Nearly two-thirds of the 2018-2019 NHL season has expired, and there is no shortage of worthy candidates for all of the league’s coveted hardware. It is not a coincidence that goal scoring is at its most prominent in 13 years, and that can be greatly attributed to the rapid influx of young talent being dispersed around the NHL, perhaps more greater youth than ever before in history. With a season as compelling as this, the ensuing list of players and potential award recipients are among the many to thank for restoring enthrallment to the game this season.
Hart Memorial Trophy: The NHL’s MVP award, this one may generate the most contentious of debates around the hockey world. Since the 1990-1991 season, only six right wingers have been named recipients of this award, and Tampa Bay Lightning right winger Nikita Kucherov should become the seventh such winner in that time span. Detractors will point to the fact that the Lightning have a preeminent roster, and the fact that the Maykop, Russia native plays on a line with Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat, but what about two seasons ago in 2016-2017 when Stamkos played in just 17 games, and yet Kucherov still posted 85 points and scored 40 goals and carried his team to within one game of the Stanley Cup Final? This season, Kucherov leads the league in points (80), assists (58), and is on pace to finish with 126 points, which would be the most by any player in a season since Joe Thornton in 2005-2006; and not to mention that the Lightning juggernaut boasts superb possession numbers, too.
Norris Trophy: Bestowed to the best defenseman in hockey, this particular award had lacked mobility for some time until 2012-2013, as multiple players have won it multiple times at a frequent rate since 1999-2000, with former Red Wings pivot Nicklas Lidstrom having won it seven times since then; Erik Karlsson has won it twice, and Duncan Keith has won it twice as well. Some perennial candidates like Brent Burns, Victor Hedman and the aforementioned Erik Karlsson are naturally in the running, but the main standout is career Flames player Mark Giordano, who was somehow, beyond my comprehension, undrafted, despite being one of the most consistent defensemen in hockey since the Flames signed him in July of 2004, as he has averaged 44 points and a Corsi and Fenwick rating of 56.0% and 53.1%, respectively, since then. I do not subscribe to the notion that the defenseman with the most points should automatically win the award; that is ludicrous. This year, Giordano is second among all defensemen in Corsi For (58.97%), he leads the league in plus/minus (30) and total goals on-ice for (104), and he ranks second at his position in point shares (4.8), and leads the league in total point shares (9.8). The contributions by the Calgary Flames captain in all facets would get him the Norris Trophy right now.
Art Ross Trophy: Given to the top point scorer, Nikita Kucherov would win the Art Ross if the season ended today.
Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy: The best goal scorer each season is the winner of this trophy, and if the season ended today, Alex Ovechkin would win it for the eighth time overall and for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.
Vezina Trophy: Given to the best goalie each year, goalies from the Eastern Conference have dominated this award, as a goalie from the Eastern Conference has won it 15 times in the last 17 seasons, and this season is no exception. While Marc-Andre Fleury makes a convincing case with the most wins (27) and shutouts (6) among netminders this season, his save percentage (.911) is underwhelming. The Islanders have had near-inconceivable performances from Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner. Lehner, however, has still been better than his teammate and every goalie this season, though it remains to be seen whether his low amount of games played (28) will deter voters from giving him their endorsement; but Lehner leads all goalies in save percentage (.932), goals against average (2.02), goals saved above average (19), and goals allowed adjusted (74), and leading the league in that many categories would render it blasphemous to not award the Vezina to Lehner at this moment, and he would also become the first Islanders goaltender since Billy Smith in 1981-1982 to win it.
Calder Memorial Trophy: Awarded annually to the best rookie each season, the race for this award is nonexistent. Canucks rookie center Elias Pettersson leads all rookies in goals (23), assists (23), and obviously points (46). He also leads the league in shooting percentage, converting at an astonishing 27.7%, which would be the 12th-highest rate in a season, and he would be the seventh center to be named the best rookie since 1993-1994.
Jack Adams Award: Last but certainly not least, the Jack Adams award, given annually to the best coach each year. There are a copious amount of worthy candidates, those bench bosses on the list being Jon Cooper (Lightning), Claude Julien (Canadiens), Barry Trotz (Islanders), Travis Green (Canucks), and Bill Peters (Flames). Ultimately, Travis Green would get the nod if the season ended today, because he has the Canucks in the second wild card spot right now just a year after they finished seventh in the Pacific. Claude Julien is the only other coach on this list who can make a truly legitimate case based on getting players to coalesce, but he still has a Hart Trophy and Vezina-winning goalie in Carey Price, and Green has just three players with 30 or more points.
Naturally, this is based on the time of this writing, and any of this could change in an instant. Hopefully this season, one of the most enticing in a while, will remain that way.