For the first time in a long time, the NHL Awards were actually quite bearable. Usually it is a cringe-filled evening to honor the games best players and philanthropists, as the NHL ruins the night with an attempt at comedy. In the past there have been seldom good moments, such as Jiri Hudler going up shoeless to accept an award, but overall the show has been a train wreck of sorts.
This year, however, was better. That is for a number of reasons.
For one, Kenan Thompson was fantastic. His opening monologue, sparked by a few jabs at the expense of the Tampa Bay Lightning, was creative and overall funny. Aside from a few failed segments, such as the “Trophy Scientist”, Steve Harvey, and Lavar Ball, which are likely out of Thompson’s control, he did a very amicable job of keeping the crowd entertained between awards.
The Tony Babcock segments with Connor McDavid and Nikita Kucherov were awkward, but it was singlehandedly made up for with his interaction with Sidney Crosby. Cannot fault anyone on that but a general hesitancy by the players.
On the other end of the spectrum, Carey Price’s interaction with young fan Anderson Whitehead was worth the price of admission alone. What an amazing, tear-jerking moment.
On the more important side, though, the league and its voters actually did a pretty appreciable job at voting on the awards this year. Most of the worthy candidates won, but not all of them did.
Starting off with the good, the Calder Trophy was awarded to Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson, who deserved it. If this was a full season award, it would have been Jordan Binnington, but it’s a regular season award. Overall, with Pettersson, Binnington, Rasmus Dahlin, Miro Heiskanen, and others, it was a solid rookie class, but there was no debate on the winner.
Aleksander Barkov winning the Lady Byng Trophy was also the correct call. Although there are many worthy players for this conversation, Barkov is in nearly a class of his own. He does not get enough credit for the work he does down in Florida.
The Masterson Trophy went to Robin Lehner, who deserved it after battling through mental illness during his career and going on to put up his best numbers during this season. Lehner being the rightful winner of this award does not discredit Nick Foligno and Joe Thornton of their sacrifices and dedication to the game of hockey during trying times in their lives, though. All three are courageous role models.
Barry Trotz took home the Jack Adams, which I believe was the correct choice. Craig Berube certainly did wonders in St. Louis, but Trotz’s revival of the Islanders, especially defensively, is too much to overlook. It was also a nice touch by Trotz to fly out his whole coaching staff and their families to the awards, stating that it takes a group to win this award and not just one coach.
Mark Giordano put up insane numbers as a 35-year-old defenseman and the Norris Trophy going to him was the right decision. He was simply on another level this season.
As for the Mark Messier Leadership Award and the King Clancy, I would have given them to Justin Williams and Jason Zucker, respectively, but Wayne Simmonds winning the Messier Award is obviously fine. Those two are tough to judge as everyone is so deserving.
Now, for the mistakes.
Personally, I believe that the Hart Trophy should have went to Connor McDavid. With no discredit to Kucherov, he would have been third on my ballot behind McDavid and Crosby. Simply no player was a valuable to his team than McDavid was to Edmonton, playoffs or not. Kucherov has a way better support cast around him and I do not think that it was indicative of this award. However, I do agree that Kucherov was deserving of the Ted Lindsay. There can be a discrepancy.
The GM of the Year vote was a total embarrassment as well. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney won, and he was a fantastic executive during the year. He made some great deadline moves including bringing in Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle, both of whom helped Boston reach the Stanley Cup Final. But, you absolutely cannot overlook Doug Armstrong for this award. He brought in a number of important assets for the Blues Cup run, made a perfect coaching change mid-season, and acquired Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly over the summer. The voters needed to get that one correct, and they did not.
On a personal note with O’Reilly, he was a reasonable Selke Trophy winner, but I would have gone with Mark Stone. Can’t get mad that O’Reilly won, though.
Lastly, the Vezina Trophy was another huge mistake. Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is a great goaltender by all means, won. This, again, seems more indicative of the team around him.
Ben Bishop was easily the best goaltender in the NHL during the season, and Lehner was probably second. Yet, neither eclipsed Vasilevskiy in the votes and it was not super close. Sometimes, it feels like these voters just look at wins and goals against average, it’s disappointing.
On a last note – I just wanted to share my favorite vote on the night. Nick Bonino received a first-place vote for the Selke Trophy. I will not be pointing fingers, but the PHWA’s voting chart can be found here if you want to see the full scope of voting on some awards or who did that. Bonino, though, for real?