As a member of the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association, I have the honor of casting a ballot for five of the NHL’s annual individual player awards (the Hart, Norris, Calder, Byng and Selke Trophies) as well as the league’s first-and-second-team All-Stars and Rookie Team. It’s something I never take lightly, and as such I canvass opinions on who I should vote for from as many NHL people – coaches, GMs, scouts, and players – before I submit my ballot. There’s usually not much consensus in any of the voting categories, but this year there was one thing everyone could agree on: the field of legitimate candidates for each award was so vast this year, voters are guaranteed to anger fan bases no matter which person they decide to support.
Thursday’s announcement of the Calder Trophy finalists was as good an example as any: Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, Ottawa’s Mark Stone and Florida’s Aaron Ekblad received the most votes, and many were surprised that Nashville’s Filip Forsberg – who finished the year with 63 points, only a point behind Stone and Gaudreau for the lead in rookie scoring – wasn’t in the mix. But Forsberg had a weaker second half of the season (including a 12-game goalless streak in February and March) than either Stone or Gaudreau, and the way Stone came on at the end of the year could not be ignored. To leave Forsberg in your top three would have meant to ignore what Stone did, or push Ekblad – a defenseman whose performance metrics are different than those by which we judge forwards – into fourth spot on the ballot. Is that fair? No.
Same goes for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward. This year’s Selke finalists are the same as last year’s – Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron – and although you can make a great case for any one of them to win, there’s also a good argument for a winger such as Hawks star Marian Hossa to be honored. You’re necessarily slighting three of those players by not giving them your top pick for the award, but that doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate what they’ve accomplished.
Now, the Hart Trophy balloting is a little different this year, as I expect Canadiens goalie Carey Price to win in a relative landslide. But once you get past the top pick, the vote splinters significantly: would you put Rangers star Rick Nash ahead of Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk? Would you put Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby ahead of both those guys? And what about Islanders cornerstone John Tavares? And try finding consensus on a Norris Trophy winner. I defy you to.
Do you see what I’m getting at here? Basically, every individual award – including the Jack Adams Award for the NHL’s best coach – has multiple worthy candidates. What voters prioritize is, to a degree, subjective. But that subjectivity doesn’t take away from the reality that there are a lot of NHLers worth celebrating. Remember that if/when your favorite player doesn’t win at the Awards ceremony in Las Vegas.