It’s too early to hand out NHL trophies, but it’s not too early to start talking about them. With the first half of the 2018-19 regular season in the books, here are my picks for the league’s major awards, plus honorable mentions.
Presidents’ Trophy: Tampa Bay Lightning
It is the Lightning’s league and everyone else is just playing in it. Granted, they lost in San Jose on Saturday night, but that regulation-time defeat was a long time coming. The last time the Lightning lost a 60-minute game was nearly six weeks ago on Nov. 29. Tampa Bay cruised to the midway mark of the season riding a 16-game point streak (15-0-1) and with a double-digit point lead on the No. 2 team in the overall standings. They’re the highest-scoring team in the NHL, averaging a half a goal per game more than anyone else. Their explosive offense put on an especially impressive display during their hot streak -- they scored at least four goals in 14 of 16 games, and five or more goals 12 times. Defensively, they’re merely in the top half of the league in goals against, but starting netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy missed a month with a broken foot. When he’s between the pipes, they’re easily a top-five team at shutting down the opposition. The Lightning are loaded at every position, and they’re looking beyond the Presidents’ Trophy to the real prize that gets handed out in June.
Hart Trophy: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Let’s go with the best player on the best team. Yes, you can make convincing cases for Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, along with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen in Colorado, John Tavares and Mitch Marner in Toronto, and maybe even for goal leaders Alex Ovechkin in Washington and Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner. But if you haven’t noticed, the Lightning’s win streak pretty much coincided with a 12-game point streak by Kucherov in which he racked up eight goals and 27 points to take over the top spot in the NHL scoring race. It helps, of course, that he plays with MVP types in Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos, but Kucherov has been the driving force for the league’s most dominant team.
Norris Trophy: Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
The 35-year-old Flames defender continues to do it all – and do it well – at both ends of the ice. He ranks among the league’s blueline leaders in goals, assists, points, power-play points, shots and – perhaps most importantly – ice time. The fact he leads the NHL in plus/minus while playing defense in Calgary, where the Flames have had their share of ups and downs in the crease this season, speaks volumes to his worth. San Jose’s Brent Burns, Washington’s John Carlson and Toronto’s Morgan Rielly also rate consideration, with Columbus’ Seth Jones climbing into contention after missing the first few weeks of the season with injury.
Vezina Trophy: Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs
We might be about to see just how much he means to the Leafs, with Andersen recently placed on the IR (and backup Garret Sparks also sidelined with a concussion). But there’s no doubting what he did in the first half of the 2018-19 season, placing second in the NHL in wins (20) and ranking among the league leaders in goals-against average and save percentage. Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury, with a league-high 24 wins and six shutouts, and Dallas’ Ben Bishop look like Andersen’s closest competition, with Nashville’s Pekka Rinne also in the running to repeat as Vezina winner. Long shots include Anaheim’s John Gibson and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, and the longer shots include Calgary’s David Rittich, Boston backup Jaroslav Halak and the Islanders’ Robin Lehner.
Calder Trophy: Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
It’s no debate. Pettersson is running away with the rookie scoring race and was by far the NHL’s superior freshman in the first half. If there’s any concern, it’s whether his slight frame can withstand the long-term physical rigors of an 82-game season and (in a perfect world) two-month playoff run. If you squint, you can see the Calder pack behind Pettersson is led by a couple of kid defensemen in Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin and Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen.
Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
OK, he doesn’t really deserve it since he missed 15 games with injury. But, assuming good health the rest of the season, can’t we all agree that Bergeron is going to skate away with his NHL-record fifth Selke Trophy? If not, it might go to his Bruins linemate Brad Marchand or Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point.
Lady Byng Trophy: Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
While we’re at it, let’s agree on something else: the Lady Byng goes to the NHL forward with the most points and fewest penalty minutes. That’s not the official definition, more of a loose translation. But it certainly holds up when you look at the past winners. Brian Campbell has been the only defenseman to win the Lady Byng since 1954 when he was awarded it in 2012. Having said that, there’s a case to be made for Toronto defender Morgan Rielly, a Norris Trophy contender who has been whistled for just two minor penalties. But Gaudreau is playing like an MVP candidate and, as usual, he’s doing with his speed and skill and well within the guidelines of the game. Let’s face it, he’s 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds – he’s not initiating too many post-whistle scrums. Gaudreau’s almost-as-prolific linemate in Calgary, Sean Monahan, has even fewer PIMs.
Jack Adams Award: Bill Peters, Calgary Flames
New coach on a team that missed the playoffs last season? Check. New team doing very well this season? Check. In that case, say no more and give the trophy to Peters, who has his Flames vying for the Western Conference lead after sitting out the post-season last spring. As always, there are plenty of other worthy bench bosses to consider, including Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper, Vegas’ Gerard Gallant, Toronto’s Mike Babcock, Buffalo’s Phil Housley and the Islanders’ Barry Trotz.