2020 NHL Awards (Part 1)

Now that the NHL season is officially over the league has begun announcing the finalists for the regular season awards. Hitting the 100 point mark with a dozen games left before COVID ended the season, the Bruins dominate the early awards conversation picking a few already. The Avalanche lead the way with three nominations in the Western Conference which is natural when you surpass last year’s point total without even finishing the season. In Part 1 we will go through some of the early winners and finalists and to spice things up a little bit I have proposed a challenge to my colleagues to see who can pick the most award winners at the end of the year!

Let’s first start off with the awards that have been handed out:

Presidents’ Trophy – Boston Bruins (44-14-12, 100 pts)
Art Ross Trophy – Leon Draisaitl, F Edmonton Oilers (43G-67A-110P, 1.55PPG)
Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy – David Pastrnak (F Boston Bruins) & Alexander Ovechkin (F Washington Capitals)
William M. Jennings Trophy – Tuukka Rask & Jaroslav Halak (G Boston Bruins)

The Bruins took home a lot of the early hardware, Pastrnak’s Rocket Richard trophy is probably the most surprising of the bunch more so because it has basically sat in Ovechkin’s house for the better part a decade. Including this season Ovechkin has won this award three years running and seven of the past eight so this is a major accomplishment for Pasta, if only he had made it one more pick…. Tuukka and Halak combined for a Goals Against Average a hair under 2.50, giving up 174 goals this season, three ahead of Dallas with a game in hand. No need to get into Leon yet, I’m sure his name will come up once or twice.

Annual award given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL, selected in a Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) poll.
2019 Winner – Elias Pettersson (F Vancouver Canucks)
2020 Finalists – Quinn Hughes (D Vancouver Canucks), Cale Makar (D Colorado Avalanche), Dominik Kubalik (F Chicago Blackhawks)

For anyone looking for a sign of the apocalypse, we have officially entered the Upside Down from 2006. Back then it was a two horse race between two forwards, Crosby and Ovie with Phaneuf getting the throw in nomination. Nothing against Kubalik who put up 30 goals and 46 points, but this is a battle of the defenseman. With that being said, Kubalik is an older rookie (24 yeard old) who took the long road to the NHL, spending five seasons in Europe before finally breaking into the NHL.

Quinn Hughes, the former University of Michigan Wolverine, was the seventh overall by the Canucks in 2018 and is the third canuck in as many years to be nominated for this award (hi Judd Brackett) . Playing all but one game this season, Hughes wasted little time making his mark on the league, leading all rookies in points (53), power play points (25), assists (45), power play assists (22) and puck possession per game (2:31, 3rd in the league).

Cale Makar, another NCAA product out of UMASS Amherst, joined the Avalanche last year for their playoff run, giving fans a quick preview of what to expect for this season. Despite missing 13 games, Makar finished with the highest points per game (0.88) among rookies and still ranks in the top five of most major statistical categories. Makar finished second in assists (38), points (50), even strength points (31), power play points (19) and tied for the lead in game winning goals among rookies with four.

Just like in 2006 we are splitting hairs between Hughes and Makar, both are at the same level with an immense amount of potential ahead of them. At the end of the day, I think that the higher points per game and a more balanced offensive production will be the deciding factors.

Eamon’s choice – Cale Makar

Annual award given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position as voted by the general manager of all NHL clubs.
2019 Winner – Andrei Vasilevskiy (G Tampa Bay Lightning)
2020 Finalists – Connor Hellebuyck (G Winnipeg Jets), Tuukka Rask (G Boston Bruins), Andrei Vasilevskiy (G Tampa Bay Lightning)

Vasilevskiy looks to become the first back to back winner of the Vezina since Martin Brodeur did it in 2006-07 and 07-08. His 2.56 Goals Against Average (GAA) and 0.917 Save Percentage (SV%) ranked second and third respectively among the nominees, but Vasilevskiy is a workhorse goalie leading the league in wins (35) while playing the third most minutes (3122) of any goalie in the league.

Hellebuyck is another workhorse goalie, starting the second most games (56) along with the second most minutes played (3268) but he did make the most saves made (1656) and had the most shut outs (6). He has a similar GAA to Vasilevskiy at 2.57 with a 0.922 SV%. No goalie was asked to more this season than Hellebuyck, after nearly the entire Jets defense core left in the offseason he stepped up and carried the team for most of the season giving the Jets a chance to win every night.

No team has managed their goalies work load over the last couple of season better than the Boston Bruins and Tuukka’s nomination reflects that. Rask had the best numbers by far of any goalie in the NHL, his 2.12 GAA is the best in the league and his 0.929 SV% and five shut outs both rank second. He also had the third best win percentage among goalies but the major detriment to his case for the Vezina is that he only played 41 games trailing the other two nominees by 11 and 15 games played respectively.

Unfortunately there will be no back to back winner this year in my opinion, no goalie gave their team a better chance to win this year than Hellebuyck.

Eamon’s Choice – Connor Hellebuyck

Annual award under the trusteeship of the PHWA and is given to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.
2019 Winner – Robin Lehner (G New York Islanders)
2020 Finalists – Stephen Johns (D Dallas Stars), Oskar Lindblom (F Philadelphia Flyers), Bobby Ryan (F Ottawa Senators)

Stephen Johns is a big bodied, physical stay at home defenseman who was establishing himself on a Stars’ roster that was looking to compete for the Stanley Cup. That was until March 29, 2018 when team doctors forced Johns to sit out the last four games with a concussion he suffered in a game against the Wild, the fourth of his career. Johns would miss the rest of the season and return home for the off season, but spent most of that time suffering from chronic headaches.

The official diagnosis would later be revealed as ‘Post-traumatic headaches’, often mistaken for a concussion, it is a tightening of the muscles in the neck that leads into the brain and causes headaches. This forced Johns’ to miss 22 months of hockey before making his return to the ice this season for the final 17 games of the Stars season. Upon his return Johns talked about his recovery and the strain it put on his mental health, often relying heavily on those around him for support. There is a lot of credit to go around in a situation like this but make no mistake Stephen Johns is fully deserving of the Bill Masterton this year.

Johns after scoring his first goal since coming back from the injury with his parents in the stands

Oskar Lindblom’s journey is probably the most well known of the trio of nominees. In December of this past season Lindblom was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a form of cancer that develops in the bone or in the tissue around the bone. Coming off an impressive 17 goal rookie season, there was a lot of hype around Lindblom, who before the diagnosis had scored 11 goals in 30 games, putting him on pace to score 30 on the seasons let alone 20. Lindblom became an inspiration for the Flyers, and this was never more apparent than the four game winning streak they went on after his first visit back to the say hi to the boys. Fast forward seven months later and #OskarStrong is cancer free after ringing the bell on July 2nd!

Last but certainly not least we have Bobby Ryan, the former second overall pick taken behind Sidney Crosby, stepped away from the game on November 20th to enter the league’s Player Assistance Program. After admittedly hitting rock bottom, Ryan decided it was time to get help for himself, his wife and family. Ryan has been very public about his journey and struggles, talking about his first month as one example, in the hopes that it may encourage others suffering in silence to seek help. I also think that Ryan hits home for a lot of people because he was very quickly written off as his point totals started to drop and this goes to show that you cannot judge a person until walking in their shoes.

The biggest positive coming out of the 2019-20 season for Ottawa

There will be no Eamon’s choice for this one, how do you pick any one of these guys over the others?

Presented to the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success, selected in a poll of the NHLBA members.
2019 Winner – Barry Trotz (New York Islanders)
2020 Finalists – Bruce Cassidy (Boston Bruins), John Tortorella (Blue Jackets), Alain Vigneault (Philadelphia Flyers)

Bruce Cassidy led his team to a presidents trophy this season, leading basically from start to finish. The Bruins led the NHL in every major team statistic except for Goals For (9th), home points (2nd), away points (3rd) and games decided by a shoot out where they finished dead last. This is about the only blemish on his resume this season, the Bruins came into this season as a heavy favourite and they proved it every night with Cassidy leading the charge behind the bench.

You can easily argue that no coach in the NHL did more with less this season than John Tortorella after Columbus lost last season’s their leading scorer and their Vezina winning goaltender. Panarin and Bobrosky’s departures were well documented and this doesn’t include the guys they traded for at the deadline (Duchene and Dzingel) giving draft picks in the process. Torts did a fantastic job developing some of the young talent on the roster with guys like Pierre-Luc Dubois, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Elvis Merzlikins. I will say this about Torts, this award is usually won be a coach whose team made the playoffs and the Blue Jackets were tied for the final playoff spot when the season ended prematurely. While we will never know what could have been, Tortorella definitely got a little bump from the pandemic.

This article’s comedic relief

In his first season with the Flyers, Alain Vigneault led the team to the best single season turnaround in the NHL, finishing with seven more points than last season with 13 games left to be played. Extrapolating this to a full season that is a 24 point increase to go along with some significant progression from their young core players like Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov and Carter Hart. The Flyers lost two of their best young players in Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom yet the team did not miss a beat

This is a difficult decision, all three are deserving and they each did it their own way, there’s who I think will win, and then there is who I would vote for, I think Torts will win, but that’s not who I would give it to.

Eamon’s Choice – Alain Vigneault

Given to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.
2019 Winner – Aleksander Barkov (F Florida Panthers)
2020 Finalists – Nathan MacKinnon (F Colorado Avalanche), Auston Matthews (F Toronto Maple Leafs), Ryan O’Reilly (F Colorado Avalanche)

Nathan MacKinnon has found another gear over the last three season, solidifying himself as one of the top NHL players. MacKinnon was on pace to smash his previous season point totals finishing with 93 points (35G / 58A) in 69 games putting him on pace for 111 points (42G / 69A). MacKinnon has never really been an aggressive player nor had much penalty trouble in his career, but this year he let his play for all the talking finishing with only 12 penalty minutes on the season! This will not be the last time we see this name so we will keep this one short.

Slot is the ‘homeplate’ going from each post to the Face Off dot, to the top of the circle before meeting in the middle.

Using the above stats to segway into our next player, Auston Matthews is a franchise goal scoring center that went first overall to the Leafs in 2016. In his fourth season with the team, Matthews posted career highs in goals (47) and points (80) before the season came to an end, which would have seen him easily surpass 50 goals for the first time. Relating back to the Lady Byng, Matthews also set a career low with only eight (yes single digits) penalty minutes but to be fair his career high is 14, so I think we can officially declare him a gentlemanly player on the ice.

Ryan O’Reilly is a finalist for the third straight season and is hoping that the third times the charm following second place finishes the two previous seasons. The 2013-14 Winner (with Colorado then) has been below 20 penalty minutes in each of his 11 NHL seasons, twice finishing the year with only two minutes total, yes that’s a single penalty in a season. O’Reilly does it all for his team, passing 60 points for the third straight season but also leading the NHL in face-off wins (880) and face-offs taken (1556) making him one of the most complete players in the game.

Eamon’s Choice – Nathan MacKinnon

Formerly the Lester B. Pearson Award, it is presented annually to the most outstanding player in the NHL as voted by fellow members of the NHLPA.
2019 Winner – Nikita Kucherov (F Tampa Bay Lightning)
2020 Finalists – Leon Draisaitl (F Edmonton Oilers), Nathan MacKinnon (F Colorado Avalanche), Artemi Panarin (F New York Rangers)

Anyone who plays on a team with Connor McDavid and dethrones him as the team’s most valuable player is doing something right. Draisaitl was magic in 2019-20, finishing the season with 110 points, 13 ahead of second place (McDavid) putting him on pace for 127 on the season which would’ve included a second 50 goal season in a row. Draistaitl led all forwards in ice time, averaging 22:37 per game, and he used all of that time effectively, finishing the season with 33 multipoint games and points in 56 of 71 games. He has the skill set to be able to make his line mates better and control the pace of play which is why the Oilers were 24-5-2 in games where Leon scored.

Nathan MacKinnon has steadily climbed the ranks of the NHL’s elite of the elite the last couple of seasons. If you need a refreshers on his numbers just jump back up to the Lady Byng analysis directly above this one. MacKinnon was the driving force behind a team that surpassed their point total from last year prior to the season ending which would have projected them for the second largest single season improvement in the league. He had 29 multipoint games and had at least one point in 53 of the Avalanche’s 69 games which was a major factor in the team finishing the season with 42 wins.

Panarin finished the season tied for third in points (with David Pastrnak) at 95 points for a New York Rangers team that is on the cusp of emerging from their very public rebuild. Panarin was a high profile free agent signing this past summer and he led his team in scoring, putting up 28 multipoint games and scoring in 54 of his team’s games. While the merits of the Plus/Minus stat is often debated, Panarin did finish first among forward with a +36 rating. The Ranger’s may have finished 11th in the East, they are a dark horse team to watch in my opinion and Panarin leads by examples, taking charge and leading the offensive attack.

Eamon’s Choice – Leon Draisaitl

That’s all we will talk about for first part, a lot of worthy nominations and some interesting debates to come for the winners. Check back in tomorrow for the second half of our awards analysis and picks, who knows we may even get a little Hot Sauce bet going amongst the writers, if they are willing to challenge me of course!

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