HANDING OUT HARDWARE
Breaking down who should take home the NHL’s biggest individual honors
The NHL hands out more than 15 official individual trophies each season. Some, such as the Art Ross Trophy for the league’s leading scorer, are formalities; the numbers tell us who wins. Others, such as the King Clancy Memorial Trophy (awarded for leadership and humanitarian contribution), are nice ideas but not worth arguing about. But there are four big ones that are always up for debate. Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player) Who’s in the mix: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh; Patrick Kane, Chicago; Joe Thornton, San Jose.
The debate: Thornton isn’t going to win this award, but in terms of sheer value he probably should. When Thornton is on the ice at even strength, the Sharks’ goal differential is plus-39; when he’s not on the ice, it is minus-25.
But this will come down to Kane’s career season vs. Crosby’s crazy second half that has carried the Pens into the Stanley Cup conversation. It’s easy to say Kane has the advantage of playing for a dominant Cup champion; but Chicago has battled injuries all season, and Jonathan Toews has had the worst season of his career. Kane has done the heavy lifting and is the league’s only 100-point scorer, 14 points clear of his closest competitor. Let’s not overthink this. Prediction: Kane, but it’s closer than the scoring race. Norris Trophy (Top Defenseman) Who’s in the mix: Brent Burns, San Jose; Drew Doughty, Los Angeles; Erik Karlsson, Ottawa; Kris Letang, Pittsburgh.
The debate: This one, on the other hand, is one we always overthink. Even if everyone could agree on what we should be looking for — Is it the defenseman who is the best at offense or defense? Or both? — there are several guys who can make a legit case for the award.
Karlsson would normally be a slam dunk. He leads the league in assists and is having the best offensive season by a defenseman this century. While Karlsson is expected to produce offense, Doughty plays the tough minutes against top players, including killing penalties (something Karlsson rarely does). Also, Karlsson has already won the award twice, and many feel Doughty has waited long enough.
The irony is that Letang may the best mix that voters should be looking for: He’s probably the second-best offensive defenseman behind Karlsson, and he’s good enough defensively that his possession numbers relative to his teammates are even better than Doughty’s.
But then that is where the overthinking comes in. Fact is that Karls- son’s numbers in terms of shots generated vs. shots against are better than both Doughty and Letang. Critics can pick apart Karlsson’s play in the defensive zone, but the other team can’t score if they are trapped trying to defend Karlsson in their own end.
Prediction: It feels like Doughty will win, and his game is worthy of the award. But we’d vote for Karlsson. Vezina Trophy (Top Goalie) Who’s in the mix: Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay; Corey Crawford, Chicago; Braden Holtby, Washington; Henrik Lundqvist, N.Y. Rangers.
The debate: Holtby looked like he would run away with this one, but it’s not an easy choice. He could still set the NHL record for wins, and his other numbers are among the league leaders. But he struggled in January and February, letting others into the discussion.
Lundqvist hasn’t always been at his best but is as valuable as ever. Bishop ranks among the top three in goals against average, save percentage and shutouts. Crawford leads the league in shutouts and the Blackhawks have struggled since he got hurt.
Prediction: Holtby. Despite a slump, his overall numbers are still good. If he sets the wins record, it’s a no-brainer. Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year) Who’s in the mix: Jack Eichel, Buffalo; Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia; Connor McDavid, Edmonton; Artemi Panarin, Chicago.
The debate: Panarin probably ended any real debate with back-toback four-point games over the weekend and a three-point game on Tuesday. That gave him 75 points total and 0.96 points per game, pretty close to McDavid’s 1.05 points per game in his 43 games.
While some assume McDavid would have run away with this had he not gotten hurt, it’s a good bet he would have hit a wall and slowed down at some point. It happened to his fellow teenager Eichel, although he is finishing strong while leading rookie forwards in ice time per game. Even Panarin struggled in March despite being five years older.
Gostisbehere, 22, wasn’t called up until November but will get some votes — and rightfully so. While his scoring pace also slowed in March, his points per game are right there with Eichel’s despite being a defenseman, and he has keyed the Flyers’ run to the playoffs.
The Hart Trophy vote may come down to Chicago’s Patrick Kane vs. Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.
John Gworek Athlon Sports Senior Editor @JohnGworek