B/R NHL Staff Roundtable: Stanley Cup and Regular-Season Award Predictions

Bleacher Report NHL StaffFeatured Columnist IOctober 6, 2022

B/R NHL Staff Roundtable: Stanley Cup and Regular-Season Award Predictions

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    TORONTO, ON - March 29  In first period action, Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) chase the puck in the Leafs end.
The Toronto Maple Leafs took on the Edmonton Oilers in NHL hockey action at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.  
March 29 2021        (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
    Will we see Auston Matthews vs. Connor McDavid in an all-Canadian Stanley Cup Final? (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

    The Colorado Avalanche were a dominant hockey team from start to finish last season and finally put an end to the Tampa Bay Lightning's quest for a three-peat.

    Now, let's see if they can do it again.

    The Avs go into the 2022-23 NHL season as a +380 favorite to win it all, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Will Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Gabriel Landeskog start the talk of a Rocky Mountain dynasty with another Cup win this season?

    For individual awards, the favorite for the Hart Trophy—given to the NHL's most valuable player—has to be Connor McDavid. But reigning 2022 winner Auston Matthews may have something to say about that.

    Igor Shesterkin broke out with an outstanding 2021-22 campaign to capture his first Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender. Will the Rangers' netminder repeat, or will someone else usurp him?

    The B/R NHL staff picked the winners of those awards, the Cup winners and more in our latest set of predictions on the eve of the 2022-23 campaign.

    Don't agree with our picks? Make your own prognostications in the comments below!

Hart Trophy: Connor McDavid

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    When it comes to preseason award picks, Connor McDavid seems like a safe bet for the Hart Trophy. At the very least, he's going to be in the discussion and will probably be a finalist.

    McDavid has not finished lower than fifth in the Hart voting over the past six years. He has been a finalist four times and has already won it twice. He'll have a legitimate shot to win it again as long as he stays healthy and plays enough games.

    McDavid is in the middle of what should be his peak years offensively, and he is coming off of a two-year run in which he scored 105 points in a 56-game season and followed it up with a 123-point effort last season in 80 games. Is it unreasonable to wonder if he could actually hit the 130-point mark this season?

    Every year, McDavid puts up video game-type numbers. He now plays for a team that should be in playoff contention (which matters a lot in MVP voting), and his team is lacking in depth. He's still going to carry the bulk of the offense and contribute to most of it.

    Last year, McDavid scored or assisted on over 43 percent of the Edmonton Oilers' goals, which is an absurd number. He will undoubtedly get some fierce competition from reigning Hart Trophy winner and current goal-scoring king Auston Matthews, perhaps a goalie (Igor Shesterkin?), and maybe even a defenseman like Cale Makar. But McDavid is a pretty safe preseason MVP pick.

    - Adam Gretz

Norris Trophy: Moritz Seider

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    I've been hammering Moritz Seider as a Norris Trophy candidate, and for good reason.

    I don't think the reigning Calder Trophy winner will put up the most points next season, but I think he will walk the perfect line between production and old-school defense. And if I know anything about Norris Trophy voters, I just know they're itching for someone like this.

    We've long debated two defense awards, and I still think that should be a thing—top offensive defenseman and top defensive defenseman. But if we're truly voting for the best all-around defenseman, I once again find myself banging the Seider drum.

    - Sara Civian

Vezina Trophy: Andrei Vasilevskiy

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    For most goalies, Andrei Vasilevskiy's 2021-22 season would have been wildly successful. Thanks to the incredible standard he has set for himself, it was somewhat of a down year.

    Although Vasilevskiy's save percentage dropped to .916—his lowest mark since 2015-16—he still finished fifth in the Vezina Trophy voting. He should bounce back in a big way this year and reclaim his title as the league's best goalie.

    Vasilevskiy is one of the most dominant players in the sport right now. He arguably should be an MVP contender every single season. Not only does he play the game's most important and valuable position at an outrageously high level, but he also does it with unmatched durability.

    Vasilevskiy has backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning to three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals and played every minute of each of those postseason runs. He never gets a night off, never gets benched and never has to turn to a backup. He's done all of that while starting the bulk of the team's regular-season games, too.

    Over the past three years, the Lightning play at a 115-point pace (105-42-9) when Vasilevskiy is the goalie of record, and only a 91-point pace (25-19-8) when he is not. He is the backbone of what has been the league's most successful team over the past seven years.

    Reigning Vezina winner Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers should also be in the running again. However, he might regress a bit from last season since it's asking a lot to maintain a .935 save percentage.

    I want to give Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders some attention here, because he is one of the league's best goalies and still has bright days ahead of him. But wins are a big component of the voting process in this award, and I don't know if the Islanders are going to win enough games to get him the award.

    - Adam Gretz

Calder Trophy: Matty Beniers

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    WINNIPEG, MB - MAY 01: Matty Beniers #10 of the Seattle Kraken follows the play up the ice during first period action against the Winnipeg Jets at Canada Life Centre on May 01, 2022 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

    There are a number of qualified candidates to win the Calder Trophy in 2022-23. Buffalo Sabres defenseman Owen Power, the No. 1 overall pick in 2021, is probably the most prominent name among them.

    But this award is not about long-term outlook. It’s about who has the best rookie season in the NHL.

    With that in mind, the favorite for the award should be Seattle Kraken center Matty Beniers, the No. 2 overall pick in 2021.

    For one, his game best translates immediately to the NHL. Beniers, who will carry the puck in the offensive zone for extended periods of time, has some of the visceral impact when watching his game. He’s also an incredibly cerebral player whose two-way game will earn appreciation from head coach David Hakstol.

    Beniers scored three goals and added six assists in his 10-game cameo last season. He is Seattle’s best center entering the season and will likely play first-line minutes alongside Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Eberle. That should lead to consistent production.

    Power is going to be a phenomenal NHL player eventually, but he faces a tougher hill to climb right out of the gate. The adjustment for defensemen is typically tougher, and it will be particularly so for Power, who will have nowhere to hide.

    The Sabres’ defense outside of Rasmus Dahlin is brutal, and their goaltending is questionable at best. He’s going to be defending a lot with little help, and a good number of the Sabres games come against a gauntlet of top teams in the Atlantic Division.

    Mason McTavish could also get some Calder Trophy love. He fared fairly well in nine games for the Anaheim Ducks last season, tallying a goal and two assists. His sturdy frame and playing style should help him fit into the NHL sooner than later. McTavish's Calder case will be encumbered by Ryan Strome and Trevor Zegras taking the majority of playing time at center, though he could move to the wing.

    Other names in consideration include Columbus Blue Jackets center Kent Johnson, Winnipeg Jets center Cole Perfetti, Minnesota Wild center Marco Rossi, San Jose Sharks center William Eklund and Edmonton Oilers winger Dylan Holloway.

    - Adam Herman

Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron

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    The key to winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy is building a reputation for defensive prowess and then continuing to be great at it.

    Would it be a cop-out to pick Patrice Bergeron to win his sixth Selke? Because not only is his reputation as one of the best in the league well-earned, but it’s still accurate now.

    It would be easy enough to say Bergeron's reign as the King of the Selke has to end because he's now 37 years old, but he’s had some of his best and most prolific defensive seasons in recent years. The only thing that could keep him from winning it would be health, but he's still come away with the prize in years past even when he's missed games. He had elbow surgery in the offseason, but he’s been at training camp and has played in preseason games.

    Bergeron is on another level when it comes to his ability to play big in big moments. Preemptively discounting him because he’s getting up there in age sounds like a great way to motivate a player.

    Fans outside of Boston have been waiting impatiently for the Bruins to falter and come back to the pack to miss the postseason. But when you have Bergeron leading the way, the B’s are not to be counted out.

    Beating Bergeron in a faceoff, beating him out for position around the net or outmaneuvering him to score a goal are all notable accomplishments. To be the man, you have to beat the man, and Bergeron is the man for a reason.

    - Joe Yerdon

Maurice Richard Trophy: Alex Ovechkin

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    I'm all in on Alex Ovechkin winning the Maurice Richard Trophy for most goals scored this year. There's something to be said about urgency, and the man is 22 goals away from passing Gordie Howe on the all-time list.

    Ovechkin looked amazing last year and beefed up his all-around game. I see no reason for him not to lean into goal-scoring this year.

    Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid could both factor into this mix as well, but they're still young, with a lifetime of individual awards to win. I think they'll both lead their teams further in the playoffs, but Ovechkin will beat them in regular-season goals. Everyone wins this way!

    - Sara Civian

Jack Adams Award: Dean Evason

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - JANUARY 01: Head coach Dean Evason of the Minnesota Wild attends a post-game press conference after the 2022 NHL Winter Classic between the St. Louis Blues and the Minnesota Wild at Target Field on January 01, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

    The Jack Adams Award goes to whom the NHL Broadcasters' Association deems to be the coach of the year. It's also excellent at highlighting which team was the most surprising of the season. When a team exceeds expectations, there's a good chance that the head coach will walk away with the Adams.

    Picking the Adams winner in 2022-23 means choosing the team that will surprise the league. It'll also likely go to a coach who hasn't won the award before.

    Only six coaches have been repeat winners of the Adams since 1988, and one of them (Pat Burns) won it three times. Only three coaches won their second Adams since 2000-21.

    We’re going to use that methodology to zero in on a lead contender.

    Todd McLellan of the Los Angeles Kings has never won the Adams, and his team is a chic pick to improve upon its return to the postseason last year. Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper has somehow never won it, but unless they face a ton of adversity and overcome it, he probably won't wind up on the radar.

    Paul Maurice would be a phenomenal choice, except the Florida Panthers won the Presidents’ Trophy last year. Going above and beyond their 122-point season last year is asking a lot.

    So…who, then? Minnesota Wild head coach Dean Evason checks a lot of important boxes.

    Evason has never won it before, and he also has a great team and a goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury. Having a goalie with a great season helps a coach’s candidacy for the Adams Award.

    This is Evason's third full season in Minnesota, and the Wild have improved each season with him behind the bench. That puts him in prime position to take home at least his own hardware at the end of the season if not more.

    - Joe Yerdon

Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award: Brad Treliving

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    CALGARY, ALBERTA - MARCH 16: MARCH 16: GM Brad Treliving of the Calgary Flames addresses the media after acquiring Calle Jarnkrok from the Seattle Kraken before the game against the New Jersey Devils at Scotiabank Saddledome on March 16, 2022 in Calgary, Alberta.  (Photo by Terence Leung/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Terence Leung/NHLI via Getty Images

    Appraising the likeliest candidate for the Jim Gregory Award, given to the NHL's top general manager of the season, is a difficult exercise.

    Firstly, a team's success in any season is usually the culmination of work done years before, and sometimes within the tenure of a previous GM. In a way, this award is somewhat of a lifetime achievement award.

    The other issue is that the award is completely subjective and is decided by the whims of other general managers plus a handful of executives and media members. Predicting the winner is not only a forecast of which teams will succeed but also a guessing game regarding how others will perceive their front offices' bodies of work.

    The early favorite should be Calgary’s Brad Treliving. The Flames, who finished third in the Western Conference last season, are primed for another great season in which they should be clear-cut contenders. Treliving managed an exceptionally difficult offseason, too.

    The Flames lost their two best players, Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, but Treliving made the best of it. They acquired Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar in the Tkachuk trade, and they signed Nazem Kadri to center the second line.

    Treliving was the most prominent actor in the offseason and managed to rescue the Flames from impending doom. That will stick in the minds of votes come spring.

    - Adam Herman

Presidents' Trophy: Colorado Avalanche

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    Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) controls a puck during the third period of Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday, June 26, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
    There could be more hardware in store for Avs defenseman Cale Makar this season. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

    The Presidents' Trophy, which gets awarded to the team with the most regular-season points, is the consolation prize nobody wants. The trinket is a nice footnote for the annual media guide, but it doesn’t do much to appease rabid fan bases.

    Prime example: The Florida Panthers.

    The Panthers rang up a league-high 122 points last season, three more than the next-closest team. However, they quickly went belly-up in the playoffs, losing in the second round to the in-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning.

    The Panthers are now the ninth consecutive team to win the Presidents' Trophy but fall short of the Stanley Cup. Only one of those nine teams—the 2014-15 New York Rangers—made it as far as their conference finals. The last Presidents' winner to reach the Stanley Cup Final, the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks, was also the last to win the Cup, too.

    Regardless of whether that slump continues, the Colorado Avalanche appear to have the best chance of taking home the Presidents' Trophy in 2022-23. The Panthers are likely to take a step backward, while the Avs scored 119 points last season and have plenty of talent returning this year.

    Nathan Mackinnon is the league’s highest-paid player and a perennial MVP candidate. Defenseman Cale Makar is as close to Bobby Orr as anyone in a generation. And there’s no reason to expect newcomer Alex Georgiev will be less effective in goal than Darcy Kuemper looked this time last year.

    DraftKings Sportsbook has made Colorado a +350 favorite to win the Presidents' Trophy. Although the folks in Denver might prefer to avoid that fate given the recent history of Presidents' winners, the Avs could snap that cold spell.

    - Lyle Fitzsimmons

Worst Team: Chicago Blackhawks

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    Chicago Blackhawks' Seth Jones in action during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Saturday, March 5, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)
    It might be a long season for Seth Jones and his teammates in Chicago. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

    This probably wasn’t what Seth Jones had in mind.

    The high-profile defenseman was about to enter the final year of a deal paying him $5.4 million annually when the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Chicago Blackhawks last July. He immediately signed an eight-year pact that’ll keep him in the Windy City through 2030 at $9.5 million per season.

    The Blackhawks had established stars in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, emerging youngsters in Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kubalik, and a Vezina-caliber goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury, which all but guaranteed relevance as the franchise returned to a post-COVID normalcy.

    The reality, however, has not quite measured up to the fantasy.

    Chicago won one of its first 12 games to begin 2021-22, saw both its general manager and head coach exit within the first month, and stumbled between mediocre and just plain bad the rest of the way to a 28-42-12 finish that was good for 27th place in the NHL.

    Chicago dealt Fleury to a contending Minnesota team at the trade deadline, sent DeBrincat to Ottawa for three picks on draft night, and Kubalik walked as a free agent in the offseason. That left Kane and Toews eyeing the exits in their final contract years and Jones to ride out a prolonged rebuild.

    Though new general manager Kyle Davidson has a truckload of premium picks with which he’ll begin the renovation, the Blackhawks don't have much in place at the moment to suggest that they will be better than many—if any—of the NHL's other 31 teams.

    The goaltending tandem of Petr Mrazek and Alex Stalock looks dubious at best. None of the blue-liners beyond Jones have provided much to remember in their careers thus far. The most accomplished remaining forward not named Kane or Toews might be Tyler Johnson, who arrived from Tampa Bay prior to last season but had only seven points in 26 games because of a neck injury.

    The good news? A 32nd-place finish would give the Blackhawks a leg up on selecting much-hyped prospect Connor Bedard with the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft.

    The bad news? It won’t look much better before he arrives.

    - Lyle Fitzsimmons

Stanley Cup Predictions

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    EDMONTON, ALBERTA - SEPTEMBER 19: A general view is seen of the Stanley Cup during pre-game ceremonies before Game One of the NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning at Rogers Place on September 19, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

    Prior to the start of the 2021-22 schedule, 31-year-old goalie Darcy Kuemper had played parts of nine NHL seasons, had won more than 16 games only once and had never contended for an individual award.

    Heading into 2022-23, Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Matt Murray is 28 years old, was fourth in voting for the Calder Trophy as a rookie and has won at least 20 times in all seasons in which he’s played at least half the games.

    Kuemper is now a Stanley Cup champion after backstopping the Colorado Avalanche to 10 wins in 16 starts during a run that ended with a six-game defeat of Tampa Bay. As for Murray, who’s already a two-time champ from his days with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he’s about to add a third ring to an already crowded safety deposit box.

    That’s right. The Maple Leafs will win the Stanley Cup. And Murray, even as he’s doubted by a hockey-mad fanbase, will play a significant role.

    Yes, we know it’s been 55 years since the Maple Leafs won the Cup. Yes, we know they haven’t won a playoff series since 2004.

    But we know some other things, too.

    Auston Matthews is a 60-goal scorer and the league’s reigning MVP at age 25. He’s joined by John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and others to form the league’s most skilled forward group. There’s zero reason to believe their production won’t continue and zero reason to believe a defensive unit that helped limit foes to the ninth-fewest shots in the league won’t repeat that performance.

    Toronto was fourth overall with 115 points in last year’s regular season. Had it not been for an unfortunate opening matchup with the two-time defending Cup champs, the Maple Leafs might well have been the team making a dominant run to the Eastern Conference Finals.

    It’ll happen this year. And when it comes time to nail things down in the final series, it’ll be Murray making the saves that Kuemper, with a less gaudy track record, made last June against the Lightning.

    Stake out your spots along Yonge Street, folks. Lord Stanley’s coming home.

    - Lyle Fitzsimmons

    Let’s go with the Calgary Flames. There are currently better teams at face value, but by April, the Flames may be in the best position to make a long playoff run.

    The Flames are entering the season with a really good team, and the trade deadline will offer an opportunity to become great.

    Unlike some other contenders, the Flames are in a great position to add significant reinforcements. Cap Friendly estimates that they’ll have roughly $6.5 million in cap space by the deadline and they also possess a bevy of draft picks and prospects as trade bait.

    Goaltending is vital in the playoffs. A good goalie can steal a seven-game series, while a poor one can tank an entire team. Jacob Markstrom has had an up-and-down career, but he was rock-solid last season and is arguably the best goaltender in the Western Conference.

    Finally, Calgary has an easy path to endure a deep playoff run. Getting through Colorado will be a monumental task, but the Western Conference is otherwise fairly weak. The Pacific Division looks like the worst in the NHL.

    - Adam Herman

    I like to believe that talent ultimately wins out if you are patient enough with it.

    Back in 2018, we saw Washington break through its second-round ceiling. In 2019, St. Louis broke through. In 2020, Tampa Bay that got over the hump. Last year, it was Colorado.

    This year, it's Carolina's turn.

    Even with the offseason departures of Vincent Trocheck and Nino Niederreiter, this is one of the most complete teams in the league and does not have a major weakness anywhere on the roster. The Hurricanes have a dependable 1A and 1B in goal with Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta, they are consistently one of the best defensive teams in the league, and they have a lot of high-end talent at forward. There's room for those forwards to get better, too.

    Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas and Jesperi Kotkaniemi still have a chance to have breakout years, and Seth Jarvis looks like an emerging impact player as well. Add all of that to Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal and the underrated addition of Paul Stastny, and that is a lot of talent up front.

    I also really like the offseason additions of Max Pacioretty and Brent Burns for what they bring to the table as finishers and goal scorers. Pacioretty is going to miss most of the season, but getting him back come playoff time could be an enormous lift.

    This is Carolina's year.

    - Adam Gretz

    As the cap is rising, we're sort of entering a quasi-dynasty era where championship teams will make consecutive runs. I want to say the Hurricanes will win the Cup, but I'm too worried about Freddie Andersen making it there.

    I think it'll be Canes vs. Avs, and Colorado will prevail.

    - Sara Civian

    The Carolina Hurricanes have been building towards this for the past few seasons, and it feels like now is the time they strike gold…er, silver with the Stanley Cup.

    Carolina has been right there each of the past few seasons, but it ran into the best goalie in the NHL last year (New York Rangers) and the eventual Stanley Cup champions the season before (Tampa Bay). The Hurricanes have had a brilliant offense and a defense corps that was quietly one of the best in the league to go along with steady, yet oft-injured goaltending.

    This season, they still have the brilliant offense and the goaltending they hope won’t be sidetracked by poor health, but they also added someone to make their defense more noticeable and dangerous with Burns.

    The addition of Burns to a group that has Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei means the Hurricanes will have a dangerous and dynamic top four on the blue line. Aho, Svechnikov and Teravainen are electrifying scorers, and Necas is next in line to join that group. They have veteran know-how with Stastny and Pacioretty and excellent defenders up front with Staal, Kotkaniemi Jesper Fast.

    The time is now for Carolina to capture its second Stanley Cup.

    - Joe Yerdon