NHL Awards Voting (and Voters) Needs Reevaluation

The NHL Awards were last night, and while most of the awards handed out were well-deserved and, for some, long overdue, there were a shocking number of voting results that were either questionable, irrational, or downright wrong. Let’s look at some of the peculiarities in the voting results.

Ryan O'Reilly St. Louis Blues Frank J. Selke Stanley Cup Conn Smythe Lady Byng
Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues poses with the Frank J. Selke Trophy, the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy at the 2019 NHL Awards. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Bill Masterton Trophy (Perseverance and Dedication to Hockey)

I find the Masterton Trophy to be the most confusing of the NHL awards. It’s presented to the player who exhibits perseverance and dedication to hockey. Typically the award is given to someone who faced off-ice struggles, and that was the case this season as New York Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner received the trophy after battling depression and mental illness. No one was more deserving of the award this season than Lehner. It’s after him that I find the results to be a bit perplexing.

Related: Top 10 Longest NHL Trophy Droughts

Pittsburgh Penguin, and 42-year-old, Matt Cullen received six first-place votes. Three came from Carolina Hurricanes writers (Cullen’s a former Hurricane) and two more were from Penguins writers. He didn’t face the off-ice struggles that Lehner did, nor did he overcome injuries, he’s just an aging player. It’s awesome to see a player in his 40s still performing at the highest level, but I’m not certain it’s worthy of serious Masterton consideration. Other players who received votes that I don’t understand: Zdeno Chara, Jason Pominville, Jack Campbell, Brendan Smith, Jay Bouwmeester, and Curtis McElhinney.

Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year)

To the surprise of no one, Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson took home rookie of the year honors. And he deserved it after scoring 28 goals and 66 points in 71 points. The Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) felt so strongly about Pettersson that his 1,650 points were nearly 600 more than St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington in second place.

Elias Pettersson Vancouver Canucks Calder
Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks poses with the Calder Memorial Trophy. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

There are several interesting takeaways from the voting results. One is that Binnington, who only made 30 starts during the regular season, accumulated nearly 400 more points than defenseman Rasmus Dahlin in third place. Granted, Binnington was excellent in those games with a .927 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.98 goals-against average (GAA), but it does show that sample size isn’t everything to the voters.

The other interesting takeaway is that Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson, who had two goals and 25 points in 84 games, tied for 10th place and was ahead of Ottawa Senator Colin White who finished fifth in rookie scoring. Pettersson did so thanks to receiving two fifth-place votes, one which came from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Matt Vensel. This isn’t to say Pettersson isn’t a quality defenseman, but a Pittsburgh writer representing one of two votes for him is a bit suspect, and at the time of writing this, I’m not the only to call this into question.

Frank J. Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward)

After receiving votes each of the past eight years but never finishing in the top-five, the Blues’ Ryan O’Reilly won this year’s Selke Trophyin a somewhat close finish. His 1,001 points edge out Mark Stone’s 891. O’Reilly had a great season with 77 points and a 56.9 percent success rate in the faceoff circle, but it only further confirms that the PHWA isn’t ready to give the award to a non-center. Patrice Bergeron finished third, making him a finalist for the eighth straight year.

Surprisingly, Sidney Crosby finished fourth despite, at one point, it appearing that the trophy was his to lose. The most interesting thing about the voting result is that Nick Bonino received one first-place vote. Prior to this year, he received Selke votes once, finishing 26th in 2017.

General Manager of the Year

The GM of the Year Award is one of several we don’t know how individuals voted. In this instance it’s voted on by a panel of 41 members – all 31 GMs, five NHL executives, and five media members. This year, Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney took home the award with 80 points, 17 more than Blues GM Doug Armstrong in second place.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney
Don Sweeney was named 2019 GM of the Year. (Boston Globe staff photo by John Tlumacki)

I’m not sure what to make of the results as both made moves to get their teams to the Stanley Cup Final, but none of the moves were considered blockbuster at the time. Perhaps their fellow GMs rewarded them for the ‘less is more’ approach. If they did, it’d only be supported by Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen finishing eighth after going all-in at the trade deadline.

Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player)

Nikita Kucherov, the Tampa Bay Lightning star forward, won this year’s Hart Trophy in near-unanimous fashion. He received 164 of 171 first-place votes, and totaled 1,677 points to Crosby’s 739 in second place. Connor McDavid rounded out the top-three with 465 points and Johnny Gaudreau finished fourth with 442, although his two first-place votes were one more than McDavid received. Nathan MacKinnon received the other first-place vote.

Nikita Kucherov Ted Lindsay Art Ross Hart
Nikita Kucherov with the Ted Lindsay award, Art Ross trophy, and Hart trophy during the 2019 NHL Awards show. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

Other players of note who received MVP consideration were Mark Giordano (9th), Mark Stone (T-12th), and Andrei Vasilevskiy (T-22nd), who received just one fifth-place vote. The fact that the Vezina Trophy winner didn’t finish higher in MVP voting shows just how talented the Lightning were in 2018-19.

Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year)

Another award we don’t know the ballot results of, Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders was named coach of the year for the second time in four years. Surprisingly, he didn’t exactly run away with the award – 430 points to Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper who had 350. Trotz certainly deserved the award after he led the Islanders, which lost John Tavares to free agency, to a second-place finish in the division and a first-round sweep of the Penguins. Cooper did a great job in his own right, he just had more talent to work with.

Barry Trotz
Barry Trotz won his second Jack Adams Award last night. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

In what I consider to be the worst oversight of all the voting results is Hurricanes coach Rod Brind-Amour finishing fifth with only three first-place votes. All he did was take a team that finished 14 points out of the playoffs in 2017-18 and lead them to the Eastern Conference Final in 2018-19. Conversely, I struggle to understand by Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice received a first-place vote when his Jets went from 114 points in 2017-18 to 99 in 2018-19, a drop of 15 points. That doesn’t seem worthy of a first-place vote.

James Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman)

Mark Giordano ran away with this year’s award: 1,690 points to Brent Burns’ 720, and it’s difficult to find any fault in that result. Giordano won his first Norris as a 35-year-old after scoring a career-high 74 points in 78 games. He also led the league with a plus-39 plus/minus rating. His 74 points were third-most all-time by a defenseman his age or older, and you might know the two guys ahead of him: Ray Bourque (82 points) and Nicklas Lidstrom (80). Oh, and Giordano is excellent at playing defense as well, which likely increased the gap between he and Burns.

A couple noteworthy items from the Norris results: Morgan Rielly finished fifth after John Carlson despite posting more points and playing with lesser talented defense partners. Toronto Maple Leafs deadline addition Jake Muzzin tied for 11th with one third-place vote even though he struggled for awhile after the trade. The lone vote he received came from The Athletic Buffalo writer John Vogl.

Calgary Flames Mark Giordano
Mark Giordano was his first Norris Trophy. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Erik Karlsson finished in 15th place with four fifth-place votes. He may have missed 29 games due to injury, but he was dominant when he played with 45 points in 53 games. I figured the combination of his offense and reputation would have resulted in a higher finish. Finally, and this may be sarcastic, but NBC Sports’ Pierre McGuire didn’t vote for Kris(topher) Letang, who finished sixth. People familiar with McGuire will find this surprising.

Lady Byng Trophy (Sportsmanship and Gentlemanly Conduct)

The Lady Byng Trophy is one of the more difficult awards to assess the validity of because it mostly comes down to who played the most minutes and took the fewest penalties. Aleksander Barkov took home the trophy this year after accumulating 22 penalty minutes while averaging 22:21 of ice time across 82 games. He previously finished second in 2016 and third in 2018. His 1,463 points more than doubled O’Reilly’s 713 points. Both players were more than deserving of the trophy.

Rounding out the top five were Sean Monahan, Rielly, and McDavid. Interestingly, Colorado Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard finished seventh despite taking three minor penalties in 82 games while averaging 19:54 of ice time.

Aleksander Barkov Florida Panthers
Aleksander Barkov won the 2019 Lady Byng Trophy. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Further down the list, netminder Marc-Andre Fleury finished 32nd thanks to one second-place vote, which came from Swedish journalist Jonatan Lindquist. Now, I’m a big fan of Fleury, and he’s beloved throughout the league, but a goaltender for the Byng seems odd as they generally don’t rack up penalties. Fleury’s inclusion isn’t something to be angered over, but it is rather intriguing.

Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender)

When Ben Bishop, Vasilevskiy, and Lehner were named finalists for this year’s Vezina, I thought it’d be a close race. I was wrong as Vasilevskiy received 146 points while Bishop finished with 64. Lehner was third with 17 points and zero first-place votes. Vasilevskiy is a worthy winner after posting a .925 SV% and a 2.40 GAA, although he did only make 53 starts.

Fleury somehow finished fourth and received a first-place vote even though he didn’t have great stats. Perhaps another situation where reputation played a role? Either way, we’ll never know since the trophy is voted on by the GMs.

What do you think of the voting results? Were there any omissions or surprising inclusions that caught your eye? Let me know in the comments below.

*Voting breakdown courtesy of The Hockey News; Balloting provided by the PHWA