BY MALCOLM CAMPBELL
On June 22, the best and brightest of the National Hockey League will descend on Las Vegas for the NHL Awards, the seventh consecutive year the event will be held in Sin City.
The nominees for each award have been trickling in since April 27, and each day the finalists for another trophy are released up until May 7.
Many believe the awards are more for the fans and media than the players but these awards factor into contract negotiations in some cases, and help cement a player’s legacy, along with individual statistics and Stanley Cup rings.
Bobby Orr was the best defenseman to play the game because of what he did on the ice and what helps quantify this is the eight consecutive Norris Trophies for best NHL defenseman Orr won from 1967-75. People knew Orr was good while he played, but looking back his awards show how dominant he truly was.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the best players from the NHL’s 2015-2016 season.
Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender)
Nominees- Ben Bishop (Tampa Bay), Braden Holtby (Washington), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles)
If statistics decided the award Ben Bishop would have it in the bag. With a stellar 2.06 Goals Against Average (GAA) and a .926 save percentage, Bishop beats out both his competitors but not by enough to actually seal the deal.
By virtue of his team, Jonathan Quick is a long-shot to win the award. The Los Angeles Kings had the best CorsiFor%(Shot attempts for versus shot attempts against) by a wide margin according to puckalytics.com.
As well as being the best possession team in the league the Kings have Drew Doughty, a nominee for best defenseman in the league. Quick has had a great season, but compared with the other two candidates, his team puts him out of the running.
Braden Holtby is the most interesting case for the Vezina. Holtby tied Martin Brodeur’s single-season win record at 48 this year, as his Washington Capitals took home the President’s Trophy for the second time in franchise history.
While the Caps were the best team in the NHL in terms of points, they were middle of pack when it came to possession so Holtby faced far more shots than Bishop did, although curiously enough Quick actually faced the most shots.
Matt Larkin associate editor at The Hockey News thinks that Holtby will take the award even though he believes Bishop was much more consistent from month-to-month. “His first-half numbers were incredible and he flirted with the single-season wins record,” he said. “That “wow” factor will probably sway the voters.”
PICK: BRADEN HOLTBY (Washington)
Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman)
Nominees- Brent Burns (San Jose), Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), Erik Karlsson (Ottawa)
Everyone is a fan of Brent Burns. The lovable giant dresses up on special occasions, dances before games, and was a die-hard member John Scott’s all-star team. That’s why it is so disappointing that he won’t win the Norris because the debate comes down to Karlsson versus Doughty.
This has been an ongoing discussion all season, and Doughty is the victim of the same fate as his teammate Quick: his play is great but he is surrounded by so many above average players that it makes his achievements less impressive. “Doughty is great but plays with so many good possession players to insulate him, from Anze Kopitar to Jake Muzzin,” said Larkin.
Compounding the issue, Karlsson is in the exact opposite situation, he is a tremendous player swimming in mediocrity. His offensive numbers since entering the league have been eye-popping and this season was no exception.
Scoring 16 goals and 66 points playing in all 82 games, he notched his highest point total in a season (82) and now has three 70+ point seasons in his first seven in the league. “His offensive game is so amazing that the sum of his parts is the best all-round defenseman,” Larkin said. “And from a possession standpoint, he absolutely carried the Ottawa Senators.”
PICK: ERIK KARLSSON (Ottawa)
Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward)
Nominees- Patrice Bergeron (Boston), Ryan Kesler (Anaheim), Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles)
Of all the awards this one is the easiest to predict. With all due respect to Ryan Kesler and Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron has once again demonstrated how valuable an asset he is in his own zone as well as the other end.
This is Bergeron’s fifth consecutive nomination for the award he’s won three times, in 2012, 2014, and 2015. Bergeron finished fourth overall in faceoff percentage, winning 57.1 percent of his draws. Ryan Kesler finished second with a 58.5 percent second only to Jonathan Toews according to sportingcharts.com.
Bergeron is Larkin’s pick for the award. “He’s still the best defensive forward in the game, one of the two or three best of all-time, and he will equal Bob Gainey for the most Selke wins with a fourth,” he said. “Bergeron is still so good on face-offs and his possession numbers are through the roof.”
And Larkin isn’t lying about those possession numbers. All of this year’s nominees have good possession numbers: Kopitar has a 57.4 CorsiFor%, Bergeron’s is 55.9 and Kesler’s 52.9.
Most of the candidates also play on great puck-possession teams though, Los Angeles (56.4CF%) is first in the league, well ahead of second-place Pittsburgh (52.7CF%), and Anaheim (52.5CF%) sits fifth. It is only natural Kopitar and Kesler have high CF% numbers when they play on teams full of smart puck movers, and more importantly, possessors.
“It may bore people to see Bergeron win a fourth Selke in five years,” said Larkin. “But it would be dishonest not to vote for him.” -Matt Larkin
Boston (49.5CF%) is in the bottom half of the league when it comes to team possession and when these player’s performances are measured relative to their team, Bergeron becomes the undeniable winner.
Corsi For per 60 minutes Relative to the Team(CF60RelTm) is a statistic that subtracts the plays of the other four men on the ice from the player in question. Bergeron has a Corsi For per 60 minutes(Positive possession events per 60 minutes of play) of 63.5, and Boston’s Team Corsi For per 60 minutes is 53.1. This means that Bergeron averages 10.4 more positive possession events than his team does in an average 60 minute span. His CF60RelTm is 10.4.
On the other end of the ice the tale is much the same. The Bruins have a Team Corsi Aginst per 60 minutes(TmCA60) of 60.2. Bergeron’s is an even 50, meaning once again that he averages 10.2 less negative possession events in a 60 minute period.
Compare his Relative Team stats with those of Kesler and Kopitar. Kopitar’s CF60RelTm numbers are actually negative at -0.27, meaning his team averages more positive events than he does, while Kesler’s is 2.04.
For either one of these players to have a shot at dethroning Bergeron they would need out of this world defensive stats. Neither get even close to Bergeron’s outlandish CA60RelTm of -10.2(lower numbers are better for this stat) crushes Kopitar (-1.49), and Kesler (0.26)
“It may bore people to see Bergeron win a fourth Selke in five years,” said Larkin. “But it would be dishonest not to vote for him.”
PICK: PATRICE BERGERON (Boston)
Jack Adams (Best Coach)
The nominees for the Jack Adams award won’t be announced until May 6 so this could prove to be an exercise in futility. Larkin believes that few names should pop out. ” I could totally see one of Pete DeBoer, Dave Hakstol and Lindy Ruff winning with teams who went from out of the playoffs to in,” he said.
Two of those coaches (Hakstol and DeBoer) are in their first years with their teams, Philadelphia and San Jose respectively. Lindy Ruff has brought a winner to Dallas, and he’s only in his second year, but Dallas is stacked up front with the likes of Tyer Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Jason Spezza.
“Turnaround stories always win people over.” -Matt Larkin
Mike Sullivan turned the Pittsburgh Penguins around mid-season in what is looking more and more reminiscent of the hiring of Dan Bylsma during the 2008-09 season. Bylsma was promoted from within the organization in the midst of a disappointing season, following a loss in the Stanley Cup Final the previous year to Detroit.
Bylsma came in and the team won the Stanley Cup and Sullivan has the team playing to the same level now, just ask the Washington Capitals.
” I would love to see Mike Sullivan get the award, as he completely transformed the Penguins team identity after he took over,” said Larkin. “He had the Pens playing the best hockey in the NHL in the New Year, even after Evgeni Malkin went down.”
“That said, turnaround stories always win people over,” Larkin said before mentioning one of the best comeback stories in the NHL in a while. The Florida Panthers.
” My top pick to win would probably be Gerard Gallant in Florida.”
Gallant was a coach for his division’s All-Star team as Florida held the best record in the Atlantic Division. He has consistently improved the Panthers record since arriving in June of 2014, and this year may be his year for the Jack Adams. The competition is stiff and it seems like a pretty wide open award right now.
PICK: PETE DEBOER (San Jose)
Hart Trophy (Best Player)
The nominees for the Hart won’t be released until May 7 but narrowing the field to three isn’t all that difficult when number one and two are thought to be shoe-ins for the nomination. ” It’s between [Patrick] Kane and Sidney Crosby,” Larkin said. “Sid led the league in scoring from December 1 onward. He reclaimed the unofficial title as world’s best player.”
And that he did, helping push what looked like a hapless Penguins team into a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference. There is a caveat for Larkin though. “Kane was so good for the whole year that he probably still wins it.”
And once again the stats support Larkin’s view. Crosby finished the year third in points with 85, four back of Jamie Benn, and 21 behind the leader, Kane. Crosby outscored Kane 70-69 in points from December 1, and still finished more than 20 points behind.
Right out of the gate Patrick Kane was making his case for the Hart and the consensus pick for the winner is him.
Alexander Ovechkin, Jamie Benn, and Joe Thornton could all garner some attention for the prize, but Patrick Kane was too good the whole year.
PICK: PATRICK KANE (Chicago)