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What can PHWA mid-season awards tell us about the NHL's end-of-season trophy race?

The Professional Hockey Writers Association announced its mid-season award winners. Who took home MVP honors? Who was the best defenseman? And are we going to see history made at the NHL Awards in June?

The Professional Hockey Writers Association released its list of mid-season award winners on Thursday, and if the season were to end today, Nikita Kucherov would capture the Hart Trophy, Mark Giordano would take home the Norris Trophy and Patrice Bergeron would have a case to have the Selke Trophy re-named after him after winning the hardware for a record-setting fifth time.

Re-introduced at this time last season, the mid-season awards may very well be the most accurate representation of where the annual award races stand at the all-star break. As the body that votes on several awards — the Hart, Norris and Selke, as well as the Calder Trophy, Lady Byng Award and Masterton Trophy — the PHWA’s mid-season voting allows an early window into the mindset of those who will decide which players win some of the biggest end-of-season prizes. And this season, much like last, there aren’t many surprises to go around.

However, an interesting aspect of the awards may be their ability to predict the future. For instance, how much weight does being the mid-season leader in Hart voting carry? What about the potential influence of leading the charge for the Norris at the all-star break? And what can we make of the Calder race based on voting at mid-season? Below, you’ll find the PHWA’s list of winners, analysis of the top three and insight into the what the mid-season top-three and winner might mean come the NHL Awards in June:

1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
3. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

You could go ahead and pull last season’s explanation for Kucherov nabbing top spot in the mid-season Hart race and slap it in here without anyone noticing. Once again, he’s leading the league in scoring heading into the all-star break, again he’s doing so by four points and again he’s doing so as the leader of the attack on an offensive juggernaut down in Tampa Bay. A mini Battle of Alberta is brewing in the second and third spots with Gaudreau holding an edge over McDavid, but one wonders if that will change if Edmonton falls all the way out of playoff contention or sneaks in as a wild-card club. Surely everyone is looking forward to another months-long debate about whether a player on a non-playoff team can win the Hart, right?

Influence: The Hart voting can be a bit more volatile than the rest of the league’s awards given its often close — and sometimes too close — relation to the scoring race. It’s worth noting, though, that two of last season’s top three, Kucherov and Nathan MacKinnon, ended up remaining on the tip of the tongue for voters. However, MacKinnon’s ability to take the Colorado Avalanche over the top and into the post-season almost won him the award while Kucherov slid down to sixth. What does that mean for this year’s top three? Well, if Kucherov doesn’t maintain his stranglehold on the Art Ross Trophy as leading scorer, it could be anyone’s game. Gaudreau is as good a pick as any, especially if he’s the one who overtakes the Lightning star in the scoring race.

1. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
2. Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs
3. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks

The Hockey News’ own Matt Larkin previously described Chicago Blackhawks keeper Corey Crawford as the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL’s goaltending cohort. You know, because he didn’t get no respect. Of course, that was back when Crawford was healthy and the unheralded backbone of successful Blackhawks teams. Nevertheless, the Rodney Dangerfield moniker seemed a somewhat fitting title to impose on Giordano, too, as he has been among the steadiest rearguards in the NHL for the past several seasons without getting so much as a Norris top-five out of it. He’s starting to get that respect, though, and it’s clear he’s a frontrunner for the top defenseman award. He’s putting up points — a key factor in winning the Norris — and Giordano continues to be one of the best all-around blueliners into his mid-30s.

Runners-up Rielly and Burns will no doubt keep the scoring race close, and others could enter the fray when it comes to point total, too. If the award is going to be handed out for overall play, though, it’s Giordano’s to lose right now.

Influence: Last season, the PHWA mid-season awards had a one-two of Victor Hedman and Drew Doughty. Come season’s end, the Norris one-two was…Victor Hedman and Drew Doughty. That’s not to say Giordano is a lock to win the award. There are going to be factors that could influence his candidacy such as his health, his ability to continue to pile up points and the Flames’ success down the stretch. If all remains status quo over the next few months, though, there might not be much mystery as to who wins the Norris.

1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
3. Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators

Old habits die hard. Bergeron’s pursuit of an NHL record fifth Selke is alive because he’s long been the gold standard for the award. He’s undoubtedly one of the best defensive forwards in the game. However, he’s missed a significant amount of time. Meanwhile, Barkov is getting credit for being a shutdown pivot who is coming into his own and Stone gets the nod for being the king of the stick-checking wingers. He’s a takeaway master.

That said, it feels like some true Selke frontrunners are missing.

Take Elias Lindholm, for instance. The Calgary pivot is 13th in scoring, boasts a 54.5 faceoff winning percentage and brilliant underlying numbers with the top shorthanded time on ice among Flames forwards. He’s been excellent and has been overlooked here.

One addition that could be made to this list, as well, is Sidney Crosby. Top 10 in voting in each of the past three years, Crosby has the seventh-best Corsi percentage among the 159 centers to play at least 400 minutes at 5-on-5, fourth-best shots percentage, third-best goals percentage, fourth-best scoring chance percentage and 13th-best high-danger scoring chance percentage. And if the knock on Crosby is that he takes too many offensive zone starts for those numbers to matter — he’s 23rd of those 159 pivots at 64.6 percent — consider that Bergeron ranks 33rd at 62.1 percent. It’s not a huge gap and Crosby has significantly better 5-on-5 numbers in a few categories, maybe most notably his 70.7 goals for percentage to Bergeron's 53.5 percent rate.

Influence: The top three last season was Bergeron, Sean Couturier and Anze Kopitar, in that order. The final voting for the award saw Kopitar finish first, Couturier second and Bergeron third. Barkov was the next-closet to finishing in the top three, though he was nearly 200 total voting points back of Bergeron. The defensive-forward debate is one of the best and most intriguing in the league each year because it’s difficult to quantify what makes one two-way forward better than the next. It seems like the top-three at mid-season could be a good indicator of where the votes will land come season’s end, though. That's unfortunate for the Lindholms and Crosbys of the league.

1. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
2. Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres
3. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

What else is there to say, really? Pettersson has had the award on lockdown since early in the campaign and he continues to blast his way to the Calder. Consider that Pettersson’s 23 goals and 45 points put him 19 points clear of second-best rookie scorer despite the fact the Canucks freshman has played four fewer games. Pettersson’s point per game rate is nearly double that of his closest competition. It’s absurd how well he’s played. Even if he didn’t play in the post-all-star portion of the schedule, voters would have to consider giving the award to Pettersson anyway.

Influence: Mid-season leader Mat Barzal won the rookie of the year award last season, and mid-season runner-up Brock Boeser hung around in second place. Chances are the rankings would have remained exactly the same from mid- to end-of-season had Charlie McAvoy not fallen injured and missed nearly 20 games, as well. So, what you see might very well be what you get here. Unless Dahlin or Heiskanen absolutely explodes in the second half — possible, but not likely — the Calder is all Pettersson.

1. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
2. Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs
3. Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames

Barkov has long floated around the periphery of the Byng race. In his third campaign in the NHL, he was the runner-up for the award. A goon-like 10 penalty minute season saw him drop to 13th in voting in his fourth year, and he finished third in voting last season despite a Hanson Brothers-esque 14 penalty minute campaign. Barkov has really cleaned up his act this season, though, and has been penalized just once all season despite tough assignments nightly and a heavy workload that has seen him skate 23 minutes per game.

It’s nice to see a defenseman recognized in the top-three, as well, and Rielly has earned his place as the big-minute Maple Leafs rearguard has committed just two fouls all season. Monahan, who has 10 penalty minutes, is an odd choice for the third spot, however. One wonders if Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard, who has yet to be penalized despite skating nearly 1,000 minutes this season, can sneak into the race.

Influence: Oddly enough, this might be the next-most volatile award after the Hart. All it takes is a stick infraction here or a tough call there for a Byng campaign to go up in smoke. Need proof? Of last year’s top three — Gaudreau in first, Auston Matthews in second, Ryan O’Reilly in third — only O’Reilly made the top-three by year’s end while the former two players finished 11th and eighth, respectively. It’s a tough award to win because of how thin the line can be. However, Barkov seems like he’s destined to win this award sooner or later. So long as he doesn’t get caught up in a scrap one night or throw an ill-timed hit that leads to a suspension, he might have this locked down.

1. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
3. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs

This is a friendly reminder that the PHWA doesn’t vote on the Vezina come season’s end. The top goaltender honor is doled out by NHL GMs. That might be why John Gibson, who ranks 12th in wins and is just one game above .500 in his 42 starts, holds down top spot. It appears much more value has been placed upon Gibson’s play under a tough workload. He’s faced 116 more shots than any other goaltender and is still putting up the sixth-best save percentage (.919) and 15th-best goals-against average (2.74) among the 32 goaltenders with at least 25 appearances. It is interesting, though, to then see Fleury come second despite a significantly lower save percentage (.911). His league-best six shutouts likely helps his case. Andersen is the sleeper here, as his .923 SP is the best among 30-game goalies and his 2.56 GAA is fifth-best among the same group.

One note: goals saved above average is an underlying statistic that might be worth perusing for those seeking a better indicator of how well a goaltender is playing given his workload. A measure of a netminder’s play against that of a league-average keeper and one based in part on shot quality, GSAA helps outline which keepers are performing at the highest level. And of goalies with at least 25 games played, the leaders are Andersen (13.5), Jimmy Howard (13.3), Robin Lehner (13.2), David Rittich (11.9) and Gibson (11.8). Just some food for thought.

Influence: Zip. Zero. Nothing. The Vezina winner is chosen by the GMs. That said, last season’s mid-season top three, as voted by the PHWA, did contain all three finalists, though third-place Pekka Rinne and first-place Andrei Vasilevskiy swapped spots by the end of the campaign in the minds of GMs.

1. Barry Trotz, New York Islanders
2. Bill Peters, Calgary Flames
3. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning

Is this really in question? After losing John Tavares in the off-season and firing their coaching staff, the Islanders appeared primed for a basement finish. Scooping up Trotz on the heels of his post-Stanley Cup victory departure from the Washington Capitals, though, has seemingly been a masterstroke by the Islanders’ front office. Trotz has New York in contention for top spot in the Metropolitan Division and ahead of the defending champions — and his old club — in the divisional standings. So long as the Islanders earn a playoff berth, Trotz is going to win his second Jack Adams in four seasons. (Surprising that Claude Julien didn’t make the cut here, though, as the Canadiens were supposed to likewise be miserable this season and find themselves fighting for a playoff berth.)

Influence: Another award that the PHWA doesn’t vote on. This one goes to the broadcasters. Barring an unthinkable run by an outside club into the post-season, though, this is probably the top three moving forward.

1. Brad Treliving, Calgary Flames
2. Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks
3. Lou Lamoriello, New York Islanders

Executing the Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin deal was Treliving’s biggest move of the summer, and it has paid dividends as both have flourished with the Flames. Treliving’s most important acquisition, though, may have been coach Bill Peters, who has Calgary heading towards a conference crown and looking like a serious Stanley Cup threat. Treliving had his missteps — the James Neal deal hasn’t worked out at all and Derek Ryan has been just OK — but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Wilson is a great sleeper candidate for the award after pulling the trigger on landing Karlsson and putting together one of the most incredible bluelines in the NHL. He’s also got a top team that will be in contention come season’s end. Meanwhile, Lamoriello’s big get was Trotz and Co., who have transformed the Islanders almost overnight.

There’s still plenty of time for this top three to change, though, particularly with the trade deadline in the offing. One big move that turns a fringe club into a Stanley Cup contender could sway voters.

Influence: The top GM award is handed out by a panel that includes the league’s 31 GMs, five executives and five members of the media. That’s to say this is basically an award for GMs by GMs, as they have more than three-quarters of the say in who wins the thing. Last season’s winner was obvious — George McPhee won the award for his work with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights — and it appears this season’s should be, too, as no team has had a single-season turnaround quite like the Western Conference-best Flames.

1. Mattias Ekholm, Nashville Predators
2. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
3. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

If the Selke and Norris had a baby, it’d be the PHWA-created Langway Award, given to the best defensive defenseman. What makes voting for this one difficult is that there are no clear-cut metrics. It’s a lot of eye-test work unless you really want to dig into the underlying metrics…which we do!

So, here goes: This seems like an award best given to defensemen who plays often, takes a heavy slant of defensive zone minutes and tilts the ice in their teams favor while maintaining a favorable goals percentage. That’s a good starting point, right?

To address the first two, let’s use defensemen with below 50 percent offensive zone starts at 5-on-5 and at least 700 minutes played. There are 57 defensemen who fit those parameters. You also want defensemen who drive the play in a positive manner. Only 25 of the 57 defensemen have a Corsi percentage above 50 percent. Additionally, you want defenders who are on the ice for more goals for than against. Only 14 of the remaining 25 defensemen have a 5-on-5 goal percentage above 50 percent. Eliminate those with any notable underlying metrics below 50 percent — shot percentage, scoring chance percentage and high-danger chance percentage — and you’re left with a field of 10 defensemen.

The group includes T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Jared Spurgeon, Jordie Benn, Mattias Ekholm, Scott Mayfield, Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Brayden McNabb and Josh Morrissey. While maybe not a perfect group, and certainly one that has debatable names such as Mayfield and Benn, it’s a look at the defenders who have faced tough competition all season with tough zone starts and still managed to drive the play while on ice for more positives than negatives. Given the workload, Giordano and Ekholm seem a good one-two for the category in any order. Hedman, though? He could be replaced by Letang or Morrissey without question.

Influence: None. It’s not an actual award. It’s a dreamt-up piece of hardware, though one the league should give some consideration to creating given how heavily weighted the Norris can be towards offensive output by defenders.

1. Robin Lehner, New York Islanders
2. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres
3. Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild

The voting for this may be skewed slightly, if only because the mid-season vote is open to all players. That’s not the case once voting actually commences for the Masterton Trophy, which is the piece of hardware most similar to the PHWA’s mid-season honor. What happens before Masterton voting is that each PHWA chapter selects the nominee for the team in their respective city, and that becomes the field of 31 players from which those voting can select the eventual winner. It would seem Lehner, Parise and Skinner are all locks to represent their teams come end of season, though, so maybe the voting isn’t as skewed as one might think.

Influence: Last season’s top three of Brian Boyle, Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux were eventually selected by their respective chapters. The finalists, however, were Boyle (the eventual winner), Roberto Luongo and Jordan Staal. One should hope the mid-season top three is similar to the end-of-year voting, though. That would likely mean nothing awful — serious injury or an off-ice tragedy, for example — has befallen any other player over the remainder of the season. If the mid-season top three holds, too, expect Lehner to win the Masterton. He’s writing the best comeback story of the year.

(All advanced statistics via NaturalStatTrick.)



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