By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
“And the award goes to…”
It’s that time of year, the one in which the regular-season is a week away from ending and the ballots for the NHL’s annual awards will soon be due. Granted, we won’t know the actual results until after the playoffs are complete, but the votes will be in shortly.
So, while we wait for the last few loose ends of the regular-season to be tied up, let’s take a look at who the favorites are, or should be, to take home the hardware over the summer.
ART ROSS TROPHY
The NHL’s Scoring Title race is nearing its conclusion and it’s down to two players: Connor McDavid and Jonathan Huberdeau. McDavid is the clubhouse leader with 118 points, while Huberdeau trails by three. Each has three games remaining and it can go either way. When in doubt, go with the incumbent. McDavid won it last year and has taken home the award in three of the last five seasons. Barring a “slump” or injury, Edmonton’s star will capture this award for the fourth time.
ROCKET RICHARD TROPHY
Auston Matthews leads the way with 58 goals and has two games remaining on Toronto’s schedule. Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl is second in the league with 55 goals and three games to go. You can never call a race until it’s officially over but this one’s basically done.
It’s another two-horse race for the league’s MVP honors. Auston Matthews and Igor Shesterkin are taking this race down to the wire. A little over a month ago it looked like Shesterkin would cap off his historic season by being named league MVP. Then, he hit a rough patch and seemingly dropped out of the race while Matthews appeared to be a lock to score 60 goals; a number not seen in the NHL since Steven Stamkos reached it in 2011-12. An injury to Matthews has slowed Toronto’s scoring machine and Shesterkin has come on strong the last two weeks. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess but due to positional bias the favorite is Matthews.
There won’t be a repeat Norris Trophy champ this year. Adam Fox’s game has slipped in the season’s second-half, although he should still finish in the Top-5. Nashville’s Roman Josi staked his claim to this award with the first 90+ point season by a defenseman since Ray Bourque had 91 points during the 1993-94 campaign. That’s an impressive stat but Colorado’s Cale Makar is only six points behind and has a slight chance to become the first defenseman to net 30 goals in a season since Mike Green had 31 during the 2008-09 season. There’s no wrong answer here so you may as well flip a coin. My gut says it’ll be Makar; so if you’re planning on placing a legal bet go with Josi.
Michael Bunting (Toronto) is a virtual lock to claim the rookie scoring title. Plus, the Maple Leafs are going to the playoffs. However, this award should be Trevor Zegras’ to lose. Anaheim’s viral wiz kid has the stats plus the flashiness to take home this honor. That’s a tough combination for any candidate to beat.
Igor Shesterkin may not be the favorite for the Hart Trophy but the NHL should just hand over the Vezina Trophy now. There’s not a goalie in the NHL who’s season-long body of work can match or exceed Shesterkin’s. The Isles’ Ilya Sorokin made a nice little run at the award over the past couple of weeks but a rejuvenated Shesterkin has clamped down and sealed this one with a kiss.
Is this still called the Frank J. Selke Trophy? It may as well be renamed the Patrice Bergeron Trophy seeing as Boston’s star has already won it four times and should be the favorite to win it for a fifth; which would be an NHL record. As far as defensively responsible forwards go, Patrice Bergeron is the gold standard and even when he doesn’t win the award he still comes close. It’s time to get the chisel out and add his name to the award.
LADY BYNG TROPHY
The league’s “Gentlemanly Player Award” is often misconstrued as the “Least Penalized Player Award.” Nowhere in the official criteria for the Lady Byng Trophy does it say the trophy should go to the player who accrues the least amount of penalty minutes. However, since that’s the way the voting usually seems to go, let’s say it’ll go to Montreal’s Cole Caufield, who has played 65 games, averages 16:43 of ice time and only has 10 penalty minutes.
JACK ADAMS AWARD
The Coach of The Year award can go to any number of deserving candidates. I’ve said since the beginning of the season that Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan is my pick for this honor. However, the Penguins have gone just 15-13-3 since the middle of February and are in danger of falling into a Wild Card spot. Therefore, I can’t maintain my support for Sullivan, although I do feel he’s the best overall coach in the league. Calgary’s Darryl Sutter is widely seen as the favorite for this award given the season the Flames have had so let’s go ahead and say he takes it home.
FAREWELL TO A LEGEND
Another week, another legend lost. This past Friday, April 22, 2022, one week after losing Islanders legend Mike Bossy, the NHL lost Montreal icon Guy Lafleur. With his improvisational skills, flowing hair, and flair for scoring, Lafleur helped the Canadiens win five Stanley Cups during his 14-years with the club.
From the 1974-75 season through the 1979-80 season, Lafleur might have been the NHL’s best player. Three times during that six-year span he led the league in points. During those six seasons Lafleur tallied 766 points in 462 games while winning four of his five Cups.
Gone at the age of 70, Lafleur was taken from this Earth far too soon.