With only three nights of regular season games remaining, virtually the entire 2018-2019 NHL season is in the rear view mirror.
It has been one of the most intriguing seasons in recent memory, beginning with the prolific increase in scoring, as goals scored per game by each team eclipsed three for the first time since the 2005-2006 season. Goaltending performances throughout the league declined as well, as the league average save percentage was .910, the lowest since 2008-2009 (.908); and goals against average league-wide (2.82) was at its highest since the aforementioned 2005-2006 season (2.92).
Additionally, it was a historic season in addition to the aforementioned statistical figures. The Tampa Bay Lightning became just the third team in league history to attain the sexagenarian mark in wins, there will be a 32nd team in Seattle, which will begin play in the 2021-2022 season, and the Carolina Hurricanes continue to dazzle their fans with post-game victory celebrations.
With that, I now have the humble honor to present my hypothetical award winners for the end of the regular season. Without further ado, here are my 2018-2019 NHL award winners.
Hart Trophy- Nikita Kucherov: The former 58th overall pick in the 2011 draft has had one of the greatest seasons ever by any player, and that is no overstatement. Tampa Bay’s seemingly omnipotent right winger made history this season, as he set a new record for points in a season during the salary cap era, with 126; and his scoring tally is the most by any player in a season since Jaromir Jagr’s 127-point campaign in 1998-1999. Kucherov also leads the league in assists (86) by a significant margin (Connor McDavid is second with 74), and he also leads all players in goals created (44.1), offensive point shares (11.9), and total point shares (14.1). To mitigate naysayers who point to the fact that Kucherov plays on a line with Stamkos and Brayden Point, look at the Russian juggernaut’s 2016-2017 campaign when he posted 85 points during a season in which Stamkos missed 65 games. Kucherov has been, without question, the best hockey player in the world this season, and he will win the Hart Trophy because of that simple fact.
Norris Trophy- Mark Giordano: Hockey fans still remain astonished as to how this man was undrafted. Shame on the teams that missed out, but the Flames are glad they did not. Giordano leads all players in plus/minus (39), owns gaudy possession numbers, is the best even strength defenseman among players at his position who average 20 or minutes of ice time, and ultimately should become just the fourth defenseman at age 35 or older to take home the Norris Trophy.
Calder Memorial Trophy- Elias Pettersson: Given annually to the top rookie, Vancouver’s neophyte center has certainly not played like a rookie, because this award race is not a contest at all. Pettersson leads all rookies in points (65), goals (27), and assists (38). The next rookie who has generated the closest level of production is Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk, who is still far behind with 45 points.
Vezina Trophy- Ben Bishop: In my post All-Star break award winners column, I mentioned that the Islanders’ Robin Lehner was the leader for this award at the time, and his numbers still somewhat substantiate that belief, other than his insufficient number of games, which means he is likely out of the race. That being said, there is still a goalie who has risen above his peers this season, and that is Ben Bishop. Bishop has been a Vezina finalist twice before, but he should capture it this year, because he leads all goalies in save percentage (.933), is second in goals against average (2.03, Jordan Binnington’s is 1.89, but he has played in just 31 games); and he has the best goals saved above average mark (30), and is tops in goals allowed adjusted (74). Furthermore, Bishop has the second-best high-danger save percentage (85.02), and has almost single-handedly led his team to the playoffs, especially given that he has had underwhelming goal support (Stars have scored the third-fewest goals this year). Andrei Vasilevskiy has the most wins among goalies and similar numbers, which means he will probably win it, but Ben Bishop has been more valuable to his team than any goalie.
Jack Adams Award- Barry Trotz: Even after winning multiple President’s Trophies and a Stanley Cup with the Capitals, the coach with the fourth-most wins in NHL history could not agree to a deal with his former team, and then the Islanders came knocking. Yes, Jon Cooper led the Lightning to one of the greatest regular seasons ever by any team, and Rod Brind’Amour led the Hurricanes to the playoffs for the first time in a decade and snapped the longest active playoff drought among all teams, but neither coach had the challenges that Trotz inherited, and Cooper has an embarrassment of riches to tinker with every night, and Brind’Amour inherited Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Justin Faulk. Trotz had to navigate the Islanders through the first year of the post-Tavares era, assist a new GM, and had to outwit coaches in a division with the past three Stanley Cup champions, which means Trotz has been the best coach this year after overcoming those obstacles and leading the Islanders to the playoffs with ample unproven talent, maybe aside from Mathew Barzal.
Those are my award winners for this NHL season.