B/R NHL Staff Roundtable: Updated Season Award Predictions

Bleacher Report NHL StaffFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2022

B/R NHL Staff Roundtable: Updated Season Award Predictions

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Nothing gets NHL fans going like a good debate on awards, and this year is no different.

    The battle for the NHL's version of the MVP award looks fierce. Auston Matthews has been touted as a favorite to win his first Hart Trophy, and his 60-goal campaign is his strongest argument. But there are cases to be made for Connor McDavid, Jonathan Huberdeau and Igor Shesterkin.

    What about the Norris? Roman Josi has put up an eye-popping 93 points for a defenseman, but Cale Makar has had an equally impressive season in Colorado. Makar leads all blueliners with 27 goals and has been a driving force for the Avs' big campaign.

    Our B/R NHL writers got together for one final regular-season roundtable to give us their predictions for the winners of the Hart, Norris, Vezina and Calder Trophies. Read on to see whether you agree with their takes, and sound off in the comments if you disagree.

Hart Trophy: Auston Matthews

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    If anyone suggests there's been a harder Hart Trophy vote lately, don't believe them.

    Considering the field of contenders for the NHL's most valuable player award includes the league's most talented superstar, its most prolific goal-scorer and the playmaking lynchpin of a team that's been among the best and most consistent all season—not to mention some dark-horse support for an emergent young goalie—there's bound to be several camps disappointed in the final result.

    But there's a job to be done. And the B/R hockey staff doesn't shy from a challenge.

    After crunching the numbers, considering the contexts and weighing the intangibles, we're making the call that Toronto Maple Leafs sniper Auston Matthews is the most deserving Hart Trophy recipient for 2021-22.

    Need evidence? There's plenty.

    The 24-year-old has smashed both personal and team records with 60 goals in 73 games, leads the league's second-most prolific offense with 106 points and has provided precisely the sort of day-in, day-out superstar presence needed to restore confidence after a particularly ugly playoff exit last spring.

    Without Matthews, the Leafs are a good team.

    With him, they're a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

    Make no mistake, if the envelope opens to reveal Edmonton's Connor McDavid, Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau or New York's Igor Shesterkin as the Hart winner, there's been no miscarriage of justice.

    A strong case can be made for each.  

    But considering both the immense nature of the numbers Matthews is producing—he's just the third player to hit 60 goals since 2000—and the importance of his preeminence to the mettle of the team for which he plays, there's simply no one who blends statistics and swagger any better. 

Norris Trophy: Roman Josi

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    The James Norris Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL's top defenseman. This season's candidates include 2021 winner Adam Fox of the New York Rangers, 2020 winner Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators, 2018 winner Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche.

    Of the 32 NHL head coaches recently polled by The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun, a slim majority favored Josi as the Norris winner. It remains to be seen if the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association share that view when they cast their votes. Nevertheless, the 31-year-old Josi is making a good case to take home the award for the second time in three years.

    Josi has shattered his previous career highs for goals (16), assists (49) and points (65) from his first Norris-winning campaign in 2019-20 with 22 goals, 71 assists and 93 points as of April 26. He's fifth among all NHL skaters in assists and leads all defensemen in assists and points, becoming the first defenseman to reach 90 points in a season since Hall of Famer Ray Bourque in 1993-94.

    The Predators captain also logs big minutes, averaging the league's eighth-most with 25 minutes and 31 seconds. Of his 93 points, 57 are at even strength. His production has steadily increased as this season progressed. His superb skating and stick-handling enable him to move the puck quickly out of his zone, generating offensive passes to teammates or joining them on the rush.

    Josi also plays a solid defensive game. He leads the Predators with 130 blocked shots and sits third with 47 takeaways.

    Perhaps the biggest factor why Josi should win the Norris is how he's put up those numbers without the benefit of a strong supporting cast compared to what Makar, Fox and Hedman enjoy with their respective teams. Without Josi's contributions at both ends of the rink, the Predators probably wouldn't be a playoff club this season.

Vezina Trophy: Igor Shesterkin

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    There are so many great individual awards battles in the NHL this season. The Vezina Trophy is not one of them. New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin has lapped the competition. Per Evolving-Hockey, Shesterkin has saved 37.24 goals above expected this season. Freddie Andersen, at 28.47, ranks second. It's not even close.

    In fact, Shesterkin isn't merely the best goaltender this season. It is arguable that he is having the best goaltending season of the modern stats era. Since 2007-2008, Shesterkin's season ranks sixth among all goaltenders by goals saved above average. Henrik Lundqvist (three times), Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky, who rank above him, played at least 10 more games. It's possible that, without a few injury bouts this season, Shesterkin might have finished on top.

    Let's put his absurd play this season in a simpler context. This is the highest-scoring NHL season since 1995-1996. The leaguewide save percentage of .907 is the lowest it's been since 2006-07. Despite that, Shesterkin's .935 save percentage ranks third all-time among goaltenders who played in at least half of their team's regular-season games. 

    It has not been easy for Shesterkin, either. There are the bright lights of Broadway, the legacy of Henrik Lundqvist to follow, the first full season of his NHL career and the expectations that come with the most expensive second contract ever handed out to a goaltender. Most notable, though, is the duress he was put under until the Rangers significantly reinforced the ranks at the trade deadline. The Blueshirts were often outplayed and heavily reliant on Shesterkin to bail them out. Without him, it's questionable whether they make the playoffs.

    Shesterkin should get every first-place Vezina vote. It's that clear-cut. He should also be a finalist for the Hart Trophy, and while it's Auston Matthews' award to lose at this point, Shesterkin puts up a credible fight as well.

Calder Trophy: Moritz Seider

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    Detroit Red Wings defenseman Moritz Seider isn't worried about winning the Calder Trophy as the league's most outstanding rookie. "It's definitely an honor [to be considered], but I don't even think about that at all," he recently told reporters. "Not a lot of defensemen [have won it], but I have to be honest, I don't pay attention to that just because it's a distraction, an unnecessary distraction from your game, and not what I need now."

    That's what we're here for; to make the argument for him so he doesn't have to worry about it.

    He's right about blueliners prevailing in the Calder Trophy vote infrequently. Of the last 10 winners, only two have been defensemen—Cale Makar in 2020 and Aaron Ekblad in 2015. Seider isn't going to finish with as many points as the Colorado Avalanche wunderkind, but a .88 points-per-game average shouldn't be required for a blueliner to secure freshman of the year honors.

    Seider's 0.60 points per game should be more than enough to impress the PHWA voters, never mind what he's been able to do in his own zone. The 21-year-old has taken up the mantle as Detroit's No. 1 blueliner and has looked every bit the part.

    He hasn't been sheltered in his role at all, frequently spending the majority of his 23-plus minutes a night squaring off against the likes of Auston Matthews and Jonathan Huberdeau. Seider has been tough to play against in all three zones, throws reverse checks like this generation's version of Chris Pronger and already has a deft offensive touch as one of the league's premier facilitators from the back end.

    What Trevor Zegras and Michael Bunting have done—score a lot—happens every season for rookie forwards. We don't see campaigns like Seider's very often, which is why he should take home the Calder Trophy this year.