The NHL Awards ceremony will take place in Tampa Bay Tuesday night, with the Calder Memorial Trophy (for the league’s best rookie), the Hart Memorial Trophy (for most valuable player), the James Norris Memorial Trophy (as the game’s best defenseman) and the Vezina Trophy (as the league’s best goaltender) and the Ted Lindsay Award (for the league’s most outstanding player, as voted on by NHLers) being handed out. Here are this writer’s picks for the most worthy candidates:
The Finalists: Michael Bunting, Toronto; Moritz Seider, Detroit; Trevor Zegras, Anaheim
Who Should Win: Seider
Why: There's something to be said for the offense Bunting (23 goals, 63 points) and Zegras (23 goals. 61 points) generated in their first full NHL season, but Seider`s performance on a sub-par Red Wings squad puts him in the winner`s circle. The 21-year-old German posted 43 assists and 50 points, while leading his teammates in ice time (averaging 23:02 per game) and playing a robust physical game. Seider`s defensive instincts already are top-notch, and he`s going to be the cornerstone of Detroit`s defense corps for at least a decade. Zegras and Bunting are effective players – in Zegras`case, a star, even – but Moritz will be challenging for the Norris Trophy in short order.
The Finalists: Auston Matthews, Toronto; Connor McDavid, Edmonton; Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers
Who Should Win: Shesterkin
Why: There's a good case to be made for each of this year`s three Hart finalists, but if we`re going by the definition of the Trophy – the player most valuable to his team – it should be Shesterkin who takes home his first Hart. Yes, McDavid set a new career personal best with 123 points in 80 games, and Matthews reached the 60-goal plateau for the first time in his NHL career, but if you took both of those players off their teams, the Oilers and Maple Leafs would still have above-average teams. The Rangers, on the other hand, might not have made the playoffs were it not for Shesterkin’s heroics. The Ted Lindsay Award – voted on by NHL players, and given to “the most outstanding” NHLer – should go to Matthews or McDavid (both of who are finalists for the Award), but in terms of irreplaceable value, Shesterkin deserves the nod for the Hart this year.
Ted Lindsay Award
The Finalists: Roman Josi, Nashville; Auston Matthews, Toronto; Connor McDavid, Edmonton
Who Should Win: Matthews
Why: Although both Josi and McDavid had terrific years and were outstanding in their own ways, Matthews became the first NHLer to score 60 goals since Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos scored 60 times in the 2011-12 campaign. And he did it while missing nine regular-season games. The 24-year-old Leafs center has earned the respect of his fellow players, and while the voting for this award may be the closest of all the awards, Matthews has boosted his game to new heights and should be recognized for it.
The Finalists: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay; Roman Josi, Nashville; Cale Makar, Colorado
Who Should Win: Josi
Why: While it’s true Makar’s star has continued its rapid ascent in the current Stanley Cup playoffs, the Norris Trophy honors go to the best regular-season blueliner, and that was Josi this season. Both Hedman (20 goals, 85 points) and Makar (28 goals, 86 points) had career-best years on offense, Josi did as well, and he was on another level entirely, with a superb 73 assists and 96 points. Hedman and Josi each have a Norris win under their belts, and Makar looks like he’ll be dominating Norris voting in the years ahead, but Josi, at age 32, beat his previous career-best by 31 points while averaging 25:33 of ice time per game. That gives him the edge over Makar and Hedman.
The Finalists: Jacob Markstrom, Calgary; Juuse Saros, Nashville; Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers
Who Should Win: Shesterkin
Why: As noted above, Shesterkin had a phenomenal season in Manhattan, leading all starting NHL goalies in save percentage (.935) and goals-against average (2.07). Markstrom (.922 SP, 2.22 G.A.A.) and Saros (.918 SP, 2.64 G.A.A.) also were high-impact players, but Shesterkin was a tremendous workhorse (36-13-4 record) who was consistently razor-sharp for the Blueshirts. The 26-year-old’s spectacular performances made all the difference in the world for the Rangers, and he has earned what very likely will be his first of many Vezinas.