Be it a standout performance from a netminder or a veteran center stepping up to make a difference in a star-studded lineup, each team had its own most valuable player over the past year.
It was almost a no-brainer who would win the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Awards at the 2016 NHL Awards.
Patrick Kane had led the league in scoring by nearly 20 points, he finished second to only Alex Ovechkin with 46 goals, Kane managed nine game-winning goals and he averaged the highest ice time of his career. Kane’s performance marked the first time in league history an American-born player won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer and the first American-born player to win the Hart.
The thing is, even Kane wouldn’t have really considered himself the MVP of the Blackhawks, despite the fact he was one of their sole sources of offense for much of the season. That’s why you won’t find Kane listed here as the team’s MVP over the last calendar year, and there may also be some other unexpected names who find their way into The Hockey News’ list of each team’s MVP over the past year.
Anaheim Ducks: If we’re being honest, no one is going to argue that the Ryan Kesler contract might start looking ugly in two or three years’ time, but right now Kesler is still an impressive talent, a perpetual pest and he was about the best player the Ducks had to offer over the past year. That even rings true statistically. In 75 games since the start of 2016, Kesler has notched 29 goals and 72 points while averaging upwards of 20 minutes per game. What really makes him standout, though, is that he’s often scoring at that rate and doing his best work against the best line the opposition has to offer.
It’s still Getzlaf and Perry’s team, but Kesler had the best year of any Duck.
Arizona Coyotes: Oliver Ekman-Larsson has had a slow ascension to becoming one of the top defensemen in the league, but it’s starting to appear as though he’s arrived as one of the better rearguards the NHL has to offer.
He really came into his own during the 2015-16 campaign, scoring 21 goals and 55 points while picking up a ninth-place finish in Norris Trophy voting, and that has continued into this season, though definitely not at the same rate. Through 36 games this season, Ekman-Larsson has another seven goals and 18 points. Most of all, though, it’s the minutes Ekman-Larsson skates on a team that desperately needs him that impress most. He has averaged nearly a full minute more per game than any other player on the Coyotes over the past year, and at 25, he’s only going to get better.
Boston Bruins: Could it possibly be anyone other than Brad Marchand? There’s certainly a case to be made for the always-stellar Patrice Bergeron, the early season play of David Pastrnak or the still-impactful ability of Zdeno Chara, but Marchand was on another level during the 2015-16 season and has been far and away the most productive Bruin over the past 365 days.
Not only did Marchand smash his previous career-best of 28 goals with a 37-tally season, but he has continued this season with his scoring to the point he’s on pace to become a near 70-point player. His previous career-best, accomplished in 2015-16, was 61 points. If he keeps trending in this direction, Marchand could be an 80-point player by the time he hits 30.
Buffalo Sabres: It’s a small sample size, but the impact Jack Eichel has had on the Sabres since returning from injury in November should be telling enough as to who the real MVP is in Buffalo. He wasn’t the top scorer the team had over the course of the past year — that belongs to Ryan O’Reilly — but with a healthy O’Reilly in the lineup to start the year, the Sabres went 7-8-5. Since Eichel returned, Buffalo has gone 6-5-3. It should surprise no one, either, that he has been incredibly effective over that time, too, with six goals and 11 points in nine games, including two game-winning tallies.
Eichel still has plenty of room to grow, and you can expect him to hold down the Sabres’ MVP crown for years to come.
Calgary Flames: A contract dispute and a hand injury have been the two biggest stories surrounding Johnny Gaudreau for the past few months, but he continues to show that size doesn’t matter in the NHL so long as you have the skill to make up for it. Sean Monahan, Gaudreau’s linemate and good friend, certainly made his own case for the MVP honor, but no one consistently has the game-breaking ability that Gaudreau does.
Gaudreau struggled to start the 2016-17 campaign, and it could have been for any number of reasons, but if there were those who thought the weight of his new six-year, $40.5-million deal was hampering his play, he answered those critics with a seven-game scoring streak right after returning from injury in December.
Carolina Hurricanes: The easy move would be to give the nod to Jeff Skinner, who led the team in scoring, and move on, but let’s go a bit off the board and select Victor Rask. It’s not that Skinner isn’t in the conversation, but Rask has more game-to-game impact on the team and the leap he has made to becoming a top-six center over the course of the past year will allow the Hurricanes to not worry as much about depth down the middle in the future.
Rask is somewhat of a quiet star in Carolina. He’s not mentioned much with the likes of Skinner, Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk, also a contender for MVP, on the roster. But Rask has proven over the past year that he’s going to be a colossal part of the future in Carolina.
Chicago Blackhawks: Remember that talk about Patrick Kane not being the team’s MVP? You can thank Kane himself for that. In February, Kane said that if anyone deserved the nod, it was Corey Crawford. We’re not about to argue.
Crawford dealt with naysayers early in his career saying his glove hand was a glaring weakness or that his performances were simply a matter of playing in a Chicago system that protected him. Fact is, he saw nearly 30 shots against per 60 minutes at even strength over the course of the 2015-16 season and more than 30 per 60 minutes this season. Both put him in the top-third for starting netminders, but since the start of 2016, no starting netminder has a better save percentage at even strength than Crawford. He’s the real deal, and he deserves the recognition.
Colorado Avalanche: One shudders to think the kind of shape the Avalanche might be in without Tyson Barrie. Not only does he provide some solid offensive punch from the back end, but Barrie logs big minutes on a blueline that could use him for 60 minutes per game, if he was capable of skating the full game.
There has continuously been rumors about the potential for trading Barrie, but you’d have to think the return would have to be gargantuan for the Avalanche to even consider the move. Barrie brings too much to a team that is too thin on the back end to be moved for cheap, and though Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon drive the offense, it’s Barrie who keeps Colorado afloat in their own end.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Cam Atkinson has had a dream start to this season with 15 goals and 35 points in the first 34 games of the campaign, which puts him well on pace to set new career bests in the major scoring categories, but his impact on the Blue Jackets goes beyond the score sheet. The one thing the Blue Jackets needed to be was a team that defended better, and a big part of that was getting better two-way play from their forwards. Atkinson is, in many ways, leading the charge. He’s a staple of the penalty kill for Columbus, and his play in his own zone has been rewarded.
Dallas Stars: As Jamie Benn goes, so go the Stars. There’s really no denying that. He is leading the team in scoring throughout 2016 by a 10-point margin, he is the leader in both goals and assists and he is as big a workhorse as there is up front on any team in the league. It’s not all that rare to see Benn logging 20 minutes per night, and that’s not because he’s taking Ovechkin-esque two-minute power play shifts. Benn plays big minutes on the power play, sure, but he also skates on the penalty kill and takes heavy even strength minutes.
There are so many facets to Benn’s game that he’s really one of those players who you have to scratch your head and wonder how it took until the fifth round for someone to draft him. The Stars’ choice to take him is arguably the best selection the team has made in franchise history.
Detroit Red Wings: One would think age would start to catch up to Henrik Zetterberg at some point, but the Red Wings’ veteran captain has remained one of the most effective scorers in Detroit despite his advanced age. It goes beyond just his scoring, though. Zetterberg continues to take on 19-plus minutes per night despite the fact he’s 36 — an age when many players are considering hanging up the skates and moving onto whatever’s next.
One of the most important things for the Red Wings over the next few seasons will be having a smooth transition from one generation to the next, even if there are some struggles in the standings over that period. It’s hard to fathom a way things don’t go well with regard to passing the torch with Zetterberg at the helm. That shouldn’t be overlooked.
Edmonton Oilers: It can’t be anyone but Connor McDavid. The impact losing McDavid had on the Oilers in 2015-16 was felt into the early part of the year and his being healthy for the entirety of this new season has shown exactly what he’s capable of. While it’s not an exact science, McDavid’s Oilers are 31-29-9 in the 69 games they have played with a healthy McDavid in 2016. It’s only his second season, and it already seems as though he’s helped turned around Edmonton’s fate.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers are getting younger, faster and more skilled, yet it’s Roberto Luongo, the team’s nearly 38-year-old keeper, who has been the standout player over the past year. Legendary teammate Jaromir Jagr had the most interesting season by far and Aleksander Barkov is quickly laying claim to being one of the best young pivots in the game, but Luongo turned heads — and turned back the clock — with a brilliant performance in 2015-16 and he’s been solid in 2016-17.
Of goaltenders who have played at least 30 games in 2016, Luongo’s even strength save percentage ranks up there with the likes of Tuukka Rask, Martin Jones and Henrik Lundqvist. It doesn’t appear Luongo is going to slow down any time soon.
Los Angeles Kings: One could almost hand an MVP award to Petr Budaj for the work he has done in spelling Jonathan Quick during an injury to the Kings’ No. 1 goaltender, but the real impact player over the past year has been Jeff Carter. Yes, Drew Doughty won a Norris Trophy, and yes, Anze Kopitar became the captain and a $10-million man due to his new deal, but this season, even when things have looked bleak, it’s been Carter who has supplied offense and, frankly, a public cry for his team to be better.
It’s not a good thing for the Kings that Carter is the best thing going in Los Angeles right now, but it’s hard to deny that anyone has played better, especially to start the 2016-17 season.
Minnesota Wild: As long as he keeps playing this way, Devan Dubnyk deserves every single ounce of praise heaped upon him. It really is one of the best goaltending stories in recent memory, the way Dubnyk has transformed his game since coming to Minnesota. A castoff from Edmonton during some of the dark years for that franchise, Dubnyk ended up bouncing around the AHL as a member of the Predators and then the Canadiens before landing in Arizona as a free agent. That it cost the Wild just a third-round pick to acquire Dubnyk is mind-blowing, especially given he is turning in another performance worthy of putting him in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy.
Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price, and that doesn’t really need much explanation. The NHL isn’t about to hand out awards to players who don’t suit up, but his absence proved just how important he is in Montreal. Price is the best goalie in the world, and it’s barely even a debate.
Nashville Predators: Filip Forsberg has had a fantastic calendar year, Ryan Johansen has been every bit the top-six center the Predators were hoping for and James Neal continues to be a veteran scoring presence coach Peter Laviolette can rely on. There’s also the contributions from vets like Mike Fisher, the impact P.K. Subban has had in his short time as a Predator and the early season play of Pekka Rinne.
But Roman Josi is the MVP.
Not only has Josi been one of the team’s top scorers consistently throughout the past year, but he was the second-most productive player on the club during their two-round run in the playoffs. His goal and nine points was second to only Colin Wilson, but the amazing thing about Josi is that he was skating nearly 28 minutes per game in the playoffs and has averaged nearly 26 during the regular season.
New Jersey Devils: GM Ray Shero would be eligible if this was just a team-wide Most Valuable Person. Nabbing Taylor Hall, a legitimate top scoring threat, from the Edmonton Oilers in a puzzling one-for-one deal was robbery. It was the type of move that can change the direction of a team.
Player-wise, though, Cory Schneider continues to remind us all just how badly the Vancouver Canucks messed up their goaltending situation when they had the chance to choose between Schneider and Roberto Luongo. The Devils haven’t been all that good since Schneider came to town, but that falls on just about everyone other than the netminder. He has been miraculous, often keeping the Devils in games they shouldn’t have a chance in and securing games that look to be on the brink of slipping away.
New York Islanders: John Tavares’ goal that sent the Islanders to the second round of the post-season isn’t the reason he’s the team’s MVP, but it absolutely encapsulates the type of play Tavares is capable of and the reason why he’s the only right choice for the honor.
Over the course of the past year, he has outscored every other Islander by at least 24 points, he leads the team in both goals and assists and there are only three players — all defensemen — who see the ice more than Tavares. And none of this is to mention his post-season performance. In 11 games, Tavares had six goals and 11 points. He scored two game-winning goals, including his huge OT winner, and there were moments during the first-round series against the Panthers where Tavares simply took over.
New York Rangers: The 2015-16 season marked the 10th time in 11 campaigns that Henrik Lundqvist chalked up 30 wins. And, really, were it not for the lockout cutting out roughly half of the 2012-13 campaign, Lundqvist would be a perfect 11 for 11. It’s that kind of consistency that has given the Rangers the chance to win for the past several seasons, and it’s Lundqvist who somehow keeps New York from having to really go all-in on a rebuild despite some significant turnover during his tenure.
Even when Lundqvist is having a “bad” stretch, he remains one of the league’s best goaltenders, as witnessed by his solid 15-8-1 record through the first 25 games of the year. Lundqvist was sat down for a stretch in favor of Antti Raanta, but came back with a performance worth of being named the second star of the week.
Ottawa Senators: It’s hard to remember the last time the Norris Trophy vote was so divisive, but it felt as though the award for best defenseman almost tilted in Drew Doughty’s favor because someone else needed to win it while they still had the chance. Outside of Brent Burns, it doesn’t feel as though there’s any real competition for the Norris, as Erik Karlsson continues to be the most impressive offensive defenseman the league has seen in decades.
Karlsson is second in the NHL in assists with 59 over the past year, and his 73 points since the start of 2016 are 15 more than Mark Stone, who comes in second on the Senators with 58 points. Karlsson has also averaged more than 28 minutes per game on the Ottawa blueline, and he’s seemingly focused on improving his defensive game. If he can win over traditionalists, it might take a herculean defensive performance to pry the Norris away from Karlsson.
Philadelphia Flyers: Wayne Simmonds has to be one of the most quietly effective scorers in the league, right? On a team with the likes of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn, Simmonds has been the Flyers’ most lethal scorer of the past calendar year with a whopping 40 goals. The only players who have found twine more over that same span are Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. That’s decent company.
The end-of-season run from Schenn was something to marvel at and worthy of an honorable mention, but it’s the consistency of Simmonds that leads to him getting the nod as the MVP over the past year.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby. It was Sidney Crosby at the start of the year, Sidney Crosby in the middle of the year and Sidney Crosby at the end. His play in the post-season earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy and though it could be argued Phil Kessel maybe should have taken home the honor, Crosby has erased any doubt that he remains the best player in the world. Crosby’s scoring rate to start the season was on another planet, and his 100 points since Jan. 1 are the most of any player in the league. Patrick Kane is the next closest with 87 points.
Every year, there seems to be a new facet to Crosby’s game, and he remains the best — and most must-watch — player in the league.
San Jose Sharks: Is there a player more beloved by both the Sharks fanbase and the fans of the league as a whole than Brent Burns? He wore a Chewbacca mask to have some fun during the All-Star Game’s Skills Competition, has a toothless grin and shaggy beard and he seems like one of the most friendly and personable players in the league.
Oh, and there’s that thing where he’s become one of the best offensive defensemen in the league.
Burns’ 26 goals and 76 points in the regular season over the past year are remarkable and he turned it on in the post-season with seven goals and 24 points in 24 games en route to a Western Conference championship and Stanley Cup final appearance. If the Sharks won the Cup, the Conn Smythe may have gone to Logan Couture, but Burns has consistently been the best player on the ice for the Sharks in 2016.
St Louis Blues: Before he wound up in Calgary, Brian Elliott would have been a near shoo-in for the honor, but with Elliott out of the picture, Vladimir Tarasenko has powered his way to being the best Blue of the year. There were some rocky moments in the post-season, most notably when Tarasenko was caught getting into an argument on the bench with coach Ken Hitchcock, but even with his frustrations, Tarasenko was a monster for the Blues. He scored nine goals and 15 points to pace St. Louis to the Western Conference final, he was a constant threat offensively and put more than 60 pucks on net in three rounds and Tarasenko scored some big, big goals for the Blues.
Things are changing in St. Louis this season, too, and Tarasenko has responded to the increased responsibility by scoring 16 goals and 39 points in 36 games. He’s fourth in the league in scoring, and he’s more than just the best Blue. He’s one of the best the league has to offer.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Injuries to Steven Stamkos have forced Nikita Kucherov to step up time and time again, and now he seems to be as important to the club as Stamkos is. Over the course of the past calendar year, Kucherov was the Lightning’s top scorer with 30 goals and 70 points in 69 games, and that’s not to count the additional 11 goals and 19 points he racked up in 17 playoff outings. Kucherov has seemingly found the ability to hit his stride at the perfect time and rack up points in the playoffs, and that’s as important an ability as anything.
Ben Bishop was also tremendous for the Lightning in 2016, but if the scoring would have gone away with Stamkos out of the lineup, Tampa Bay could have been done in the first round of the post-season.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Only because it’s too soon to really say Auston Matthews, the Maple Leafs’ MVP in 2016 has been defenseman Morgan Rielly.
Not that Rielly hasn’t received his share of praise for his play, but he has almost been overlooked given the attention paid over the past year to Matthews and, to a lesser extent, Patrik Laine heading up to the draft. That’s a shame, too, because he had a fantastic year on both sides of the puck. Having a legitimate, top-pairing defender is an absolute must for any team wanting to contend, and under the tutelage of coach Mike Babcock, Rielly is beginning to look like he’s absolutely ready for the rigors of being a workhorse rearguard for an up-and-coming team. That Babcock has trusted Rielly to take on upwards of 23 minutes of ice time per game on a young team speaks volumes about his play.
Vancouver Canucks: There’s not much to look forward to in Vancouver right now, but Bo Horvat should give even the most disillusioned Canucks fans reason to be hopeful. The end-of-year MVP has generally been something taken home by someone with the Sedin surname for the better part of the twins’ careers, but Horvat is the top scoring Canuck since Jan. 1 with 24 goals and 52 points and really the only one worthy of being the team’s MVP for the year.
Having some shelter for Horvat to develop in the form of Henrik Sedin and Brandon Sutter really is one of the smartest thing the Canucks have done in the past few seasons, as it hasn’t made it necessary for the team to force the youngster into a second-line role or bigger minutes before he’s ready. That has helped, and he’s slowly earning more minutes as he progresses. If this keeps up, he could be a legitimate top-line center in short order.
Washington Capitals: Since Alex Ovechkin made his way into the NHL, Washington has never been hard up for scoring. That was even more true with the addition of players such as Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, John Carlson and Marcus Johansson. So what the Capitals really, sorely needed to get over the hump was an A-plus goaltender, and Braden Holtby has made it clear that he’s the guy who is going to deliver.
His Vezina Trophy performance in 2015-16 was a thing of beauty. He posted 48 wins, tying the all-time mark set by Martin Brodeur in 2006-07, and came just a hair shy of matching his stellar .923 save percentage from the 2014-15 season. He’s somehow been better this season, too. He’s not on pace for near the same amount of wins, but Holtby’s 2.02 goals-against average and .928 SP to start the campaign are among the league’s best totals. If he keeps this up, he could be right back in the Vezina Trophy conversation once again.
Winnipeg Jets: The way Blake Wheeler came into his own during the 2015-16 season was inspiring and made it clear why he was the no-brainer choice to captain the Jets, but the emergence of Mark Scheifele as a legitimate top-line center is what will have the longest lasting impact in Winnipeg. Scheifele had shown flashes of being a top player during his first two seasons in the league, but he took off like a rocket come January. He scored 17 goals and 39 points to end the campaign, and then blasted out of the gate to start 2016-17 with another 15 goals and 32 points in 35 games.
The Jets were hoping for a star when they took Scheifele eighth overall in 2011, and it seems more and more with each passing game that they’ve landed exactly like that.
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