A goalie’s first great season, a defenseman who never leaves the ice and a do-it-all forward. They’re not trophy favorites, but they do so much so well that an award of some sort was in order.
A goalie, a defenseman and a forward walk into the NHL Awards…
They don’t win anything and walk out empty-handed.
OK, it’s not the best joke in the world, but it is a likely scenario for the three players listed below. So, I went ahead and made up an award for each of them. They work hard, they play hard, they love the game. They deserve it.
The All The Ice Time Award: Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
It’s no secret that 33-year-old Suter is a minute-munching defenseman of the highest degree. You know that, I know that, the whole hockey world knows that. But there’s a difference between knowing something and appreciating something. And Suter’s perpetual presence on the ice, especially since he arrived in Minnesota in 2012, shouldn’t be something that you’re merely aware of – it should be something at which you marvel.
This season, for example, Suter leads all NHL players at 26:54 per game. Assuming he stays ahead of Drew Doughty (26:45) and Erik Karlsson (26:39), Suter will lead the league in average ice time for the fourth time in his six seasons with the Wild. The two times he didn’t lead the league, he finished second in 2015-16 (28:35) and third last season (26:55). Suter’s career-high is 29:24, set in 2013-14, and he didn’t miss a single game that season. In fact, he rarely ever does. Aside from missing five contests in 2014-15, he’s played every game in every season since joining the Wild six years ago.
Suter also kept busy in Nashville, where he spent his first seven NHL seasons, but not at the same Wild level. The only two times he cracked the NHL’s top 10 in average ice time were his final two seasons with the Predators, when he ranked 10th in 2010-11 (25:12) and third in 2011-12 (26:30).
The All-Around Everything Award: Ryan O’Reilly, Buffalo Sabres
He doesn’t score the most goals, he’s not leading the league in points, and he’s sure as heck not going to the playoffs. But O’Reilly makes his presence felt in a variety of other ways, right from the opening faceoff. The Sabres center leads the NHL in faceoff wins this season, and with 1,201 and counting, he’s more than 200 ahead of runner-up Sidney Crosby (961). That remarkable gap is largely due to two factors: O’Reilly leads the league in total faceoffs (1,980) and faceoff winning percentage (60.7 percent). That’s a lethal combination when it comes to dominating on the draw.
O’Reilly is pretty good once the puck has been dropped, too. He sits ninth among NHL forwards in average ice time this season (20:45), after leading this category in each of the past two years (averaging 21:27 last season and 21:44 in 2015-16). He plays at all strengths: 1:31 per game shorthanded (113th among forwards), 3:30 on the power play (16th among forwards) and 15:43 at even strength (29th among forwards). And he’s making the most of his special-teams time, with four shorthanded points (tied for fifth in the NHL) and 13 power play goals (tied for ninth).
One more thing: he’s been whistled for one minor penalty in 76 games. That’s beyond ridiculous, and I don’t even have to look it up to tell you that no other player comes close to matching that mark. (Editor’s note: We looked it up. Nobody comes close.) Incredibly, this wouldn’t be the first season that O’Reilly has recorded just one minor infraction (assuming he keeps it clean in the final week of the season). He won the Lady Byng Award as a member of the Colorado Avalanche in 2013-14 with two penalty minutes in 80 games. I don’t even have to look it up to tell you that he wins it again this year. (Editor’s note: We looked it up. He hasn’t won it yet. The 2018 NHL Awards ceremony is June 21.)
The Best Goalie Who Might Not Get Nominated For The Vezina Trophy Award: Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
First off, it needs to be said that Hellebuyck might get nominated for the Vezina, maybe, but he’s not going to win it unless he pitches shutouts the rest of the way. And that’s unlikely to happen, no matter how good he’s been this season. Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne appear to be locked in a two-masked-man battle for the Vezina, with Hellebuyck among a throng of netminders – including Anaheim’s John Gibson, Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury, Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky – vying for third place.
Let’s take a look at Hellebuyck’s case. We’ll start with the obvious. His record is 40-11-9, making him one of three goalies to reach the 40-win plateau this season. Do the math and that’s a .742 points percentage, which is really good. By comparison, Rinne (41-11-4) leads the NHL with a .754 points percentage, while Vasilevskiy (42-16-3) comes in at .713. Among the other goalie candidates listed above, Rask (33-11-5) has the best points percentage at .724.
If you don’t trust points percentage – I can hear you yelling “It’s a team stat!” – how about save percentage, which is perhaps the fairest and most democratic way to judge goalies? Hellebuyck’s mark is .923, tied for sixth among the 38 netminders who have played more than 30 games this season. Dig a little deeper, and his even-strength save percentage is tied for seventh at .927, while his shorthanded save percentage ranks fifth at .905. And he’s done this while facing the fourth-most shots in the league this season (1,919), including 368 shorthanded shots against, which is about 60 more than anybody else.
Finally, here’s a couple more testimonials from the “team stats!” department: Hellebuyck’s goals-against average is tied for seventh at 2.38, and he’s third in the league with six shutouts. Vezina Trophy? Highly doubtful. Valuable ‘tender? No doubt about it.