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A cynic’s guide to the NHL Awards

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It’s showbiz, baby.

2017 NHL Awards - Media Availability
Throwback to this early look at Auston’s “your question is stupid” face.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Every year the NHL hands out its awards in Las Vegas. And while there’s a team in Vegas now that plays very good hockey and has one of the best players in the league in only its second year of existence, you’re supposed to remember that Vegas is a showbiz town, and you’re meant to realize that the awards are showbiz awards.

Mika Okänd, the obscure but talented young player you’re fond of, is not going to win an award. Not unless he’s got a really good sob story going on in his life and can take the Masterton.

This is a cynical view, and you can, if it pleases you, construct an imaginary world where things are fair and just and awards are given out by right-thinking people on the basis of merit. I’m just not biologically inclined to believe in that sort of imaginary world. I’m going to cynically talk about the NHL Awards, which I enjoy a little as showbiz, but can’t pretend is some ranking of true merit.

Most of these awards are voted on by hockey journalists who are under no obligation to intellectualize hockey in the way that pleases me or you or anyone else. If you sit and think about it for a minute, new media notwithstanding, there is a heavy imbalance in the number of journalists between American and Canadian, new markets and old, small cities and metropolises like Toronto. The end result is, of course, a total lack of appreciation for players on western teams, particularly bad western teams. I sure don’t know if the Coyotes have anyone who is good this year.

To deal with their inability to know every player in the league while working full time on a journalism job, some voters use some identifiable tricks to pick who to vote for. Now that the votes are public, we can also see that some voters are just homers, or are really tuned out of any part of the league but their own niche. That’s fine, that gets washed out in the flood of super-fantastically informed Toronto media. The award winners are almost never big surprises, which should reinforce that whole showbiz thing for the viewers.

The awards show is an imposition on the players’ vacation at a time when they want to relax. The chance to see old friends, wear a flashy suit, and go to bed sober and chastely at 10 p.m. in Vegas doesn’t make up for that. A just reward for a season played hard and well is to be left to your own devices in the nearest fountain. There is only one trophy anyone really wants. And the showbiz isn’t even good showbiz. It’s C grade. So, no one is really having fun, which if the NHL wants to tinker with the awards they should look into that aspect.

On to the predictions of who I think will win these consolation prizes, not who should win.

Hart Memorial Trophy

The endless debates about what “most valuable” means, which is just whinging that Connor McDavid doesn’t win it every year, obscures what this award is for: a famous player who makes a splash on a team and who gets buzz as the guy dragging that team to glory, preferably against their will.

Robin Lehner has to be a consideration here, but he’s acting out such a perfect hockey showbiz story, he could win the Masterton and the Vezina too. Nikita Kucherov “should” win it, but there is a theory that he’s too, hmm, what’s the word ... Russian. John Tavares is going to get a lot of votes, which will annoy people to no end and will be my highlight of the night. Outside chances are Patrick Kane and Alex Ovechkin.

If Johnny Gaudreau was getting buzz for carrying the Flames, he’s be a consideration. If the ‘Canes got attention for anything but being nonconformists, Sebastian Aho would definitely get a look.

Prediction: Kucherov is just so good and has enough points, he can overcome the dual detriment of being on a good team while Russian to take this one. In overcoming these hardships and persevering, he likely should get the Masterton too.

Ted Lindsay Award

This is the Hart, just voted on by the players. They have slightly different tastes to the PHWA, in that they don’t care how nice a guy is to the press; rather, they care how often he cheapshots them in the corners and how much they dread facing him on the ice. They picked McDavid last year because they could all imagine the horror of being him, plus his dread quotient is off the charts. They picked him the year before too.

This award is where Patrick Kane has a big chance to get rewarded for scoring a lot as his team dissolves around him. That would be super unpopular with some fans who think character means something other than blocking shots, and very, very popular with the press who are always ready to rehabilitate a star no matter what list of crimes he has in his past.

Kucherov has an in here because of the dread factor that Tampa brings to every game. How many guys has he made look stupid this year?

Prediction: Someone whose name starts with K will win, but I can’t decide which way the players will jump on this. McDavid can have it again next year when the Oilers get the dead cat bounce.

Norris Trophy

The twin to the Hart in generating endless debate about who should win it, this award has the clearest and most obvious set of unwritten rules. The Norris goes to a star defenceman on a good team who is at least competent defensively, plays both special teams, and gets a lot of points. In order for a “dwinger” to win it like Brent Burns, he has to be overwhelmingly good in the points category. The way to find candidates is to open up your favourite chart maker and plot plus/minus and points.

Morgan Rielly is not winning the Norris, not even with the decent PK time he’s putting in lately. He’s dropped to seventh in plus/minus after being third for a time, but Ron Hainsey is better, and there’s a large enough constituency of voters who do the mental QOT weighting differently to you or I, and will come to a different conclusion about where Rielly’s success is coming from. Meanwhile, it’s actually his points that are suspect, but we shouldn’t expect shooting percentages to disqualify you for a showbiz award anymore than it will keep you off the top of the WAR tables.

Prediction: Mark Giordano, who is the right kind of ma- er, player, is going to win this in a landslide.

Vezina Trophy

I don’t think there is any question that Lehner is taking this prize, unless his time missed to injury has made the voters forget he exists. They sometimes have goldfish memories. The Vezina used to be more clearly tied to GAA than it is now, even though the Jennings is the award specifically for team goals against, but the needle has moved a little, and goalies now need to be good in both GAA and Save Percentage, while being famous stars who win a lot.

Prediction: Frederik Andersen will get votes, but won’t win, and Lehner will take it even if Thomas Greiss has better numbers by the end of the season. This one’s written in the stars. Andrei Vasilevskiy has a strong chance if Lehner has faded from the consciousness.

Calder Trophy

Prediction: Elias Pettersson will win this with votes from people who have seen two Vancouver Canucks games all year, one of which he wasn’t in. This is one of those times where both ‘should win’ and ‘will win’ are so obvious, it’s a lock.

Selke Trophy

To win this award, which purports to be for best defensive forward, you need to score a lot of goals. Showbiz, remember? You need to play PK, and to have a good plus/minus. You need to be a hard man who plays the tough minutes, and a guy that other people respect for how he plays as much as his results.

The usual suspects are not hitting the heights in points as much this year, but I think it will come down to Ryan O’Reilly (in part because the voters want to recognize St. Louis, but they can’t give the Vezina to Binnington), Patrice Bergeron, and maybe Nick Bonino or one of the Flames centres as the darkhorse. With Anze Kopitar and Sean Couturier playing on teams that are underperforming, there’s going to be an odd third man, I think.

Prediction: Ryan O’Reilly will get it this time.

Lady Byng Trophy

Prediction: Aleksander Barkov has eight PIM as of writing and 87 points. Call the engraver.

Masterton Trophy

Prediction: When the Athletic published the Players’ Tribune-style article about Robin Lehner, that was it. See if that engraver is done with the Byng. But maybe they should go for a follow up now to get him the Vezina, too.

Jack Adams Award

Last year the coach of the year was so obvious, he was an almost unanimous selection. This year it’s got to be a race between Barry Trotz, Claude Julien and Bruce Cassidy. Craig Berube or Bill Peters might get a look in.

Prediction: Trotz will win because everyone wants to point out how stupid the Capitals were not to pay the man.

GM of the Year

You know, I think Lou Lamoriello is going to possibly be the first GM to get a load of votes because of shooting percentage. He didn’t do anything at the deadline, though, and PDO usually just gets the coach a trophy.

If George McPhee hadn’t taken it last year, he’d have it now just for Mark Stone. Doug Wilson is also a good choice, but he did his glorious work in the summer and everyone has forgotten. This is a tough one.

Prediction: Brad Treliving will split the votes and take it.

Other Awards

The King Clancy is a nebulous award for off-ice activities, and it’s a very tough one to call most times. It was obviously the retirement present for the Sedins last year. I got nothing for this one this time.

The Jennings is a team goals against award, and the Islanders duo will share it this year unless someone really tunes them up in the last week to give it to Dallas.

The Mark Messier Award is a bunch of nonsense, and even I’m not cynical enough to discuss it. Ditto the NHL Foundation Award.

The Richard, which goes to the top goal-scorer, is currently Alex Ovechkin’s to lose with only Leon Draisaitl able to catch him, barring miracles.

Conclusion

If you really want to talk who deserves awards, here’s what I’d like to see: McDavid with the Hart and the Lindsay, and Draisaitl overtaking Ovechkin (sorry, Alex) for the Richard. Nothing would emphasize more strongly the total and utter incompetence at the highest levels of the Oilers than that.