The NHL season is in full stride, and even though some teams have been stopped dead in their tracks by Covid at different times this season, there have been a bunch of enjoyable, high scoring, high event games, and the new division format has turned out to work... fine, I guess?
And boy do we have some candidates and storylines to talk about when it comes to the NHL Awards that will be given out after this season, if it ever finishes. But that's a topic for another day.
I won't discuss all awards in this, just the one's I feel are the most interesting and most noteworthy in general, because who wants to talk about the Mark Messier Leadership Award, right? So, let's dive right into the first major award race.
As of February 23rd, 2021, in my opinion, there are a few goaltenders who have a shot at this. My parameters for including someone here are being the clear starter for their respective teams, winning more of those games than not, and having their SV% and GAA match up with some more advance stats like SV% above expected, as per moneypuck.com.
So, let's first talk about a guy neither you nor I had ever heard of before he became the starter for Chicago this year: Kevin Lankinen.
Now I'm going to go out on a limb and say he probably won't keep these types of performances up, especially because it is Chicago and they frankly aren't that good. But throughout his first 13 games he's posted a .927 SV% and 2.43 GAA and is one of the main reasons the Blackhawks are in and around a playoff spot. If he keeps his play up, and Chicago somehow makes the Playoffs, he should be in consideration.
For the next honorable mention and a guy not on my 1-3 ballot, which will come up below, I have Semyon Varlamov.
Like a clockwork, the Islanders starting goaltender is in the Vezina race every year it seems. He has thus far also posted a .927 SV% and a 2.06 GAA. Those are some spectacular numbers, but what keeps him off the ballot is that he has "only" won 8 of his 14 games, and the fact that in long Island, the system generally makes their goalies better, and they are one of the best defensive teams this year again, sitting 4th in GA/game in the league.
My final honorable mention goes to Chris Driedger of the league-wide 2nd place Florida Panthers.
Now, he has only played 9 games for Florida, but he has taken over the net in the sunshine state and is a big reason the Panthers are where they are. He has 7 wins in 9 games, a .929 SV% and a 2.20 GAA. However, as is the case with Lankinen, I am not convinced yet.
Onto my imaginary ballot:
3. Andrei Vasilevsky
In 3rd place, edging out Varlamov and Drieger, sits Tampa Bay Lighting starter Andrei Vasilevsky. Having won 10 of his 14 games played so far this year, he sits 2nd in wins only behind Frederik Andersen of league leaders Toronto. He is posting an impressive SV% of .931 and a GAA of 2.01. He also leads the league in SV% above expected, with roughly 1.7%. Those are impressive numbers, but he sits in 3rd because somewhat surprisingly, the Lightning have struggled at times and are only sitting 3rd in the Discover Central Division. And he is also giving up a noticeable number of rebounds compared to the other two entries, with a 1.2% Rebounds above expected.
2. Phillip Grubauer
Grubauer and Vasilevsky were honestly hard to separate. Grubauer has 9 wins in 13 games, so the same pace as Vasilevsky. He has a marginally better SV% at .932 and a little better GAA at 1.78. Colorado is sitting 3rd behind Vegas and St. Louis in the Honda West Division, but will probably end up 2nd place, as they have some games to catch up on. He also sits 3rd in the league in SV% above expected, with 0.8%. I am still giving the edge here to Grubauer, but both are having great seasons, and you could make an argument for either to be in the 2nd spot. However, there is one guy who stands, no, towers above everyone else.
1. Marc-Andre Fleury
Now, I must preface this by saying that having numbers such as these during a full season, or even 56 games, is just downright impossible. But, through a quarter of the season, Fleury has posted a .942 SV% and a 1.55 GAA. He is also 2nd in SV% above expected, with 1.5%, which is not far off Vasilevsky. On top of that, he has 8 wins in only 11 games, and Vegas is sitting first in the Honda West Division. All in all, a very impressive start to the season for him.
James Norris Memorial Trophy
Now, evaluating defensemen is hard, but traditionally, this award is dictated by points scored, a good plus/minus and team success. I'm also going to take some advanced stats into consideration, but to keep it realistic, I will mostly focus on these "easy" numbers.
Admittedly, it is a little hard to pick a winner here or even a ballot after not even 20 games, so I will just outline some noticeable defensemen up to this point.
Through a quarter of the season, there are two players who seem to be leading this race.
One is Jeff Petry. He has been highly effective in Montreal all year, offensively as well as defensively. Playing and driving PP1 and getting some good results, as well as forming a good pairing with Joel Edmundson of all people, he is one reason Montreal has started the season well. A very shiny plus/minus 15 helps his case.
The second guy is last year's Conn Smythe Trophy winner Victor Hedman, who is once again doing it all, and will be a vial part of Tampa Bay's success this year. He is playing with Jan Rutta most of the time and has gotten some respectable results, even though his team is not sitting as high in the standings as was expected before the season.
An honorable mention goes to Quinn Hughes, who, although he is leading all defensemen in scoring, has shown significant weaknesses defensively this year, more so than Vancouver fans would like to admit. And with Vancouver firmly out of the playoff race in the North, he is not in my consideration, but only on the outside looking in.
Morgan Rielly also bears mentioning, he is the point leading defensemen on the league's 1st placed team after all but compared to Hedman or the importance of Petry to Montreal and - and I cannot believe I will write this- the good defensive core, when healthy, in Toronto. So, he is also on the outside looking in, simply because he seems to be not as much better as for example Victor Hedman in Tampa Bay, compared to his teammates.
Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy
This award probably will not be close. After a little bit of a slow start to the season, Auston Matthews has 18 goals in 20 team-games, or 18 goals in 19 games, because he missed one. There is talk about a potential 50 in 50 season, but I am very cautious of that.
His point and goals streak were just broken in a 0-3 loss to Calgary, but the 2nd guy on the goals list right now is Brock Boeser with 12, and tied is Connor McDavid, who, hands down, is the only right choice for both MVP awards this year
But that's beside the point, what is interesting however is that only two non-North players on this list are Dustin Brown and Logan Couture, both with 10 goals.
Noticeably, Alex Ovechkin, who won this award last year, is only sitting on 6 goals through 13 games, partly due to injury. In my opinion, McDavid has a shot at catching Matthews, but if he can even somewhat keep up this illustrious scoring pace, he is going to win this award.
And that's it! I hope you enjoyed the read. You can find me on twitter @theForester26. I do watch games whenever I can, and I am tweeting during those, but time zones prohibit me from watching most. Let me know what you think of my picks, and whether you have any different suggestions for the 3 trophies. Other than that, have a good one, and Go Leafs Go.