Hockey fans love to argue. They will argue about any team or player and especially about their favourites. The NHL awards are a prime opportunity for argument and discussion, as writers, general managers, and the players themselves are given the chance to vote for who they think are the best players in the league at various skills or positions, and us as fans love to convince ourselves that we are smarter than all of them.
When things don’t go a fan’s way, it’s common to find reasons why the award that your favourite player lost is actually flawed and that there should be a different award that better celebrates certain skills. Many people have suggested new trophies for the NHL to introduce, and today I’ll throw my hat into the ring with eight new awards and my predictions for who would win them this year.
Bobby Orr Trophy – Top Scoring Defenseman
Nine of the last 10 Norris Trophy winners were in the top-five in league scoring among defensemen and four of them led defensemen in scoring outright. Many fans have been hurt by Norris Trophy voting as their team’s best defender lost out to someone who scored more points, despite also playing worse defensively. The hope is that this award would help voters to value both offense and defense more equally when it comes to defensemen.
I named this theoretical trophy after Bobby Orr, the prototype for a dominant offensive defenseman. Orr scored 100 or more points in seven straight seasons from 1968-75 before injuries abruptly ended his NHL career. He also holds the record for the most points in a season by a defenseman with 139. This trophy is also based in statistics rather than media voting, essentially making it the defensemen’s version of the Art Ross Trophy.
My prediction for who would win this trophy in the upcoming NHL season is Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators. He exploded offensively last season, scoring 96 points as a defenseman, a mark that hasn’t been reached since Phil Housley scored 97 points in the 1992-93 season. Josi also set the franchise record for most points in a season by any Predators player.
If Josi can manage another 75-plus point season then I think he’ll have a great shot at this trophy, though there are several other defensemen who could push themselves into the conversation. The most obvious competitor would be the Colorado Avalanche’s Cale Makar who scored 86 points last year in just his third NHL season. However, Adam Fox of the New York Rangers and Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning will have a realistic chance as well.
Nicklas Lidstrom Trophy – Best Defensive Defenseman
This award is designed to bring some of the most underappreciated players in the NHL into the spotlight, the defensive defensemen. Players like Jacob Slavvin or Charlie McAvoy have earned a small amount of acclaim over the last few seasons, but their impact is still seriously underrated in many circles.
The Nicklas Lidstrom Trophy is named after one of the most complete defensemen in NHL history who won an astounding seven Norris Trophies in just a 10-year span from 2000-11. Lidstrom, known affectionately by Red Wings fans as “Mr. Perfect,” was as steady and reliable as could be while impacting the game considerably on both ends of the ice.
My pick for the Nicklas Lidstrom Trophy this season is the Avalanche’s Devon Toews who has been remarkable in his first two seasons with the team. Colorado has been dominant with him on the ice, and while it certainly helps to have the best, young, offensive defenseman by his side in Makar, Toews is no slouch either.
His ability to suppress scoring chances and turn around and support the offense on the rush is incredible and made him an invaluable piece of the Avalanche’s championship roster. My other top picks for the award would be Chris Tanev of the Calgary Flames, and the Boston Bruins’ McAvoy (provided he returns from injury sooner than later).
Cy Young Trophy – Biggest Gap Between Goals and Assists on the Season
Not to be confused with the Cy Young Award, which is given to the best pitchers in Major League Baseball, this trophy is given to the player with the largest gap between their goals and assists. Putting a player’s goals and assists next to each other in the following format “15-7” makes it look very similar to a good win-loss record that would give a pitcher a realistic chance at winning the Cy Young.
Adrian Kempe of the Los Angeles Kings would have won this trophy last season, scoring 35 goals and earning 19 assists (35-19) for a gap of 16. Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews, who won both the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy and the Hart Trophy last season was close behind Kempe with 60 goals and 46 assists (60-46), a difference of 14.
My best guess for the winner here would be Andrew Mangiapane of the Flames, and I’ll feel even more confident in that choice if he lines up next to the newly acquired Jonathan Huberdeau who is one of the best passers in the NHL. I’ll go so far as to predict his stats specifically, which I think will be 37 goals and 22 assists (37-22) for a gap of 15.
Golden Shinpad Award – Most Total Blocks
Here’s another award that is meant to celebrate an underappreciated skill in hockey, shot blocking. The only thing that gets a team’s bench more fired up than a good, old-fashioned blocked shot is a goal, so it’s clear that the players value it. They cheer and smash their sticks against the boards to encourage their teammate to keep playing through the inevitable pain that comes with a block.
Blocking shots is only in the job description for goalies, so when a skater makes that sacrifice and puts their body in harm’s way for the betterment of the team, teammates appreciate it. Hockey equipment has come a long way over the years in terms of safety, but I’m willing to bet that blocking a shot in the NHL doesn’t tickle. That’s why I think we should celebrate the player who finishes each season with the most blocked shots.
Last season’s winner would have been Brayden McNabb of the Vegas Golden Knights who blocked 179 shots in just 69 games, just over two and a half blocks per game. Typically, the top shot blockers in the league are defensemen on teams that are below-average defensively, meaning there are more shots that need to be blocked.
My prediction for the winner of the Golden Shinpad Award is Mario Ferraro of the San Jose Sharks. Ferraro had 151 blocks last season in just 63 games, which is just under two and a half blocks per game. With the departure of Brent Burns and the decline in play from Marc-Édouard Vlasic, Ferraro will likely be in for a serious increase in minutes in many situations. If he can hold down a spot on the top defensive pairing with Erik Karlsson, he’ll likely be in for a career year in many aspects.
Most “Valuable” Player – Lowest Cost/Point (Excluding ELC)
I’m taking the word “valuable” pretty literally here, so this award goes to the player on a standard NHL contract (not an entry-level contract) who has the lowest cost per point in a given season. Last season’s winner was the Maple Leafs’ breakout winger Michael Bunting who had a cap hit of $950,000 and scored 63 points. If you divide the cap hit by the point total, you find that each point he scored cost Toronto about $15,000.
Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid led the league in scoring once again last year with an astounding 123 points, so you may think he was near the top of the list based on value too, right? Wrong. By this award’s criteria he was the 366th most valuable player in the NHL last year who Oilers about $100,000 per point. Step aside, McJesus.
My prediction for this year’s winner may be a bit obvious, but I’m going to guess that Bunting will repeat as the league’s most “valuable” player. The chemistry that he built with Matthews and Mitch Marner last season in Toronto is vital and the chance to play on the team’s top line with their two best players should give Bunting another chance to provide a ton of extra value. He also has a single year left on his contract, so he will likely demand a significant raise next offseason, but not before winning this award again.
The Ice Bath Award – Highest Total Time on Ice
Here we have yet another award for an underappreciated player archetype, the minute-munching defensemen who play an obscene amount of time each night. Usually this is a defender who plays on the top pairing at 5-on-5 and then plays significant time on either or both of the special teams units.
Some professional athletes will take baths in a tub filled with ice water to help their muscles recover after an intense workout, so I figured the player who played the most minutes in the NHL each season should be awarded with an ice bath of their own. Bonus points to the NHL if they add this to the NHL Awards show and have the winner give their acceptance speech from a freezing cold ice bath. Tuxedo and all, just dunk ’em.
Last season’s winner was Brent Burns who played 2,144 minutes of ice time, which is the equivalent of just over 26 minutes per game. He played nearly half of every game for the Sharks last year — just let that sink in. I don’t expect him to replicate those numbers with his new team in the Carolina Hurricanes, because they have enviable depth on the back end, which should allow Burns to take a bit more rest going forward.
My prediction for this season’s winner is Thomas Chabot who had the second-highest average time on ice last year. He only played 59 games last season, so his total ice time was quite a bit lower than it could have been, but his role on a young Ottawa Senators team is vital and should lead to him playing more minutes than almost every other player in the league. Some other great, young defenders who could push for this spot are Makar and Vancouver Canucks defender Quinn Hughes.
The Storm Trooper Award – Lowest Shooting Percentage Among Forwards (Min. 200 Shots)
This award goes to the forward who has the lowest shooting percentage in a season where they had at least 200 shots on net. The reason defensemen are not considered here is that they typically shoot from closer to the blue line and having a lower shooting percentage is expected for them; I want to find the player with either the worst aim or the poorest luck.
This award’s winner is always going to be someone who struggled to score, but not for lack of trying. Two hundred is actually quite a high benchmark when it comes to shots, with only 81 players reaching it in all of last season.
Last season’s winner was Mikael Backlund who took 214 shots on goal for the Flames last year and scored 12 goals for an abysmal shooting percentage of 5.6 percentage. Shooting percentage is heavily luck based and usually improves following such a down year, so it’s unlikely we’ll see any repeat winners of this award, though nothing is impossible.
Taylor Hall of the Bruins is my pick for the Storm Trooper Award this season. He will be playing heavy minutes for the first chunk of the season with Brad Marchand still recovering from offseason surgery. I think we’ll see Hall’s shooting volume increase, but his goal total will remain relatively the same. Other players who I think could contend for this award are Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Winnipeg Jets and Cam Atkinson of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Most Improved Player
After all of these awards that I included for the fun factor (the same reason why the NHL would never add them), this is the award that I will stand by at the end of the day and argue that the NHL should add it to their award cabinet.
The most improved player each season would usually be someone who had previously shown great potential but who has finally begun to live up to it. Last season fans saw great young players like Jason Robertson of the Dallas Stars and Kirill Kaprizov of the Minnesota Wild go from really good rookies to some of the best offensive players in the league. The league should be celebrating the breakout stars each year, especially because it would likely help the league with marketing its best players.
Despite the incredible breakout seasons of both Kaprizov and Robertson last year, my pick for last year’s most improved player would have to be Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers who went from being an above-average goalie with serious potential the year prior, to spending last season as the most dominant goaltender the NHL has seen in years.
My prediction for this season’s winner would be Canucks center Elias Pettersson. The 2018 Calder Trophy winner has showed immense potential in his first few NHL seasons but has yet to truly break out as a true star. That is, until something clicked halfway through last season.
After a very slow start to the season that saw him score just 24 points in his first 46 games, Pettersson scored an insane 44 points in the final 34 games of the season, a 106-point pace if he could keep it up for a full season. If what fans saw from him last spring is any indication of the player we can expect going forward, it would be hard to imagine anyone else winning this award by the end of the season.
New Awards Are Fun
At the end of the day, NHL award season is fun, especially if you’re a fan of any of the 31 teams that didn’t win the Stanley Cup and you need something to occupy your mind. Who doesn’t want more fun? Some people treat NHL awards (and their names) as something sacred that can’t be changed, but I think that’s ridiculous. The NHL has a somewhat-recently introduced award (it began in 2006-07) called the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award that’s the most bogus thing I’ve ever heard of and it is wonderful.
They just chose a guy — Mark Messier — who is generally considered to have been a good leader and captain in the NHL (just don’t ask any Canucks fans) and let him decide on the winner of his own award that is named after him. What kind of blackmail does he have on Gary Bettman to have his own award each year? The thing is, I love that the NHL has some random award that one guy who used to play gets to decide for himself each year because that is objectively hilarious. More of that, please.
Awards are silly and subjective, and it would be a blast to have more of them to argue about each year. Plus, some of these awards would be a great chance to recognize and celebrate underappreciated skills and feats that players show off so regularly that we’ve become desensitized to how impressive they are.
Do you have any ideas for awards the NHL should introduce? Who do you predict will win my awards this year? Am I the only one who is confused why Messier has an award named after him AND gets to decide the winner?! Sound off in the comment section below!
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Logan is the director of prospect coverage (including the World Junior Championship and NHL Draft) for The Hockey Writers, and he’s also a part of the Detroit Red Wings writing team. He loves reading about statistics and advanced analytics, and discovering how they can enrich his hockey analysis and writing.