The NHL playoffs are in full swing, and next up will be the NHL.
With the NHL playoffs in full swing, the NHL Awards will be next on the docket as the 2016-17 season comes to a close. There were plenty of storylines this year, including Connor McDavid’s ridiculous 100-point season, and the excitement continues as the postseason heats up.
Looking back on the regular season, there were several players who made an impact over 82 games and deserve some recognition as the NHL’s best in 2016-17. While some of the NHL awards are a little more predictable, or already known, others could have some surprises. After deeper analysis, there is enough room for argument to entertain the closest front-runners. Here is a look at some of the slight dark horse candidates and likely winners for the 2016-17 NHL Awards.
Hart Memorial Trophy
Potential Surprise: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
McDavid led the NHL with his first 100-point campaign and found ways to single-handedly change the fate of a franchise. He turned Patrick Maroon into a 25-plus goal scorer and made the Edmonton Oilers a contender within two seasons. While he may not have come close to Sidney Crosby’s goals total, he led the league in assists and finished 10th in both power play scoring and plus-minus. His 30 goals still ranks in the top 25, but improving on that shooting percentage (251 shots) could make him even deadlier as an all-around hockey player.
Winner: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Crosby led the NHL in goals despite missing seven games and captained an injury-plagued Penguins group back into the playoffs. Both Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang missed plenty of time and Matt Murray’s on-again, off-again, injury woes have not helped either. Even with all that, Crosby was able to have one of his best seasons of all-time and found new line mates in Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel for seasons to come.
Calder Memorial Trophy
Potential Surprise: Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets
Zach Werenski is the only player who has a chance at beating out Auston Matthews. Patrik Laine looked great early on in the season, but the young winger missed nine games and slowed down in the second half of the year. Werenski, on the other hand, was probably the most surprising rookie in terms of overall output.
He was always considered a great prospect, but the young defenseman finished the season with 11 goals and 47 points, good for seventh in rookie scoring. He also finished second among rookies with 21 power play points and had just 14 penalty minutes. He also maintained a plus-17 rating, best among rookies, and averaged 20:54 minutes per game. Werenski was one of the best first-year players this season and proved he belonged very quickly.
Winner: Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Of all the individual trophies in the NHL, Matthews is almost guaranteed the Calder. He finished first in rookie scoring, with 40 goals and 29 assists, while playing all 82 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has all the makings of a franchise player and proved it in his first year in the NHL. He finished second among rookies with eight power play goals and 21 points and led all rookies with eight game-winning goals. Not to mention, he helped carry one of the most unlikely teams into the NHL playoffs. It would be very surprising to see anyone else win the Calder.
Potential Surprise: Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
The reigning Vezina winner put on another great performance, and Braden Holtby has every chance of locking this down once again. The Washington Capitals claimed first in the NHL once again, and Holtby finished with a 42-13-6 record. On top of that, Holtby maintained a 2.07 goals against average and 0.925 save percentage. Even more impressively, he put up nine shutouts in 63 games. His team performance, coupled with his individual season, makes for a great candidate to take home the Vezina for a second year in a row.
Winner: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
The most likely candidate is certainly Sergei Bobrovsky. He may not have put up nine shutouts, but he finished with seven and had a comparable record with 41-17-5. The Columbus Blue Jackets are far from a powerhouse like the Capitals, but Bobrovsky made them one of the harder teams to score on when he started. He finished the season with a 2.06 goals against average and a 0.931 save percentage. He was certainly the reason for the Blue Jackets success this year, and he was the best overall goaltender this season. As a result, Bobrovsky deserves to take home the Vezina in 2017.
James Norris Memorial Trophy
Potential Surprise: Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
From a numbers perspective, this is hardly a surprise at all. Brent Burns led all defensemen with 29 goals and 76 points while leading the NHL with 320 shots. He also led all defensemen with six game-winning goals while playing all 82 games. From a defensive perspective, Burns could be better. He is certainly approaching elite level, but his 142 blocks and 69 hits, especially for his size, should be higher. His offensive game is certainly at an all-time high, but it may not be enough to secure the Norris Trophy this year.
Winner: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
Erik Karlsson seems to be the favorite to win it, and for obvious reasons. He is becoming a more verbal and commanding player while maintaining his elite scoring and playmaking ability. Karlsson finished second in the NHL with 201 blocks and is showing signs of vastly-improving defense. His offensive numbers were unsurprisingly elite, scoring 17 goals and 54 assists in 77 games. The Ottawa Senators are now a playoff team, and Karlsson is the reason for it. Overall, this has to be considered Karlsson’s best season ever, which should help him snag the Norris Trophy.
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
Potential Surprise: Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild
This was one of the harder ones, but Mikael Granlund really did exemplify the same qualities of past winners. He played 81 games, averaged a solid 18:49 minutes per game, and finished with a plus-23 rating, He had a mere 12 penalty minutes and even had three short-handed goals.
Winner: Vladimir Tarasenko. St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Tarasenko seems like the best bet to take this award home. He tied Granlund in penalty minutes with 12 but played all 82 games. He averaged 18:28 minutes per game and finished tied for third in the NHL with eight game-winning goals. He also scored 39 goals, good for fourth in the NHL, and finished 10th in league scoring. It would be surprising to see this go any other way.
Jack Adams Award
Potential Surprise: Mike Babcock, Toronto Maple Leafs
It is hard to imagine the Toronto Maple Leafs doing any better than they already have. With such a young, mind you very talented, squad, the Maple Leafs have come from the NHL’s basement to qualifying for the NHL playoffs. With plenty of scrutiny and attention, Mike Babcock has built a very promising team and created plenty of chemistry between the young guns Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. Not to mention, his work on the blue line is even better, especially with youngsters Nikita Zaitsev and Connor Carrick. There was plenty of hype and Babcock has delivered in bulk.
Winner: Guy Boucher, Ottawa Senators
For the Ottawa Senators to be that good heading into the NHL playoffs is almost shocking. They finished second in the Atlantic Division and overcame plenty of obstacles throughout the season. Craig Anderson’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, which limited him to 40 games. Bobby Ryan continues to disappoint, this time due to injury, and scored just 25 points in 62 games.
On offense, second to Karlsson’s 71 points is Mike Hoffman with 61. With only Kyle Turris and Mark Stone passing the 50-point plateau, Guy Boucher has found a way to utilize his offensive despite not having an elite-level forward. They scored the important goals and even had an impressive road record of 22-17-2. He has found a way to bring this team together and, more importantly, made them a better defensive unit led by Karlsson.
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