Half a season. Correction: half a mini-season. That’s 28 games. All but four NHL teams have cleared that mark, so we’re about 50 percent through the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign. You’d think the individual awards races would look pretty wide open after such a small sample size, but a handful of players are enjoying such dominant seasons that they seem to have vice grips on the hardware already.
Who has the inside track to win the Hart Trophy, Norris Trophy, Vezina Trophy, Calder Trophy and Jack Adams Award? Six Hockey News editorial staffers submitted their top three mid-season candidates for each. We tabulated the consensus results awarding three points for a first place vote, two for a second-place vote and one for a third-place vote.
HART TROPHY (Most valuable player)
1. Connor McDavid, Oilers (16 points)
2 Patrick Kane, Blackhawks (13 points)
3. Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs (4 points)
Kane’s incredible offensive performance, lifting a bad-on-paper Blackhawks team that lost its top two centers at the start of the season, captured the THN staff’s imagination and garnered two first-place votes, but McDavid is lapping the field by so much at this point that he can’t be denied. Will he get 100 points in a 56-game season? He’s on track for 98 at the moment. Aside from his teammate Leon Draisaitl, no other NHLer is even within 15 points of McDavid’s total. If he stays healthy, he’ll win a third scoring crown by age 24. The only other players with three Art Ross Trophies by 24: Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. Matthews was right there with McDavid in the Hart race a month ago, having scored 18 goals in his first 18 games, but trying to play through a wrist injury has slowed his production.
Also receiving Hart votes: Brad Marchand, Bruins; Anze Kopitar, Kings; Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs
NORRIS TROPHY (Best defenseman)
1. Victor Hedman, Lightning (18 points)
2. Drew Doughty, Kings (5 points)
3. Jeff Petry, Canadiens (4 points)
A unanimous first-place vote for Hedman. He checks the flashy Norris voter box, producing point-per-game offense and leading all blueliners in points, and when you combine that with everything else Hedman does, you have the most complete D-man in the game. The Bolts have definitive advantages in goals, shots and chances with Hedman on the ice at 5-on-5 despite the fact he locks horns with other teams’ star forwards. His most common opponents faced include Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov. Is Doughty’s resurgence for real after years of declining play? The surface offensive numbers certainly say so, but they’re very much propped up by a bushel of power-play points. Doughty has been a bit more effective overall this season compared to his past few years, but Norris Trophy? No. Nowhere near that level. Petry’s all-around impact on the game has been much more significant. By year’s end, bet on him to finish higher than Doughty in the official vote.
Also receiving Norris votes: Aaron Ekblad, Panthers’, Darnell Nurse, Oilers; Cale Makar, Avalanche; Samuel Girard, Avalanche
VEZINA TROPHY (Best goaltender)
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning (17 points)
2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Golden Knights (12 points)
T-3. Philipp Grubauer, Avalanche (2 points)
T-3. Mike Smith, Oilers (2 points)
T-3 Semyon Varlamov, Islanders (2 points)
Vasilevskiy ranks between first and third in the NHL in wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts. Digging deeper into his numbers, is he the beneficiary of playing for such a great team? Not as much as one might think. He’s in the top half of the league in expected goals against per 60 at 5-on-5. He sees the eighth-most high-danger shots against per 60 minutes among netminders who have logged at least 500 minutes. So his workload grades out as reasonably challenging. Yet he still leads the NHL in goals saved above average per 60 minutes. In previous seasons, Vasilevskiy’s advanced metrics lagged behind his surface numbers, but not this time. He’s having the best season of his career. So is Fleury, who leads the NHL in shutouts and has the third-highest GSAA/60 among goalies with at least 1,000 minutes. Grubauer’s numbers have sparkled, but his workload grades out as the league’s easiest. No goalie faces fewer shots per 60 minutes.
Also receiving Vezina votes: Kevin Lankinen, Blackhawks
CALDER TROPHY (Best rookie)
1. Kirill Kaprizov, Wild (18 points)
2. Kevin Lankinen, Blackhawks (8 points)
3. Kaapo Kahkonen, Wild (5 points)
Kirill the Thrill! Another unanimous winner. Many of us picked Kaprizov to win the Calder before the season started given he was a mature rookie at 23, having smashed a bunch of KHL scoring records relative to his age. He’s totally lived up to his billing, leading a surprisingly competitive Wild squad. His own teammate, goalie Kahkonen, has been a revelation in net as well. Lankinen has cooled after a sizzling start, but his body of work overall has been astounding in Chicago given how poorly the team has played defensively. Lankinen ranks near the top of the league in shots and high-danger shots faced per 60.
Also receiving Calder votes: Tim Stutzle, Senators; Vitek Vanecek, Capitals
JACK ADAMS AWARD (Coach of the Year)
1. Barry Trotz, Islanders (10 points)
2. Joel Quenneville, Panthers (8 points)
3. Jeremy Colliton, Blackhawks (5 points)
The Islanders made no significant roster additions. They lost a key cog in RFA Devon Toews because the flat salary cap only left enough money to sign Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock. They entered an unbelievably vicious divisional realignment in which two of the Isles, Capitals, Penguins, Flyers, Bruins and Rangers were guaranteed to miss the playoffs. After 31 games, the Isles have the NHL’s fifth-highest points percentage. They’re once again smothering opponents with a bend-but-don’t-break defensive scheme that allows a decent amount of shot attempts but prevents many of the pucks from reaching the net. The Isles sit middle of the pack in shot attempts allowed per 60 at 5-on-5 yet allow the fifth-fewest shots on goal per 60, the sixth-fewest scoring chances per 60 and the third-fewest high-danger chances per 60. No team is more influenced by its coaching than the Isles. That doesn’t mean Trotz will win a third Jack Adams when the broadcasters vote on the award after the season, however. The award often goes to a bench boss who leads a major turnaround, so Quenneville may be the real frontrunner.
Also receiving Jack Adams votes: Rod Brind’Amour, Hurricanes; Dean Evason, Wild; Jon Cooper, Lightning; Pete DeBoer, Golden Knights; Mike Sullivan, Penguins