With each passing day, it gets increasingly less likely the remainder, or even a portion, of the NHL regular season will be played.
Already, playoff format ideas have been kicked around, and with only two weeks left in the originally scheduled regular season, we probably can start turning our attention toward a potential postseason — if the 2019-20 campaign even resumes.
Of course, the NHL Awards are all based on the regular season, which means we might already have our sample size for voting.
So, let’s hand out some awards.
Winner: Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers
Runners-up: Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers; Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Panarin singlehandedly accelerated the Rangers’ rebuild, and made them a legitimate postseason contender. He put up 32 goals and 63 assists in 69 games — 20 more points than the next highest-scoring Ranger, Mika Zibanejad, who did play in 12 fewer games.
While Draisaitl’s point total will land him a deserved Art Ross and he did prove this season he can succeed without Connor McDavid, he’s not as good of defender as Panarin, which hurts his case in this particular writer’s eyes.
MacKinnon should get high marks for how he’s carried an Avs team that’s been equal parts successful and injury-riddled. However, Colorado already was a proven commodity.
But what really seals it for Panarin? Consider this:
Draisaitl’s most common linemates 5-on-5 were McDavid and Zack Kassian.
MacKinnon’s were Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.
Panarin’s? Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast.
Plain and simple, the Rangers are miles out of the playoff race without Panarin. He’s the most important player to any team in the league.
Winner: Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Runners-up: John Carlson, Washington Capitals; Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Yes, Carlson has put up gaudy point totals that probably are going to land him plenty of first-place votes. But in terms of overall defensive ability, he’s far from a standout.
Josi is a much more sound defender and still put up 65 points, 10 behind Carlson and good for second among NHL defensemen. His abilities in his own end are just so much better than Carlson that it’s hard not to put the Preds’ star blueliner ahead when looking at the overall picture.
Hedman is worthy of votes seeing as he’s third in points among defensemen and still is responsible in his own end.
Winner: Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
Runners-up: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins; Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
This one should be a layup, though it does beg an interesting question of how voting should (or shouldn’t) evolve with the game (more on that later).
Hellebuyck faced a firing squad this season, and is the top reason Winnipeg’s even sniffed a postseason spot. He’s the league leader in goaltender games played, shots against and saves, and considering he faced 1,796 shots this season, his .922 save percentage is all the more impressive.
But it’s tough to discount what Rask did for the Bruins this season, turning in a .929 save percentage and NHL-leading 2.12 goals against average (even though GAA is a useless stat). However, he played 41 games to Jaroslav Halak’s 31, and Halak probably would’ve seen an increased workload down the stretch with the Bruins running away with the Atlantic Division.
More teams, especially ones that ultimately have a good bit of success, have been pivoting toward playing their two goalies equally. Should that hurt the cases of netminders like Rask and Ben Bishop in Vezina voting? Depends on the voter. However, Hellebuyck made a convincing case this season while playing much more, making this choice easy.
Vasilevskiy is another goalie that has fared mostly well with a heavy workload. He leads the league in wins (35), and put up a .917 save percentage while facing the third most shots in the NHL. Some voters are going to overvalue him, but third place feels like the right spot for him.
Winner: Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks
Runners-up: Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche; Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets
So, Hughes’ comments earlier this month about being the best rookie over the last 30 games was not wrong, even if it was taken out of context on Twitter. And while it’s a tight race, Hughes has backed it up, even if the conversation is different had Makar stayed healthy, since he probably would’ve put up more points.
However, the Corsi for both blueliners’ common defensive partners tells an interesting story. Bear with us here.
Christopher Tanev, Hughes’ mate most often, had a 49.46 Corsi For percentage with Hughes and 39.93 Corsi For percentage without the rookie. Hughes still had a 57.70 Corsi For percentage without Tanev.
Ryan Graves, Makar’s most common partner, has a 53.14 Corsi For with the UMass product, and 51.88 without Makar. Makar had a 46.94 Corsi For without Graves.
All the while, Makar (73.86 percent) had more offensive zone starts than Hughes (66.93 percent).
What’s all this mumbo jumbo mean? It means Hughes’ play independent of his defensive partner was better than Makar’s, even though Hughes was put in less advantageous situations. And Tanev fared worse without Hughes than Graves did with Makar. That’s what helps settle this deadlocked race.
And quick note on Merzlikins: Good on him for keeping the Blue Jackets afloat this season. In due course, he’ll be in the Vezina conversation, but until then, he deserves some Calder recognition this season.
Winner: Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
Runners-up: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins; Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning
Couturier has been a defensive menace for the Flyers this season, and his league-leading face-off percentage out of qualified forwards certainly doesn’t hurt. Look at pretty much any metric that matters to you: shots against, high danger chances against, the eye test — it doesn’t matter. He’s right in the thick of the conversation every time and deserves to win this season.
Bergeron always ends up being a finalist, and until his play declines, he should be in the top three. Cirelli has taken a massive step forward this season, and 22-years-old is on his way to becoming part of the Bergeron/Anze Kopitar ilk where he’s a finalist pretty much every season.
Jack Adams Trophy
Winner: John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets
Runners-up: Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins; Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets
I find it particularly challenging not to give Maurice a first-place vote, but I don’t feel like getting yelled at on the Internet. Few guys actually want to play in Winnipeg, and a handful got out during the offseason (Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot among others,) before Dustin Byfuglien ultimately bagged on the Jets. Still, Maurice (and Hellebuyck) put the Jets in a spot to be successful this season.
But Tortorella’s Blue Jackets had Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky poached from them this offseason, and they’ve dealt with a slew of injuries that didn’t stop them from winning — even if you had to say “who the hell is that?” nine times every night.
Sullivan was in a similar spot to Tortorella, where his team was decimated by injuries pretty much all season, but he benefitted from a more overall talent.
GM of the Year
Winner: Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche
Runners-up: Ken Holland, Edmonton Oilers; Jeff Gorton, New York Rangers
This is tough to assess because we didn’t get enough time to see how trade deadline acquisitions panned out. Take last season for example: The foundation of Don Sweeney’s case was set by his free agency acquisitions of Halak, John Moore, Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner, but what made his case air-tight were the acquisitions of Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson at the trade deadline.
But Sakic took some gambles and fared well from them. Andre Burakovsky has been a good get, and you could say the Avs won the Tyson Barrie-Nazem Kadri trade, even with Kadri’s injury woes. He also let Semyon Varlamov walk, and instead signed Pavel Francouz, who effectively took over the starting job from Philipp Grubauer at a quarter of the cost of Varlamov. One has to think the cheap acquisition of Vladislav Namestnikov in February only would’ve helped his case.
Holland swapped Milan Lucic for James Neal in a deal that ended up working out remarkably well for him, and Riley Sheahan has been a good enough pickup. It’s also shame we haven’t seen more of Andreas Athanasiou in an Oilers uniform.
Gorton did a nice job of putting the Rangers in a position to succeed, and it obviously started with him winning the Panarin sweepstakes. But he should get some credit for his management of a challenging goaltending situation, somehow carrying all three netminders while still getting Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev in positions to thrive. Credit to him for also re-signing Chris Kreider.
Thumbnail photo via Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports Images