It’s too bad the 2020-21 NHL regular season is only 56 games, because the Edmonton Oilers might just want it to go on forever.
With 68 points in 53 games, the Oilers are on pace to finish with their best point percentage since notching 106 in 80 games in 1986-87. Even if they fail to pick up a point in their remaining three games, they will finish with their second-highest point percentage since 1987-88, behind only 2016-17 when they totalled 103 in 82 games.
Edmonton will finish second in the North Division, equalling their best divisional finish since they topped the Smythe Division standings in 1986-87. They will face either the Montreal Canadiens or Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the playoffs as they look to make a run for their first Stanley Cup championship since 1990.
Their success has been propelled by remarkable individual performances this season; four players who could, should, and/or will get award nominations (all stats and ranks are accurate as of games completed May 9):
The Hart Memorial Trophy is awarded to the “player judged most valuable to his team.” McDavid has either scored or assisted on 57.5% of the Oilers’ goals, which is on pace to break Mario Lemieux’s record of 57.3% set in 1988-89. What more needs to be said?
Of course, we could always mention that he has 100 points (32 goals, 68 assists) in 53 games or that he has 21 more points than anyone else in the league and is running away with the Art Ross Trophy, which is given to the player who leads the league in points at regular season’s end.
And while there are no nominees announced for the Ted Lindsay Award, McDavid is almost certain to win the trophy presented “to the most outstanding player as voted by fellow members of the NHLPA” too.
The Oilers captain had better start making some room in his display case, which already houses two Art Ross trophies, a pair of Ted Lindsay Awards, and a Hart Memorial Trophy.
Draisaitl is second in the NHL with 79 points (30 goals, 49 assists) and has scored a league-leading 14 power-play goals. The German centre be in the thick of the Hart Trophy conversation, were it not for the fact that he wears the same colours as McDavid.
Will the reigning Hart Trophy winner receive a nomination? History suggests not. The last time teammates were nominated for the Hart Trophy was in 2001 (Pittsburgh’s Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr), while the only time two Oilers were nominated for the award came in 1988 (Wayne Gretzky and Grant Fuhr). Interestingly, in both cases, the teammates both finished as runners-up, with Colorado Avalanche great Joe Sakic winning in 2001 and Lemieux taking home the hardware in 1988.
Draisaitl leads the NHL with a plus-30 rating, which has prompted the occasional mention of his name and the Frank J. Selke Trophy in the same sentence. But while Draisaitl deserves praise for his two-way game, he’s rightfully not a serious contender for the award that recognizes “the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.”
Nurse could, and dare I say should be nominated for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, recognizing the league’s top “defence player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position”.
He checks both offensive and defensive boxes and has the stats to back up just about any argument in his favour: Workload? He is fourth in the league in ice time, averaging 25:42 per game. Efficiency? Only Draisaitl has a better rating than Nurse’s plus-29. Scoring? He’s got 16 goals in 53 games for the highest single-season average (0.302) in franchise history by any defenceman not named Paul Coffey.
Speaking of Coffey, the Hall-of-Famer is the only player in franchise history to have been named a finalist the Norris Trophy (runner-up in 1982, wins in 1985 and 1986). Nurse would be Edmonton’s first Norris nominee in 35 years.
At age 39 and in his 15th NHL season, Smith is a longshot to receive his first nomination for the Vezina Trophy, which is presented annually “to the goaltender adjudged to be the best at his position.” His numbers are pretty good: a 20-6-2 record, 2.28 goals-against average (tied for 9th in the league), and a .924 save percentage (best in the North Division). One factor working against him is that he will only have played about 60% of the Oilers’ games after missing the first few weeks of the season with an injury.
Meanwhile, Smith has emerged as the sentimental favourite to receive the Oilers’ nomination for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (there is one nominee per team, unlike the other awards which have a total of three finalists) and let’s be honest, the award honouring the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey,” is all about sentimentality. Smith’s late-career resurgence and invaluable leadership fit the bill.
The NHL has not set a date for unveiling the award nominees for 2020-21, but with the end of the season just days away, it’s not far off. Until then, Oilers fans can look forward to the announcements with excited anticipation.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.