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2021 NHL Awards: Who Should vs Who Will Win?-Part 1

The NHL regular season is winding down. All but one team (the Canucks) has passed the three-quarter mark of the season, and the playoff race is getting clearer by the day. So, I decided now would be a great time to take a look at how the end-of-season NHL awards races are shaking out. I will only be doing NHL awards that are voted on, not ones like the Art Ross of Rocket Richard as those awards can change very quickly. 

Instead of just doing a normal ranking of NHL awards candidates I decided to do things a bit differently. Below you’ll find who I think should win each award versus who is most likely to win it. Then, mostly for my own amusement, I took a look at which Bruin has the best case for each award. To be clear, I don’t think there’s a Bruin with a serious case for all of these NHL awards. But, I wanted these rankings to be unique, and since I’m a Bruins fan, I figured it’d be a cool way to do so. Now, without further ado, here are part one of my 2021 NHL awards rankings.

Hart Trophy

Who Should Win: Connor McDavid
Who Will Win: Connor McDavid

If Connor McDavid does not win the Hart Trophy this year, everyone who voted against him should be fired. He has been that dominant. There is no one even remotely close to him right now. He should and will win the award. He’s having the best season of his career at both ends of the ice by a long shot. I could go on and on with stats, but even that wouldn’t go how good he’s been justice. It’s also not very exciting, so I won’t do that. But I will say this: McDavid has 74 points in just 44 games. That’s 1.68 points per game, which is a 138 points pace over the course of an 82 game season. He’s simply been absurd. 

The Oilers are currently sitting just five points out of first place in the North Division with two games in hand over the Leafs. That’s significantly better than anyone expected, and it’s almost all due to McDavid. Without him, the Oilers are at best probably fighting for the fourth playoff spot in the North Division. So, yes, not only is he the best player in the league right now, but he is the most valuable one to his team, which is what the Hart Trophy is all about. It’s his award this year.

The Bruin With the Best Case: Brad Marchand

As for which Bruin has the best case for the Hart, it is without a doubt Brad Marchand. In any other year, he would even have a legitimate case to win the award. However, McDavid has simply run away with it this year, so he doesn’t stand a chance. But, that doesn’t change how good Marchand has been. He has 55 points in 42 games this season, which is a 107 point pace over 82 games (a career-high). But, further to that, he’s been dominant all over the ice for the Bruins this season, and is always there to provide a spark when needed. Marchand is deserving of a nomination for the Hart Trophy, and if it weren’t for McDavid being silly good this season I’d say he’d even have a good shot to win it. And no, that isn’t my bias talking.

Ted Lindsay Award

Who Should Win: Connor McDavid
Who Will Win: Connor McDavid

For why Connor McDavid should and will win this award, see above. The players will undoubtedly follow the PHWA’s lead and pick McDavid as the MVP. If they don’t, they should just stop giving out the award. There has been no one even close to McDavid’s level this season, and everyone- writers, fans, players, etc.- knows it. He will be rewarded accordingly.

The Bruin With the Best Case: Charlie McAvoy

As for which Bruin has the best case to win the Ted Lindsay, my pick of McAvoy may seem surprising at first. After all, I did pick Marchand as the Bruin with the best case for the Hart. However, since the Ted Lindsay is voted on by the players, we need to account for what is likely a significant chunk who would never even dream of voting for Marchand for something like this. After all, he does have quite a negative reputation around the league. So, that means we need to go to the Bruins’ next most valuable player to find the one with the best case for the award, and that’s easily Charlie McAvoy. He’s been an absolute beast for the Bruins this season and is averaging over 24 minutes per game. He has a better case for another award though, so more on him later.

Vezina Trophy

Who Should Win: Marc-Andre Fleury
Who Will Win: Andrei Vasilevskiy

There is little doubt in my mind that Andrei Vasilevskiy will win the Vezina Trophy this season. And, for the first time, I have to admit he’s deserving of it. He’s finally not just a product of an incredible Tampa team. Does he still benefit from it? Yes. But he’s not as reliant on it as he used to be. According to Natural Stat Trick, he’s second in the league to Buffalo’s Dustin Tokarski (who has played in 26 fewer games) in high-danger save percentage (HDSV%) (0.884). On top of that, according to hockey-reference.com, he leads all goaltenders in goals-saved above expected (GSAA) (22.98). You don’t get those numbers without actually being good. So, if he wins, which he almost surely will, I can’t really complain.

All of this being said, I feel as though Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury should win the award. His numbers have been unbelievable as well, as he’s doing it on what was for a while a lesser team. Vegas has really picked it up in recent weeks, but when Robin Lehner was injured and Fleury was starting every game, they weren’t as good as expected. Fleury is the only reason they were able to get through it unscathed. 

According to Natural Stat Trick, Fleury holds a 0.851 HDSV%. In addition to that, according to hockey-reference.com, his 14.14 GSAA is good for third among goaltenders. Those are incredible numbers, just like Vasilevskiy’s. But, what gives Fleury the edge for me is his quality starts percentage. 70% of Fleury’s starts this season are considered to be quality ones, while 61.1% of Vasilevskiy’s are. Given that and the way their respective team’s have been playing, I think Fleury deserves the award just a little more than Vasilevskiy.

The Bruin With the Best Case: Tuukka Rask

As for which Bruin has the best case, the only real choice here is Rask. He’s been the Bruins’ best goaltender this year, as he always is. His 0.916 save percentage and 2.22 goals-against average are great, as are his more advanced stats. Is it enough for him to truly be in the Vezina conversation? Not at all. But, that’s not the purpose of this exercise so that doesn’t matter. If a Bruin was to win this award, it would undoubtedly be Tuukka Rask, as it should be.

Norris Trophy

Who Should Win: Adam Fox
Who Will Win: Victor Hedman

It already seems to be a foregone conclusion that Victor Hedman will win the Norris Trophy this year. On the surface, it makes sense. He’s tied for the league-lead in points among defensemen, and regardless of whether or not I think it should, that tends to be important when it comes to Norris voting. On top of his offensive success, he remains excellent in his own zone as well. He’s a big part of why the Lightning are as good as they are. So, I can’t say he’s really undeserving of the award. However, I challenge people to dig deeper into Hedman’s advanced stats. I think you’ll be surprised. All stats in the following paragraph are courtesy of hockey-reference.com.

Hedman currently boasts a 52.2 Corsi-for percentage (CF%). The team’s CF% is only 0.7% higher when Hedman’s on the ice than it is when he’s off it. That’s good, don’t get me wrong. But it’s certainly not as good as you’d expect it to be. This is especially true considering Hedman is starting 61.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone and just 38.8% in the defensive zone. On top of that, Tampa has only scored one more goal with Hedman on the ice than they’ve let up. Is that last one all on him? No, but it is interesting. As much as Hedman plays in the offensive zone, and as good as he seems to be, you’d expect Tampa’s numbers to be a lot more dominant. But, they aren’t.

I’m not denying that Hedman is one of the league’s best defensemen, and I’m not saying he’s undeserving of the award. But, I am saying that he hasn’t been quite as good as everyone thinks he has been. There are other defensemen more deserving of the award this season.

Fox Has Flown Under the Radar

As for who should win the Norris Trophy, I have to go with Adam Fox. He’s just one point behind Hedman in the defensemen scoring race and has played one less game. He is having a huge breakout season, and his underlying numbers are significantly better than those of Hedman, and he’s doing so on a far worse team. He boasts a 51.1 CF%, which is solid. But, more impressively, the team’s CF% with Fox on the ice is 5.3% better than it is with him off of it. That’s incredible. The Rangers have also scored 14 more goals than they’ve let up with Fox on the ice. Considering the fact that he starts 51.3% of his shifts in the defensive zone and 48.7% of his shifts in the offensive zone, that’s truly mind-boggling. I could go on and on with more incredible stats, but I’ll stop there. 

Fox has flown under the radar way more than he should have this season. He deserves to win the Norris Trophy this season, but I unfortunately doubt he will. But, he better at least get nominated.

The Bruin With the Best Case: Charlie McAvoy

As for the Bruin with the best case to win the Norris this season, that’s Charlie McAvoy. In fact, I say he has a real case for it. Will he win it? No. Will he even be nominated? Probably not given his offensive numbers (which is stupid but that’s another article for another time). But, I certainly hope I’m wrong. He has a whopping 58.6 CF%, and the Bruins’ CF% with him on the ice is an astounding 8.1% higher than it is with him off of it.

On top of all of that, the Bruins have scored 15 more goals with McAvoy on the ice than they’ve let up. Yet, he’s started only 54.5% of his shifts in the offensive zone and 45.5% in the defensive zone. That makes those numbers even more astounding because even though he starts in the offensive zone more than the defensive, it’s not by a massive margin like Hedman’s is. McAvoy has without a doubt been incredible for the Bruins this season, and I truly believe he should at least be nominated for the award.

Selke Trophy

Who Should Win: Patrice Bergeron
Who Will Win: Aleksander Barkov

Last but not least for this article, we have the Selke Trophy. For reasons I can’t fully articulate, this just feels like Barkov’s year to win it. He and Bergeron are rather close statistically, with Bergeron getting the upper hand it most categories, but it just seems like Barkov’s time. Points, CF% (both individual and team), zone starts, faceoff percentages, and goals for and against are all stats that I feel are important when it comes to the notoriously difficult task of evaluating a player’s two-way play. So, let’s take a look at those.

Barkov currently has 46 points in 41 games, and holds a whopping 59 CF%, and the team’s CF% is a whopping 10% higher with him on the ice. He’s started 51.7% of his shifts in the offensive zone, and 48.3 in the defensive zone. Lastly, he wins an excellent faceoff win percentage (54.3%), and the Panthers have scored 12 more goals than they’ve let up with him on the ice. Obviously, these are far from a perfect representation of his two-way play, but when you combine it with the eye test, you find a strong case for the Selke.

Now let’s take a look at Bergeron. He currently has 40 points in 44 games, and boasts a jaw-dropping 61 CF%, while the team’s CF% is 10.6% higher with him on the ice than it is with him off of it. He starts significantly more of his shifts in the offensive zone (59.1% to 40.9%), but that’s more due to how much his line was relied on to produce for the Bruins early in the year than it is to anything else. As for faceoffs, he wins an eye-popping 62.2% of them. Last but not least, the Bruins have scored a staggering 18 goals more than they’ve let up with him on the ice. Just like with Barkov, these numbers don’t tell the whole story, but combine it with the eye test, and you have another strong case for the Selke.

Will Bergeron’s Reputation or the Panthers Unexpected Success Win Out? 

Bergeron’s reputation and consistency over the years could easily get him the trophy, and frankly, I think it should. Not only are his stats that I provided above better than Barkov’s, but he has proven time and time again that he is not only the best defensive forward in the league right now, but one of the best of all time. However, Barkov is an excellent two-way player as well. He’s lurked at the back of the Selke conversation for years and yet he’s never even been nominated. I think part of that is due to the Panthers lack of playoff appearances and overall lack of true success in recent years. But, that’s not the case this year. 

Given how much better the Panthers are then virtually anyone expected them to be, I think Barkov might finally get some recognition. For that reason, I have him as my pick to win the award, even though I think it should be Bergeron. But, no matter what, this is sure to be an extremely close race, and perhaps the closest out of all the awards.

The Bruin With the Best Case: Patrice Bergeron

I don’t think I need to explain it again. Marchand is an excellent two-way player, but he still isn’t on Bergeron’s level. No one is. So, Bergeron is without a doubt the Bruin with the best case to win the award, and he should even be a favorite for it this year.

The 2021 NHL Awards Race Is Really Taking Shape

Although there’s still a quarter of the season to be played, the NHL awards race is taking shape. I’m confident in my picks, so feel free to come back and laugh at me if I get them horribly wrong. I’m fully expecting Connor McDavid to get snubbed now because I said he’s such an obvious choice. If that’s the case, my head, along with many others, will have exploded, so I may not be here to be made fun of. But anyway, be sure to keep an eye out on Friday for Part 2 of my NHL awards picks, which will contain the other five NHL awards that are voted on each year! What do you think about my picks for these NHL awards? Are there players I’m forgetting about? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter!

-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)

Featured image courtesy of Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports.

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