2016-17 thus far has been a very exciting season for the National Hockey League. Surprise teams have dominated, superstars have lit up the scoring sheet and young guns have cemented their place. With the All-Star Game now over and done with, the season has reached its symbolic halfway point. I’ll attempt to give the best predictions I can for the NHL awards if they were handed out today.
Calder Trophy: Patrik Laine- Winnipeg Jets
In a season that was supposed to be all about 2016’s top draft pick Auston Matthews, no.2 selection Patrik Laine has done nothing but defy that. Though he has only 40 points to Matthews’ 39, Laine has been the far better rookie in the first half of the season, recording two hatricks and scoring 22 goals and 18 assists. Equally impressive is how Laine has bounced back from injury. On Jan.7 against Buffalo, the 18-year-old was absolutely rocked by Jake McCabe after skating through center ice with his head down. Laine received a concussion and missed eight contests. The Finn proved he hadn’t missed a beat upon returning, recording an assist in his first game back and a goal in the next. Matthews is undoubtedly the more marquee name of the two, but he has been largely outclassed by the man taken immediately behind him. In the hunt: Auston Matthews, Zach Werenski, Matt Murray.
Jack Adams Award: John Tortorella- Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets were not pegged to do very much this year as far as preseason predictions went, but that’s what makes the head-turning story of the team this season so remarkable. If the season ended today, Columbus would enter the playoffs as the third seed in the entire League. Defying nearly every expectation they had, the Jackets have gotten stellar goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and terrific all-around production from their entire lineup. Cam Atkinson, Zach Werinski, captain Nick Foligno and Alexander Wennberg have steadied the ship at the Nationwide Arena. The man behind the bench has also been an integral piece. Over the past few seasons, John Tortorella’s smart style has been overshadowed by his hot temper, and his image has faded as a result. But, this season has proven to fans across the League that Torts is still an intelligent coach who knows how to get the best out of his entire team, and he has helped turn Columbus from afterthoughts to the limelight of the NHL. Bruce Boudreau and the Minnesota Wild have also had a surprise season, giving Tortorella some competition for the crown as the League’s best strategist. In the hunt: Bruce Boudreau, Michel Therien, Peter DeBoer.
Norris Trophy: Brent Burns- San Jose Sharks
Drafted as a forward by the Wild in 2003, Burns has shown an impressive scoring touch in the past and his defensive skills have improved considerably over the years as well. But, what the hulking yet smooth blue liner has done this season has been incredible, even by his own standards. Not only does Burns currently lead all defensemen with 51 points, he is fourth in the entire League. The race for the D-men scoring title isn’t even competitive, as Burns has 12 more points than his trailer, Erik Karlsson. 51 points alongside a +14 rating makes him the overwhelming favorite for the Norris Trophy. Burns has carried his San Jose Sharks this season and the team could be a Stanley Cup favorite if he keeps the effort in the second half. In the hunt: Erik Karlsson, Ryan Suter, Victor Hedman.
Vezina Trophy: Devan Dubnyk- Minnesota Wild
It seems as if Devan Dubnyk just keeps getting better and better. After a well-documented story that saw him fall off the face of the Earth and then bust his butt back to the top, Dubnyk is adding another chapter this season. Second only to Bobrovsky in wins and leading the NHL with both a .936 Save % and 1.88 GAA, Dubnyk has been the reason behind the surprising success of the Wild this season, as they sit atop the Western Conference currently. Standing at 6’6 and 213 lb, Dubnyk utilizes his massive size to his advantage and covers virtually all of the net, even when he’s down on his knees. He is also surprisingly quick for a big man and has no trouble going from one end of the net to the other in a hurry. A shining example of how hard work pays off, Dubnyk would win the Vezina Trophy if it was awarded today. And, if he keeps it up in the second half, he’ll be the winner for the year. In the hunt: Sergei Bobrovsky, Carey Price, Braden Holtby.
MVP is often the hardest award to decipher, and this season that is as true as ever. There have been countless standout performances that would be cinches for the Hart. But, above all the others, Sidney Crosby has been the most impressive. Leading the NHL with 28 goals, Crosby has bounced back stunningly from last season and is on pace to shatter the comparatively measly 85 points he scored then. 20-year-old Connor McDavid has been equally terrific this year and is certainly living up to the “Next One” title bestowed upon him with his League leading 59 points. But, though you can argue McDavid’s performance has been more impressive because he is far younger and on a far lesser team than Crosby, I will predict Crosby here because he has more goals, and we all know the NHL loves goal scoring. We saw last season how much the Penguins depend on Crosby, and they may repeat as Stanley Cup Champions if he keeps going at this rate. You could says he’s got Hart (sorry, I had to). In the hunt: Connor McDavid, Evgeni Malkin, Brent Burns.
Who are your picks? Am I a genius? Am I an idiot? You tell me.