Some may find it early to start predicting who will take home the NHL's individual awards in June, but in fact this is the perfect time to talk about it. The playoffs will be starting soon and everyone's opinion on the regular season awards will soon be clouded by what they see in the postseason. What people forget by June when they're picking winners is that all the awards are based only on the regular season. All voting for the winners is done before the playoffs. Hence, this is the right time to project winners, because the regular season is fresh in our minds and all our observations will be based on 82 games.
Obviously there are some awards that don't need predictions, including the Art Ross Trophy, awarded to the player with the most points. Sidney Crosby has that one wrapped up, which will make it the second of his career and his first since 2007. Alex Ovechkin has the Maurice Richard trophy (most goals) locked up with over 50 goals on the season. He will win his fourth Richard trophy come June. Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones appear to be taking home the William Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed. That's what we know. Now it's time to predict what we don't know. We'll be sticking with on-ice awards, so the Bridgestone Messier Award, Clancy Trophy, NHL Foundation Player Award, and Bill Masterton Trophy will not be included on this list.
8 Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year):
It feels like it's been a while since the no.1 overall pick was a favourite for the Calder Trophy. In fact, the last top pick to win the award was Patrick Kane back in 2007-08. Thanks to Nathan MacKinnon's stellar offensive play this season, he should leave Las Vegas with some hardware come June.
Over 60 points in a rookie season is impressive and MacKinnon has helped the Colorado Avalanche get over the hump and jump out of the league's cellar and into the postseason. Colorado was dead last in the Western Conference last season and caught a break when the won the Draft lottery over Florida. Filled with many young forwards, they elected to go with the best player over a need on defence, and it has paid off.
MacKinnon leads all rookies in goals, assists and points and he even went on a 13-game point streak this season, the longest streak ever by an 18-year-old. He also has five game-winning goals.
MacKinnon looks like he'll be the second Avs player in three years to win this award with Gabriel Landeskog winning in 2011-12.
Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson deserve a long look as well. This rookie pairing has helped the Tampa Bay Lightning get back to where they were three years ago; back in the playoffs.
However, MacKinnon is under a brighter spotlight and voters will likely see him as the bigger standout.
Winner: Nathan MacKinnon
7 Frank J. Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward):
You could make the argument for several Bruins to win this award. The reason they're the best team in the East (and arguably the best in the NHL) is because their forwards can score, while being defensively responsible and their defencemen can chip in while still doing their jobs.
While Anze Kopitar has had a great season in Los Angeles, being a plus-30 player playing for a team allowing the fewest goals, Patrice Bergeron is the most established defensive forward in the league. He's a plus-37 on the year and he regularly shuts down top lines around the league.
He's never stopped riding the incredible wave of momentum he began in last year's playoffs. He'll remain in the voters minds after the season the Bruins have had.
Winner: Patrice Bergeron
6 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (Sportsmanship and Gentlemanly Conduct):
This is one of the tougher ones to predict, as sportsmanship is a little tougher to measure. There seems to be a feeling this year that the Colorado Avalanche are going to have a very good night at the awards show.
Ryan O'Reilly was in a dispute with the Avalanche last year as a restricted free agent and signed an offer sheet with the Calgary Flames. The Avs matched it and bringing O'Reilly back into the fold this year with the rest of their young talent has led the Avs to a great season.
For O'Reilly, he is a top offensive contributor for his team and he has only been penalized once this season. He made it over 70 games this season without taking a penalty, becoming the first to do so since Butch Goring of the New York Islanders back in 1980-81.
Marty St. Louis won the award last year with 14 penalty minutes in a shortened season.
O'Reilly doesn't shy away from engaging in a game either. He's among the league leaders in takeaways so he's no passenger in a game. The fact that he's able to do that and remain a clean player is impressive.
Winner: Ryan O'Reilly
5 James Norris Memorial Trophy (Best Defenseman):
There's a lot of competition for this award, as so many defensemen stepped up their game this season. There are over five players for whom you can make the argument for this award. Plenty of defensemen are not only doing their jobs of shutting down the opposition, but have contributed offensively.
P.K. Subban took home the award last year primarily based on his offensive output, but also on his work in his own end of the ice.
You can make the argument this year for Shea Weber, Alex Pietrangelo, Zdeno Chara, Ryan Suter any several others.
Duncan Keith seems to provide a perfect balance, as he has over 60 points on the season, and is also a plus-22. He also doesn't quite have the depth of defensemen on his team that St. Louis, San Jose or Boston have. The Blackhawks are an offensive-minded team first, but Keith helps shoulder the back end. We'll go with balance here and give Keith his second Norris Trophy.
Winner: Duncan Keith
4 Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender):
No team in the NHL gets very far without superb goaltending. Teams like Boston, Tampa Bay, Montreal, Los Angeles, Columbus, Minnesota and even Colorado have all gotten to where they are this season due to great goaltending.
Tuukka Rask arguably has the stiffest competition in his division. Ben Bishop has been a revelation for Tampa Bay and is making Steve Yzerman look more intelligent by the day for trading for Bishop last year. Carey Price has come into his own as the 'thoroughbred' Bob Gainey said he would be when he was drafted. All of them have been a main reason why their team is going to the postseason and why they all have a chance to go far.
Ultimately the voters will go with Rask. Boston plays a high risk, high reward style which can only be successful with solid goaltending. Sure the Bruins have the best team in the East, but Rask is consistent and makes timely saves.
He sits at 2.06 GAA and a .929 SV% with 35 wins and seven shutouts. The numbers back him up and he rarely has a bad game. He's made fans in Beantown forget all about Tim Thomas.
Winner: Tuuka Rask
3 Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year):
Patrick Roy will have to create more space in his trophy room. The Jack Adams Award typically goes to a coach whose team exceeds preseason expectations. A guy like Claude Julien or Ken Hitchcock both would be very worthy winners of the award. People seem to take them for granted just because they have good teams, but both have proven over their careers that they're winners and that they get the most out of their teams.
The reality though, is Patrick Roy and Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning will get the most attention because both revitalized their teams this year. While people probably expected both teams to make the jump from the bottom of the league, few expected either team to approach 100 points.
Cooper had to deal with losing Steven Stamkos, perhaps the best pure sniper in the league, and his captain Marty St. Louis was traded, yet his team didn't miss a beat. He got great play out of two rookies in Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. Ben Bishop's goaltending helped, but Cooper has really righted the ship in Tampa and Yzerman sure hit a home run with his choice last year.
Roy will ultimately take it, because in his first year of NHL coaching, he has brought the Avalanche from 29th in the league up to second in the Central division and has caused a very young team to grow up quickly. Him banging the glass next to Bruce Boudreau is a priceless image from this season, but his results are what counts. He's also breathed new life into goaltender Semyon Varlamov who has 40 wins on the year, with a .927 SV% and 2.41 GAA. You have to give credit to the Hall of Fame goaltender for this turnaround. Come June, Roy will be saying he has the Jack Adams trophy plugged in his ear.
2 General Manager of the Year:
This choice goes back to last year. Steve Yzerman replaced Guy Boucher with Jon Cooper. He traded Cory Conacher for Ben Bishop (Conacher was then waived by the Senators this year). His captain requested a trade, to New York only, yet Yzerman still managed to land a good return for his skillful yet aging captain, getting Ryan Callahan and a first-round pick.
He also did all this while being under enormous pressure to pick a roster that would bring Canada gold in Sochi. The Lightning gave Yzerman a four-year extension and deservedly so.
Winner: Steve Yzerman
1 Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player to his Team):
It's hard to fathom that Sidney Crosby has only won one Hart Trophy in his career, back in 2007. This is partly due to the injuries he's suffered and the fact that playing on a team as talented as Pittsburgh creates the notion that he's not as valuable as others around the league.
This year, Crosby has created a gap from his competition. Alex Ovechkin continues to score, but his poor defensive play eliminates him, coupled with the disappointing Capitals season. Phil Kessel would've been in the discussion, but with the Maple Leafs eliminated, he's out of the picture.
Claude Giroux and Ryan Getzlaf would be two very solid candidates for this award. The Flyers seemed reborn once Giroux's season got going. Getzlaf proved why he's Anaheim's franchise player (or co-franchise player with Corey Perry).
Crosby staying healthy resulted in a 100-point season and finally gave people the chance to see the best in the world for a full season. It's high time he takes home the Hart once again.
Winner: Sidney Crosby