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2021-22 Mid-season NHL Awards: Every Race is Close, Except…

We voted on the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Calder and Jack Adams for the first half of 2021-22. Most of the results were tight – but there was one runaway winner.
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Nine Hockey News staffers cast their votes to hand out mid-season NHL awards for the Hart, Norris, Vezina and Calder Trophies and the Jack Adams Award for the first “half” of the 2021-22 season.

I put quotation marks around “half” because, thanks to wave after wave of COVID-19 postponements, not every team’s season is half over. The New York Islanders have played 39 percent of their schedule and have a viciously condensed slate ahead. On the other end, the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators have played 51 percent of their schedules.

Still, if we average out the league, most teams have played roughly half their seasons, so it feels like the appropriate time for mid-season awards. Do they accurately predict end-of-season results, however? Do the most dominant players and coaches at the halfway mark typically hold on to win?

Let’s examine our voting history since we started the annual exercise in 2014-15. Among last season’s THN mid-season award picks for the five aforementioned awards, only two held on to collect the real hardware: Connor McDavid won the Hart and Kirill Kaprizov the Calder.

Looking at the brief history of our mid-season picks…

2020-21: 2 out of 5
2019-20: 2 out of 5
2018-19: 3 out of 5
2017-18: 1 out of 5
2016-17: 3 out 5
2015-16: 2 out of 5
2014-15: 1 out of 6

So that’s 14 correct mid-season predictions out of 36, meaning the mid-season awards have accurately tabbed the winners 38.9 percent of the time. Considering there was still half a season to play in each case, I’d call that a strong success rate.

With that, as you read the results of our votes for 2021-22 so far, you can confidently assume at least two eventual real-life winners will appear here.

Each staffer submitted three picks per award. First-place votes were worth three points, second-place votes two points and third-place votes one point.

The results:

HART TROPHY (Most valuable player)

1. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals (20 points)
2. Connor McDavid, Oilers (18 points)
3. Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers (5 points)

Two legends are neck and neck for the mid-season Hart. Perhaps McDavid had the edge in November, when his Edmonton Oilers led the Pacific Division standings, but losing streaks of six and seven games have turned them into a laughingstock of late.

Ovechkin, meanwhile, remarkably leads the NHL in goals, points and shots at 36 years old. He’s scored 20 percent of the Capitals’ goals this year and carried an injury-riddled squad into a playoff position.

Also receiving Hart votes: Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, Igor Shesterkin, Nathan MacKinnon, Brad Marchand, Steven Stamkos

NORRIS TROPHY (Best defenseman)

1. Cale Makar, Avalanche (21 points)
2. Victor Hedman, Lightning (19 points)
3. Roman Josi, Predators (6 points)

The Norris figures to be a hotly contested race all season long. The likes of Ekblad or Fox could leap to the front of the pack at any point. Heck, even non-vote-getters MacKenzie Weegar and Devon Toews are in the mix. Right now, Makar’s cocktail of scintillating, possibly generational offensive skill and underrated defensive play have him in the lead. His scoring is obviously showy, but his pairing with Toews is also where opposing attacks go to die. No tandem allows fewer 5-on-5 scoring chances per 60.

Of course, it helps that Makar has Toews as a partner and a loaded roster in Colorado. Hedman’s effort has been Herculean given he’s had less help on an injury-ravaged Lightning team. His numbers are about as good as Makar’s – Hedman is tracking for 80-plus points – and the old-guard thinkers much prefer Hedman’s visible dominance in all aspects of the game, including physical play.

Also receiving Norris votes: Aaron Ekblad, Adam Fox, Alex Pietrangelo, Charlie McAvoy

VEZINA TROPHY (Best goaltender)

1. Igor Shesterkin, Rangers (18 points)
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning (10 points)
3. Frederik Andersen, Hurricanes (9 points)

Our voters “get it” with Shesterkin or ignore him entirely. Six of us gave him a first-place vote, while three voters didn’t put him on their ballots at all. The Shesterkin believers will note he’s been the most dominant netminder in the league by a wide margin. Flashing the quickest reflexes in the sport, he leads all qualified goaltenders in save percentage at a jaw-dropping .938, and that doesn’t tell the full story. Shesterkin faces a difficult workload, dotted with high-danger chances, so he actually ranks near the top of the NHL in expected goals against per 60. It’s all the more remarkable, then, that he leads the league in 5-on-5 goals saved above average per 60.

He’s been the best in the game despite getting weak support from his defense. So why did some voters overlook Shesterkin? Sample size. His 23 starts are the 21st-most in the league. Vasilevskiy, by comparison, has the second-most starts and continues to post sparkling numbers.

Also receiving Vezina votes: Juuse Saros, Jack Campbell, Thatcher Demko, Sergei Bobrovsky, Tristan Jarry, Alex Nedeljkovic

CALDER TROPHY (Best rookie)

1. Lucas Raymond, Red Wings (20 points)
2. Moritz Seider, Red Wings (19 points)
3. Trevor Zegras, Ducks (11 points)

If not for Zegras, the Wings would have a monopoly on Calder finalists. Raymond, the rookie scoring leader, arrived from Sweden looking like a finished product, blessed with preternatural hockey sense and confidence. Seider, slow-cooked by the Wings, has quickly emerged as their all-situations horse on ‘D.’ Zegras is, of course, a breathtakingly talented scorer. This race is far from over. Lundell has been the league’s best rookie for the last month or so and has gained major ground in the scoring race with 17 points in his past 18 games.

Also receiving Calder votes: Alex Nedeljkovic, Anton Lundell

(Time for a plug: our next issue of The Hockey News Magazine is the Rookie Issue. Watch for my three-pronged cover-story interview with Raymond, Seider and Nedeljkovic)

JACK ADAMS AWARD (Coach of the year)

1. Rod Brind’Amour, Hurricanes (20 points)
2. Mike Sullivan, Penguins (12 points)
3. Gerard Gallant, Rangers (8 points)

The Canes lost their top defenseman to free agency and traded away their No. 1 goaltender in a puzzling off-season, but it hasn’t mattered. Brind’Amour, the reigning Jack Adams winner, has his Canes leading the NHL in points percentage. They are also the best overall special-teams club, ranking fifth on the power play and first in penalty killing. Sullivan has done what he seems to do every single season: take a battered, depleted Pens squad and keep it competitive after so many pundits predicted a fall.

Also receiving Jack Adams votes: Jon Cooper, John Hynes, Jared Bednar, Dean Evason, Sheldon Keefe, Pete DeBoer, Todd McLellan, Darryl Sutter

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