The Professional Hockey Writers Association, NHL Broadcasters Association and the NHL’s general managers have all shipped off their ballots this week for their respective NHL Awards voting.
As a PHWA member, it’s an honor to have a vote. I respect the dissenting opinions from some corners of the journalism world that writers having influence over contractual bonuses for players who win awards does blur the line a bit. I disagree with it, but I respect it.
I think having an independent panel voting for these awards elevates them from being an extension of the NHL’s marketing department. Having been a voter for several awards cycles, I’ve been impressed with how seriously most PHWA members take this task. (I think social media and analytics have both been influential to that end, keeping us honest and giving us added insight into the various candidates.) It’s been a real treat to see the Selke Trophy, for example, be awarded for more than plus/minus and faceoff percentage.
Is it embarrassing to look at the vote totals after the awards and see a few cast in lazy ignorance or homerism? Totally. But ultimately, the PHWA gets the finalists and the winners right. Most of the time. And even when we don’t, there’s at least an argument to be made for the winner.
The PWHA has asked members not to post their full ballots before the ceremony in June, out of fear that really smart hockey bloggers who may or may not have been employed at one time by an NHL team might piece together the winners weeks before they’re announced.
So I’ll take my cue from PWHA elder Scott Burnside and present my top three for each award and “how I think things might shake out” at the awards in Vegas.
The winners are my choices. The finalists are in alphabetical order. Keep in mind all awards and PHWA voted unless noted, and that our ballots include the top five for each award.
And here … we … go.
I’ve never understood the allergy some voters have for putting goalies in the Hart conversation. Sometimes it’s “they have their own award” and sometimes it’s “well, a goalie should win the Hart every year if that’s the case,” as if that’s somehow a bad thing and/or something that could be easily corrected with a change in the award’s language to “skaters only.”
But Bobrovsky was superb during the Jackets’ streak and he was superb when the bloom came off their rose. He played a career-best 63 games, and he’s probably going to win the Vezina and give John Tortorella the Jack Adams.
That said, this comes down to Crosby vs. McDavid, and it’s always been no contest for me.
The Oilers are a playoff team because McDavid played a full season and won the Art Ross while doing everything he could to drag the team along. And if this is where you tell me that Cam Talbot deserves the credit for the Oilers’ success, then I’ll respectfully ask how Crosby can have impacted the Penguins to the extent McDavid did the Oilers with Evgeni Malkin finishing third in the NHL in points per game, having played 7 minutes and 44 seconds with Crosby this season.
Congrats, Connor, on the first of many.
Winner: Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
Off My Ballot: Kevin Shattenkirk, Washington Capitals
I tried, folks.
I really did.
Tried to find a reason not to go along with the yearlong coronation of Burns by the Canadian media, like that idiocy with Drew Doughty last season. Tried to make the case for Karlsson. Tried to make the case for Hedman – hell, I’d been going around saying he’s my winner for weeks.
Then I sat down, crunched the numbers and … wow, what a season.
But when you get down to it, no one was better than Burns as a defenseman in 2016-17. His offensive season, in terms of goals and shots, hasn’t been seen in 25 years. From a possession standpoint, he had a 14.77 Corsi-for relative to his teammates (per 60), which was best in the NHL for all skaters.
While Hedman falls just short – props for his season away from Anton Stralman, proving once and for all he’s not just a product of that pairing – I know there are analytical arguments to be made for Karlsson. Some of his metrics were affected by a changing role this season, and there’s something laudable about his sudden shot-blocking prowess. (His 59 takeaways were six better than Burns, and Burns led the NHL with 153 giveaways.)
I’d have no problem if Karlsson won, but I do have a problem with the undercurrent of support for him that wants atone for the times he didn’t win but should have.
That’s dumb. That’s how you end up with Al Pacino winning an Oscar for “Scent of a Woman.” It’s as insidious a motivation as Burns being preordained to win back in September 2016.
The more you dig into the numbers, the more impressed you are with Burns’s season. Karlsson, in the end, is the better defenseman, and we suspect will be remembered as such in 20 years. But this is a special season for Burns, and the award simply covers this season.
This isn’t a lifetime achievement award. Well, except if you’re Drew Doughty.
Finalists: Bobrovsky; Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild; Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
This is the general managers’ award, so these are just my finalists if I had a vote.
Bob wins, in a walk. I suspect Dubnyk made a strong enough impression before his season fell apart. Holtby had a better season than Carey Price, but I assume the GMs will still give that final spot to Price, which is a mistake. All in all, I wish there was a way Cam Talbot could snag that third nomination, given his Herculean goaltending performance for the Oilers.
Winner: Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Finalists: Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets; Matthews; Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets.
Off My Ballot: Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
I love Laine, but he had to win a significant offensive category to even make this a debate. Matthews hit 40 goals and 29 assists and 69 (nice) points to lead the NHL’s rookies. Laine barely won the points-per-game argument, too. Matthews always had the intangibles in his favor, and now he has the hard numbers too, so it’s done.
Werenski over Matt Murray, by the way, because 49 starts isn’t a high enough workrate from the Penguins goalie in comparison to previous Calder-winning goalies like Steve Mason (61) and Andrew Raycroft (57).
Jack Adams Award
Winner: Mike Babcock, Toronto Maple Leafs
Finalists: Babcock; Bruce Boudreau, Minnesota Wild; John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets
The broadcasters vote this award on, and so these are just how I would have voted.
Babcock winning here isn’t a lifetime achievement award, although one could see it that way. Unlike the other two, he didn’t have the benefit of Vezina-caliber goaltending for most of the year. He did some of the best coaching of his career in working with a rookie core, turning Nazem Kadri into a Selke contender, papering over some lackluster defenders and the like. If he wins, it’s for this season, even if this should be, like, his third Jack.
Boudreau’s influence on Minnesota’s offense was demonstrable and ridiculous. And while no one will ever accuse me of being a John Tortorella guy – and as much as his team’s success was a product of his goaltender – there’s no denying his impact on and off the ice.
Lady Byng Trophy
Winner: Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Finalists: Gaudreau; Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks; Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers.
Off My Ballot: Who cares?
Johnny’s a sweet boy. Oscar played defense and never took penalties. Hossa’s a kind gentlemen.
So in summary, the writers should cede this award to the NHL Officials Association, who are the ones best qualified to choose which players are the most gentlemanly.
But if you wanted an award on which players are the biggest [expletives], the writers are here for you. We’re experts.
Winner: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Finalists: Bergeron; Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild; John Tavares, New York Islanders
Off My Ballot: Ryan Kesler, Anaheim Ducks
Tavares is one of those candidates I’m really pulling for, because he had an absolutely outstanding season defensively. Plus, you know, with the Islanders these days, I just want to bring him some semblance of joy.
But Bergeron, even in what some are considering a down year, is so far and away the best defensive forward in hockey this season to suggest otherwise is blasphemy. The man has earned his Lidstrom-like run with this award.
Who are your award winners and finalists? Hit us up in the comments.
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