B/R Experts' Predictions for the 2015-16 NHL Awards
Award season is still months away, but the watch begins now with the start of the 2015-16 NHL campaign. And the start of the new season wouldn't be the same without some predictions from Bleacher Report's hockey writers.
First, here's the full disclosure from last year's selections. We were way off with our Hart Trophy predictions, with no mention of either Carey Price—the runaway winner—or long-distance runner-up Alex Ovechkin. In our defense, goalies don't get the nod very often, and Price may never again do so much with so little offensive support.
We were 0-for-2 after the Norris, with our consensus Alex Pietrangelo pick outplayed by teammate Kevin Shattenkirk and eventual winner Erik Karlsson not even making our top five (hey, his defense has always been questionable).
But we redeemed ourselves somewhat with the rookie group and nailed the Selke winner with Patrice Bergeron.
This year is equally difficult to predict. The field is wide open in pretty much every category, with the league's superstars all looking to lead their teams to glory with stellar individual efforts.
In an effort to redeem ourselves further, here are the predictions for the six major award winners for the 2015-16 season, courtesy of voting by Adrian Dater, Allan Mitchell, Lyle Richardson, Carol Schram, Jonathan Willis and myself.
Yes, you'll find the usual suspects here. But you might see a little more variety than you might expect as we list the top five in each category.
There was one intense tiebreaker involved, so read on to find out how our voting went down.
Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player)
Pick: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
This was a two-horse race in the eyes of the experts, with Crosby coming out on top. He will have a heck of a season with Phil Kessel on his flank as the best triggerman Sid the Kid has enjoyed outside of all-star games or international competition, so the point totals will be there as long as the Pittsburgh Penguins captain is healthy.
Half the panel had him as their top pick. I went with John Tavares of the New York Islanders because he will produce impressive numbers without the star supporting cast Crosby is blessed with. But it's hard to bet against Crosby given his abilities and popularity.
Second: John Tavares, New York Islanders
My pick for the Hart is the Islanders captain, who did more with less than any forward in the league last year. He's a franchise cornerstone who will bring the crowds in Brooklyn to their feet the same way he did on Long Island.
Third: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Jonathan Toews is one of the most well-rounded players in the game. His offensive numbers are rarely as high as the league's elite scorers in spite of his top-end skill. It's because he rarely (maybe never) cheats. Those are the qualities that should get him votes if the Blackhawks continue to thrive despite significant roster changes.
Fourth: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Last year's runner-up improved his defensive numbers while scoring a league-best 53 goals. His top line should be even better this year with T.J. Oshie on the other wing.
Fifth: Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Price won last year's vote in a landslide. It wasn't even remotely close. Goalies don't win often. If Price was to win it again, it would be just the second time a goalie won it in back-to-back years. Dominik Hasek was the other.
Vezina Trophy (Top Goaltender)
Pick: Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Price is coming off one of the best years by any goalie in any season, which is why he won the Hart Trophy in such convincing fashion last season. If the Canadiens improve offensively, some of the burden will be lifted off Price's shoulders, and the Hart may be out of the question.
The Vezina, however, is within his grasp again. Four of the six voters jotted his name down first. He'll be in the mix for sure, even if his season isn't as big statistically as it was a year ago.
Second: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Lundqvist has the good fortune of playing for one of the league's best defensive teams. But he's a heck of a goalie in his own right. The combination makes him one of the favorites for the top goaltender award every year. The team was so confident in his skills even as he approaches his mid-30s that it traded away his backup Cam Talbot.
Third: Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
Dubnyk was right behind Lundqvist in points in the voting and was tied with the fourth-place netminder Pekka Rinne (moving ahead on the made-up tiebreaker of his Hart Trophy votes from last year). The Wild goaltender had a career year in half a season and is eager to prove it wasn't a fluke.
Fourth: Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Overcoming an injury-plagued 2013-14 season, Rinne was back to top form last season for the rejuvenated Predators. If he stays healthy, he will be among the top goaltenders again, and the Preds will be right back in the playoff hunt.
Fifth: Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Holtby played the most minutes of any goaltender last season, finishing second in wins and shutouts, seventh in save percentage and fifth in goals-against average. His breakout year was a big step, but our panel expects more. I had him second on my list; the Caps are poised to have a huge season, and Holtby is a key element.
Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman)
Pick: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
The appreciation for Doughty seems to grow every year. His Kings didn't make the playoffs last season, but Doughty was a workhorse, logging nearly 30 minutes a game and cracking the 40-point mark for the first time since 2011. He was the Norris Trophy runner-up last season.
The 25-year-old still doesn't seem to have hit his prime, and you get the feeling he'll be the best of all worlds at the position before too long, netting 50 or more points while racking up ice time and maintaining solid possession stats.
Second: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
Karlsson claimed his second Norris last year thanks to a 21-goal, 66-point season that also saw him average the third-most minutes of any defenseman. When you score that many points from the back end, you'll be in the conversation every time.
Third: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
I have to admit, I was surprised to see Keith with a first-place ballot. He is coming off a down season that saw him elevate his game to superstar status in the playoffs, so I'm guessing that impression is what led to the early vote of confidence here. He's still an elite defender; I'm just not sure he's going to be more than a 45-point guy any longer.
Fourth: P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
Do you get points for being a rock-star philanthropist? Committing $10 million to the Children's Hospital in Montreal was a huge expression of genuine kindness and connection to community. On the ice, Subban is a triple threat—offensively, defensively and physically.
Fifth: Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
At one point last season, Giordano was the hands-down favorite for the Norris nod. Even though he played just 61 games thanks to a devastating shoulder injury that ended his year prematurely, Giordano finished with 177 votes in the Norris race—including one first-place ballot. If he stays healthy, he's shown capable of leading the way.
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year)
Pick: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid easily won the vote from our panel, unanimously...wait, two people voted for Sam Bennett? I stand corrected. Four out of six voters picked the Edmonton Oilers' latest in a collection of first-overall draft picks to win the Calder race this season.
McDavid is the most hyped prospect since Sidney Crosby, and the expectations are massive. He may not have a 100-point rookie year the way Crosby did, but if he approaches 70 and helps his team climb into the playoff picture, he'll be the clear choice here.
Second: Sam Bennett, Calgary Flames
As I mentioned, Bennett got two first-place nods from the panel. And neither of them came from the Calgary-based writer (that's me). Bennett sat out with a shoulder injury last year but dominated his couple of months in junior before contributing to the Flames' playoff run with tough and skilled play.
Third: Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
The second name called in June's draft, Eichel is expected to help his Sabres improve this season. He's a big, skilled center who will look to skate out of McDavid's shadow. They'll always be compared to each other because of their draft positions.
Fourth: Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes
Domi was the Coyotes' top pick in the 2013 draft and wasn't quite ready to make the jump to the NHL from junior last year. He is now, and the edgy but super-skilled forward should get plenty of opportunity for the goal-starved Coyotes to show what he can do.
Fifth: Sam Reinhart, Buffalo Sabres
This spot was a toss-up among the voters. I had Nikolaj Ehlers of the Winnipeg Jets in this spot because I feel he's more likely to stick around for a full season with Reinhart still a candidate for seasoning. The two tied in the voting with the Coyotes' Dylan Strome. Chicago's Artemi Panarin and Carolina's Noah Hanifin also received votes.
Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward)
Pick: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
This is Bergeron's award. He has won it in three of the last four seasons, including the last two. He's capable of making it three in a row thanks to his strong faceoff numbers, possession stats and offensive ability.
There is a lot of competition in the category. Anze Kopitar—my top pick—actually had more first-place votes but didn't have as many second- and third-place nods. Jonathan Toews also had a first-place vote and is the only player to blemish Bergeron's streak.
Second: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Kopitar finished third in the NHL's Selke voting last season but takes second spot in our prediction for this year because of his tremendous ability at both ends of the ice. He had a down season offensively as the Kings struggled but is capable of being a point-per-game player as well as a top shutdown center.
Third: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Captain Serious is the last of the triplets—the guys most likely to get votes, the top tier of two-way forwards. He has as much skill as teammate Patrick Kane but an even more detail-oriented game positionally.
Fourth: Ryan Kesler, Anaheim Ducks
The Anaheim Ducks middle man was 10th in award voting last season but had a strong playoff performance that may have swayed some of our experts—myself included.
Fifth: Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning
Palat is the only player on this list who doesn't play center. It's not mandatory that the winner suit up in the middle, but it's traditional. Faceoffs are an important aspect of possession, and the responsibilities of the center are more directed to defense when play goes the other way. Still, Palat is in the Marian Hossa mold of wingers who don't give up on any play defensively.
Jack Adams Trophy (Coach of the Year)
Pick: Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
Cooper lost to Patrick Roy two years ago and was overshadowed by a group of leaders of surprise performers last season. None of that overshadows what he's been able to do in Tampa Bay, which is to turn his franchise into an annual Cup contender. He's blessed with a stellar lineup of young up-and-comers, but his personality brings it all together and keeps the team on track despite a certain inexperience.
If the team claims the Eastern Conference's top record in the regular season, it may finally be Cooper's time to bring home some hardware.
Second: Todd McLellan, Edmonton Oilers
All the votes for McLellan are a testament to his reputation as a coach and the view people have of the Oilers. It's a team many believe is on the rise thanks to the draft lottery and the landing of a generational player in Connor McDavid, paired with the oodles of talent that already exist there from years of high picks. He should bring consistency to the position.
Third: Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals
It's hard to imagine how Trotz didn't make the list of finalists in his first year with the Capitals. He helped Alex Ovechkin turn a minus-35 rating into a double-digit plus rating in one season. The Capitals are going to be a beast in the East, and he will get the credit he deserves.
Fourth: Dan Bylsma, Buffalo Sabres
The former Pittsburgh Penguins bench boss has the unenviable task of turning the Buffalo Sabres into a winning franchise. Well, maybe that won't be as tough as it seems with the likes of Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart and plenty of other young up-and-comers littered across the lineup following months of major overhauling. Like the Oilers and McLellan, Bylsma should be laughing in the end.
Fifth: Todd Richards, Columbus Blue Jackets
If not for a rash of injuries (none of them rashes), the Blue Jackets would have been a much better team last year. They're a dark horse this time around, and Richards would gain a lot of traction in the voting if his group can stay healthy and make a serious run at home-ice advantage in the playoffs.