The NHL season kicked off last week and already plenty of storylines for the season are popping up. The race for the league’s awards and trophies are almost always heated and full of obvious winners and exciting dark-horse surprises. Here are my picks for the 2016-17 NHL Awards:
Calder Trophy (Best Rookie): Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Matthews, the first overall pick in this year’s draft, sent the entire NHL into a frenzy when he began his career with a record-breaking four goals in his debut game against the Senators (the Maple Leafs went on to lose that game 5-4 in overtime). He impressed this summer in the World Cup of Hockey on Team North America playing alongside Connor McDavid, scoring two goals in three games. While Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, the second pick in the draft after Matthews, seems to be the only other name that could be considered for the Calder, it should be noted that Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray, the man who took over in net for Marc-Andre Fleury during last season’s playoffs and helped them win the Stanley Cup, is considered a rookie this season due to not having played enough regular-season games last season to lose his rookie status. Murray is currently injured however, so Matthews seems like the early-season lock to win this award.
Second place: Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets; Third place: Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins
Dark Horse: Jimmy Vesey, New York Rangers
Jack Adams Award (Best Coach): Peter Laviolette, Nashville Predators
The Predators are surprisingly favored by many to win the Stanley Cup this season, with this summer’s blockbuster P.K. Subban-Shea Weber trade with Montreal seeing Nashville on the receiving end of Subban, one of the league’s most electrifying and eccentric players. Subban joining a strong defensive team, including Norris Trophy contender Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis, pairing with Pekka Rinne in goal could make the Preds the hardest team to score against this season in route to a Central Division title. Laviolette has a very good team in front of him with plenty of young talent (including Filip Forsberg, who could be challenging for some scoring titles in a few seasons), so the blueprint for future Nashville success should begin this season.
Second place: Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning ; Third place: Todd McLellan, Edmonton Oilers
Dark Horse: Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks
Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (Most Goals): Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Ovechkin has won this trophy the past four seasons and his 50-goal tally last season is proof that the 31-year-old is not slowing down anytime soon. With skilled passers Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie joining him on the Caps’ first line, Ovechkin will receive plenty of chances to score this season and reign as the NHL’s top goal-scorer.
Second place: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning ; Third place: Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
Dark Horse: Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Art Ross Trophy (Most Points): Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
As a rookie last season, McDavid had 48 goals over 45 games (he missed 37 games to a broken clavicle in the middle of the season). Had his 1.07 points per game tally transcended over the whole season, he would have finished third in scoring (behind Jamie Benn and Patrick Kane) at just age 19. After being named the youngest captain in NHL history, McDavid is ready to prove himself as the future of the league this season. Joined by Jordan Eberle and veteran off-season signing Milan Lucic, both of whom have multiple 60+ point seasons under their belts (Eberle had a 76 point season back in 2011-12), McDavid has prime assets with him up front that can help him finish this season as the NHL’s most prolific scorer.
Second place: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins; Third place: Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars
Dark Horse: John Tavares, New York Islanders
Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie): Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
2015-16 was supposed to be the year of Carey Price; coming off a Vezina and Hart Trophy winning year, Price looked to continue his great form and lead Montreal to their first Stanley Cup since 1992-93. Those plans were derailed early in the season when Price sprained his MCL and his injury timetable changed from six weeks to the rest of the season. Price is back this season and healthy after a nearly a whole season off. With his last full-season stats reading 44 wins, a .933 save percentage and a 1.96 goals against average (all career and league-highs), Price should take home the Vezina this season.
Second place: Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals ; Third place: Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
Dark Horse: Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman): Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
Already a two-time Norris winner, it is hard to find a better scoring defenseman in the NHL today. Karlsson has led defensemen in points four of the last five seasons, including a career-high 82 last season (the only season he didn’t lead during that span was the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season). He’s only 26, which is right in the thick of prime scoring ages for NHL players. While some believe this will be Roman Josi’s breakout year as the NHL’s top defenseman, he will have to adjust to the pressure of being the number-one blue-liner in Nashville for the first time in his career after the departure of former captain Shea Weber to Montreal; and even the arrival of P.K. Subban seems to be the spotlight for the Predators at the moment. Josi has the potential to win the Norris in the future, but this year looks to be another big one for Karlsson in Ottawa.
Second place: Roman Josi, Nashville Predators; Third place: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Dark Horse: Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers
Hart Trophy (MVP): Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars
The Stars’ captain has become one of the league’s elite players in recent years, and the Stars have emerged as one of the strongest teams in the Western Conference. His increase in scoring over the past three seasons has undoubtedly come from the arrival of Tyler Seguin in 2013, and pairing the two together has been very successful for Dallas. Benn finished second in scoring last season with a career high 89 points (41 goals, 48 assists) behind only eventual Hart and Ross winner Patrick Kane. At 27-years-old, Benn is now hitting his scoring prime but is also capable of leading his team to the playoffs and possibly to a Stanley Cup. While Connor McDavid is highly considered to be an early Hart favorite, the depth of the rest of his team is questionable; the Oilers haven’t made the playoffs since losing in the Cup final to the Hurricanes in 2006 and they haven’t finished higher than fourth in the Northwest/Pacific division over that same period, including two last-place finishes over the past three seasons. The Stars are coming off their first division title since the 2002-03 season and with Benn at the helm of the ship, they are going to be one of the best contenders for Lord Stanley’s Cup. McDavid is surely the future of the NHL, but Jamie Benn is the present.
Second place: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins; Third place: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
Dark Horse: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks