The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs were ex-Montreal Canadiens forward Phillip Danault’s coming-out party as one of the league’s top defensive forwards. In fact, by shutting down the opposition to the degree he did for the first three rounds, Danault would have been an outside candidate to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Along with the recognition he received, all Danault’s playoff performance did was confirm what Canadiens fans already knew, that they had a Frank J. Selke Trophy-caliber player centering their top line. After all, he has finished in the top 10 in voting for the award in each of the last three seasons.
Ironically, now that Danault’s left to join the Los Angeles Kings for big money, it’s entirely possible he’ll finally get the recognition he deserves on the defensive front and make more of a push for the award, after the fact. However, even if the Canadiens are hypothetically out a Selke winner, they’ve got a few other candidates potentially in line for other awards come 2022. Here they are in order of increasing likelihood of them coming away with hardware:
5. Carey Price (Vezina Trophy)
It’s not like goalie Carey Price hasn’t done it before, winning both the Vezina and Hart Memorial trophies in 2015. For this list’s purposes, put him down as possibly the league’s best goalie. The emphasis is admittedly on “possibly” considering Price has long since peaked at 34 years of age.
However, one look back, however brief, at Price’s playoff performances the last few postseasons, and it becomes clear he’s got something left in the tank. In 2020, he earned a .936 save percentage, with a goals-against average of 1.78. In 2021, he earned one of .924 (2.28). Those are elite numbers.
Doubt only sets in once you consider his numbers during the regular season have left something to be desired. Regardless, if the Canadiens do make the playoffs, Price will likely be a primary reason for it. In that sense, Price might end up being a worthier candidate for the Hart Memorial Trophy, which is of course awarded to the player who’s “the most valuable to his team.”
However, it’s a matter of playing the odds here as goalies are simply likelier to be recognized for their work by winning the Vezina. Case in point, only three goalies have won the Hart alone (as opposed to the Hart and Vezina in the same season): Roy Worters in 1928-29, Chuck Rayner in 1949-50 and Al Rollins in 1953-54. Word has it a goalie wins the Vezina just about every season. So, if Price does win something, it’s either going to be both trophies once again or just the Vezina. If you had to put money on one unlikely occurrence taking place, it’s clear which one.
4. Shea Weber (Bill Masterton Trophy)
All Shea Weber needs to do to be a shoo-in for the Bill Masterton Trophy is come back. That’s all, just like Saku Koivu, who won the award, which exemplifies perseverance and dedication to hockey, in 2002, getting in three games before the playoffs after battling non-Hodgkins lymphona that regular season.
Admittedly, easier said than done, considering the reported extent of Weber’s injuries, but fans are already half-anticipating (or hoping for) a return in time for the playoffs, just like Nikita Kucherov for the Tampa Bay Lightning last posteason. It likely won’t happen (hence the No. 4 ranking), as the word “retirement” has been bounced around in the news, but it certainly would be nice, just because it would mean Weber is healthy once again.
Based on his playoff performance this past summer and the hard work he’s put in during his 1,000-game career, he deserves that at the very least, if only so he can enjoy retirement as much as possible once it actually comes around.
3. Jeff Petry (James Norris Memorial Trophy)
In some respects, Jeff Petry is in a better position to do what Weber never did: win a James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league’s best defenseman. It’s not as crazy as it sounds, with Petry having earned some buzz over the years, including as recently as last season, getting five votes when all was said and done.
Ultimately, Petry’s fast start to the season, during which he scored 27 points over the first 30 games, dissipated. He ended with a still-impressive 42 points, but ultimately got overtaken by the likes of leading-scorer (among d-men) Tyson Barrie (48) and the trophy’s eventual winner, Adam Fox (47).
Barrie’s name atop the leaderboard proves points don’t mean everything, but, if you’ve followed Petry’s career, you’d know his offense is just half his game. Over the year’s he’s helped elevate the likes of Brett Kulak and, more recently Joel Edmundson, into analytics darlings.
Maybe stepping out from the shadow of the man mountain that is Weber will give Petry more visibility in the eyes of hockey writers (who vote for the award). Rest assured though, Petry is the Canadiens’ No. 1 defenseman and, more to the point, a No. 1 defenseman in general. He effectively was already, dating back a few seasons, even with Weber playing.
2. Dominique Ducharme (Jack Adams Award)
There’s no disputing Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme had a rocky start to his career as Habs bench boss. After taking over from predecessor Claude Julien, he went 15-16-7, barely hanging onto a playoff spot down the stretch after the team started the season roaring out of the gates with a 5-0-2 record. However, two things should be pointed out:
- At least of part that mediocre record can be attributed to the Canadiens being forced into the league’s COVID-19 protocol, after which they had to play 25 games in 43 nights (10-13-2).
- Ducharme obviously led the Canadiens on their most successful playoff run since 1993.
If Ducharme can translate that postseason success to the regular season, he’ll have a good case to win the Jack Adams. There is some precedence, in the sense that the Nashville Predators reached the playoffs in 2017 with the lowest amounts of points, like the Canadiens this past season. The Predators then reached the Stanley Cup Final, lost and then won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2018.
Granted, Peter Laviolette wasn’t so much as nominated for the Jack Adams in 2018 despite the Predators’ on-ice success. However, consider the sheer amount of analysts who believe the Canadiens will miss the playoffs completely, as Ducharme doesn’t have a roster of nearly the same quality. As a result, all Ducharme needs to do is make the playoffs with some breathing room to wow voters (members of the NHL Broadcasters’ Association). Stranger things have happened.
1. Cole Caufield (Calder Memorial Trophy)
To be clear, Cole Caufield is not guaranteed to win the Calder Trophy this coming season. It needs to be said, because according to some oddsmakers, it could be his award to lose.
Of course, Caufield impressed during the playoffs, effectively securing a spot on the Canadiens’ top line, centered by Nick Suzuki, this coming season. There’s no disputing that or the fact that he has a legitimate shot at capturing the first Calder on the part of a Habs player since Ken Dryden in 1972. In scoring 12 points in 20 playoff games as a 21-year-old, Caufield showed a penchant for clutch play and far from seemed out of his element.
Nevertheless, competition will be stiff, with at least 10 prime candidates to win the trophy, Caufield included. So, it’s far from a sure thing, but at the very least Caufield, more than any other Canadiens rookie of the recent past, is likely to get every chance to put the puck in the net.
That’s half the battle right there. Caufield’s already proven himself capable of the rest. Even if he doesn’t win the trophy though, clearly Canadiens fans have a lot to be happy about, moving on past the Stanley Cup Final loss, both with regard to Caufield, and, as the rest of this list proves, in general.
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After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.