Dear Abbey: Reacting to B/R NHL Community's Picks for Individual Awards
Welcome to another edition of Dear Abbey. I don't give life advice like the real Dear Abby, but I do talk about hockey.
Training camps have opened up, which means NHL hockey is right around the corner. This week, we asked members of the B/R hockey community to send us their predictions for the major NHL awards: The Hart, Norris, Vezina, Calder and Selke trophies. These awards are voted on by members of the media, a mix of members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and team broadcasters. The PHWA also votes on the Masterton and Lady Byng Trophies, as well as the All-Star and All-Rookie teams.
There was some controversy last year when it came to the awards. Typically, all members of the PHWA receive votes, but a group of voters was chosen instead. The divisional reconfiguration from COVID-19 limited the number of teams that some of the local reporters could see, and several reporters did not travel as they usually would. As a result, the PHWA decided to make changes to the voting and give ballots to a pool of voters instead.
More changes will likely be made this year to make the voting process more equitable. Full disclosure, I am a member of the PHWA and have voted in the awards in the past, but I was not selected as a voter last season.
However, I do know what many of the voters look for and I'm familiar with their patterns, so I'll take a swing at your picks and see if we can project some winners.
Hart: MacKinnon, Rocket: Matthews, Vezina: Vasilevsky, Norris: Hedman, Lady Byng: Patrick Kane
Kirill Kaprizov wins literally every award
The popular sentiment among the B/R community was Connor McDavid or Nathan MacKinnon for the Hart Trophy, which is the NHL's version of the MVP award.
There is an age-old debate about the criteria for the "most outstanding" or "most valuable" players. Should you award someone who puts up gaudy point totals or should you award the player who has the greatest impact on his/her team? In 2018, Taylor Hall won the Hart Trophy with a 39-goal, 93-point season. But it was the way he put the New Jersey Devils on his back and carried them to the postseason that proved to be what won him the award.
Awards are voted on prior to the start of the postseason, and getting teams into the postseason is a huge factor for voters of this award. Rarely will you see an MVP on a team that did not reach the postseason. It's starting to become a little more commonplace in baseball, with players like Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani doing incredible things for the Los Angeles, a team that has struggled to build around two generational players. But I don't see the PHWA voters joining in on that trend just yet.
That shouldn't be a problem with McDavid or MacKinnon since the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche are two of the better teams in the league. If all goes well, McDavid and MacKinnon will likely be two of the finalists for the award, and if I had to guess the third finalist, I would say Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
McDavid was the unanimous winner of the award last season, becoming the second player since Wayne Gretzky to win all 100 first-place votes. MacKinnon is extra hungry this season. A motivated MacKinnon could be on another level this year.
Kaprizov could jump into the mix this year as well. The impact he made on the Minnesota Wild last year was huge, and he did receive Hart votes last year. The undersized Russian winger scored 27 points in an abbreviated season, so imagine what he might be capable of in 82 games.
Miro Heiskanen for the Norris, primarily bolstered by shattering his point total with the healthy re-emerging Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin, not to mention a healed Roope Hintz
Norris Makar. Robbed last year
Adam Fox of the New York Rangers won the Norris last year, and his win came with a lot of debate from fans who felt Cale Makar was more deserving. There are some elite young defensemen in the league right now.
Those who felt Makar was robbed pointed to the fact that he was the only defender in the NHL to average a point per game last season with exactly 44 points in 44 games.
Anyone who watched the Rangers saw how much of an impact he made when he was on the ice. He was the Blueshirts' best two-way defender at 5-on-5 and their best penalty killer. He's such a smart player, which is how he's able to shut down offenses despite his relative lack of size.
Heiskanen's talents were on display in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. His performance in the bubble was nothing short of remarkable, scoring 26 points scored in 27 games, which was the fourth-most all-time behind Hall of Famers and Norris Trophy winners Paul Coffey, Brian Leetch and Al MacInnis. His defensive metrics did not go unnoticed, either.
The Dallas Stars were decimated by injuries last season, and with Radulov, Hintz and Seguin healthy again the club should be back on the upswing. They will certainly help bolster the candidacy of Heiskanen, who will soon find himself competing for the award regularly.
This shouldn't even be a question lol. He is that good.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is, in fact, that good.
The Tampa Bay Lightning netminder is a wizard. The Lightning won Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final 1-0, but it felt more like 5-0 with the way Vasilevskiy was playing. His lateral movement, his athleticism and his technical abilities put him in a small class of truly elite goalies.
He's also sort of an ironman. More teams are going to a 1-A and 1-B goalie split. They like to rotate their goaltenders in order to keep each one fresh. With the speed and skill displayed in today's NHL, it's an effective system.
But Vasilevskiy, the 2019 Vezina winner, plays about 80 percent of the Lightning's games. With Brian Elliott as the backup this season, that's probably not going to change.
He didn't win last year, much to the dismay of many, including his own teammate Nikita Kucherov. Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights (now with the Chicago Blackhawks) was voted as the winner, and Kucherov expressed his displeasure with voters in his epic Stanley Cup press conference. A shirtless, drunk Kucherov said it was "No. 1 bulls--t" that someone other than Vasilevskiy won the award. The phrase later appeared on T-shirts at the team's boat parade.
Calder = Marco Rossi
Calder Cole Caufield
Minnesota Wild center Marco Rossi had a terrifying ordeal with COVID-19 last season, with a myocarditis diagnosis nearly derailing the Austrian's NHL dream. He told Dane Mizutani of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that overcoming it helped his mental toughness.
"I feel strong," Rossi said. "I always say now that I feel better than before because I had such a long time to recover, just to work on everything, on my good things, on my bad things. I always wanted to be much better, and I think for me, I have much more confidence than before."
Cole Caufield might be small, but he plays with a big presence and scores big goals in big moments. The undersized Montreal Canadiens winger is only 5'7", but he thrives under pressure. He scored four goals and assisted on eight in the Habs' surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final. Caufield is the early front-runner for the Calder Award, which goes to the league's top rookie.
Selke: Bergeron gets nominated but they give it to someone else cuz he has too many
Selke goes to the best defensive forward in the NHL, and there is no denying Bergeron's excellent defensive abilities. The two-way center has been rewarded for his shutdown abilities four times, and he's come in second place in voting four times and third place once.
There are other strong defensive forwards in the NHL, and there have been some accusations of a Boston bias. The regional bias argument gets a little overblown by fans sometimes, though as someone who covered hockey on both coasts, I have seen some evidence of Western Conference teams getting a little less attention. And there are a lot of old-school voters who don't use a lot of advanced stats.
But there are many voters who do, and I don't think this is any sort of Boston bias. When you ask players around the league about the toughest defensive forward, Bergeron is usually one of the first mentioned.
Barkov will be in contention for years to come. Mark Stone, the other finalist for the 2021 Selke, is one of the best defensive wingers in the league. But if you're trying to predict this one, Bergeron is a good bet.