For the first time in history — or at least in a long time — members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association will be revealing their votes for the NHL’s annual awards this season.
I’m looking forward to those results, as always, but with the regular season now in the books, it is time to cast my votes. From the Hart to the Norris to the Vezina, there is uncertainty over some of the NHL’s biggest awards this year, with plenty of worthy candidates for each.
For the sake of transparency, and to spark a little debate, I’m ready to reveal my ballot ranking the top-three candidates for the six most prestigious awards — the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Calder, Jack Adams and GM of the Year.
DESCRIPTION: To the player adjudged to be most valuable to his team.
1) Taylor Hall, New Jersey winger
The league’s best player in the second half of the season, getting better as the games got tougher and taking the Devils on his back to reach the playoffs for the first time in his career. That torrid stretch included 26- and nine-game point streaks, recording at least a point in 36 of his 40 games in 2018. Set a franchise record for points-per-game (1.22) in finishing sixth in the scoring race with 93 points — 57 since January 1 — and finished 41 points ahead of his nearest teammate (Nico Hischier, 52). That 26-game scoring spree spanned more than two months, from Jan. 2 to March 6. Simply stunning!
2) Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado centre
Led the Avalanche from a last-place finish back to the playoffs, finishing second only to Connor McDavid in points-per-game (1.31) and fifth overall in the scoring race with 95 points. Both career highs in a breakout campaign, becoming a dominant force while playing the most difficult forward position.
3) Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles centre
Rebounded from a down year to set career highs across the board in goals (35), assists (57) and points (92), finishing in a tie for seventh in the scoring race while leading the Kings back to the postseason. Did so without Jeff Carter for more than half the season — thus drawing all the toughest matchups and two-way assignments — and with some inferior linemates in comparison to the other Hart contenders.
(RELATED: McDavid Shouldn’t Win the Hart Trophy)
DESCRIPTION: To the defenceman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability.
1) John Carlson, Washington
Led all blueliners in scoring with 68 points while playing all 82 games, ensuring he’ll cash in as a pending unrestricted free agent. Also took on more defensive responsibility in anchoring a young group that lost Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt and Kevin Shattenkirk from last season, not to mention missing Matt Niskanen to injury for 14 games. Played in all situations and averaged more than 24 minutes of ice-time — tied for 12th most amongst defencemen.
2) Seth Jones, Columbus
Underappreciated in a non-traditional hockey market, managed career highs in goals (16) and points (57) to tie for fourth and 10th in those respective categories. One of the league’s smoothest skaters and efficient at both ends, he came on strong down the stretch with five multi-point performances in 15 games since March, totalling seven goals and 17 points over that span.
3) Roman Josi, Nashville
Outshined by teammate P.K. Subban at times but a model of consistency as an all-around defender and captain for the Presidents’ Trophy winners. Produced 53 points, including 14 goals, to finish 14th in the defence scoring race. Another player who turned it up a notch in the second half, racking up 30 points, including seven goals, over 40 games in 2018.
DESCRIPTION: To the goaltender adjudged to be the best at his position.
1) Pekka Rinne, Nashville
Plays behind arguably the league’s best defence but certainly a big reason for the Predators winning the Presidents’ Trophy. Tied for tops in shutouts (eight) and finished third in wins (42) while posting the best save percentage (.927) among goalies with 50-plus appearances.
2) Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg
Supplanted Steve Mason in the early stages and stabilized Winnipeg’s goaltending en route to setting the record for wins by an American netminder (44). Ranked top 10 in all statistical categories, including 10th in save percentage (.924), tied for eighth in goals-against average (2.36), third in shutouts (six) and tied for first in wins with this next guy.
3) Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay
The frontrunner for the Vezina and potentially a Hart candidate through the first half, his play slipped pretty significantly in 2018 — perhaps due to fatigue as a first-year starter. Still tied for first in wins (44) and shutouts (eight) but his other numbers dipped to a .920 save percentage (tied for 14th) and a 2.62 GAA (22nd).
DESCRIPTION: To the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition.
1) Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders centre
A no-brainer here, running away with the rookie scoring title at 85 points — tied for 13th overall — and becoming the first freshman to record 60-plus assists since Sidney Crosby in 2006. A wizard with the puck and sublime playmaker, his debut suggests he could win an Art Ross someday.
2) Brock Boeser, Vancouver winger
A close second prior to suffering a season-ending back injury, he had been on pace to score 38 goals over 82 games, with a legit chance to net 40 as a rookie. Settled for 29 in 62 games, which still ranked second at season’s end behind Kyle Connor’s 31 in 76 games. The hardest thing to do in hockey is score goals and Boeser proved to be really good at it.
3) Nico Hischier, New Jersey centre
Hard to ignore Clayton Keller’s late surge to finish second in the rookie scoring race with 65 points — 13 more than Hischier — but the first overall pick from the 2017 draft didn’t disappoint despite tying for sixth with 52 points (including 20 goals). Hischier is one of the league’s youngest players — the highest-scoring teenager this season — and he displayed tremendous maturity and consistency in centering his team’s top line and helping Hall lead the Devils to the playoffs. That last part — making the playoffs — gave Hischier the edge over Keller, who came on strong after Arizona was eliminated from contention.
(RELATED: The 2018 Calder Trophy Race)
Jack Adams Award
DESCRIPTION: To the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.
1) Gerard Gallant, Vegas
Guided an expansion team to all kinds of NHL records in making the playoffs while also topping the Pacific Division standings with more than 50 wins (51) and 100 points (109). Found the right fits from Day 1 in terms of line combinations and defence pairings, hitting the ground running with instant chemistry and pressing the right buttons throughout to blow away all expectations.
2) Bruce Cassidy, Boston
These candidates could all be considered overachievers, with Cassidy getting the most out of the Bruins to get them home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Posted the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and fourth overall, with 50 wins and 112 points.
3) Jared Bednar, Colorado
Making the playoffs this spring after bringing up the rear last year, Bednar was much improved with a full offseason of preparation. An AHL champion two years ago, he’s got the Avs trending up and their fans forgetting about Patrick Roy.
GM of the Year Award
DESCRIPTION: To the General Manager adjudged to have contributed most to his team’s success.
1) George McPhee, Vegas
Picked the perfect team or so it would seem — starting with Marc-Andre Fleury — while also maximizing assets out of the expansion draft. Stayed the course instead of selling off at the trade deadline, even acquiring Tomas Tatar with term left on his contract. Locked up Jonathan Marschessault and plucked Malcolm Subban off waivers, among his other savvy moves.
2) Ray Shero, New Jersey
One of the most active GMs over the last year, his work started in the offseason with drafting Hischier first overall, signing Brian Boyle and Will Butcher, and trading for Marcus Johansson. Shero also added Sami Vatanen, Patrick Maroon and Michael Grabner ahead of the deadline, giving John Hynes the necessary depth to hold down a playoff spot.
3) David Poile, Nashville
Became the league’s all-time winningest GM while building this year’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning team. From drafting Eeli Tolvanen to acquiring Kyle Turris and Ryan Hartman for futures, Poile has put the Predators in position to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
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.