- Tampa Bay’s stars were a flop in the playoffs but they dominated the 2018-19 regular season
- It’s tough to bet against the oddsmakers’ favorites
- Can late bloomer Mark Giordano win the Norris?
Once the Stanley Cup Finals are over, fans can turn their attention toward other matters. Up until June 19, hockey gamblers can lay some money down on who will win the NHL’s postseason awards.
Below are the finalists for the major postseason honors, which will be announced at the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas. I’ve outlined the best values on the board, but remember these are for regular season performance and the votes were cast by different groups of individuals before the playoffs began.
Hart Trophy (NHL MVP)
Hart Trophy Nominees by the Numbers
- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins, 35 goals, 65 assists, 100 points, +18
- Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning, 41 goals, 87 assists, 128 points, +24
- Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers, 41 goals, 75 assists, 116 points, +3
The NHL’s top individual honor goes to the player who is judged to be the most valuable to his team, not necessarily the most valuable player in the league. Kucherov won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer, topping second-place McDavid by 12 points. Tampa Bay’s right winger set career highs in goals, assists and points while helping the Lightning to the NHL’s best record.
While the Lightning had an abundance of offensive firepower that included Steven Stamkos (98 points) and Brayden Point (92 points), Kucherov was clearly the best player on the league’s best team.
Although McDavid was the best player on one of the worst teams, he amazingly scored or assisted on half of his team’s goals. By comparison, Kucherov contributed to 39 percent of the Lightning’s goals, and Crosby played a role in 37 percent of Pittsburgh’s scoring. McDavid was his team’s MVP, but he’ll be weighed down by the Oilers’ inability to make the playoffs while finishing 25th overall.
A down year for the Penguins, who barely finished above the Eastern Conference wild-card teams, won’t help Crosby’s cause. The two-time Hart Trophy winner again showed why he’s one of the world’s best players, but it wasn’t enough to lift his team to meet or exceed expectations.
Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman)
Norris Trophy Nominees by the Numbers
- Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks, 16 goals, 67 assists, 83 points, +13
- Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames, 17 goals, 57 assists, 74 points, +39
- Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning, 12 goals, 42 assists, 54 points, +24
Predicting the winner of the Norris Trophy can be difficult because of the different sets of standards by voters. Do they make their selections mainly based on points production or do they look for a more multi-dimensional player?
Hedman is the defending Norris winner, but he scored five fewer goals and nine fewer points than the previous season. He finished 11th in scoring among defensemen while helping the powerful Lightning to the league’s regular-season title.
Although Burns had 13 fewer goals than his Norris-winning season in 2016-17, he had 20 more assists and 13 more points to set a career high and lead all NHL defensemen this campaign. Burns also was a workhorse for the Sharks, averaging a little more than 25 minutes per game to rank first among these finalists and seventh overall among defensemen.
Giordano is the oddsmakers’ favorite and is the front-runner to win the award for the first time after a sensational, all-around season that included four short-handed goals. The 35-year-old finished second in scoring by defensemen, led the league in plus-minus and helped Calgary finish first in the Western Conference, six points ahead of second-place San Jose.
Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie)
Vezina Nominees by the Numbers
- Ben Bishop, 27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 save percentage, 7 shutouts
- Robin Lehner, 25-13-5, 2.13 GAA, .930 save percentage, 6 shutouts
- Andrei Vasilevskiy, 39-10-4, 2.40 GAA, .925 save percentage, 6 shutouts
Like the Hart and Norris competitions, another key Lightning player is a favorite to capture the Vezina. Vasilevskiy led the league with 39 victories and was in the top 10 in goals-against average and save percentage.
Bishop, however, led the NHL in save percentage and was second to St. Louis’ Jordan Binnington (1.89) in goals-against average among goalies with at least 30 games. Lehner was right behind Bishop in both categories.
Vasilevskiy played 53 games compared with his fellow finalists who appeared in 46 games apiece. That bigger workload put him in 10th in total saves and shots faced, significantly more than Bishop and Lehner and proving he was a factor in the Lightning’s success and not just a beneficiary of playing behind a strong lineup.
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year)
Calder Nominees by the Numbers
- Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues, 24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 save percentage, 5 shutouts
- Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres, 9 goals, 35 assists, 44 points, -13
- Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks, 28 goals, 38 assists, 66 points, +3
Having a forward, defenseman and goaltender represented provides some nice variety, but it makes for difficult comparisons.
The race for the rookie of the year award should be a tap-in for Pettersson, who instantly carried the Canucks with his skills and smarts while frequently making the nightly highlights. I say “should” because his point production declined late in the season and voters outside of the Pacific Division and Western Conference might not have been exposed to the 20-year-old Swede’s magnificent exploits.
Pettersson ran away with the rookie scoring race to finish 11 points ahead of second-place Brady Tkachuk of the Ottawa Senators. As a blueliner, Dahlen makes a good case for himself with just a point back of Tkachuk in third. Dahlen, 19, also finished fourth in team scoring and played all 82 games.
Jordan Binnington, 25, received a ringing endorsement from Don Cherry (although he doesn’t get a vote) and was a big reason for the Blues’ turnaround from last in the league in January to third place in the Central Division, but he played only 32 games after his midseason call-up and has the benefit of having played five-plus professional seasons in the minor leagues.
Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year)
Jack Adams Nominees by the Numbers
- Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues, 38-19-6, third place in Central Division
- Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning, 62-16-4, first place in Atlantic Division and first overall in NHL
- Barry Trotz, New York Islanders, 48-27-7, second place in Metropolitan Division
Each coach deserves high praise for fantastic results this past season, making this category the best likelihood of a surprise. Berube became interim coach in Game No. 20 after Mike Yeo was fired and led the Blues’ incredible turnaround from last overall to the playoffs. Trotz took the Islanders from 22nd overall to fifth and a 23-point improvement. And Cooper is the betting favorite after steering the Lightning to an NHL-record tying 62 victories.
The broadcasters who vote for this can’t deny what a fantastic coaching job Trotz did mere months after leading the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup. Trotz transformed the Islanders from the worst defensive team (296 goals against) to the best (196 goals against), and he did it after the Islanders lost their best player (John Tavares) to free agency. For my money, Trotz was the coach of the year but this one should be close.