One aspect of the hockey-writing gig I initially battled but have learned to accept is that nagging feeling of playing catchup.
There’s always a fresh game to dissect, another one to preview, and a steady stream of news and nuggets trickling throughout the day.
At some point — be it May, August or some month in between — the paused 2019-20 regular season will end, and the annual call from the accounting firm will come. Get your awards votes in already!
Sadly blessed with a little extra time to consider the various individual feats of the campaign, I started a rough draft of my ballot before the days turn to shorts weather and we all forget how to spell “Dominik Kubalik.”
Why not let you, dear reader, take a peek into a ballot in progress?
Hey, maybe you can sway a few minds in the comments. Or, even better, we get a dozen more regular-season games, and the players themselves can spoil this ballot. There are some air-tight races here….
I never imagined casting a Number 1 MVP ballot for an Oiler not named Connor McDavid. I never imagined rating two players from the same team atop my Hart ballot. And yet, here we are. Although we maintain that Draisaitl is the second-most-talented player on his own club, what the German accomplished over 71 games cannot be denied.
Draisaitl’s 110 points place him 13 ahead of runner-up McDavid. His 10 game-winning goals co-lead the league (David Pastrnak). And when his running mate missed six games in February, Draisaitl threw the boys on his back and put up an astounding 12 points in McDavid’s absence.
It’s scary to think where Colorado and Toronto might finish without MacKinnon and Matthews, respectively. (Outside the playoffs?) And while I hesitate to place stars on non-playoff teams on my Hart ballot, Eichel’s excellence despite the thinnest of supporting casts deserves recognition: 36 goals, 78 points, nine game-winners, plus-5 on a minus-22 team.
“The way Carlson was putting up numbers there in Washington was something we hadn’t seen in a while — really since Erik Karlsson was doing it,” Seth Jones told Hockey Central at Noon earlier this month. “It’d be hard not to give it to him.”
Ultimately, we concur — even though Josi, the best Predator by 100 miles, makes for a compelling 1B option. Carlson’s 60 assists rank fourth among all skaters, he scored six game-winners, plays both special teams, and gets dealt all the tough assignments. It took a point-per-game campaign to awaken everyone to Carlson’s excellence. He’s due.
1. Quinn Hughes (Vancouver Canucks)
2. Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche)
3. Dominik Kubalik (Chicago Blackhawks)
4. Mackenzie Blackwood (New Jersey Devils)
5. Adam Fox (New York Rangers)
Flip a coin.
Makar was both my pre-season Calder prediction and my halfway winner, but what a joy to watch Hughes close the gap. The Canucks operate the fourth-best power play in large part because of their 20-year-old quarterback.
Hughes logs a remarkable 21:53 per night and tops the freshman class in assists (45), points (53) and power-play points (25). Does the fact he’s played 11 more games than the injury-tested Makar help his cause? Absolutely.
Kubalik’s 30 goals are 10 more than the second-most-productive rookie sniper (Victor Olofsson). Blackwood’s work would have garnered way more praise were he stopping pucks for a team in the hunt. And the fantastic Mr. Fox played nearly 19 minutes a night, was a rookie-best plus-22, and scored four game-winners from the back end to boot.
LADY BYNG TROPHY
1. Teuvo Teravainen (Carolina Hurricanes)
2. Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche)
3. Ryan O’Reilly (Buffalo Sabres)
4. Nicklas Backstrom (Washington Capitals)
5. Zach Werenski (Columbus Blue Jackets)
If there is a winner outside of the Ted Lindsay Award that should be crowned by his peers, it’s the Lady Byng. Watching from press boxes often situated above the rink’s nose-bleed section, us writers can’t hear enough of the gentlemanly chatter that takes place in-game to truly understand who is being the most gentlemanly of all. So, we lean on what other players say about guys who are putting up a decent number of points, tally up penalty minutes, and weigh production and low PIMs on an imperfect scale.
Teravainen was on my ballot last season as well, and he returns to the top. With 63 points and just four minor penalties in 68 games, he’s one of the game’s unheralded nice (and talented) guys.
Werenski’s 10 PIMs (and 41 points) is all the more impressive considering his job is to shut down the fastest scorers in the East. A rare D-man vote for a trophy that’s been won by a forward 63 of the past 64 seasons.
I love me some Patrice Bergeron, a four-time Selke winner, but it’s time the two-way wingers get a little love in this category. Marchand rates sixth among forwards in plus/minus (+22) while regularly killing penalties and shutting down the opposition’s top wingers. He’s a workhorse (19:27 time on ice per night, tops among all Bruins forwards) trusted in all big situations and has become smarter with age.
Stone steals more pucks than any forward (78 takeaways in 65 games), and Cirelli is looking like a guy who could be on Selke ballots for the next 10 years. Pageau somehow managed a plus-10 rating for a minus-52 Ottawa team that dealt him all the tough assignments, and Couturier is one of the most underrated hockey players, period.
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) December 29, 2019
NHL ALL-STAR TEAM
1. Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton Oilers)
2. Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers)
3. Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche)
Draisaitl’s productivity, Pastrnak’s shot, and Panarin’s ability to jolt the Rangers back into relevance.
1. John Carlson (Washington Capitals)
2. Roman Josi (Nashville Predators)
3. Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning)
4. Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues)
5. Jaccob Slavin (Carolina Hurricanes)
Copy-and-paste Norris ballot here. Hedman and Pietrangelo are as dependable as essential services. Slavin will probably retire before he gets enough love.
Writers don’t vote on the Vezina. The GMs do. But the all-star goaltending category is where you can gauge who the keyboard jockeys would’ve picked.
Hellebuyck may be too low here for many folks’ liking, but I’m big on wins. Vasilevskiy started four fewer games than Hellebuyck and still managed four more W’s.
No Number 1 goalie posted a better save percentage than Rask (.929), whose Bruins should’ve been drained from losing the Cup in seven games but instead were on track to win the Presidents’ Trophy.
NHL ALL-ROOKIE TEAM
1. Dominik Kubalik (Chicago Blackhawks)
2. Victor Olofsson (Buffalo Sabres)
3. Denis Gurianov (Dallas Stars)
1. Quinn Hughes (Vancouver Canucks)
2. Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche)
1. Mackenzie Blackwood (New Jersey Devils)
Gurianov scoring 20 goals (including four game-winners) while seeing less than 13 minutes of ice per night has been one of the better under-the-radar stories of the season. Three years in the minors prepared him well.