- NHL’s 5 Biggest Surprises at American Thanksgiving
- NHL’s 5 Biggest Disappointments at American Thanksgiving
American Thanksgiving has become a big date on the NHL calendar — particularly for playoff implications — and a terrific time to evaluate the lay of the land through approximately 25 games.
The NHL season is a marathon — and there are still two-thirds to go in the 82-game schedule — but this holiday weekend offers a chance to highlight the early surprises, disappointments and frontrunners for awards.
If the NHL had been handing out its hardware on Thursday, these would have been the winners and favourites as well as other candidates for 10 of the major trophies.
Art Ross Trophy — Points Leader
WINNER: Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 48 points in 27 games
RUNNER-UP: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 47 points in 27 games
ANALYSIS: Edmonton’s dynamic duo were 1-2 in the league scoring race at American Thanksgiving, with decent separation from Boston’s Brad Marchand (43 points) and David Pastrnak (39 points), while Washington defenceman John Carlson (36 points) was rounding out the top five at that time. Draisaitl was one point up on his running mate McDavid, but both were on pace for 140-plus points this season.
Rocket Richard Trophy — Goals Leader
WINNER: David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins — 23 goals in 25 games
RUNNER-UP: Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins and Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 18 goals
ANALYSIS: Pastrnak has been a scoring machine this season, with five more goals than his linemate Marchand and the surging McDavid as of American Thanksgiving. That put Pastrnak on pace for 75 goals, while Marchand was on pace for 59 and McDavid for 55. Draisaitl was tied for fourth at 16 goals with Alex Ovechkin and Auston Matthews, and Nathan MacKinnon was next with 15 — all four of them were right around the 50-goal pace.
Hart Trophy — League MVP
WINNER: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
RUNNER-UP: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
OTHER CANDIDATES: Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers; Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins; John Carlson, Washington Capitals
ANALYSIS: McDavid is the NHL’s most valuable player as of today, without much dispute. Edmonton’s young captain recovered from a knee injury sustained in the final game of last season and has returned to his dominant form. Draisaitl was the driving force for the Oilers over the first month while McDavid was still getting up to speed and thus warrants serious Hart consideration, but McDavid has since taken off and has been unstoppable on most nights in keeping Edmonton atop the Pacific Division standings.
MacKinnon is the runner-up, managing 35 points over 24 games without his regular linemates for long stretches as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog were sidelined by significant early-season injuries. MacKinnon has been in beast mode to maintain Colorado’s playoff position.
Marchand deserves mention as the top offensive producer outside of Edmonton (and the league leader with a plus-20 rating) and Carlson’s incredible start thrust him into the conversation, but they would (or should) have been fourth and fifth in the Hart voting at American Thanksgiving behind McDavid, MacKinnon and Draisaitl in that order.
Norris Trophy — Top Defenceman
WINNER: John Carlson, Washington Capitals
RUNNER-UP: Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes
OTHER CANDIDATES: Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers; Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers; Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars; Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens; Roman Josi, Nashville Predators; Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
ANALYSIS: Carlson’s stat-line takes the cake here as the highest-scoring defenceman with 36 points in 26 games, and his plus-13 rating speaks to an improved all-around game. He’s not winning this award solely on points but for his overall impact.
Hamilton has been huge for the Hurricanes, producing a league-leading 10 goals among defencemen and 26 points in 25 games, to go along with an impressive plus-15 rating. Carolina is a smaller market that doesn’t get as much attention — even with the Storm Surge increasing the ’Canes popularity — but Hamilton’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed this season and he’s certainly in the Norris conversation right now.
Klefbom is entering that convo too, logging a league-leading 25 minutes 48 seconds in average ice-time per game while playing mostly with rookie partners in Ethan Bear, Joel Persson and now Caleb Jones. Klefbom is also on pace for a career year offensively with 18 points over 27 games despite only having one goal. Regardless of stats, Klefbom has become a legitimate No. 1 defenceman.
A case can also be made for Ekblad and Heiskanen as newcomers to the Norris mix as well as Weber, Josi and Pietrangelo as perennial contenders, but this trophy is Carlson’s to lose the rest of the way.
Vezina Trophy — Top Goaltender
WINNER: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
RUNNER-UP: Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues
OTHER CANDIDATES: Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets; Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers
ANALYSIS: Rask had a 12-2-0-2 record through 16 starts for the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins, boasting a .931 save percentage and 2.10 goals-against average in picking up where he left off in last season’s playoffs.
Chances are, the two Stanley Cup finalist goaltenders would be 1-2 in Vezina voting right now, with Binnington’s encore performance proving he’s the real deal and not a flash in the pan like Andrew Hammond. Binnington also had 12 wins through 20 starts for the Western Conference-leading Blues, with stellar numbers of .925 and 2.27.
Hellebuyck is also a very worthy candidate for the Vezina, another member of that 12-win club at .930 and 2.34 in backstopping a depleted defence, with the Jets losing Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba and Ben Chiarot from last season. Winnipeg is winning largely thanks to Hellebuyck this season.
Koskinen is more of an honourable mention at this point, but he’s been earning every penny of his much-maligned $4.5-million contract with a 9-2-0-2 record through 13 starts at .920 and 2.56. Prior to the season, Koskinen was voted the worst (31st) starting goaltender in the league, but he’s been silencing his critics thus far and gaining momentum towards becoming a Vezina nominee.
Calder Trophy — Top Rookie
WINNER: Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
RUNNER-UP: Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks
OTHER CANDIDATES: Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres; Adam Fox, New York Rangers
ANALYSIS: Makar has been amazing, leading the rookie scoring race as a defenceman with 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) in 24 games while quarterbacking Colorado’s power play and averaging over 20 minutes of ice-time per game (20:15). He’s an offensive catalyst, but he’s also solid defensively as evidenced by his respectable plus-8 rating.
Hughes’ impact for Vancouver has been similar to Makar, but not quite on the same level. Hughes hasn’t scored as many goals among his 21 points (two goals, 19 assists) over 25 games, but he has also become the point man on the top power-play unit in averaging 20:20 of ice-time.
Olofsson has been scoring on Buffalo’s top line — and especially on the power play — so his nine goals and 19 points over 25 games prevented a defence sweep on the Calder podium. Fox wouldn’t be far behind, though, coming on strong for the Rangers with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 23 games and a notable plus-6 rating on a losing team. Fox hasn’t received as much power-play time as Makar and Hughes, but he has been promoted to the top unit at times in averaging 17:50.
The top-three picks from the 2019 draft could still play their way into Calder contention, with Jack Hughes (4-7-11 over 24, 16:02, minus-8), Kaapo Kakko (6-4-10 over 21, 15:11, minus-13) and Kirby Dach (5-5-10 over 18, 11:45, plus-3) unlikely to receive any top-three votes as of today. Martin Necas (6-10-16 over 25) also remains on the Calder radar.
Selke Trophy — Top Defensive Forward
WINNER: Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
RUNNER-UP: Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators
OTHER CANDIDATES: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins; Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers; Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
ANALYSIS: Draisaitl didn’t get the Hart but, to some surprise, walks away with the Selke for his defensive efforts. He’s been such a strong two-way presence for Edmonton, leading all forwards in average ice-time at 22:51, including 1:11 on the penalty kill per game. He’s also taken 150 more faceoffs than McDavid (381-231) despite being the left-winger on Edmonton’s top line. For the record, McDavid is second among forwards in average ice-time at 22:12, with Draisaitl averaging 1:17 more than third place Mark Scheifele of Winnipeg (21:34).
Pageau has been a pleasant surprise and was plus-17 at American Thanksgiving, sporting the second-best rating among forwards behind Marchand despite playing for a non-playoff team. Pageau also had 13 goals and 19 points through 25 games, winning more than 50 per cent of his faceoffs (205 of 400) and averaging 2:45 on the penalty kill compared to just 48 seconds of power-play time per game.
To no surprise, Bergeron, Barkov and Couturier will once again get Selke consideration, and Ryan O’Reilly shouldn’t be ruled out either. If not for a nagging injury, Bergeron may have been the Selke favourite ahead of Draisaitl and Pageau thus far. This award is still very much up for grabs, but Draisaitl is definitely deserving of the early nod.
Masterton Trophy — Perseverance, Sportsmanship and Dedication
WINNER: Zack Kassian, Edmonton Oilers
RUNNER-UP: Christian Dvorak, Arizona Coyotes
OTHER CANDIDATES: Kevin Shattenkirk, Tampa Bay Lightning; Robby Fabbri, Detroit Red Wings
ANALYSIS: Kassian has overcome his off-ice demons to make the most of his opportunity in Edmonton, proving he belongs on that top line with McDavid and Draisaitl. Kassian is a physical presence, but he’s got the skill, the speed and, most importantly, the smarts to hang with those two superstars. Kassian is going to get paid as a pending free agent and he’s certainly earned that next contract. Kassian will never win the Lady Byng — the other trophy for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct — but he’s in the mix for the Masterton based on his perseverance and dedication.
Dvorak missed most of last season with a torn pectoral muscle, but he’s worked his way back to becoming one of Arizona’s strongest and most consistent players. He’s got the best faceoff winning percentage in the league among centres taking 100-plus draws at 62.1 (179 of 295) and he’s up to 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) over 27 games. He is a candidate for comeback player of the year.
Shattenkirk is bouncing back from being bought out by the Rangers, enjoying a resurgence with the Lightning (5-14-19 over 23, with a team-leading plus-10 rating). Fabbri has hit the ground running with the Red Wings, producing nine points (four goals, five assists) over 11 games in a prominent role since getting traded from St. Louis after missing much of the last two seasons with serious knee injuries.
Every team gets to nominate a player for the Masterton and there are several other candidates, including Ryan Strome and Brendan Smith of the New York Rangers; Mark Borowiecki, Scott Sabourin and Anthony Duclair of the Ottawa Senators; Chris Stewart of the Philadelphia Flyers; Brad Hunt and Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild; Derick Brassard of the New York Islanders; Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks; and Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks, among others.
Jack Adams Award — Top Coach
WINNER: Barry Trotz, New York Islanders
RUNNER-UP: Dave Tippett, Edmonton Oilers
OTHER CANDIDATES: Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets; Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes; Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins; Todd Reirden, Washington Capitals; Jared Bednar, Colorado Avalanche; Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina Hurricanes; Joel Quenneville, Florida Panthers; Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins
ANALYSIS: Last season’s Jack Adams winner, Trotz continues to work wonders with the Islanders — setting a franchise record by earning points in 17 straight games this season. That streak ended on Nov. 25, but the Islanders are comfortably in a playoff spot despite an underwhelming roster that missed out on their free-agent pursuits of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. No matter, Trotz, Lane Lambert and goalie guru Mitch Korn are getting the most out of this mediocre group again. This is truly a staff award and the Islanders also have Jacques Lemaire, John Gruden, Jim Hiller and Piero Greco on their coaching payroll. Props to all of them.
Tippett deserves a ton of credit for Edmonton’s turnaround, getting the goals against down and transforming the special teams into a strength. His systems have taken hold, with the help of associate coach Jim Playfair. After sitting out two seasons since parting ways with Arizona, Tippett is making a triumphant return in Edmonton and is contending for his second Jack Adams (previously winning in 2010).
If those two frontrunners — and their teams — were to falter, there are several candidates of note this season. Maurice and Tocchet should be next in current voting for their respective work in Winnipeg and Arizona, but the half-dozen others listed here could also receive votes without much debate.
Jim Gregory Award — Top General Manager
WINNER: Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche
RUNNER-UP: Jim Nill, Dallas Stars
OTHER CANDIDATES: Jim Benning, Vancouver Canucks
ANALYSIS: Sakic is still reaping the benefits from that Matt Duchene return, but he’s been putting all the right pieces into place for Colorado’s rise to contender status. The acquisitions of Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky and the signing of Joonas Donskoi have provided the necessary depth for the Avs to survive those aforementioned injuries to Rantanen and Landeskog. Philipp Grubauer has been solid as the starter in goal, while Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Valeri Nichushkin have also been contributing in lesser roles.
Nill has built a veteran team in Dallas — with the signings of Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera — and those additions have been paying dividends thus far. It took some time for the new-look Stars to click, but they have been one of the league’s hottest teams as of late. Nill’s goaltending tandem of Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin is among the league’s best and Dallas has successfully drafted and developed a strong supporting cast over the years, including the likes of Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov, Jason Dickinson and Radek Faksa, among others.
Benning accelerated Vancouver’s rebuild by solidifying the Canucks’ defence corps with the signings of Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn. He also added size and skill up front with the acquisition of J.T. Miller and the late signing of Micheal Ferland. Those four have been effective and have Vancouver looking like a playoff team most nights. Tanner Pearson and Josh Leivo were low-cost acquisitions from last season that are making more of an impact this season. Add it all up and Benning deserves to be on the ballot for GM of the year.
Agree or disagree — who do you have winning the NHL awards at American Thanksgiving? Feel free to weigh in by leaving a comment below.
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.