NHL mid-season awards: Lightning dominate voting

Hockey Central at Noon discusses the Tampa Bay Lightning, who appear to have built a contending team for years to come.

At the mid-season point, the National Hockey League Award winners are, in many cases, right off the board.

We’ve voted on most of the traditional trophies, left a couple out and added a few of our own. Here is a look at who would get my votes if the Awards voting were to take place after 41 games:

Hart Trophy

What a pleasure to look at the group of Hart Trophy candidates and see so many who have never won the award before. Sidney Crosby isn’t in the conversation at this point, and nor is last year’s winner, Connor McDavid. Alex Ovechkin? Not in my Top 3.

This January we’ll choose between league-leading scorer Nikita Kucherov, John Tavares, Blake Wheeler, Claude Giroux, Nathan MacKinnon, Jakub Voracek and a few others. It would be a pleasant change, actually, to see a first-time winner accept this coveted award in June.

There are a ton of intangibles to be considered here, but we’re not going to overthink it. At the time of this writing, Kucherov led the league in points (59), was tied for the lead in goals (27), and had the best points per game (1.40) in the NHL.

Winner: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning.

Calder Trophy

How do you decide between a rookie defenceman who walks into the league and averages 22:53 in ice time for the Boston Bruins, or a winger in Vancouver who leads all rookies in goals, points and power-play points?

Which is harder to do? Score like Brock Boeser, or like Charlie McAvoy play solid enough on an NHL blue-line that your coach uses you more than any other player except for Zdeno Chara?

McAvoy averages more than four minutes more ice time than the next closest NHL rookie this season and is inside the Top 40 in ice time, playing more than Olympian Marc-Edouard Vlasic in San Jose. Boeser, meanwhile, has more goals than every right-winger in the NHL except Kucherov.

Honorable mention to Malcolm Subban, who’s gone 11-2 in between the pipes for Vegas, but in my books, scoring is more difficult than preventing goals.

Winner: Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks.

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Jack Adams Award

Really? We’re even going to discuss this one?

The biggest surprise at the Awards show in June will be if two runners-up even bother to fly in to Vegas to watch Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant collect this hardware.

This one is so easy, even the NHL Broadcasters Association can’t screw it up (kidding!). Maybe the best way to maintain a sense of intrigue as this award gets handed to Gallant, is to ask the Panthers front office geniuses who left him flagging a cab after a game in Raleigh to present the trophy.

How’s that decision looking right now for the West Point boys?

Winner: Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights.

Vezina Trophy

There are, as always, some contenders here for an award that will be voted on by the league’s general managers. Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg, Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, Frederik Andersen in Toronto… Even Corey Crawford in Chicago, who has quietly put together an excellent season behind the last place team in the Central.

But there is only one clear-cut winner: Tampa Bay’s netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy, who at the time of this writing led all starters in saves percentage (.935), goals against average (2.04) and wins (26). Hands down, your winner is:

Winner: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning.

Norris Trophy

In the past three seasons, Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns — the 2017 winner — have hogged every Norris Trophy and runner-up spot. It has to kill the Victor Hedman lobby, as surely Tampa’s big Swede deserves better.

This season, Karlsson was slow to recover from his ankle surgery, and at the halfway point of the season Burns sits at minus-19 — fifth worst among all NHL players. Hedman is his usual steady self this season, at plus-21, 31 points and 25:53 of ice time nightly. Meanwhile Doughty’s stats are almost identical: 30 points, plus-21, and a league-leading 27:10 of ice time per game. Honorable mention to Alex Pietrangelo, who is fashioning an excellent season, but my choice is between Hedman and Doughty, with the former winning the coin flip:

Winner: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning.

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Biggest Surprise (a.k.a. Vegas Golden Knights Award)

This award goes hand in hand with the Hart Trophy crop having turned over, to a degree. Names like Josh Bailey, Mikko Rantanen and Brayden Schenn are closer to the top of the scoring race than ever before, goalie Connor Hellebuyck has gone from being the problem to being the solution in Winnipeg, adding 16 points to his saves percentage (.923) while shaving a half-goal off his GAA (2.36).

Nathan MacKinnon bears some mention here, but frankly, we’ve been waiting for him to crack the Top 3 in scoring for a long time. Then there are the two Golden Knights: Jonathan Marchessault (40 points) and William Karlsson, who passed his 25-point career high before the first half was complete.

Surprises are good.

Winner: Josh Bailey, New York Islanders

Best Trade (Filip Forsberg Trophy)

The only problem with a “Best Trade” Trophy is, usually the best trades are only good for one team. Washington wasn’t so enamoured with the deal that sent Forsberg to Nashville for Martin Erat, and thus far Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev isn’t gaining GM Marc Bergevin any job security in Montreal. Brayden Schenn (43 points) for Jori Lehtera (three points) was mighty lopsided, but St. Louis did send a pair of first-round picks to Philly in that deal.

For me, the best deals were made by Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee in preparation for the expansion draft. Acquiring Reilly Smith from Florida for a fourth round pick was as larcenous as grabbing Gallant as the Golden Knights head coach.

But the swiftest work was done when Vegas took on the remaining years on David Clarkson’s contract, along with first and second-round picks from Columbus. In return, McPhee promised to select one of Ryan Murray, Matt Calvert, or William Karlsson off of the Blue Jackets’ roster, and Columbus could protect Josh Anderson.

Karlsson has 36 points in Vegas, while Anderson has 24 in Columbus. And the draft picks will come in handy.

Winner: Vegas Golden Knights

Best Free Agent Signing

Looking back, the 2017 free agent season was one of the less impactful ones on record. Toronto landed Patrick Marleau, which has turned out well, and the New York Rangers snapped up Kevin Shattenkirk as expected.

Ryan Miller flew south to Anaheim, while Benoit Pouliot went from one troubled organization to another, moving from Edmonton to Buffalo. Brian Elliott chose the Flyers, Karl Alzner the Canadiens, Sam Gagner the Canucks and Steve Mason the Jets.

However, as of today, there is little doubt who got the biggest bang for the their buck.

Winner: Dallas Stars, Alexander Radulov.

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