Yes, I'm back! While we are all waiting another week on the North Division playoffs to start (thanks Covid!), I thought I'd follow up on the last Fanpost with my full NHL Awards Ballot and a little bit of a season lookback with some thoughts ahead of the first round!
So firstly, what did I think of the season that was? I was positively surprised. All of the offseason additions really panned out (other than the european free-agents, in particular Mikko Lehtonen, who I predicted to get into the top-4... oops), the D-Core looks strengthened, and the Veterans and cheap guys up front did what they were supposed to do. Dubas did a good job at the deadline, even tough I think he overpaid for Foligno, but who really cares about that this year. It is all about the playoffs. And a special mention must go to Brandon Pridham, the cap wizard in Toronto who has somehow managed to keep the Leafs within the limitations of the salary cap this season.
In the playoffs the Toronto Maple Leafs face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, which they should be able to win considering the difference in talent level and the season series, as well as the Leafs being much better suited for the playoffs, even without Zach Bogosian. Then the Leafs would either face the Edmonton Oilers or the Winnipeg Jets, and I want to see McDavid vs Matthews badly. I also think that against either team the Leafs have a realistic chance at winning the series. After that, it all depends on how the other divisions pan out. Likely opponents, at least in my book, include the Hurricanes, Bruins (god forbid) etc. Those series will be hard on the Leafs, and it is not the time to judge them now, especially because it is the Leafs. Who knows.
For the second part of this, lets take a look at my NHL Awards Ballot. As you'd know if you'd read my last fanpost (from 3 months ago), I did a lookout to potential Richard Trophy, Vezina Trophy and Norris Trophy winners. Adding to those three, I'll give you my thoughts about the Hart Trophy, Selke Trophy and Calder Trophy. That, in my mind, covers all the one's I feel I can give a meaningful opinion on.
First up, the Vezina Trophy. As we saw at the midseason point, there is really not much to separate the top of the crop from each other this year. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Marc-Andre Fleury, who has predictably cooled down a little, and, somewhat surprisingly after the midseason point, Connor Hellebuyck have set themselves apart from their peers. Looking at the goalie stats moneypuck.com provides us with, the only real difference are the high danger save percentages, in which Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Vasilevskiy edges the trophy in my opinion. And since we know voters like to give these awards out to winningest goaltender to some extent, it makes sense that either of Fleury or Vasilevskiy would be one and two on most ballots.
Next, we have the Rocket Richard Trophy. Now as I said in my previous write-up, this award is indeed not close. While Auston Matthews did not manage 50 in 50 because of a wrist injury, he did score 41 goals in 52 games played, and while theoretically Connor McDavid could score 9 goals in his last game against the Canucks and win the award, that is unlikely even by his standards. We will get to McDavid later again. So happy days everyone, a Leafs player has won an award!
Next up is the Norris Trophy. Name recognition probably gets Victor Hedman a spot in this conversation, but while his season was by no stretch bad, its just not up to par with other defencemen who bear mentioning.
One of those is Dougie Hamilton on the Carolina Hurricanes. He's always been a favourite of the analytical side of the sport, and thanks to the great teambuilding in Carolina, he now finds himself the leader of the D-core there. And while Brett Pesce and Jacob Slavin are both extremely underrated, if I were to pick one of the bunch it would be Hamilton.
Another honorable mention goes out to Shea Theodore of the Vegas Golden Knights, who has shined this season on an impressive D-Core in Vegas that includes Alex Pietrangelo.
And then there are the two players who I think deserve the trophy this year: Cale Makar and Adam Fox. Makar has emerged, alongside the rest of the Colorado Avalanche, as an absolute juggernaut this season. He and the first line in Colorado are the main reason the Avalanche have been basically unstoppable this season. The other one, Adam Fox, has been the best analytical defenseman over the course of this season, whilst passing the eye test offensively as well as defensively, on a Rangers team that is good, but nowhere near the level of Colorado or Vegas.
Personally, I'd pick Adam Fox, but I would not be surprised if any of the players mentioned walked away with the award.
Onto the Hart Trophy. Now this, this is the easiest trophy the NHL writers will give out this year. It's Conor McDavid. He has 104 points in 55 games played, with one to go. Right now, he is at number 7 in hockey references era-adjusted single season points leaders, which is just unbelievable. There is no competition here.
Next on the list is the Calder Trophy. There are really only two rookies who have a shot at winning this thing. That would be Kirill Kaprizov and Jason Robertson. Kaprizov has seemingly single-handedly reignited a fire in Minnesota, which saw the Minnesota Wild, long known as a beacon of mediocrity, finish comfortably in 3rd place in the West. And while his impact isn't as overstated in the numbers, because his line is a great combination of skillsets, he is the main playdriver on the team, together with Minnesota's D-Core. Robertson has fit in nicely anywhere in the top 9 with the Dallas Stars, producing well and having good underlying numbers at 5v5 as well. The more likely recipient this year is probably Kaprizov, considering the flashiness of his game and having led the wild offense. For me, my European bias, and my Leafs bias (Jason is the brother of Leafs prospect and Marlies player Nick Robertson) both kick in, but ultimately, I will have to go with Kaprizov as well.
So thats it, thanks for reading! Comment your predictions for awards down below! And how far will the Leafs go in the playoffs in ýour opinion?