Sports fans spent about four months occupying their worst possible nightmare but the past couple of weeks have served as one of those alarms that use birds chirping and the pleasant babbling of a brook to ease you back into reality as we inch closer and closer to the dawn of new day.
Based on the adjustments that needed to be made in order to make sports a thing again, you’ll probably initially feel as disoriented and confused as you typically do after one of those nights where you get blackout drunk at a buddy’s place and pass out on a couch you swear you’ve never seen before until everything clicks 15 seconds after you wake up.
That day has almost arrived, as the Major League Baseball season is basically here and we’re about a week away from the NBA and NHL hitting the play button after the DVD logo spent far too long bouncing around the screen. Will everything go off without a hitch? Who the hell knows?! Sports got knocked down and then got up again, but regardless of what happens next, we can take solace in knowing Chumbawamba’s Law states they’ll never be completely kept down.
Being deprived of hockey for as long as we were was pretty damn miserable but the NHL is doing what it can to make up for lost time. We may not have gotten to experience March Madness this year but the league is providing fans with a pretty solid alternative in the form of a week of almost nonstop action that will begin when the puck drops to start the qualifying round on August 1st.
The NHL pulled such a Popular Girl Move by opting not to invite seven of the league’s lowliest teams to join everyone else in Canada, and by doing so, it brought a decidedly irregular regular season to an official close after approximately 70 games. The league had initially planned to hold its annual awards ceremony in Las Vegas on June 20th before the world went to hell, and while we don’t know when the rescheduled event will take place, we do know who’ll be vying to take home the hardware now that the nominees have been announced.
I’ll take all the hockey-related news I can get right now, so I figured I might as well take a stab at guessing who’ll find a trophy in their hands (or shipped to their house after learning they’ve won on a Zoom call) at the end of the night.
Hart Memorial Trophy
- Leon Draisaitl
- Nathan MacKinnon
- Artemi Panarin
Zach’s Pick: Artemi Panarin
The Hart Trophy is given to the league’s most valuable player as voted on by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. This year’s race is a very tight one but I think you have to ultimately give the advantage to Panarin.
His fellow nominees earned that distinction for a reason, as Draisaitl led the league in scoring with 110 points and was the only player who was able to crack the century mark this year. He did have the luxury of spending a fair amount of time on the same wing as Connor McDavid but you still have to give him credit for being an absolute weapon on offense.
Nathan Mackinnon, on the other hand, is probably the most complete player out of the three. He finished fifth in the league in scoring with 93 points (43 more than any of his teammates) and was a major reason why the Avalanche finished second in the Western Conference. I’ve seen him play in person several times, which really makes you appreciate the insane combination of speed, skill, and strength he brings to the ice.
Part of the reason Panarin manages to edge those guys out was because he was probably the most entertaining player to watch this season. That might not be something you can quantify but there are plenty of other things that you can that highlight why he’s worthy, as he tallied a career-high 95 points and outmatched every other forward by recording an impressive plus/minus of +36.
He also channeled his inner Darren Sharper by putting the Rangers on his back this season and helped them secure a solid 37-28-5 record to outdo the admittedly low expectations that were set for them heading to into the year. At the end of the day, the Hart is reserved for the player who provides the most value to his team and the instrumental role Panarin played is why he deserves more than anyone else.
Ted Lindsay Award
- Leon Draisaitl
- Nathan MacKinnon
- Artemi Panarin
Zach’s Pick: Toss Up
I wasn’t really sure how to approach the video issue for this one so please enjoy the official theme song of the Hartford Whalers instead.
Anyway, the Ted Lindsay Award is given to “the most outstanding player in the NHL” as voted on by members of the NHL Players Association and you may recognize these finalist from the only other trophy we’ve discussed so far.
I already gave you the details on these guys, and I think it’s pretty much a toss-up. If you look at the results of this year’s NHLPA player’s poll, Mackinnon seems to be pretty popular among his peers but I’m going to learn from recent history here and avoid declaring a winner until all of the votes have been counted.
Calder Memorial Trophy
- Quinn Hughes
- Cale Makar
- Dominik Kubalik
Zach’s Pick: Quinn Hughes
The Calder Trophy is awarded to the league’s best rookie and all of these youngbloods did a solid job announcing their arrival. Kubalik had an impressive season for a left-winger that saw him tally 46 points in 68 games, but unfortunately for him, the two defensemen he’s up against exists on another level entirely.
Hughes posted 53 points through 68 games compared to Makar’s 50 points in the 57 contests where he made an appearance. It’s a really close race but I ultimately have to give the edge to Hughes. He possesses some particularly impressive speed and a skill set that earned him the distinction of being the brightest spot on a decidedly lackluster Canucks team.
Makar, on the other hand, shares a roster with a guy by the name of Nathan Mackinnon, who you should be familiar with by now. That obviously doesn’t take away from his talent, and in an ideal world, optics like that wouldn’t be taken into consideration. Unfortunately for Cale, the world is anything but ideal.
Jack Adams Award
- Bruce Cassidy
- John Tortorella
- Alain Vigneault
Zach’s Pick: John Tortorella
This one goes to the coach who “has contributed the most to his team’s success” and this was a no-brainer to a point where I don’t even remember typing Tortorella’s name. This particular selection was so natural that I’m surprised creationists didn’t suddenly appear to protest it.
Cassidy and Vigneault are both lucky to have a ton of talent to work with but that luxury is actually a detriment when it comes to this particular situation. They wouldn’t be here in the first place if it wasn’t for their team’s phenomenal performance, but at the same time, they earned finalist honors because they managed to surpass expectations that were pretty damn high to start with.
The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, were widely expected to be about as underwhelming and inconsequential as the city they call home. However, Tortorella’s fiery leadership helped his team finish with a 33-15-22 record, and if he doesn’t win a Jack Adams for his efforts, they might as well just stop giving them out after this year.
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy
- Stephen Johns
- Oskar Lindblom
- Bobby Ryan
Zach’s Pick: Bobby Ryan
There are tons of different intangibles that can be taken into consideration when trying to pick the most likely winner of every other award on this list but it ultimately all comes down to stats and data. However, until science figures out how to quantify the “perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey” that the Masterson Trophy honors, this one’s always going to be kind of a crapshoot.
All of these guys have experienced some pretty major trauma recently, and to be honest, it’s kind of screwed up that we’re pitting all of them against each other so we can hand out what essentially amounts to a consolation prize to whoever people decided got kicked in the balls by life the hardest.
Johns spent almost two full years recovering from post-traumatic headaches before making his grand return to the NHL in February. Lindblom was leading the Flyers in goals in December but sat out the remainder of the season after he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma (he’s completed treatment and is already skating around with his teammates as he prepares to make a comeback of his own).
However, I’m ultimately giving Ryan the W here because his life story is absolutely wild. He’s dealt with a ton of adversity and back in November, he decided to confront his issues with alcohol by stepping away from hockey for three months to get help. He rejoined the Senators in February and did so with a bang by netting a hat trick in his first game back.
You couldn’t dream up a more perfect ending to the movie based on his life that’s definitely going to get made at some point if you tried.
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
- Nathan MacKinnon
- Auston Matthews
- Ryan O’Reilly
Zach’s Pick: Ryan O’Reilly
The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy is awarded to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability,” and you’d be hard-pressed to find a trophy with a less succinct set of criteria.
All three of these players are fantastic on-ice performers, which doesn’t really help us here. I’m just going to do this by process of elimination, as Mackinnon has a pretty feisty persona on the ice and Matthews doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to behaving off of it.
Cool. O’Reilly it is.
- Connor Hellebuyck
- Tuukka Rask
- Andrei Vasilevskiy
Zach’s Pick: Tuukka Rask
Full disclosure: I’m a Bruins fan but I truly think Rask is objectively the most deserving candidate for the Vezina this year. Hellebuyck and Vasilevskiy had outstanding seasons, but Rask’s dominance was on another level.
The man they call “Tuuuuuuuuk” led the league in 5-on-5 save percentage (.941) in addition to goals saved above average (19.69). The fact that he has Boston’s elite defense in front of him surely benefits his performance but there’s no denying that Tuukka was feeling himself all year.
If he can get himself a championship and finish out his career with the same consistency, he’ll be in the conversation as one of the all-time great netminders.
James Norris Memorial Trophy
- John Carlson
- Victor Hedman
- Roman Josi
Zach’s Pick: John Carlson
Which of these defensemen is the one “who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position?” Wel,, Hedman is an absolute beast defensively and Josi has consistently been one of the league’s top offensive-defensemen, but this year, Carlson put on an absolute clinic.
In addition to being rock solid when his team didn’t have the puck, he frequently managed to capitalize when they did, as he put up 75 points in 69 games. That’s the fifth-highest total for a defenseman in the past decade—and that’s before you take the shortened season into account.
Thanks for playing, Victor and Roman. You tried.
Frank J. Selke Trophy
- Patrice Bergeron
- Sean Couturier
- Ryan O’Reilly
Zach’s Pick: Patrice Bergeron
Yes, I know that my Bruins bias is showing again but I’m still going to make the case that Bergeron should win his fifth Selke Trophy, which is bestowed upon “the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.”
Couturier has been great for the Flyers for years now and I think he hasn’t gotten as much attention as he deserves because he’s been in the shadow of his superstar teammate Claude Giroux. O’Reilly is also an elite center who puts up great offensive numbers along with outstanding defensive performance.
However, Bergeron is 34 years old and this is the ninth season in a row he’s been a Selke finalist. During this year’s abbreviated campaign, he recorded 56 points, a 57.8% faceoff percentage, and a plus/minus of +23. There are advanced stats that I don’t understand that would tell you exactly how good he is on defense but all I need to do is watch him showcase his backchecking ability and defensive awareness to know he deserves this.