My journey as a sports writer has been a whirlwind, to say the least. In late September, I walked into Prudential Center for the first time as a member of the media and in January I became part of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Before we get to my ballot, I want to thank Mark Scheig, Corey Masisak, and Frank Seravalli for all their help as I navigated my rookie season.
Since the NHL Awards were Tuesday night, I thought it would be fun to give a little sneak peek into my thought process when selecting my ballot for a few of the bigger awards. I will be the first to admit this process is a lot tougher than I thought and I spent a lot of time going back and forth, not only deciding who would make my ballot, but the order as well. My ballots may not have been perfect, and it is okay for you to disagree.
The media constantly asks hockey players to take them through their goals, so please think of this as my own version of taking you through the play.
The Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team.
1. Igor Shesterkin
2. Jonathan Huberdeau
3. Auston Matthews
4. Roman Josi
5. Connor McDavid
My Thought Process: After a couple of hours of research, Shesterkin was an easy selection for first place on my ballot. I understand there is an argument that he did not play in every single game, but you can’t ignore that the Russian goaltender stole 10 games for his team during the regular season. What stands out the most for me as a credentialed New Jersey Devils writer is the New York Rangers only scored five more goals than the Devils. The biggest difference between the Hudson River rivals was the play of their goaltenders. Shesterkin’s performance not only kept the Rangers at the top of the Metropolitan Division in the regular season, but helped them reach the Eastern Conference Final. By definition, I believe he was the most valuable player to his team.
Any Regrets?: Looking over my ballot, there are some changes that I would make. I would put Josi second, Matthews third, Huberdeau fourth, and keep McDavid fifth. The Toronto forward and Edmonton captain had phenomenal regular seasons, but they also have the most help on their team in the form of Mitch Marner and Leon Draisaitl (among others). Josi had a historic season and carried his team on his back and like Shesterkin was the main reason his team made the postseason. Huberdeau had 27 more points than teammate Aleksander Barkov and finished with 115 points, second only to McDavid. Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau was the other player who was in contention for my top five.
The James Norris Memorial Trophy, or simply the Norris Trophy, is awarded annually to the National Hockey League’s top defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position.
1. Roman Josi
2. Cale Makar
3. Adam Fox
4. Devon Toews
5. Victor Hedman
I guess we can all agree this was the most controversial award as it went to Makar instead of Josi who had more first-place votes. I went back and forth with this award as it truly came down to the aforementioned two blueliners.
My Thought Process: The Nashillve Predators’ captain had a historic season notching 96 points, the most points scored by a defenseman since Boston Bruin’s Ray Bourque in 1994. A performance of that caliber should be rewarded; for that reason, he earned my No. 1 spot. You don’t have to watch too many Predators games to notice virtually everything that happens on the ice goes through Josi, but he does not get the tough defensive matchups, Mattias Ekholm gets that assignment. We saw Makar do just about everything for Colorado including the tough assignment of defending against the league’s best. There is no denying that Makar is one of if not the best defensemen in the league, but Josi’s season simply can’t be ignored.
Any Regrets?: No.
The Calder Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.
1. Moritz Seider
2. Trevor Zegras
3. Lucas Raymond
4. Michael Bunting
5. Tanner Jeannot
First, I will address the elephant in the room, rookie Dawson Mercer did not make my top five. This was my first opportunity to vote and I vowed to be as objective as possible. If it was an award for the first half of the season, the Devils rookie would have absolutely been on my ballot, but I had him listed at sixth after doing research at the conclusion of the season.
My Thought Process: For me, it was a no-brainer to put Seider first on my ballot. He led all rookies in time on ice per game playing 23:02, had four game-winning goals, and 21 power-play points. He had virtually no help on the ice and played alongside numerous partners, including Danny DeKeyser, Nick Leddy, and Jordan Oesterle. It’s known that defensemen take longer to develop in the NHL, which makes Seider’s rookie season even more impressive.
Zegras finished the regular season leading all NHL rookies in points per game (.81, minimum 40 points), and notched six shootout goals, which led all first-year players. His entertaining style of play this season included two lacrosse-style goals and an “alley-oop” pass to teammate Sonny Milano. There is no denying the New York native has a high level of skill and that is why I placed him ahead of Raymond. While there were some great rookies to make their debut this season, Seider stood above the rest on a team that finished 25th in the league.
Any Regrets?: No.
I can’t say enough how incredibly grateful I am for the opportunity to partake in this year’s voting. I now understand how stressful this process can be as there are always so many players who deserve recognition. Words can’t describe what it was like to see my name on the voting roster with Darren Dreger and Wayne Gretzky. If you had the opportunity to vote, how would your ballot look? Leave a comment below and let me know!