Dear Abbey: Community Members Choose Their NHL Award WinnersApril 29, 2022
Welcome to another edition of Dear Abbey. I don’t give life advice like the real Dear Abby, but I do talk about hockey.
The end of the regular season means voting season for the members of the hockey media. Members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and broadcast media vote on most of the major awards. A few are voted on by players and NHL general managers. The hype for the NHL Awards doesn’t quite hit its peak until after the Stanley Cup Final, but they are being talked about quite a bit at the moment since voting for all awards occurs before the start of the playoffs to fairly judge regular season performances.
Currently, I'm in the process of completing my ballot. It's not an easy, or quick, exercise. It once took me an entire cross-country flight to complete my ballot, and in the process of writing this, I've already changed my mind about a few rankings and candidates. It takes a lot of time to look at all of the traditional metrics and the underlying metrics, and I do try and talk to some people throughout hockey to try to get a feel for the contributions of players on teams I may not be as familiar with.
These awards mean a lot to players and that needs to be taken into consideration.
At a later date, I'll go into detail on my thought process for choosing and ranking the finalists. But today is all about giving the fans a voice in the awards. We asked members of the B/R hockey community who they would choose for the major honors: The Hart, Norris, Vezina, Calder and Selke Trophies and the Jack Adams and Jim Gregory Awards.
Hart Trophy: Most Valuable Player
Matthews: Hart, McDavid: Ted Lindsay just because it’s a damn coin flip for the Hart. (@eddystros84)
Josi should win the Hart (@frankthetank95)
Igor for the Hart and Vezina and it’s not even close (@T8Salt)
I would definitely vote Josi for the Hart if I could. For what the award is, player most valuable to his team, I feel like nobody else represents that better than Josi, Man has carried that team on his back into a playoff spot. (@jrs99)
I expected fans to choose New York Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin and I expected voters for Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid. But it appears as though Roman Josi has entered the chat.
The Nashville Predators defenseman has been the Norris Trophy frontrunner all season. He recently became the first blueliner to eclipse 90 points since Ray Bourque did it during the 1993-94 season with the Boston Bruins. The 31-year-old Swiss defender logged the highest-scoring season by a defenseman in the salary cap era (Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson played at an 89-point pace in 2019-20 but the season was shortened because of COVID-19 and he finished with 75).
The Preds have exceeded expectations this season. Matt Duchene is having a career renaissance at age 31 with his first 40-goal season. Filip Forsberg also turned in a 40-goal year. Juuse Saros has been one of the best goalies in the league.
But Josi is the engine that makes the car go.
And for the record, in 2018, there was another player that “carried that team on his back into a playoff spot,” that had the same coach: Taylor Hall, who was then a winger for the New Jersey Devils. That should speak to John Hynes' abilities as a coach, and possibly garner him some Jack Adams votes.
The Hart is an exceptionally difficult award to predict this year. Matthews became just the 21st player in NHL history to score 60 goals, Johnny Gaudreau put up 113 points for the Calgary Flames and has become a more complete player off the puck, McDavid is the best player in the world and continues to play like one and Jonathan Huberdeau's 85 assists demonstrate his importance as a distributor for a team that has averaged more than 4.0 goals per game this season.
Josi will get votes. So will Shesterkin. The rest on this list probably will too. Is there a wrong answer? It’s difficult to say when there are so many deserving candidates.
Norris Trophy: Best Defenseman
Josi: Norris (@eddystros84)
Makar for Norris (@crybabycarr)
If Makar wins the Norris, that’s just pure bias because people like him more and he’s the flashier player. No offense to him at all, but this year Josi is the better defenseman. (@noahquesnelle)
I disagree that a win for Makar, the Colorado Avalanche defenseman and 2020 Calder Award winner, would be pure bias because he's an elite defenseman and he has played at an elite level this season. As for who has the edge? It's a tough call.
Makar has outscored Josi 27-22 but Josi edges him in points, 93-85.
Makar is defensively responsible, but Josi is the better defender. However, the old Paul Coffey adage still rings true in today’s NHL: The best way to play defense is have the puck. When Makar is on the ice, the Avs are generating 55.71 percent of the shot attempts; when Josi is on the ice, the Preds are taking 86.85 percent of the attempts.
Sure, you could make the argument that Makar is on a stronger team with more talent and Josi, the 2020 Norris winner, has been carrying the Preds and making everyone around him better. But that’s an argument for the Hart Trophy, not for the Norris. The Norris Trophy is an award for the most outstanding defenseman, not the most valuable defenseman.
The two are neck-and-neck, so I think the one thing we can (mostly) agree on is that this isn’t the year for Victor Hedman or Adam Fox, despite the fact that those are two exceptional defensemen.
Vezina Trophy: Best Goaltender
Igor: Vezina (@eddystros84)
As a reminder, the Vezina is voted on by general managers, not the media.
But if it was up to the fans, the winner would be Shesterkin.
It’s clear that Shesterkin’s play this season has put him in the upper echelon of netminders, with his name in the same conversation as Andrei Vasilevskiy, Marc-Andre Fleury, Connor Hellebuyck, Sergei Bobrovsky and Robin Lehner. The metrics used to evaluate them aren’t as accurate as the metrics used to evaluate the skaters and they can vary wildly from year-to-year.
Goaltending stats can be more easily influenced by the skaters in front of them, which is why goals against average is sometimes discounted, and one bad game can wreck their save percentage.
At one point this season, Shesterkin had an absurd .945 save percentage. He'll end the season somewhere around .935, which could lead all goalies by about 5-10 percentage points, with New York Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin likely to finish second.
You can bring in the argument about value to a team in Vezina Trophy discussions because goaltending is absolutely crucial to success. The Devils could really fly this season and up-and-coming young players generated offense in all sorts of ways, but their minus-57 goal differential showed just how much of an Achilles heel goaltending was.
Shesterkin is the favoite despite the fact that he’ll make less than 55 starts, but a 1A and 1B model is largely favored in today’s NHL game, so I don’t think that will take away too many votes.
I would also expect Saros, Frederik Andersen, Jakob Markstrom, Darcy Kuemper and possibly even Sorokin to garner some votes as well.
Calder Memorial Trophy: Rookie of the Year
Seider: Calder (@eddystros84)
There was one reader who called Michael Bunting an old man, which made me laugh because at 26, the Toronto Maple Leafs forward is considerably older than most rookies. In fact, he barely qualifies as a rookie. Sportsnet's Justin Bourne said he dodged the qualifications "matrix style" and that's exactly how it should be described.
From the official hockey operations guidelines:
"To be considered a rookie, a player must not have played in more than 25 NHL games in any preceding seasons, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons. Any player at least 26 years of age (by September 15th of that season) is not considered a rookie."
The AHL and ECHL veteran played in 21 games last season and five in the 2018-19 season before and he made the birthday cutoff by only two days.
It’s quite a feat, as are his 63 points which lead all NHL rookies. He might be about 5-6 years older than the other top first-year players, but it’s great to see players like Bunting and 24-year-old Predators rookie Tanner Jeannot, the rookie goals leader with 24, finally break through at the NHL level after grinding in the minor leagues for so long.
Moritz Seider has already become the franchise cornerstone the Detroit Red Wings expected him to become when they drafted him in 2019. The German defenseman has logged heavy minutes in important situations for a rebuilding Red Wings team and has looked as mature and effective as some of the longtime NHL vets. His teammate Lucas Raymond, a 20-year-old rookie, was one of Detroit’s top forwards this year and showed immense potential.
Trevor Zegras, second in rookie points with 60, wasn’t mentioned by fans, but the Anaheim Ducks center has been one of the most entertaining young players in the league this season. He displays tremendous skill with his lacrosse-style goals and, while maybe frustrating to some, his flashy plays are redefining the way the game is played.
Seider seems to be the favorite, but you can’t overlook Zegras, Raymond, Matt Boldy in Minnesota or Seth Jarvis in Carolina.
Frank J. Selke Trophy: Best Two-Way Forward
JEEK Selke (@thedudeyaknow)
Selke this year is the hardest but I think two players stand out, Barkov and Erickson Ek (@eddystros84)
Patrice Bergeron has won the Selke four times, come in second place four times and third place in voting twice. Bergeron and Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar have become the gold-standard of two-way centers.
However, the fans are higher on Minnesota Wild forward Joel Eriksson Ek. I think Elias Lindholm of the Calgary Flames has a strong case as well, and Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov can never be counted out of a Selke competition.
In recent years, the Selke Trophy has become an award to recognize the best two-way forward. If that's the case, then we're really not giving Matthews or McDavid enough credit. Technically, that's not the criteria. The definition states, "the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game."
What constitutes a good defensive forward is up for debate, which is why this award is somewhat subjective. Minnesota winger Marcus Foligno told The Athletic that a Selke winner should have shutdown defensive abilities and also contribute offensively. How much offensive contribution is up for debate.
Physicality, shot suppression and puck possession are factors as well.
Matchups may be the biggest factor. Are these forwards regularly playing against other teams' top lines and limiting their production? Barkov and Bergeron do that, so are players like Rangers center Mika Zibanejad.
The Hart and Selke leave the most room for interpretation but expect the regular suspects like Bergeron and Barkov to be named finalists and don’t be surprised if Eriksson Ek, Lindholm and even Matthews are in the mix as well.
Jack Adams Award: Coach of the Year
Darryl Sutter (@thedudeyaknow)
Jack Adams goes to Dean Evason (@eddystros84)
This is award is voted on by members of the NHL Broadcasters' Association.
Darryl Sutter hockey is not the most exciting brand of hockey. It's a low-event game with a lot of cycling, checking and shooting the puck into the netting. But the grizzled cattle farmer from Viking, Alberta has proven that it’s still an effective brand of hockey and it works with a more modern-day personnel group.
The two-time Stanley Cup-winning coach has guided the Flames to a 111-point season and a Pacific Division title. Sure, the Pacific was a mess this season but the Flames never let any other team even make it a competition. A plus-87 goal differential shows how overpowering Calgary’s powerful offense could be, and the Flames also excelled in special teams.
Sometimes the award ends up going to the coach of the team that best defied expectations, and Sutter's Flames squad did that. You could say they got some help from the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights, but to me, the goal differential speaks for itself.
The other coaches that meet that criteria are Hynes and Rangers bench boss Gerard Gallant. The Rangers were pegged as a playoff team but they've risen to become one of the Eastern Conference powers this season.
We can't mention this award and not discuss the job that Andrew Brunette has done down in Florida. Brunette was named the interim coach in October after Joel Quenneville resigned amid the fallout from the Kyle Beach case. The Panthers have gone 51-17-6 under Brunette and he helped keep things together at a time when they could have come undone.
Sure, Brunette had an elite roster to work and that roster got stronger at the trade deadline with additions like Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot, but he did lose one of the best defensemen in the game in Aaron Ekblad for several games. The team's recent 13-game winning streak also bolsters his credentials.
Evason, the coach of the Wild, has done a great job this season and was rewarded for his recent success with a contract extension right before the New Year. But I think other coaches may have stronger cases.
Jim Gregory Award: General Manager of the Year
Jim Gregory to Bill Guerin (@eddystros84)
This award is decided by a 42-member panel that includes all 32 general managers, five NHL executives and five media members.
A team is only as good as its starting goaltender, and Guerin acquired a very good one this year in Fleury. The Fleury trade was arguably the biggest one made at the trade deadline, but there were other smaller moves made as well to add depth and toughness to the lineup.
Rangers general manager Chris Drury should not be overlooked for this award, either. The first-year GM made savvy moves for forwards Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano and Tyler Motte (although Motte has been injured since early April) and defenseman Justin Braun that gave the Rangers a much deeper bottom-six and a stabilizing presence on the blue line.
Bill Zito in Florida, a 2021 finalist, should get consideration as well considering the remarkable season the Panthers had. However, while this roster was constructed by Zito, it was former general manager Dale Tallon that acquired many of the key players.
This has not dissuaded voters in the past. Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello has won the last two awards, and many of the players that reached the Eastern Conference Final in 2020 and the Stanley Cup semifinal round were acquired by the GM he succeeded, Garth Snow.
Tampa Bay general manager Julien BriseBois has mastered the salary cap and Kyle Dubas (Toronto) and Don Waddell (Carolina) have constructed two top-tier teams, so I wouldn't be surprised to see any of their names when the finalists are announced.