Five major 2020-21 NHL award predictions

Entering Saturday, eight teams are at or were already past the midpoint of the 56-game 2020-21 NHL season. In other words, it’s the perfect time for a mulligan on all of your predictions from before the season began.

Some teams, like the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning, are on track based on their expectations entering this season. Others, like the Florida Panthers and Minnesota Wild, have emerged as potential regular season division title contenders.

Meanwhile, the Buffalo Sabres exist in their eternal… …well, whatever it is the Sabres exist in.

Let’s not get too caught up in what teams have done so far. Instead, let’s look at what individuals are doing this season. It’s time to predict five of the biggest individual NHL award winners for 2020-21.

Hart Memorial Trophy— Brad Marchand, BOS

Marchand has 12-19—31 totals through 24 games so far this season for the Boston Bruins. He also leads his team in goals (12, tied with David Pastrnak), assists (19), points (31) and plus/minus rating (plus-13). He has 1.29 points per game and is currently on pace for 72 points across this season’s 56-game span.

In 82 games, Marchand would be on pace for a career-best 106 points.

That’s ultimately the difference maker. Why is it a difference maker? Edmonton Oilers captain, Connor McDavid, leads the league with 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists) in 29 games and is on pace for 98 points in 2020-21.

In a regular 82-game season, McDavid would be on pace for an astounding 144 points. What else would you expect from the literal best player in the sport currently?

Strength of schedule, division and playoff contention— like it or not— are all variables that come into play when considering who’s worthy of regular season MVP honors.

McDavid isn’t facing traditional Western Conference teams this season. He’s playing six other Canadian teams, including the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators.

Leon Draisaitl has 44 points, Patrick Kane has 40 points and even Mitchell Marner and Auston Matthews have at least 35 points. But again, Marchand is on pace to outscore Matthews.

Marchand is facing what are usually considered to be Metropolitan Division playoff contenders, like Pittsburgh, Washington and the Islanders.

Besides, this is a prediction, not a scoring race update.

James Norris Memorial Trophy— Victor Hedman, TBL

Hedman leads the Tampa Bay Lightning in scoring with 25 points (five goals, 20 assists) in 25 games entering Saturday. Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point all have 24 points this season. Stamkos has played in 23 games to Palat and Point’s 25 games thus far.

The Bolts defender has 15 points on the power play.  He also is a plus-7 this season while quietly taking care of things in his own end.

Sure, Montreal’s Jeff Petry has 10-14—24 totals in 26 games this season. His teammate— Canadiens defender, Joel Edmundson— has a plus-26 rating in that same span. But, Hedman is taking on strong opponents in the Hurricanes, Panthers and Blackhawks. Sometimes, defense isn’t always about showing up on the scoreboard (well, the right side of it, anyway).

Edmonton’s Tyson Barrie and Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes each have 24 points in 29 and 30 games, respectively. They both play in the North Division. Teams like the Senators and Calgary Flames are trying night-in and night-out, allegedly.

At least Calgary is four points out of a playoff spot. It’s not the same for Ottowa.

Though Boston Bruins fans might consider Charlie McAvoy to be a strong contender for this year’s Norris Trophy. His 3-14—17 totals and plus-8 rating in 24 games pale in comparison to the bulk of work and efficiency Hedman is getting from night-to-night.

That said, McAvoy is leading an injury hampered Boston blue line.

It just feels like McAvoy’s better suited to win the Norris in the coming seasons. He’s breaking out, but it’s not quite his big break.

Expect Hedman to take home his second Norris Trophy and first since 2017-18.

Vezina Trophy— Semyon Varlamov, NYI

Though Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy leads all goaltenders in goals-against average (1.79) and save percentage (.936), he trails Colorado Avalanche goaltender, Philipp Grubauer, and Vegas Golden Knights goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, in shutouts.

Grubauer and Fleury each have four, while Vasilevskiy only has three—just like Semyon Varlamov, who, entering Saturday has a 12-4-3 record in 19 games, a 2.03 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.

Vasilevskiy does have a 16-3-1 record in 20 games to his advantage, however, if wins are weighted with more importance in a short 56-game season.

That said, Grubauer’s 14-7-0 record in 21 games and Fleury’s 13-5-0 record in 18 games also happen to be better than Varlamov’s 12 wins in 19 games, but again, it’s not about what the stats say currently, but what they might say by season’s end.

The New York Islanders are a legit contender, having made the 2020 Eastern Conference Final before losing in six games to the defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning.

Fleury is getting up there in age for Vegas with Robin Lehner out for a while, plus Grubauer’s Avalanche teammates have looked a bit slower than they were prior to being setback by COVID protocol.

Varlamov’s in the best position to overtake his competitors and put up Vezina Trophy worthy numbers— if not at least throw his hat in the ring for the William M. Jennings Trophy. 

Jack Adams Award— Dean Evason, MIN

When Evason was hired as the head coach of the Minnesota Wild in 2019-20, it wasn’t just an interim hire. It was a full-time replacement of former Wild head coach, Bruce Boudreau.

In his first 12 games until the pandemic shortened the 2019-20 regular season, Evason led the Wild to an 8-4-0 record in his NHL head coaching debut. Though Minnesota ultimately lost in four games in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier to the Canucks, the Wild turned a lot of heads.

Analysts had written the team off as an organization heading for a rebuild.

Entering Saturday, Evason has commanded the Wild to a 16-8-1 record (33 points) in 25 games— good enough for second place in the Honda NHL West Division.

Minnesota is two points behind Vegas for the division lead.

General Manager, Bill Guerin, made some adjustments in the offseason to the roster, while an influx of youth and top-prospect turned top-Calder Memorial Trophy candidate, Kirill Kaprizov, have turned the Wild into a legitimate playoff contender in what just might be their best chance at a deep run since Minnesota’s 2003 Western Conference Final appearance.

Florida Panthers head coach, Joel Quenneville, has his team third in the Discover NHL Central Division, but he’s won three Stanley Cup rings with the Chicago Blackhawks before and the Panthers were expected to rise in the standings in accordance with Quenneville’s leadership and Bill Zito’s tweaks to the team as their General Manager.

Dave Tippett has turned the Edmonton Oilers into a powerhouse some nights up in Canada. Barry Trotz, Peter Laviolette and Mike Sullivan are the top three coaches in the MassMutual NHL East Division standings and annually well respected in their craft.

Evason is new to the arena and outperforming.

Calder Memorial Trophy— Kirill Kaprizov, MIN

As mentioned above, part of Minnesota’s rejuvenation has a lot to do with 23-year-old standout, Kirill Kaprizov, who’s having a first-year campaign reminiscent of the days when Artemi Panarin was a member of the Blackhawks and beat out 2015 1st overall pick, Connor McDavid, for rookie of the year honors in 2015-16.

Panarin, of course, was 24 then and Kaprizov is soon to turn 24 on April 26th.

In 80 games with Chicago in 2015-16, Panarin amassed 30-47—77 totals, while McDavid’s rookie campaign was shortened due to injury and limited to just 45 games (16-32—48 totals) with the Edmonton Oilers.

This season, Kaprizov has 10-13—23 totals in 25 games so far and is on pace for 52 points over 56 games.

The 1st overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, Alexis Lafrenière has seven points (four goals, three assists) in 25 games with the New York Rangers entering Saturday and was on pace for 16 points in 2020-21.

You can see the parallels, right?

Tim Stützle, the 3rd overall pick by the Ottawa Senators in 2020, has 6-10—16 totals in 27 games entering Saturday and is a minus-16, while his teammate and fellow rookie contender, Josh Norris, has 5-10—15 totals and is only a minus-7.

Chicago’s Pius Suter has 8-5—13 totals in 28 games, Dallas Stars forward, Jason Robertson has 4-9—13 totals in 17 games, and New Jersey Devils rookie defender, Ty Smith, has 2-10—12 totals in 23 games entering Saturday.

Kaprizov, meanwhile, became the second Wild rookie in franchise history to record a hat trick on Friday in Minnesota’s, 4-0, win over the Arizona Coyotes.

— Nick Lanciani (@lanci53)

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