Wednesday night in Las Vegas, the NHL will have their best and brightest on display for the annual NHL Awards ceremony, with the added bonus (if that’s quite the right word) of the Las Vegas Golden Knights announcing their roster through the NHL’s expansion draft process.
Fans of all 30 teams are likely to give the event at least some cursory attention just to see who their team will be parting ways with to help get the Knights off the ground, but there’s a little more in it for the Jackets, with three players and head coach John Tortorella in the running for five different awards.
So with that in mind, let’s run down the categories, and take a look at their chances.
Hart Trophy (League MVP)
Finalists: Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Sergei Bobrovsky
Any time a goalie makes it into the Hart conversation it’s quite an accolade. To appear in the final three is damn near unheard of, and a mark of just how exceptional Bob’s regular season really was.
(The playoffs...well. We won’t talk about that. After all, these votes were tallied at the end of the regular season, anyway.)
How’re The Odds? Pretty damn slim, if we’re honest.
Bob’s season was exceptional and he’s the goalie who helped create the record tying win streak for the Blue Jackets, but as important as he was, I suspect a lot of the voters are going to measure him against Crosby’s return to form (and keep in mind Sid matched the same kind of point totals that helped him win the award twice already) and McDavid’s stunning 100 point season, and it’s a tough argument.
The Penguins probably would have made the playoffs without Sidney Crosby. The Oilers, on the other hand, needed McDavid to help them make the postseason for the first time in a decade.
Would the Jackets have made the postseason with league average goaltending? Much as it pains me to say this...probably. Particularly during their stunning streak, the entire team was playing at an exceptional level, and though Bob was a vital component, he wasn’t indispensable - after all, Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg each helped pick up big wins this season, too. I suspect the hockey writers who submitted their ballots had a lot of second and third place votes for Bobrovsky when all was said and done, but McDavid will have collected enough first place votes to bring home the hardware.
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year)
Finalists: Auston Matthews, Patrick Laine, Zach Werenski
How’re The Odds?: Decent but still uphill.
In any other year, Werenski would be the odds on favorite. Not only leading rookie defensemen in scoring, he was one of the top d-men in the NHL, period, for the bulk of the season. Werenski shattered team records and nearly set an overall team record for scoring by a defenseman, missing it by just four points. (Had he been healthy for the entire season, well, who knows?)
The problem is that Werenski, who might just be a generational defensive talent, is in direct competition with a forward who is already being hailed as a generational talent in Matthews and a guy who came damn close to matching his performance in Laine.
If the Jets had made the postseason, I think the race between Matthews and Laine would be a bit tighter, but Winnipeg’s struggles handicap Laine just a bit, turning this into a two horse race.
Where Werenski might have an edge is that defense is generally a position most NHL players need a few years to develop into. Zach, on the other hand, was eating first line minutes almost from the moment he first hit the ice in Nationwide Arena, and quickly proved he could face any opponent with skill and panache.
Matthews and Laine faced tough competition, particularly once they started filling the net, but their coaches still gave them the advantages of protected starts where possible, while Torts pretty much tossed Werenski out in every situation and role, often putting him up to face the toughest competition in penalty kills and critical defensive zone starts.
Is that enough of an edge to make him the third Blue Jacket to collect the award?
Vezina Trophy (League’s Best Goaltender)
Finalists: Braden Holtby, Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky
How’re The Odds?: Quite Good!
Ironically, the same thing that hurts Bob in the Hart Voting (he can’t be as easily compared to Crosby and McDavid) is exactly why I think he’s got the inside track to his second career Vezina.
Bobrovsky might not have as many wins as Holtby, or as many shutouts, but his role in the Blue Jackets’ win streak will be a big weight in his favor, and while he didn’t win every matchup against his competitors, he had big wins and clearly outdueled every goaltender who placed in the top five of every goaltending category this season at several different points in the season.
He may not have been the clear cut “best” in any single category, but on any given night, if you put Bob against Holtby, Price, Dubnyk, or Lundqvist, he gave you fair odds to win. Taken as a whole, I think it’s enough to deliver him the hardware, particularly since GMs voted prior to the start of the postseason.
Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year)
Finalists: John Tortorella, Mike Babcock, Todd McClellan
How’re The Odds?: Six-Five and pick’em.
A coach comes to a team desperately in need of a new vision, and drags them from perennial basement dweller to playoff contender faster than anyone thought possible.
It’s a hell of a story and the sort of performance that often gets recognition - and in this case, we’re telling the same story three times over.
In Babcock’s case, dragging the Leafs into respectability was expected to take at least two or three years, even with the help of a young and talented roster. Toronto didn’t quite make a “Worst to First” leap, but the 26 point improvement was good enough for fourth in the Atlantic and a wildcard spot, their first trip to the playoffs since 2012-2013.
Todd McClellan left San Jose under a cloud, and few expected him to get much out of the Oilers in his second year, even with some significant personnel shakeups, but they crushed their way to second in the Pacific and fourth overall in the Western Conference.
And then there is Torts. After an uphill climb in his first season and a wretched showing in the World Cup of Hockey, more people expected him to be the first coach fired this season, and he defied that expectation with gusto, delivering the best season ever in Blue Jackets history and developing players like Alexander Wennberg, the aforementioned Werenski, and finding ways to get the most out of veterans like Scott Hartnell, Nick Foligno, and Jack Johnson.
You could tell me that McClellan wins with Torts and Babcock close behind, and I’d say it was fair. You could say Babcock carried it and Torts just edged out McClellan for second and I’d nod.
Pretty much any of these outcomes is fair and acceptable - really, if there was a way to allow it, we’d give all three the award, because they certainly deserve the recognition.
Mark Messier Leadership Award (...yeah, that.)
Finalists: Mark Giordano, Nick Foligno, Ryan Getzlaf
How’re The Odds?: Oh dear god I have no idea.
This award is one of the worst to speculate on. Not only is it based around a very subjective measurement (anyone care to figure out the advanced stats for Leadership/60?), it’s not based on voting. Messier puts together the list for this award and decides on his top three with a bit of input from “Coaches, League Personnel, and Fans” (I stole that from the press release), and then it’s all up to the whims of the same guy who once decided to buy the Stanley Cup a lap dance.
Nick Foligno had a huge comeback this year, and his work off the ice for local charities, Children’s Hospital and the Janis Foligno Foundation deserves recognition, but does it trump Giordano’s work in helping to improve conditions in at risk schools in Alberta?
Does Messier’s definition of leadership put more weight on direct charitable works, or on Ryan Getzlaf organizing golf tournaments to fund medical research?
(I mean, Messier does like golf.)
Trying to guess who wins this award is a lot like making prop bets on what color tie Messier will wear on stage when he opens the envelope. It’s entirely down to one man’s call and might be determined as much by what he had for breakfast as anything these three men have done on or off the ice. It would be neat to see Nick win this (maybe we’d get #MOREHUGS), but your guess really is as good as mine.
All things considered, the Jackets had an amazing season, and there’s a good chance that several of the contributors to that effort will fly home from Vegas with some goodies for their mantelpieces.
It might not be the big prize - but it’s still a nice way to say “Hey, we did something great here.”
Here’s hoping our stars will have those chances to shine.