and say, “Is there someone I should be looking at for an award? Someone I’m not thinking of?” Barkov jumped out from Florida. Totally underrated player who scored 59 points in 66 games. His per-game average was better than Bergeron’s but lower than Kopitar’s.
In voting for this award, one of my criteria is which players have the best goal differentials despite poor zone starts (at five-on-five). All three of these guys are great. Barkov was 41 for, 34 against with 46 per cent offensive zone starts. (All numbers courtesy behindthenet.ca). Bergeron was 42 for, 37 against with 43 per cent.
Kopitar is off the charts. He’s 64 for, 36 against. The slight against him is he’s at 51 per cent starts in the offensive zone. But the Kings are obscene. Of any LA player who appeared in 40 games, no one started in that zone less than Kopitar. They drive the puck down the ice and keep it there.
Eight penalty minutes for Barkov and 16 for Kopitar is pretty impressive too.
ALSO ON MY BALLOT: Ryan Kesler, Alexander Steen.
OTHERS UNDER CONSIDERATION: David Backes, Nicklas Backstrom, Sean Couturier, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Jonathan Toews.
SPECIAL NOTE: The Islanders’ Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin all had a positive goal differential despite a low offensive start total. But how do you pick one of them?
IT CAME DOWN TO: Aleksander Barkov, Anze Kopitar and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
ALSO ON MY BALLOT: Joe Pavelski, Tyler Seguin.
OTHERS UNDER CONSIDERATION: Jeff Carter, Pavel Datsyuk, Loui Eriksson, Johnny Gaudreau, Patrick Marleau.
1. There’s also voting for the three All-Star Teams and All-Rookie Team. First All-Star Team: Braden Holtby; Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson; Jamie Benn, Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane. Second Team: Ben Bishop; Brent Burns and Kris Letang; Alexander Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko and Joe Thornton. Third team: Henrik Lundqvist; Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Roman Josi; Evgeny Kuznetsov, Artemi Panarin, Wayne Simmonds. That last one might surprise people, but Simmonds seemingly scored every huge goal down the stretch. All-Rookie: John Gibson; Shayne Gostisbehere and Colton Parayko; Max Domi, Connor McDavid and Artemi Panarin. (Rookie forwards are not chosen by position.)
2. Pierre Dorion wasted no time making his first major decision as Senators’ GM in changing the coaching staff. The challenge for him is finding a balance between Paul MacLean, who the players complained was too harsh, and Dave Cameron, who they initially credited for being a much better communicator. There was a sense players privately indicated they didn’t want Cameron fired because they were tired of being labelled coach killers. Obviously a lot of the speculation surrounds Claude Julien who is still Boston’s coach. However, the market dictates Julien is a $3 million hire. Is Ottawa, before any commitment of a new arena, really ready to do that? In his media conference, Dorion said owner Eugene Melnyk gave him the green light.
Some veteran names to watch: Guy Boucher, Marc Crawford and Mike Yeo. Dorion is tight with Minnesota assistant GM Brent Flahr, and the Wild think highly of Yeo even though they fired him. Dark horse: Todd Nelson of the AHL’s Grand Rapids. The other thing to remember is we likely won’t know the full list of available candidates until after the second round of the playoffs.
3. Reached out to Yeo on Tuesday. He was guarded. The only question he would answer is whether he feels he’s ready to coach again or needs more time to process what happened. “The way I see it, I’ve already had time off.” Like Cameron, he has another year on his contract.
4. Hopefully he’s still around for Senators games but I’ll miss Bryan Murray’s biting sarcasm. If he disagreed with something I said or reported, it was, “So that’s what you think, eh?” or “Despite what some in the media may think…” then an explanation. I always respected Murray’s ability to disagree and move on, while still letting you know he thought your ideas were dumb-tastic.
5. The Coyotes reached out Tuesday to deny my tweet that they had expressed an interest in Toronto assistant GM Kyle Dubas for their vacant manager position. That’s…interesting, but I’ll stand by the report. Dubas fits the profile of the “modernization” co-owner Anthony LeBlanc spoke of on Monday, as does the current assistant GM, John Chayka. (Chayka will not be promoted to the full position, though.) The buzz surrounds longtime Dallas director of scouting and player development Les Jackson. He’s got a history with Tippett and a strong reputation. Another name to keep an eye on, just in case: Chicago assistant GM Norm MacIver. He played for Arizona at the end of his career too.
6. What happened with Don Maloney? A lot of it is the different philosophy between a GM (the long view) and a coach (the shorter view, since they tend to have shorter terms). Nick Kypreos, who played with Tippett, has said many times that no one hates losing more than this coach does. Tippett was miserable last season as they plummeted to the bottom of the league. As much as he loves Arizona, it was always possible that if the Coyotes did not recover as quickly as he hoped, he could go elsewhere. There was an “out” after this season, triggered due to the restructuring of team ownership. What this says is Maloney and Tippett disagreed on the next steps, especially as Arizona made a recovery in 2015-16. Ownership obviously agreed with the coach. I’m also not sure Maloney was comfortable with a more analytical approach. There was at least one situation a couple years ago (I believe it involved a goalie) where he reacted negatively to suggestions on what he should offer. Whatever the case, he definitely did not leave the cupboard bare. If Arizona returns to consistent playoff position, the prospects accrued under his watch will be a major reason. He is under contract for at least one more season.
7. Two decisions could give us a good perspective on the organization’s new philosophy. First: how does this affect Arizona’s plans for its first round draft pick, assuming they do not win the lottery? It’s well known the Coyotes had the opportunity to land Dougie Hamilton in 2015, at the price of their highest selection — third overall. Maloney agonized over this one, and, at some point, Boston thought it was going to happen. But the GM was committed to getting a centre and held on to select Dylan Strome. If Tippett had more of a say at the time, would the same decision be made? Second: Martin Hanzal. Does he get an extension or does he get traded? There was a lot of interest around the deadline.
8. Another GM situation to watch: Carolina. Ron Francis has one year remaining under contract. I thought he did a good job starting the rebuild so I’ll be curious to see if an extension is forthcoming.
9. Montreal media tried to pin down Marc Bergevin on PK Subban, just like they pinned him down on Michel Therrien. Bergevin gave the best answer he could knowing that saying he wasn’t going to do it (and then doing it) is a killer in that market. Before this season, we had a conversation about his philosophy and how it changed. He said one thing he believed very strongly was, “You don’t trade to fill a hole by making another hole.” He talked about the Jack Johnson for Jeff Carter deal and how Los Angeles felt comfortable doing it because they knew what they had in Slava Voynov. That stuck with me watching the 65-minute media conference.
I have no doubt Bergevin wants to make moves but he knows that Subban is his best defenceman by a mile. If he trades Subban for a forward, what’s his blue line going to look like? Is he going to be any better off? He doesn’t have a replacement ready. They like 2015 first-rounder Noah Juulsen, but he’s a couple of years away. I don’t see any chance Bergevin trades Subban unless there is an obvious fix in his absence. Same goes for Max Pacioretty. How do you replace 30-40 goals at $4.5 million? Bergevin, like everyone else in Habs nation, was angry and frustrated by this year. I don’t see a trade out of emotion or anger.
10. If it does happen, Montreal better get the toughest, most mentally strong, most thick-skinned player(s) in the league. It will be a tough start.
11. Can’t help but wonder if, at some point, Bergevin asked Carey Price for his thoughts on what happened. Not only is his goalie the franchise, but Price is calm, thoughtful and really smart about the game. Plus, he had the ability to watch everything unfold from a distance. I could see Bergevin asking for Price’s opinion, without asking him to narc on certain players.
12. At Vancouver’s end-of-season media conference, Trevor Linden quashed rumours he’d look to bring another executive into the hockey department. Prior to that comment, I wondered if someone like Dale Tallon could be a fit. He did receive an extension in Florida but the Panthers are also undergoing a shift to more of an analytics-based approach. He’s had success building two teams, so it would come down to whether or not he and Jim Benning could work together. Benning might also appreciate never talking to a reporter again. Tallon was Vancouver’s first-ever draft pick. Maybe he’s still got a membership at Point Grey. Purely my opinion.
13. No problem with Benning admitting possible interest in Loui Eriksson. The Bruins might have a problem with it, however.
14. Drake Caggiula told Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald that a decision on his pro future could take up to a month. (Maybe he needs it after that wild-looking celebration on Monday.) North Dakota’s run to the NCAA title was a great thing for the school, its fans and players, but bad for the NHL teams who hoped to scoop Caggiula by getting him into a game and burning a contract year. That includes Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver. Now, some other clubs (like Chicago) can get back in the race. There was a ton of interest, with one exec saying “no doubt” 25 teams asked. Panarin’s bonuses will open up even more opportunity for talented young players on lower salaries to get an opportunity. Will Chicago also get 2014 first-rounder Nick Schmaltz to leave too?
15. Three guys who could be making quicker decisions: North Dakota defenceman Troy Stecher, who should close in the next few days. It’s believed Edmonton and Vancouver are the favourites. Quinnipiac goalie Michael Garteig has to make a choice too. Not as certain on teams, but I’m expecting interested parties to try to get something signed this week. In the OHL, Barrie’s Justin Scott is having a huge playoff with 13 goals in nine games. Undrafted after four junior seasons.
16. Vladimir Sobotka suffered an injury in the KHL playoffs, limiting him to just two games. It’s serious enough that he might not be ready to compete for the Czech Republic in the World Cup. It also prevented the possibility he would return to St. Louis for the Stanley Cup playoffs. There were rumblings of attempts to make it happen.
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17. Duncan Keith will return from suspension for Game 2 of the Chicago-St. Louis series. There are a couple of players who wondered if he’s been nursing some kind of leg injury. “He hasn’t turned as well as he normally does,” one said. Then, he warned, “Of course, he’ll probably make us all look stupid for wondering.”
18. Looking at Gostisbehere, I can’t help but thinking of an old conversation with Keith Yandle. He talked about realizing Mike Babcock “game-planned” for him when he first faced the Red Wings in a playoff series. That’s when he realized how hard it is to win. Gostisbehere will face the possible coach of the year in Barry Trotz who has a long history of making it hard for opposing stars to score. Huge challenge for the defenceman.
19. Will the success of the Bonino-Hagelin-Kessel line increase the chances of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin playing together once Malkin returns from injury? Since 2007-08, the Penguins scored 62 per cent of the goals and take 56 per cent of the shot attempts at five-on-five when those two are together (source: stats.hockeyanalysis.com). Crosby without Malkin: the numbers are 60 and 53. Malkin without Crosby: it’s 55 and 51. All of those are good but the together numbers are excellent.
20. One coach on the Dallas goalies: “If both are at their best, you take [Kari] Lehtonen. If both aren’t, you take [Antti] Niemi.”
21. I would be surprised to see Milan Lucic sign in Los Angeles before the playoffs began. Don’t forget, however, that the Kings have a history of getting things done between their playoff finish and July 1. It happened with Jarret Stoll in 2012 and Marian Gaborik in 2014. The cap is tighter now, the biggest complication here.
22. Does Dennis Wideman to Edmonton make sense to anyone? Peter Chiarelli acquired him and traded him in Boston.
23. Favourite Alex Burrows story from Vancouver: during Mike Gillis’s first season, the Canucks went through a long losing streak and the knives were out for Alain Vigneault. Gillis didn’t want to do it, so they had meetings with every coach and player to figure out what was going on. Burrows was one of the few playing well at the time, so they told him he should be satisfied with his play. The response: “Satisfaction is the first step to regret.” Love that.
24. If you need someone to keep a secret, ask Ryan Murray of Columbus. (From last week) “Have you been asked to play for Team Canada?” Reply: “I think that’s supposed to be private,” he said with a smile. You know Morgan Rielly pretty well, correct? “Yes.” What’s one thing people don’t know about him? “I’m not going to answer that one either.”
25. John Tortorella on the next few weeks: “I want to watch Zach Werenski as much as possible.”
26. Colin Greening told The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle that he looks at the analytics provided by the club to its players. What kinds of things are talked about there? Under intense pressure, Greening gave a bit of a window: “Things like what kinds of plays I make after recovering the puck. Do I cycle it, do I pass it, do I make a play?” I told him I’d heard forcing a defender to switch also gets counted and his facial expression gave it away. Scotty Bowman used to do some similar stuff, such as counting who won what puck battles or who recovered dump-ins.
27. Anaheim made the playoffs despite being more than four points out of a playoff position after games on Nov. 1. That makes six out of 48 who’ve done so since 2005-06. Colorado, Columbus and Toronto failed, though the Avalanche gave it a run.
28. I didn’t cover Ed Snider as much as many others did but knew that withering stare. He was not afraid to say, “Now why would you ask me that?” if he didn’t like a question. The first time it happened to me was at the media conference where Allen Iverson was named the NBA’s MVP during the incredible 2001 playoff series between the 76ers and Raptors. After he was done talking about Iverson, I asked him if there was any update on Eric Lindros who was in a stalemate with the Flyers at the time. “Now why would you ask me that?” he thundered, to the amusement of the local reporters. One walked over later and joked, “Welcome to the club.”
It happened another time when we were doing a feature on him prior to the Winter Classic between the Rangers and Flyers. We found out the only reserved parking spot in that giant lot outside their arena was for him. Two staffers begged us not to show it. “He’ll kill us,” they said. He was tough but generous. Keith Jones and Keith Primeau told stories about how they were told by doctors their careers were over, only to have their phones ring minutes after the diagnoses. It was Snider telling both men how proud he was of their time in Philadelphia and that they would be taken care of. Primeau said he would go to games and Snider would walk over, quietly saying, “Are you ok? Do you need money?” only to be reassured everything was fine. Snider took care of a lot of people and wanted to talk about his foundation more than anything. How could you not admire his passion? Can you imagine him at the height of his powers in the social media era? It would have been awesome.
29. So great to hear Bob Cole call the final game at Rexall. What hasn’t got much play is Kevin Quinn voluntarily stepping aside so Cole could do it. Very unselfish.
30. Get well soon, Peter Loubardias. No one loves hockey more.