NHL Awards Picks

The NHL Awards presentation is slated for Tuesday at 7 p.m., so this post will review the credentials for all of this year’s nominees and choose the players most deserving of each award by using statistics and when all else fails, personal opinion. Debate is welcome.

Some of the bigger awards require plenty of contemplating and number-crunching, so let’s start slow and work our way up. First:

Jack Adams Award: Mike Babcock (DET), Jon Cooper (TB), Patrick Roy (COL)

Not too many numbers to gauge in the award given to the league’s best coach. Babcock’s nominated because he guided the Red Wings to their 23rd-straight playoff appearance, despite losing his top two players, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, for 37 games each. Detroit was ravaged by injuries all season, forcing nine players to make their NHL debuts. However, the youth forced into action, especially the line made up of Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Gustav Nyquist, played much better than anticipated, allowing Detroit to squeeze into the playoffs. Plus, not that this counts for the award, but Babcock coach Team Canada to Olympic Gold, so it wasn’t too bad a year for him.

The other two nominees, Jon Cooper and Patrick Roy, are nominated because of the sudden turnarounds they orchestrated in their first season on the job. The Lightning, 3rd-worst in the league last season, racked up 101 points this year and earned home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, even with Steven Stamkos playing just 37 games and captain Martin St. Louis being traded at the deadline. Patrick Roy’s Avalanche pulled off an even bigger feat, going from 2nd-worst last year to 3rd-best this year, the first instance of a bottom-three to top-three turnaround since the NHL expanded in 1979, as pointed out by NHL.com. The young squad also managed the league’s best road record before they lost a heart-breaker in Game 7 of the first round. All of this was achieved playing in the Western Conference, which is not exactly known for being easy to play in.

As noted earlier, Babcock won Olympic Gold this year and probably won’t be too disappointed on losing out on this award. That leaves Cooper and Roy. What Cooper did this season was impressive, but what Roy did was unprecedented, making him the most deserving candidate for the Jack Adams award.

Calder Trophy: Tyler Johnson (TB), Nathan MacKinnon (COL), Ondrej Palat (TB)

The voters’ praise for the Avalanche and Lightning continues with the Rookie of the Year award. Palat and Johnson, with 59 and 50 points respectively, made a huge impact on the Lightning offense this season. Advanced statistics would indicate that the Lightning linemates were more complete players than 18-year-old phenom Nathan MacKinnon. The two spent much more time on the penalty kill, indicating better two-way play, had better plus/minus ratings and registered better corsi-for percentages, showing that their team controlled the game more while the pair was on the ice then Colorado did with MacKinnon. This is an instance where statistics lose out to the eye test. Anyone who watched MacKinnon play this year knew they were witnessing something special blooming. The kid has remarkable speed and is capable of simply dazzling with the puck. And he did lead this group in goals, assists and points, with 24, 39 and 63. Make no doubt about it, Nathan MacKinnon is a lock for the Calder Trophy.

Lady Byng Trophy: Patrick Marleau (SJS), Ryan O’Reilly (COL), Martin St. Louis (TB/NYR)

This award is handed out to the player who best combines exceptional play with gentlemanly conduct. So it can be tough to award because only so many stats can give any insight on “gentlemanly conduct.” Let’s start by eliminating Martin St. Louis. He’s a great guy and has won this award three times already, but it’s hard to forget that as captain of the Lightning he demanded a trade because he was upset with general manager and Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman for not originally selecting him for the Olympic roster. Not very gentlemanly.

So we’re left with Marleau and O’Reilly. Let’s try to quantify outstanding play, because that’s certainly the easier half of this award to interpret. Marleau scored 33 goals and had 70 points, while O’Reilly had 28 goals and 64 points. Not too wide a gap there. However, total point shares, which indicate how many of a team’s points a player is responsible for, shows Marleau at 8.6 and O’Reilly at 7.1. The common stat for the sportsmanship aspect of this award is penalty minutes, and it’s very impressive that O’Reilly served just two minutes in the box all season; Marleau served 18, the most of the three nominees. With these two teams playing on the west coast, I don’t get to see nearly as many of their games as I would like, and I haven’t seen any noticeable acts of sportsmanship from either Marleau or O’Reilly, so I’ll simply side with the quality of play aspect and choose Patrick Marleau.

Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron (BOS), Anze Kopitar (LAK), Jonathan Toews (CHI)

Now the really fun awards start to be handed out. The Selke Trophy, given to the forward with the best defensive skill-set, consistently nominates the players that owners would die to build a team around. There is an exclusiveness to the group though, as this is just the first nomination for Anze Kopitar; perennial nominee Pavel Datsyuk spent much of this season injured. Kopitar certainly has a good chance to take home the Selke in his first chance however. Of the three nominees, Kopitar led in assists, points, time on the ice per 60 minutes, penalty differential, goals-for percentage, takeaways, defensive point shares, and total point shares. Patrice Bergeron led in goals, plus/minus, corsi-for percentage and short-handed time on the ice percentage. Jonathan Toews came very close to matching the numbers of Kopitar and Bergeron while playing for a significantly more offensive-minded team, which is an important distinction. Toews also led in takeaways per game. The three tied in offensive point shares, proving how close the skill sets of these players really are.

These are without a doubt three of the best players in hockey, and all are deserving of this award. However, it can only be given to one player (I think), and Anze Kopitar was some kind of monster this year, to quote a sub-par Metallica song. Watching him against the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals, it was evident that Kopitar had blossomed into a tremendous force on both sides of the ice, and debate over who the better player was, him or Toews, ensued with analysts and people around the league choosing Kopitar about as often as Toews, long considered superior. Anze Kopitar’s welcome gift upon joining the league’s elite should be his first Selke Trophy, which should look nice next to his two Stanley Cup rings.

Vezina Trophy: Ben Bishop (TB), Tuukka Rask (BOS), Semyon Varlamov (COL)

Great group of goalies to choose from here. Ben Bishop was probably the most important element in Tampa Bay’s surprise season, going 37-14-7 with a .924 save percentage and 2.23 goals allowed on average. However, Rask and Varlamov were in different realms of goaltending this year.

Varlamov went 41-14-6 with a .927 SV% and 2.41 GAA. That’s  not the sightliest GAA value for a Vezina candidate, but consider that Varlamov faced more shots than any other goalie this year and was playing in front of a defense that wasn’t exactly stout. Advanced statistics tell the real story here, with Varlamov’s 27.45 goals saved above average (GSAA) and 15.5 goalie point shares leading the league. Varlamov was a brick wall, and his play may have been the number one reason the Avalanche had such a drastic turnaround this year.

Tuukka Rask followed his stellar 2012-13 campaign with a year that was just as good, but over a longer period of time. Check out the consistency in Rask’s numbers:

Games SV% GAA Shutouts GA%-
2009-10 45 0.931 1.97 5 78
2011-12 23 0.929 2.05 3 82
2012-13 36 0.929 2 5 81
2013-14 58 0.93 2.04 7 81

stats per hockey-reference.com (bold leads league)

Over various sample sizes, Rask posts numbers of .930 SV%, 2.00 GAA and 81 GA%- (100 is average, the lower the better) like clockwork (although his 2010-11 season did not match up with these numbers, but I conveniently removed it from this table. He was still a backup that season, and four out of five seasons is enough to get the point across anyway). This was his longest season to date, and he did not disappoint at all, posting a 26.40 GSAA and allowing just 115 goals. He is one of the biggest reasons the Bruins are so difficult to play against.

Like I said, the award comes down to Varlamov or Rask. Rask has plenty of supporters and will most likely win this award. However, Rask plays in front of one of the very best defenses in the league, while Colorado’s defense has its fair share of holes. Facing more shots than anyone in the league, Semyon Varlamov had to be brilliant, and he was, and for that I believe Varlamov is most deserving of the Vezina Trophy.

Norris Trophy: Zdeno Chara (BOS), Duncan Keith (CHI), Shea Weber (NSH)

This is my favorite of the NHL’s awards (that tends to happen when 7-time Norris winner Nicklas Lidstrom is your favorite player). Because I attach so much meaning to this award, I feel compelled to apologize on behalf of the voters to Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Matt Niskanen, Ryan Suter and Erik Karlsson. You all had great seasons and deserved to be recognized, but it’s tough playing in a league where so many great defensemen are either entering or are in their prime. Better luck next year.

With that out of the way, let’s get started. We know all about Zdeno Chara at this point. Defensive stalwart, insane slapshot. Out of this group he spent the highest percentage of time on his team’s penalty kill, had the best plus/minus and goals-for percentage and led in defensive point shares (though Doughty, Vlasic, Pietrangelo, Suter and Niskanen all had higher values. Sorry, I’ll stop now). He also had by far the fewest points of the three, which doesn’t necessarily matter, but it seems likely that Chara will not win this year anyway.

So the debate rages on between Duncan Keith and Shea Weber. All season I thought Keith had a clear edge. He had 55 assists and 61 points and a +22 rating while playing as the top defenseman for the reigning champions. He certainly passes the eye test, having watched plenty of Blackhawks games this year. But then I dug a little deeper into the numbers, and the idea of Weber winning the Norris began creeping up on me.

Weber had 23 goals, most among defensemen,and 56 points, not too far behind Keith. Those are the obvious numbers. Weber played the 4th-most minutes per 60, and his goals-for percentage relative to his team is significantly higher than Keith’s. That percentage is the first stat I found that made me question Keith’s odds. Keith registered a zone start percentage of 57.3, meaning he frequently started his shifts in the offensive zone. Weber had a ZS% of just 44.6, meaning he was constantly thrown on the ice in his own zone charged with shutting down the opposition. Those zone start percentage numbers paint a clear picture of how Weber and Keith were affected by their teams. Keith is an offensive defenseman playing for one of the league’s best teams, and he gets plenty of chances in the offensive zone to utilize his talent. Having players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp certainly helps Keith’s assist totals. Weber is a two-way defenseman that plays for a defense-oriented squad that happened to be one of the league’s worst teams this year, meaning his defense was crucial to his team’s success and he gave them a huge added bonus with his offensive output.

The clincher: Among the artificial group of nominees and defensemen I apologized to earlier, Shea Weber is 2nd in hits and 1st in blocked shots. In fact, he was 10th in the league in blocked shots, with 173. Duncan Keith is nowhere to be found on the hits list, and his 89 blocked shots are a far cry from Weber’s production. Weber also led the group in total point shares with 10.8, compared to Keith’s 10.0. Keith’s production is more offense-based, and this year Weber, with 6.2 offensive point shares topping Keith’s 5.1, was actually better on that end of the ice (technically, Keith had more defensive point shares than Weber, but the Blackhawks had a whole lot more points to distribute than the Predators). Though Duncan Keith had a great year, and I feel bad because it feel like I just threw a lot of criticism at him when in fact he’s a great player, Shea Weber was the league’s best defenseman this season, and he should earn his first Norris Trophy.

Hart Trophy: Sidney Crosby (PIT), Ryan Getzlaf (ANA), Claude Giroux (PHI)

The reason I don’t like the Hart as much as the Norris, the Selke or even the Vezina is because there usually isn’t as much debate that goes into choosing the winner. It usually is pretty clear-cut, and this year isn’t much different. For at least half the season Ryan Getzlaf had the edge, but the end of the season wasn’t as strong for him or the Ducks. For a portion of the season early on Claude Giroux was nowhere to be seen, but he single-handedly turned the Flyers around and got them to the playoffs. The problem is that neither player played like a Hart Trophy winner for the entire year. Getzlaf (31 goals, 87 points, 11.2 total point shares) and Giroux (28, 86, 10.2) fall short of Sidney Crosby (36, 104, 13.5). Crosby had the most assists and points in the NHL, and out of these nominees had the highest time on the ice per 60 minutes, corsi-for relative to teammates, goals-for relative to teammates, and offensive, defensive, and total point shares. Neither Ryan Getzlaf’s +28 rating and 65.2 goals-for percentage nor Claude Giroux’s 53.2 corsi-for percentage are making up that gap. It feels so anti-climactic, but the Hart Trophy goes to Sidney Crosby.

I’m sure voters will defy on at least one of these categories, but the NHL Awards promise to be entertaining either way. If nothing else, they provide a nice oasis in a long summer without hockey, and they deserve to be seen.

 

 

 

Connor Mount

Connor Mount

Senior Staff Writer at The Left Bench
Connor Mount is an analytics enthusiast, which is polite for "sports nerd." Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, Class of 2017.
Connor Mount
About Connor Mount 164 Articles
Connor Mount is an analytics enthusiast, which is polite for "sports nerd." Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, Class of 2017.