By Chris Nosek
After taking a look at who is favored by everyone else, and a couple longshot candidates, who could win each trophy the question remains as to who is actually set right now to take home the hardware?
Last season, we saw David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin share the Rocket Richard despite both players having games remaining when the season went on pause. If you ask each fanbase, both would say their teams guy would have taken the award singlehandedly had the season played out. This season, both of them have missed some time here in the first few weeks, giving them both a bit of catch-up work to do. Both have been able to do some of the catch-up work they need to do, however right now Auston Matthews has a 2 goal lead over Brock Boeser, Tyler Toffoli, and Connor McDavid, who all sit with a solid 9. Pastrnak having 5 goals in just 4 games, he is certainly on pace to catch Matthews and he’s definitely capable. The difference will come down to the goaltending and defense they each face within their division. In the Scotia North, the best goaltenders that Matthews will face are in Winnipeg and Montreal, while defensively Montreal will provide his biggest opposition. In the MassMutual East, Pastrnak will face Carter Hart as his best opposing netminder, however Philadelphia also boasts a solid defensive unit along with the Islanders and even Washington. While Pastrnak and even a couple others will give Matthews a scare by season’s end, his lead should be enough for him to hold onto this trophy this season.
Ever since they acquired Jaroslav Halak, the Boston Bruins have had one of the top – if not the top – goaltending tandems in the entire league. Last season they finally took home the Jennings after finishing 2nd to Dallas the year before. Coming into the season, their defense was by far their biggest question mark as no one knew if Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, and Kevan Miller would be enough enough to overcome the losses of Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug along the blueline. Vegas certainly has a shot to see their combination of Lehner and Fleury earn the trophy, however their depth at defense has its own questions. Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa Bay will certainly perform very well in most of the games for the defending champions and put up a solid run in a mostly individual effort. However I’m still looking at Boston’s duo to repeat. Until proven otherwise, they are an elite duo and currently sit tied with Colorado, New Jersey, and Dallas behind only Tampa Bay in goals allowed. Boston has proven that this is an area they excel in, and Bruce Cassidy knows both guys so well and how to keep them both fresh so for now I have to pick them to repeat in this area.
Last season, Makar took home the Calder in a bigger win than most people realize. He received 116 first place votes and 54 second place votes while Quinn Hughes, who many thought would take home the award, finished in 2nd with only 53 first place votes and 111 second place votes. This year, I anticipate a much closer final tally of the votes because there will be a lot more names who receive votes. As a Bruins fan, I would love to see Jakub Zboril take home the award, however I can also admit that he will simply not post a 50 point season like Makar did last year. Kirill Kaprizov has been off to a great start for the Minnesota Wild in his first season in the US and aside from being involved in timely goals, he has a total of 9 points, leading all rookies in that department. Pius Suter of Chicago leads rookies with 5 goals scored, has 8 points, and will see plenty of ice time for the Blackhawks as Kirby Dach recovers from wrist surgery to fix a gruesome injury suffered in the World Juniors tournament back in January. While both are very solid candidates, the question remains as to whether either will be able to outperform some of the rookie netminders we have seen thus far this season. Igor Shesterkin was a favorite coming into the season and he’s been playing well, just like Kevin Lankinen in Chicago. While Chicago didn’t enter the season with a clear starter, Lankinen is starting to pull away with the job. It’s the play of Kappo Kahkonen in Minnesota and Vitek Vanecek in Washington who will walk away with this award at this point in the season. Of the two, it would have to go to Vanacek. While 8th in GAA and 6th in SV% among rookie goaltenders, Vanecek took over for Ilya Samsonov when he went on the COVID-19 list and has gone 5-2-2 over his 10 starts. Kahonen may end up with the award at the end of the season since he currently leads rookie goaltenders in both GAA (2.17) and SV% (.933), he will also likely get more playing time than Vanecek through the end of the season as Samsonov should return in the coming weeks for the Capitals. While right now Vanecek takes home the award for me, it is clear this will be a clearly contested race for the rest of the season.
As I mentioned on the show, I was and still am thrilled that Roman Josi was able to take home the Norris last season over John Carlson, as I believe him to be a more complete, all-around defenseman. This renews my belief that despite affections for the offensive defenseman, a player needs to contribute heavily on both ends of the ice to earn the prestigious award. This gives me hope that Charlie McAvoy will be able to get some recognition for what he has been doing for the Bruins on the backline since the departures of Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug. McAvoy will certainly find his name in the running if the Bruins defense is able to keep their level of play for the duration of the season. Alex Pietrangelo will bring his name back into the fold and be a favorite by the end of the year once he comes off the COVID-19 list for Vegas and Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes will definitely keep their names in the mix after their performances last season, but with all that said none of these guys would take away the hardware right now. If it were to be handed out right now, it would have to go to Jeff Petry of the Montreal Canadiens. His 14 points is second among defensemen only to Quinn Hughes, and while he sits at 4th on points per game those ahead of him are Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has only played two games this season and Cale Makar and Victor Hedman, both of whom have played in two fewer games. Petry has also played 42.1% of the short-handed time for Montreal, while Makar has only been on the ice 21.5% of the time that Colorado is killing a penalty. Montreal and Boston have had many great battles to the end and while I think McAvoy will end the season higher in voting than Petry, for now it is Montreal who would be taking home the trophy.
New faces have taken home the Selke in each of the last two seasons, with Ryan O’Reilly and Sean Couturier winning the award, so the question for this season is whether or not that trend will continue. After making fun of Leon Draisaitl for getting a vote as a -7 player with 110 points, this season he has really made a solid case for himself. He and Connor McDavid lead the league with 25 and 27 points respectively and have Edmonton in the 3rd seed of the Scotia North division. Both certainly deserve consideration for this award, however right now the reason I say that Patrice Bergeron would be getting his record 5th Selke Trophy is because of his time on ice while short handed. Where McDavid has spent 2:23 on the ice short-handed, Draisaitl has accumulated 10:59. These numbers pale in comparison to the 27:18 that Bergeron has accumulated this season. Bergeron is still a top defending forward in the league and at this point is lining up his record 5th trophy to prove that.
The MVP, as determined by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, may be tougher to predict than people expect because with that many people voting it can go so many different ways. More often than not, however, it will go to the player who has scored the most points and right now that is Connor McDavid. With 27 points over his 15 games, the only players whose points per game are close – and could push him for this award – are his teammate Leon Draisaitl and Bruin’s winger David Pastrnak. Pastrnak has only played in 5 games, but already has 5 goals with 8 points. If Pastrnak can continue his pace for the rest of the season then he will absolutely be able to make a case to steal this award from McDavid, but until that happens – this is Connor McDavid’s award to lose.
So far, it is quite clear that we will likely miss seeing Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck win the trophy back-to-back for the first time since Martin Brodeur in 2007 & 2008. While it is obvious that he and the Jets have been struggling, among goaltenders with at least 7 starts, he still finds himself in the top 10 in both save percentage and Goals Against Average. Vasilevskiy is certainly an early front runner as he’s gone 7-1-1, has a GAA of 1.88, and a save percentage of .931. He will also be looking at the bulk of the starts for the Lightning over the course of the rest of the season. At this point though, it has to be John Gibson’s award to lose. Yes, he currently sits with a measly 4-4-3 record, however that is due to the team in front of him and certainly not to any part of his own doing. Among netminders with at least 7 starts, Gibson is 8th in the league with a GAA of 2.48 and 5th in save percentage boasting a .918 in that category. So why does he deserve the nod over a guy like Vasilevskiy? Considering that they’re both seeing about 27 shots per game (Vasilevskiy having faced 248 over his 9 starts compared to Gibson’s 305 over his 11 starts), the fact that Gibson has 2 shutouts to Tampa Bay having zero would seem like a miracle when you factor in that the Lightning score an average of 3.6 goals per game which puts them 4th behind Montreal, Toronto, and Dallas (who have only played 5 games), while the Anaheim Ducks sit dead last in the league at an awful 1.85 goals for per game. No goaltender in the league is doing more with less help from their team than John Gibson, but will the voting show that at the end of the year?
To this point in the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs lead the league with 21 points with Philadelphia, Montreal, and Boston all right behind them with 18 points each. Of these four teams, only Boston and Toronto average at least one point 80% of their games and the only other two teams above that mark are the Vegas Golden Knights, who have played in only 9 games and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have played in 10. While the league would hand the trophy to the Toronto Maple Leafs if the season ended today, I have full confidence that despite the current struggles of Robin Lehner and the recent few games missed by Alex Pietrangelo that Vegas will walk away with this by the end of the season.
Finally, the big 25-pound Stanley Cup. Who will be taking that home when it is all said and done this season? Well with the new playoff format, you have to first figure out which team comes out of each of the new divisions. Right now it looks like Boston and Tampa Bay are going to walk out of their divisions fairly easily and the Honda West and Scotia North will take more time to settle. Health will be the single deciding factor between St. Louis, Vegas, and Colorado in the west, and while the Golden Knights overall depth does worry me, I feel like they are still going to be able to overcome it all within the division. They have still been managing to play well and win while Robin Lehner goes through some struggles, and at the same time Alex Pietrangelo is missing time on the COVID-19 list. From the Scotia North, the Maple Leafs have proven time and time again that their biggest deterrent is physicality. While Wayne Simmonds does bring some of that to their game, it doesn’t change the fact that guys like Marner, Mathews, and Tavares get shut down by it. When you also factor in the addition of Jake Allen to keep Carey Price as fresh as possible, the Canadiens should be able to take this division as they have guys who can score too. For me, it will come down to the final matchup and which two of the three are in the finals between Boston, Tampa Bay, and Vegas. All three have their questions and most have been answered. We know how difficult a repeat would be for the Lightning – but they will also have Nikita Kucherov come in for reinforcements when the playoffs begin. The Bruins young defensemen have proven to be up to the task and they have started getting some secondary scoring they have missed for a few seasons now. The Golden Knights have just proven time and time again that they are an elite team. It remains to be seen if Kucherov will be able to be up to playoff speed from the word “go” and just how deep the Golden Knights are on defense. At this point, every team has questions and will have adversity to overcome going forward – to this point, the team that has answered the bell overwhelmingly has been the Boston Bruins. If the showdowns happened today, they would likely take the cup – will we be able to say the same thing in 3 months, we’ll have to wait and see.