The Vegas Golden Knights have officially reached the quarter mark of the strange 2020-21 NHL season, playing 14 of the shortened 56-game season. Ever since their expansion, Vegas has shown their potent offensive talent year in and year out throughout the regular season and playoffs. While COVID-19 continues to factor into all of our lives and continuously changes our league daily, the Vegas Golden Knights having a dominant regular season appears to be a constant.
With key contributions throughout the 23-man roster, there are plenty of award-worthy players in the lineup thus far. This article will break down the Golden Knights’ awards, including only the hockey-related, opinion-based awards from the yearly NHL Awards Show.
Hart Memorial Trophy
The Hart Memorial Trophy typically goes out to the most valuable hockey player in the NHL by the PHWA. This year, it’s no secret so far that the team is cruising on the back of Mark Stone. He’s put up 4 goals and 12 for 16 points (4th, 1st, and first on the team, respectively) in the 14 games thus far, as well as being a +7 (second on the team). Even though his numerical benefit has reared its head thus far, his leadership skills have also emerged since being named the first captain in franchise history back in mid-January.
Stone has not only posted impressive numbers offensively, but he’s also improved on his immensely dominant defensive skill, establishing himself as one of the elite two-way wingers in the NHL. If he continues to produce chances and make plays on all 200 feet of the ice, he will make an argument for himself to not only be Vegas’ MVP but the NHL’s MVP as well.
Calder Memorial Trophy
One of the more interesting storylines every season pertains to the newcomers of the league: the rookies. Where they end up, how they perform, and how the young talent alters the future of their respective clubs is always a hot topic when hockey swings around every year. This year, Zach Whitecloud has no doubt been the best rookie for the Knights, posting 2 goals, 2 assists and 4 points (1st in all categories among VGK rookies) in 14 games played.
The 24-year-old has taken a big leap in his game since making his NHL debut in 2017-18, playing roughly three minutes more on average per game (19:10) from his career average (16:35). Whitecloud’s advanced stats have looked good as well, as he possesses a +3 individual goals for/goals against and a 53.3% Corsi-for percentage (CF%). Whitecloud has solidified himself as a young yet reliable top-6 defenseman, helping to bolster the experienced Golden Knights defensive corps.
In a normal year (given the Golden Knights goaltending situation), this trophy would be a difficult call to make, as the Knights have $12 million tied up in their goaltenders and arguably the best tandem the league has seen in some time. However, Marc-Andre Fleury has stepped up and taken his net back after losing it in the bubble to Robin Lehner. Fleury leads the team in games played, goals against average (GAA), and save percentage (SV%), wins, and shutouts thus far, posting a 1.56 GAA and 0.937 SV%, with two shutouts and going 7-2 in that span.
A major hitting point for Fleury’s uptick in statistical performance comes from his advanced stats as well. Through his first nine starts this season, Fleury has a 6.6 goals saved above average (GSAA), ranked sixth-best in the league and a 5.58 goals saved above expected (GSAx), tied for in the league. Fleury has proven that the Vegas crease is still his to tend, as he’s off to his best start since his early Pittsburgh seasons. If the Knights can continue to rely on Fleury to play at this level, they will be as scary as any team come May.
James Norris Memorial Trophy
The Norris Trophy is given out every postseason to the best defenseman in the NHL, as voted by the PHWA. This season, Shea Theodore has truly established himself as a Norris Trophy candidate for the entirety of the league, let alone for his team. He’s currently putting up points at a point-per-game pace (3 goals, 8 assists in 11 games played), tied for third among league-wide defensemen with a minimum of 10GP. Theodore’s offensive production is hardly the end of his upside, as he averages over 21 minutes per game, has a 52.3% CF%, and 55.5% offensive zone start percentage (oZS%), per Hockey Reference.
On top of these impressive advanced analytics, Theodore also boasts positive possession stats as well. The team has a 54.3% Fenwick-for percentage (FF%) when Theodore is on the ice, which is the main reason why the Golden Knights have had 11 goals against with him on the ice so far this season. Theodore is a terrific top-4 defenseman defensively, and he seems to always find himself on the stat sheet in a positive way every night, despite the other immense talent on his team.
Frank J. Selke Trophy
Stone has not only shown he is a force to be reckoned with in the offensive zone, but he’s also proven he can be a disruptor in his own zone. Along with Stone’s 1.14 points per game, he averages 0.71 blocks per game and 1.21 takeaways per game. On top of this, Stone has averaged over 18 minutes per game, with a 53.4% CF% and 56.5% oZS%, per Hockey Reference. Stone’s ability to create turnovers in the defensive and neutral zones and to produce chances in the offensive zone is in large part why he oftentimes finds himself in the Selke conversation year-round.
The Golden Knights have certainly emerged as one of the best and most well-rounded teams in the NHL. Only four years off of their initial expansion, Vegas has proven that they are anything but a one-year wonder. With a shortened season and a lineup as deep and as interconnected as theirs, they will certainly provide, at the very least, a conversation as to why their players deserve to be up for nominations come NHL Award Night. So long as players like Theodore, Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Fleury continue to shine in the desert, the Knights will remain one of the league’s top contenders this season to win Lord Stanley’s fabled Cup.