Generally, this occurs at the quarter mark or halfway through the season. But hey, it’s Christmas, so let’s give out some Christmastime NHL awards just to get into the spirit! Who leads in the various categories for which the league likes to hand out some strange silverware in a very awkward ceremony in June while everyone waits to get drunk (if they aren’t already)?
Hart Trophy (MVP): Nikita Kucherov
Honorable Mention: Artemi Panarin, Sidney Crosby
Yeah, yeah, any idiot looking at the leading scorers in the league could have come up with this one. But the Lightning don’t really belong in the playoff race. All of their team metrics are mediocre at best, and without Kucherov doing what he does, leading the scoring race by six points over Nathan MacKinnon, the Bolts could be closer to the Senators than they’d ever like to be. Kucherov these days inhabits a colossal territory in the amount of chances he gets and also creates, where only the other two reside.
Panarin took a leap this year, with the Dark Helmet theory of play. “KEEP FIRE, A HOLE!” Panarin is shooting the puck both on net and anywhere much more than he ever has in his career, and he’s ready to explode with a career-high 32 goals. The Rangers have given up on the idea of using him and linemates Vincent Trocheck and Alex Lafreniere anywhere near the defensive zone, and they’re getting oil-baron-on-the-disco-dust kind of production out of it.
Crosby is holding the Penguins thing together, and while he doesn’t have the point totals of the other two, his chance creation is right up there with them. If the Pens ever discover where the net is again, he will move up the leaderboard.
Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender): Jeremy Swayman
Honorable Mention: Adin Hill, Thatcher Demko
Swayman will have to swim against the tide of everyone screaming that he only takes half the start, splitting evenly with Linus Ullmark. But most top goalies don’t get more than 55 starts anyway, and he was the best. This is how the game is going now. Swayman is tied for the best save percentage in the league and is second in expected goals saved even with his limited workload. Which tempers the argument just a touch that he’s playing behind a defensive juggernaut in Boston when he has to let them out as much in just half the time.
Demko eventually came good and his numbers matched Swayman’s while making more starts. The Knights seem to have discovered a goaltender by accident in Hill, but he returned a Cup winner last spring and is now putting up numbers that land him in the velvet-rope-surrounded club of elite goaltenders. There really isn’t a wrong choice between the three.
Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman): Cale Makar
Honorable Mention: Quinn Hughes, Drew Doughty
Yes, I only exist to send Canucks fans into orbit and there’s an easy argument for Hughes, who leads all d-men in points at the time of this writing. But he also played six more games than Makar thanks to the latter’s injury problems.
As for Doughty, his role has changed a bit in LA and he’s starting far more shifts in his own end than earlier in his career. But he’s still pushing the game and getting the Kings into the offensive zone as much as he always has, even if he doesn’t have the points to prove it. He is probably the biggest reason why the Kings are as good as they are.
Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward): Nicolas Roy
Honorable Mention: Sean Couturier, Dakota Joshua
Look, nobody knows what they’re voting for when it comes to this award. For pretty much his entire existence, voters have found a No. 1 center who won a lot of finishes and scored a lot and called him a defensive forward. Patrice Bergeron won it every year and he was a brilliant defensive center, but no one bothered to notice that in the last few years of his career he was deployed almost exclusively in the offensive zone, which helped boosting his defense numbers.
So as always, we’re going to find a forward that plays a lot of defense. And it’s Vegas’ Nicolas Roy, who starts just a third of his shifts in the offensive zone, yet has the fifth-lowest xGA/60 among forwards in the entire league, and he consistently turns the game around. This kind of mining allows the Knights’ top two lines to only worry about scoring, which they do. Roy is one of the most unique arms in the league.
Couturier fulfills the role of no. 1 center who can play both ends of the ice, and Joshua is somewhat of the same story as Roy, a center who was actually deployed as a defensive stopper and does.
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year): Connor Bedard
Honorable Mention: Adam Fantilli, Marco Rossi
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