NHL Awards 2021: NESN Experts Make Picks For Annual Honors

Did we get it right?

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May 6, 2021

The regular season is winding down, which means time is running out for players to build their case for the annual NHL Awards.

All the below awards are regular-season awards, most of which are voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

While they don’t have votes, we had NESN.com writers and “NESN Bruins Podcast” co-hosts Lauren Campbell, Logan Mullen and Mike Cole “cast their ballots” for who would get their nod for the top honors.

The trio dive even deeper in this week’s addition of the podcast, which you can find here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Lauren: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — McDavid had a hand in accounting for over half of the Oilers’ 158 goals over their first 49 games, and that’s just one stat of several eye-popping figures posted by McDavis this season. He’s an electric player who’s having an incredible season, to say the least, so it’s certainly his award to lose (but he won’t.)

Logan: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — I was leaning McDavid anyways, but this stupid tweet was the nail in the coffin. He’s seriously on the precipice of 100 points in a 56-game season, which is bonkers. Ordinarily, I try to take into account a player’s linemates, but no one is even remotely close to having the impact on a team that McDavid has.

Mike: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — McDavid is having one of the greatest careers of our lifetimes, and I’m old enough to remember a good chunk of Wayne Gretzky’s Kings days or the ridiculous seasons enjoyed by Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in the 1990s. Even if the Oilers weren’t going to the playoffs, it would have to go to McDavid.

Lauren: Adam Fox, New York Rangers — Fox led all defensemen in scoring as of May 3 and amassed 47 points over 51 games. He’s done a lot to help the Rangers be competitive this season. Fox clearly has offensive upside on the blue line and is a complete player.

Logan: Adam Fox, New York Rangers — Hard to believe that Fox was hardly even a distant preseason consideration for the award (bettors, hope you got in on the ground floor). The reason he gets this vote is that he is actually a solid defensive defenseman (like Roman Josi as opposed to John Carlson) in addition to providing offense. He should get some play in an award that is needlessly skewing towards offensive blueliners.

Mike: Adam Fox, New York Rangers — Fox plays a pretty complete game and has been deployed more in the defensive zone this season than his impressive rookie campaign a year ago. Ironically, though, it’s his offense that will win him the Norris. He has made the most of a nearly six-minute increase in ice time per game this season as nearly a point-per-game player on the New York blue line. How, exactly, was he a third-round pick again?

Lauren: Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers — Barkov plays important minutes for a Florida team that’s headed to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Barkov never has won the Selke Trophy, but he’s averaging a point-per-game this season and has helped the Panthers make a playoff push.

Logan: Valeri Nichushkin, Colorado Avalanche — What — a winger? Lock it in, baby. Nichushkin is a defensive stalwart, and while he doesn’t put up points like Patrice Bergeron or Mark Stone, he still had 10 goals and as many assists as of Wednesday, and is a pretty gifted play driver.

Mike: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins — Call it a homer pick, but this award more than any on this list goes beyond the numbers. Seeing every tilt Bergeron plays is a continuous reminder of his 200-foot game. He’s also setting career highs in the relative possession stats while nearly averaging a point per game.

Lauren: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning — Vasilevskiy’s 30-8-1 record and .929 save percentage are enough to turn heads, and it’s no surprise he’s in the running once again as the Lightning look to make it two straight Stanley Cup championships.

This award probably was Tuukka Rask’s to lose until he got hurt and missed a good chunk of time, but there’s no denying what Vasilevskiy has done this season.

Logan: Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders — As I tried to build a case for Vasileviskiy, I kept coming back to Varlamov, so that’s who I’ll go with. He’s played the eighth-most games of any goalie and has the best save percentage (.930) of anyone who’s played more than 22 games. While I usually hate goals against average, his 2.02 mark is second only to Philipp Grubauer for goalies who have played more than 22 games.

This was supposed to be Ilya Sorokin’s season, but Varlamov has been too good. I’ll go with him, but it’s close.

Mike: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning — He’s third in save percentage, fifth in goals against average, third in shutouts and first in goals saved above average. Only Connor Hellebuyck has played more games in net. It’s chalk, but Vasilevskiy is the guy.

Lauren: Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild — There’s really no other case to be made. Kaprizov leads all NHL rookies as of May 5 with 43 points (23 goals) on the season. The Wild also can still clinch the No. 1 seed in the West Division, and if they didn’t have Kaprizov on their roster, that might be a different story.

Logan: Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild — Jason Robertson makes a good case, but what settles it for me is that the Stars give Robertson a ton of offensive zone starts (66.3 percent), compared to Kaprizov (58.7). It’s tough to give it to someone with substantial pro experience back in Russia and is 24 years old, but the Wild came out of nowhere this season and he’s a big reason for their success.

Mike: Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild — The Wild are technically still in the running for the West’s No. 1 seed, and Kaprizov is the main reason. He leads the team in goals and points. He has as many goals as Alex Ovechkin and more than Sidney Crosby. Impressive, no matter how you slice it.

Lauren: Joel Quenneville, Florida Panthers — I really like what Quenneville has done with the Panthers this season and he’s coached them to a playoff spot for just the second time in 20 seasons. It’s hard to believe Quenneville only has won the award once despite coaching the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cup championships, but that should change this year.

Logan: Dean Evason, Minnesota Wild — My close second was Mike Sullivan, but I have to go with Evason because I spent the entire preseason ripping on the Wild, expecting them to be a bad, directionless team. Instead, they became perhaps the most exciting team in the NHL, and might finish first in a division that also includes the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche. A job expertly done.

Mike: Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina Hurricanes — Florida and Tampa Bay are going to the playoffs. Nashville has the inside track to the fourth spot in the Central, over a Dallas team that went to the Stanley Cup Final last year. Carolina’s record against those four teams this year? That would be 22-4-4. Someone deserves credit for that, might as well be Brind’Amour.

Lauren: Don Sweeney, Boston Bruins — I’m solely basing this on the trade-deadline acquisitions that Sweeney pulled off. He was able to trade for Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly, and they’ve all significantly helped the Bruins in the home stretch of the regular season. Not to mention Hall really has revitalized David Krejci and provided him the winger he’s so desperately needed the last few seasons.

Logan: Bill Zito, Florida Panthers — The Panthers had the odds stacked against them right from the beginning with a tough division plus a delayed start to their season. But, somehow, he built a resilient group that became at times the class of the NHL. It seems like he pushed all the right buttons: He kept Keith Yandle and MacKenzie Weegar, and that’s worked out. He stabilized a long porous back end with the Radko Gudas addition, even building solid depth with Markus Nutivaara. Carter Verhaeghe, Anthony Duclair, Alexander Wennberg, Patric Hornqvist, are all forward signings that have panned out.

Mike: Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs — The real answer probably should be Julien BriseBois for finding a loophole that will allow his team to have Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov for the playoffs. But for the sake of this exercise, we’ll go with Dubas. He’s been able to augment the roster and seemingly find a balance of talent and “grit” that Toronto has lacked in recent years, while maneuvering a seemingly tricky cap situation. Toronto feels like a real playoff threat this year.

Thumbnail photo via Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports Images
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