For the most part, the 2016 NHL Awards went the way we expected. Well, save for that Drew Doughty thing. More on that in a second.
As a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, I’m honored to have a vote for several of the NHL Awards. It’s a honor I take seriously. It’s an honor that frankly stresses me out, because I want our organization to get it right. And overwhelmingly through the years, we have. At least in the nominations.
So after considering context and pouring over advanced stats and, yes, even watching a few West Coast games, here’s the ballot I submitted this season for the awards on which the PHWA votes.
1. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
2. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars
3. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
4. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
5. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers
Let’s talk about Patrick Kane.
This was a difficult season to get excited about Patrick Kane’s accomplishments, and a difficult vote to cast given he was the target of a sexual assault investigation at the start of the season. There was a lot of discussion on social media, and among writers, about withholding a first-place vote from Kane because of it. I won’t begrudge anyone that did.
Ultimately, Kane got my Hart vote because Kane was the most valuable player to his team this season. He had 106 points and 46 goal, both career highs. He helped Artemi Panarin to 30 goals. His 26-game point streak was the best stretch for any player this season.
He didn’t get my vote because he “overcame” anything. That’s [expletive]. If anyone cast their vote for Kane for that reason, they’re twisted.
Again, this was a conflicted vote cast. But there are ways one can appreciate the player’s accomplishments while still recognizing the dubious nature of the person. Like, for example, never again contributing to the Patrick Kane myth building unless it’s absolutely warranted.
Oh, and yes: Joe Thornton over Sidney Crosby. Better overall year. Shame that Crosby got a half-season nomination but Mike Sullivan didn’t get the same for the Adams.
1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
3. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
4. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
5. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Karlsson had 82 points in 82 games, and it’s the fourth time in five seasons he led the NHL in points by a defenseman. He led the NHL in total time on ice (2,375:55) and even-strength ice time (1,885:26) and average time on ice (28:58), all career highs. We’re watching a once-in-a-generation talent, and there are voters that probably still didn’t put him over because they saw him turn the puck over in that one Ottawa game they watched on TV.
I give Doughty a lot of credit for his work defensively, as a lynch pin of the Kings’ system, and it’s not his fault that he’s not asked to put up numbers like Burns or Karlsson. But he’s not the best defenseman in the NHL this season. It’s Karlsson.
The fact that he lost is baffling. He was the best defenseman in the NHL this season. Anyone that said otherwise is voting for a jersey, a flag or a trophy drought rather than a player.
1. Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks
2. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
3. Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers
4. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
5. Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes
It’s about one rookie season, not a legacy. And when it comes to the seasons posted by Panarin and McDavid, the issue is that one had a season and the other had just over half of one.
Panarin played 80 games, scoring 30 goals and 47 assists for 77 points. McDavid, due to his broken collarbone, played 45 games with 16 goals and 32 assists for 48 points. Had he played 80 games, he probably wins this in a walk. But he didn’t.
This isn’t to say that McDavid shouldn’t have been a finalist, because what he did in those 45 games was remarkable. His 1.07 points per game average put him third in the NHL behind Patrick Kane (1.29) and Jamie Benn (1.09).
Panarin, of course, was 10th in the NHL at 0.96 points per game, which is damn impressive. How impressive? It’s the fifth best points-per-game average for a rookie since 2005 – or fourth-best among players with at least 46 games played in a season.
The argument against Pararin was that he was already a professional in the KHL before the NHL, which of course wasn’t held against Teemu Selanne and Alex Ovechkin. The other argument is that McDavid doing what he did at 19 is more impressive than what Panarin did at 24, which is an arbitrary gripe that seems to only apply to teenage Calder candidates and 40-year-old Hart candidates.
McDavid is now and will be a better player than Panarin. Of this, I have no doubt. But 45 games does not a season make for a skater. Especially when the other guy had an all-time Top 20 points-per-game season for a rookie in 80 games, which Panarin did.
LADY BYNG TROPHY
1. Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
3. Loui Eriksson, Boston Bruins
4. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
5. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
As you know, I’m not really a Lady Byng guy. I think Marleau’s a fine choice. He had 10 penalty minutes and handled the awkwardness of his alleged trade request (or whatever) earlier this season with grace. He’s a class act. With kind eyebrows.
But as usual, I’ll use this moment to say two things about the Byng: That the PHWA should cede responsibility to the referees union and that Bobby Hull said he still takes crap for winning the Byng in 1965.
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
3. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
4. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
5. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
Barkov might have been the only reach for me in the voting. He had an outstanding year, was basically Jonathan Toews South, and I would have kicked myself if I was the reason he didn’t make the Top 3, which he didn’t, so oh well.
Meanwhile, Bergeron rightfully should have continued his Lidstrom/Norris run on the Selke, but let Kopitar borrow it for a year.
NHL ALL-STAR TEAM
CENTER – Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks; Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins; Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals.
RIGHT WING – Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks; Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets; Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues.
LEFT WING – Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars; Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals; Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames.
DEFENSE – Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators; Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks; Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins; Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning; Roman Josi, Nashville Predators.
GOALTENDER – Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals; Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers; Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning.
I just tried to get most of the positions right.
NHL ALL-ROOKIE TEAM
FORWARD – Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks; Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers; Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres.
DEFENSE — Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers; Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues.
GOAL – John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks.
Pretty straightforward. Better luck next time, Domi. Wait, crap, right. Sorry.
As for the rest of the awards, my Masterton Top 3 were:
1. Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers
2. Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers
3. Pascal Dupuis, Pittsburgh Penguins
We don’t vote on the Vezina. If we did, my vote would be have been for Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals. We don’t vote for the Jack Adams. If we did, my vote would have been for Barry Trotz of the Washington Capitals.