The NHL’s 2016-17 season may have ended in disappointment everywhere but in Pittsburgh, but that doesn’t take away from how remarkable of a season it was.
The Penguins won another Stanley Cup and Sidney Crosby another Conn Smythe, something that no one wanted to see except the Steel City itself. But this season saw some remarkable occurences; the surprise success of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the continued emergence of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel and Pekka Rinne’s postseason brilliance, just to name a few.
The annual NHL Awards Ceremony is tomorrow night, as is the Expansion Draft for the Golden Knights. The finalists for the NHL awards are as followed, and I’ll give you my predictions for each (I omit Selke and Lady Byng).
Calder Trophy- Rookie of the Year:
Finalists: Zach Werenski (CBJ), Patrik Laine (WPG), Auston Matthews (TOR)
The rookie scene this season was all about 2016’s no.1 and no.2 overall picks, America’s Auston Matthews and Finland’s Patrik Laine. While Matthews was the much more hyped prospect and did edge out Laine in scoring by six, Laine had the more remarkable rookie season in my opinion.
Here’s my logic: Matthews went to the Maple Leafs and was bolstered by the likes of Mitchell Marner, Morgan Rielly, William Nylander and James van Riemsdyk. Matthews led the rookie class in scoring with 40 goals and 29 assists, but did so with a lot of protection in the lineup.
The same cannot be said for Laine, who scored 36 goals and 28 assists. Laine almost matched Matthews on the scorecard and did so on a much less formidable team in Winnipeg. Laine was also had more individually impressive showings than Matthews, including three hatricks. Oh yeah, you can’t discount that he did so despite missing eight games after getting rocked by Buffalo’s Jake McCabe in January.
Laine had less points than Matthews, but when you dig deeper than just the statistics, the Finn was far more impressive.
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy- perseverance and dedication:
Finalists- Andrew Cogliano (ANA), Derek Ryan (CAR), Craig Anderson (OTT)
Let me say this immediately that I am not discrediting Ryan or Cogliano or trying to take anything away from the courage and bravery they displayed this season. Craig Anderson’s tale is simply the most remarkable and heartwarming.
Just after the season began, Anderson announced that his wife Nicholle was diagnosed with throat cancer. The 36-year-old netminder temporarily left the Senators to care for his wife, who announced that she was cancer-free in May. Anderson performed remarkably despite the emotional weight of the situation and was vital to Ottawa’s run to Game 7 of the Eastern Finals. He recorded a shutout the night after he and his wife made the announcement, it was one of the most heartwarming moments in NHL history. Hats off to you, Craig Anderson.
Jack Adams Award- Coach of the Year:
Finalists- Todd McClellan (EDM), Mike Babcock (TOR), John Tortorella (CBJ)
Despite similarly surprising results from Toronto and Edmonton this season, the story of the year for the NHL is still the Columbus Blue Jackets. Coming off a 14th place finish in the East in 2015-16 and with only two playoff appearances in team history, the Blue Jackets stunned the NHL, finishing third in the East behind only Washington and Pittsburgh. The Jackets started the season 0-7 and fired Head Coach Todd Richards, replacing him with seasoned veteran John Tortorella.
Though many thought Torts had lost his edge in the League, he proved them all wrong. Under his guidance, Columbus posted its best record in franchise history as well as a 16-game winning streak that came within one of tying the NHL record. This is no small feat and Tortorella deserves the hardware for his accomplishment.
Vezina Trophy- Goaltender of the Year:
Finalists- Sergei Bobrovsky (CBJ), Carey Price (MTL), Braden Holtby (WSH)
This one isn’t even close. As previously mentioned, Columbus had a surprisingly successful 2016-17 campaign, and apart from Tortorella, no one was a bigger reason for this than the man between the pipes. Sergei Bobrovsky was incredible all throughout the season for the Jackets, leading the NHL in GAA and Sv% while also coming one win shy of the goaltending triple crown. No further explanation is needed.
James Norris Memorial Trophy- most versatile Defenseman:
Finalists: Victor Hedman (TBL), Brent Burns (SJS), Erik Karlsson (OTT)
This one is also no contest. The Norris is given to the D-man who is judged to be the excellent on both sides of the puck, and no blue-liner in the League was more exemplary of this this season than San Jose’s big man.
Brent Burns turned in one of the finest seasons by a defenseman in NHL history, scoring a remarkable 29 goals and 76 points alongside a +19 rating, proving that the Big Beard is not simply just an offensive defender. Burns’ points total placed him ninth in the League, which is absurd for a defenseman. He was shockingly not named a Hart Finalist, but he has the Norris all but guaranteed.
Hart Memorial Trophy- NHL MVP:
Finalists- Sidney Crosby (PIT), Connor McDavid (EDM), Sergei Bobrovsky (CBJ)
The biggest award of the night is the one that is going to cause the most controversy. Firstly, as amazing as he was all season, Bobrovsky should not be a nominee, Burns should be. It comes down to the Face vs. the Kid.
While his 44 goals and 89 points solidified Sidney Crosby’s place as one of the greatest of all time, his spot as one of the most hated of all time was also set in stone via two incredibly dirty plays. First, he slashed Marc Methot so hard on the hand that it served his finger (warning, the linked video is graphic). This game just days after he two-handed Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly in the nether-region from behind. Though the latter stated in an interview that Crosby later apologized, it doesn’t change the illegality of the play, or Methot’s for that matter. Fans were further infuriated when Crosby was not suspended for either play (we all know any other player would have been punished severely). Crosby’s increasingly dirty play throughout the season should be factored in when considering him for the award.
Crosby did post a formidable season, but he was outdone by Connor McDavid, who is living up to his generational billing. Crosby scored 44 goals to McDavid’s 30, but McDavid was far more generous with the puck, recording 70 assists to Crosby’s 45. The 20-year-old was the only player in the NHL to record 100 points and posted a +27 rating on a lesser team than Crosby’s Penguins.
Whether you consider Crosby’s antics or not should make no difference because scoring the most goals isn’t necessarily the defining trait of an MVP. McDavid’s far superior tally of assists outweighs Crosby’s superior tally of goals. Crosby is the face of the League, but McDavid is the MVP this year.
What are your picks? As always, don’t be shy. I’m on Twitter on @Flat_Manigen74.