Keeping in the spirit of last week’s report cards, I figured right now would be a great time to look back on the first half of the season and appreciate the performances we’ve gotten from players this year.
But, this one isn’t going to be solely Leafs focused. In fact, there’s a good chance there won’t be any Leafs mentioned in this article, but it’s not the worst idea to see what is happening elsewhere in the league too, especially as playoff time gets closer.
I’ll be focusing on the major individual awards (I don’t really want to pick the winner of the Mark Messier Leadership Award if I’m being honest), and I’m only going to give my winner as opposed to a full ballot, although I may mention a few other names in there who were close.
Anyways, let’s get started.
Auston Matthews made it a slightly interesting conversation to start the season, and Patrick Kane will probably get some votes because he got a lot of points on a bad team, but McDavid is the only obvious winner here. He’s on pace to hit 99 points this season, and if he hits that 100 point mark he’ll be just the second player to hit that mark while playing less than 60 games in a season (the other is a guy named Mario Lemieux). He’s also drastically improved his defensive game, going from one of the worst players at preventing scoring chances to being one of the better players at it without sacrificing his offensive talent.
His impact on the Oilers is pretty significant as well, and is a big reason why they’re a playoff team. He leads the team with 56.26% of the shot attempt share and is second behind Leon Draisaitl with 61.24% of the expected goals when he’s on the ice, numbers that drop to 46.09% and 45.62% for the Oilers when he isn’t on the ice. Of course, Draisaitl is one of the biggest reasons why McDavid might not get it, because “he can’t be that valuable if they have another Hart trophy winner on the team”. However, Draisaitl’s impact on the Oilers is slightly overrated by fans and media, as Draisaitl finds himself with 47.1% of the shot share and 45.76% of the expected goals on the ice when he isn’t with McDavid, and he also has a nine point lead on him in the scoring race.
Look, you could galaxy brain the choice like last season or in 2017-18 with Taylor Hall, or you can just give it to the best player in the league.
Every stat that I primarily use to evaluate goalies all made this a very easy decision, and that’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. Among goalies with 350 5v5 Fenwick attempts against, he ranks second in 5v5 save percentage, first in delta fenwick save percentage, first in goals saved above expected, and first in goals above replacement. Usually playing behind a dominant Tampa Bay Lightning team has hurt his numbers on the analytical front, but this year he’s still performing above expectations, and is a big reason why they’re so good this year without their best player.
This one is a pretty obvious choice. Kaprizov joined the Minnesota Wild this season and made an instant impact on the team, becoming their most high octane player and making spectacular plays seemingly every time he steps on the ice. His underlying numbers aren’t quite there yet, but how many players are when they were rookies. First in points, tied for first in goals, and only one point behind Ty Smith makes it a pretty easy conversation for him to lead the way. He’s turned the Wild into an entertaining team, and has given them a dynamic scorer that they’ve been lacking for almost their entire franchise, especially since Marian Gaborik.
Probably the biggest surprise among my award selections, but also not even that much of a stretch. Fox was an analytics darling in his rookie year, and while he didn’t get the attention that Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes got, he has been every bit as good at both ends of the ice, and being third in the league in points might help him get a bit more attention in that regard. He has the best defensive impact among the top defensive scorers by a solid margin, and has had a massive impact for the Rangers, as he has 51.88% of the shot share (third on the team) and 58.09% of the expected goals (second) when he’s on the ice, numbers that drop to 45.89% and 45.99% when he’s off the ice.
This goes against the awards traditions of “picking the coach of the team that we thought would be bad but actually played well”, but Trotz is probably the easy pick. Despite dealing with a GM that locks up depth players to too much term and too much salary, that not only results in him getting basically nothing, but also losing some of the actual talent he has on his team (as seen with Devon Toews going to Colorado), Trotz has kept the Islanders in their winning ways. The biggest difference between this year and past years is that the Islanders actually have the numbers to back it up this year, as they are the third best team in 5v5 expected goals for %, and the fourth best team at preventing expected goals against. They’re a defensive stalwart, and a lot of that is credit to Barry Trotz system.
After years of getting too much hype for this award in spite of underwhelming defensive numbers, Barkov is finally putting up numbers actually worthy of a Selke trophy, and he’s played a huge role in the Florida Panthers resurgence this season. Among players with at least 500 minutes of ice time this season (and 400 minutes of 5v5 ice time), he’s fifth amongst forwards in defensive goals above replacement, and his regularized adjusted plus minus stats see him third at preventing expected goals and fourth at preventing shot attempts. I know the media likes their defensive centers putting up points to win the Selke, and Barkov’s done that as well, ranking 11th in the league among forwards with 13 goals and 37 points. He’s a threat at both ends of the ice, and while he’s always got the recognition for it, he finally actually deserves it.
All boxcar stats courtesy of NHL.com.
All corsi, expected goals, and WOWY stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
All RAPM, GAR, and goalie stats courtesy of Evolving Hockey.