For the second straight year, the Professional Hockey Writers Association has asked its members to vote on Midseason Awards. This continues the revival of a tradition from the 1950s and 1960s.
The PHWA selects seven NHL awards: The Hart, Lady Byng, Calder, Norris, Conn Smythe, Masterton and Selke. For this special occasion, we also voted on things like Defensive Defenseman, Comeback Player of the Year and some year-end awards that we don’t participate in. This mid-season ballot is unofficial, but makes for fun talking points.
This was my ballot:
HART TROPHY (“to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team”)
First: Johnny Gaudreau
Second: John Gibson
Third: Nikita Kucherov
I tried to balance team success and “where would they be without this guy?” in my selections.
In my mind, there isn’t a clear-cut winner so far this year. I also lean toward centermen in my thinking, which makes my final selections unusual.
I also considered Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Sidney Crosby, Elias Pettersson, Brayden Point and Mark Scheifele. Alex Ovechkin and Jeff Skinner were on my radar too.
I went with Gaudreau, because while the Flames have a strong set of forwards, I believe Gaudreau is far and away the offensive engine behind their scorching conference-leading pace. Meanwhile, Gibson has been slipping, but there’s no way that Anaheim is even in wild card contention without him.
NORRIS TROPHY (“to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position”)
First: Mark Giordano
Second: Kris Letang
Third: John Carlson
The key phrase when thinking about the Norris is “all-round.” So I’m more likely to weigh overall impact more than one end of the ice or the other. With that in my mind, I also look for defenders with heavy power play and penalty kill responsibilities.
I also gave serious consideration to Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Roman Josi, Seth Jones and Morgan Rielly.
Speaking of San Jose’s candidates, I had Burns slightly ahead of Karlsson. Karlsson has certainly come on recently, but I opted for Burns’s consistency this year. Despite Karlsson’s strong underlying stats in October, I agree with the sentiment that he struggled a bit then.
CALDER TROPHY (“to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition”)
First: Elias Pettersson
Second: Miro Heiskanen
Third: Rasmus Dahlin
LADY BYNG TROPHY (“to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability”)
First: Aleksander Barkov
Second: Morgan Rielly
Third: Tomas Hertl
Hertl’s ability to play at a high standard in all three zones, while avoiding minor penalties — he has just three so far this season — has been impressive.
Sportsmanship matters too, so abuse of officials and other misconduct minors affect my vote too.
SELKE TROPHY (“to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game”)
First: Aleksander Barkov
Second: Sean Couturier
Third: Mark Stone
Like many, I tend to vote for the best “two-way” forward. This might be lazy, but the argument that the best defense is a good offense applies here.
Overcoming difficult zone starts and tough competition, along with a healthy dose of penalty kill usage influence my picks too.
VEZINA TROPHY (“to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position”)
First: John Gibson
Second: Frederik Andersen
Third: David Rittich
Physical and mental stamina is critical to my voting and for a starting goalie. So netminders who haven’t played an outsized portion of their team’s games are underrepresented in my selections.
This made my third pick hard, as David Rittich has been more of a 1A. I considered Marc-Andre Fleury and his league-leading 45 appearances, along with Carey Price.
But in the end, I went with Rittich over Andrei Vasilevskiy because of his importance to Calgary’s torrid start.
JACK ADAMS AWARD (“to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success”)
First: Barry Trotz
Second: Bill Peters
Third: Claude Julien
GM OF THE YEAR AWARD
First: Marc Bergevin
Second: Lou Lamoriello
Third: Brad Treliving
Over the summer, Bergevin completed a number of at-the-time controversial transactions that have helped Montreal to a wild card spot.
While Alex Galchenyuk’s ceiling probably remains higher, Max Domi has enjoyed a breakout campaign. Also, after trading for Domi, Bergevin inked him to a team-friendly bridge deal.
By the time the Canadiens selected him with the third pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, Jesperi Kotkaniemi was rising quickly on draft boards. Regardless, Bergevin still put himself out there by selecting a player who was considered a mid-first round pick by some. The 18-year-old has proven to be a solid contributor to Montreal’s surprising success.
Finally, Bergevin, despite well-publicized missteps with his handling of the Max Pacioretty situation, managed to come out well in his eventual deal with Vegas. Considering that Pacioretty wanted out of Montreal and was coming off a down year, Bergevin did well to extract a top prospect like Nick Suzuki and identify an undervalued asset in Tomas Tatar. Tatar has been one of the better Canadien forwards this season.
Bergevin also took advantage of Winnipeg’s salary crunch, taking on Steve Mason’s contract for young top-nine forward Joel Armia and a pair of draft picks.
DEFENSIVE DEFENSEMAN OF THE YEAR AWARD
First: Chris Tanev
Second: Niklas Hjalmarsson
Third: Mark Giordano
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR AWARD
First: Joe Pavelski
Second: Carey Price
Third: Jonathan Toews
I look for players who have enjoyed NHL stardom, but for whatever reason, struggled last season.
From 2013-17, Pavelski’s 145 total goals was second only to Alex Ovechkin. Last season, Pavelski, albeit playing hurt, slumped to 22 goals. The Sharks captain is currently on pace for a career-high 43 goals, while continuing to be his team’s most-used forward.