Well NHL fans, we are roughly at the quarter-mark of the season (slightly past that actually… my bad). It has been very interesting to say the least. There have been quite a few surprises, but there is plenty of hockey left to be played. I wanted to take a moment to give you my humble opinions on some of the (potential) regular-season award winners at this point.
Tampa Bay Lightning
I’m going to overrule the St. Louis Blues and go with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Although currently just one point ahead in the number-one spot in the league, they have been playing lights-out (pun intended) hockey. The revival of post-injury Steven Stamkos has rocked this team. The goal support coming from Nikita Kucherov has also been a pleasant surprise. These players lead the league in points and both have top spots in assists and goals respectively. If their goaltending remains strong and their offense can continue producing, there is no reason to doubt that they are capable of winning this award.
Hart Memorial Trophy
I was very close to arguing Sergei Bobrovsky, but most people would quit reading the article at that point. In all seriousness, if Stamkos continues his dominant play and the Lightning continue being one of the best teams in the league, he is destined to win this award for a pretty simple reason. This honor is intended to go to the most valuable player, meaning that without this player, the team would be completely different. With the absence of Stamkos for most of last season, the Lightning earned just 94 points and missed the playoffs entirely. In his return, they are on pace for 100+ points and a top finish in the league. Sure there were other changes to this team, but having Stamkos is one of the biggest.
Calder Memorial Trophy
This may be been the toughest choice so far. Do I think Boeser is the best first-year player this year? Honestly, I’m still not sure. The difference between Boeser and other rookies is that he is playing on a team with limited talent, so he gets the opportunity to shine. This is the same reason why I consider Clayton Keller and Alexander Kerfoot top candidates. At the end of the day, this specific award doesn’t go to the best first-year player, it goes to the one who displayed their talents in terms of statistics. When you’re buried on a 3rd or 4th line playing limited minutes, it is difficult to make a huge impact right away. While some rookies are still developing on their respective clubs, Vancouver has thrown Boeser into the fire and he has responded well. The Canucks are playing pretty good hockey right now and Boeser (11-11-22) has a big role in that success.
Alright, now it’s time to talk about Bobrovsky. The Columbus Blue Jackets are currently first in the powerhouse Metropolitan Division and the goaltending department is a key reason why. The offense is still working out the kinks and the special teams units have been struggling (most notably the power-play). Bobrovsky has the capability to win a game by himself and he has done so several times this season. He leads the NHL with a 1.92 GAA and a 0.935 SV%. Pair that with his league leading four shutouts and second-place 14 wins overall and you can see my case. He arguably owns both the save of the year and the runner-up to the save of the year as well. If Bobrovsky can continue his great play, he should repeat as the Vezina Trophy winner.
James Norris Memorial Trophy
So who should I pick here? Brent Burns? No. Erik Karlsson? No. Alex Pietrangelo? Sure, why not? This is an interesting year in terms of defensive play. Many of the typical candidates for this award have struggled and may be on the outside looking in at the end of the season. Pietrangelo has taken the league by storm (although many people still don’t know who I’m talking about). In my opinion, this award winner must play both ends of the ice, meaning they have strong offensive and defensive play. Pietrangelo is leading defenseman in goals (7), tied for second in points (20), and also tied for second in the +/- category (11). While his isn’t the best pure defensemen, he has the best overall game, which should give him this award if he can continue his strong play.
Jack Adams Award
Last, but not least, this is the part where I get to to discuss the unexplainable wonder that is the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Gallant was actually a finalist for this award with the Florida Panthers. Now in his first season behind the bench in Las Vegas, he has turned what should have been a train wreck into an incredible story. The question of if this story will continue will likely dictate if he is considered for this award once again. The Golden Knights are now 15-7-1 and still hold first place in the Pacific Division. Even if they falter and simply squeak into a playoff spot, one would imagine Gallant gets the nod here. Honestly, this will probably be a tossup along with New Jersey’s John Hynes and Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper, but anything can happen between now and the post-season.