The Boston Bruins have dominated everything this season. Well, except for the NHL All-Star Skills breakaway challenge, where David Pastrnak probably should have workshopped that “Happy Gilmore” tribute a bit more.
Here’s a consolation prize for the Bruins star winger: He has moved into the top three for NHL most valuable player honors this season.
Pastrnak is one of the new names in the NHL Awards Watch for February, which also features fresh challengers for rookie of the year and top goaltender honors. Meanwhile, the Norris Trophy race for top defenseman continues to be extremely competitive.
As we do every month, we’ve polled a wide selection of Professional Hockey Writers Association voters anonymously to get a sense of where the wind is blowing for the current leaders. We’ve made sure it’s a cross-section from the entire league, trying to gain as many perspectives as possible.
Keep in mind that the PHWA votes for the Hart, Norris, Calder, Selke and Lady Byng; broadcasters vote for the Jack Adams, and general managers handle the Vezina.
All stats from Hockey-Reference.com, Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey.
Ross | Richard | Hart
Norris | Selke | Vezina
Calder | Byng | Adams
Art Ross Trophy (points leader)
Current leader: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Watch out for: Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
Longer shot: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy (leading goal scorer)
Current leaders: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Watch out for: Tage Thompson, Buffalo Sabres
Longer shot: Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils
Hart Trophy (MVP)
Leader: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Finalists: David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins; Tage Thompson, Buffalo Sabres
McDavid had 92 points in his first 50 games, putting him on pace for 151 points this season. That would be the highest total by a player since Mario Lemieux’s 161 points in 70 games in the 1995-96 season.
Mario won the Hart that season. McDavid is the heavy favorite to do the same this season, based on our survey of the voters.
McDavid topped every ballot, save for two of them. He’s seeking the third MVP award in his eight-year career, having been a finalist four times.
“Maybe we should retroactively give him a few of the ones he missed,” joked one voter.
Through Monday, he led the league in goals (41) as well as points. McDavid has been held scoreless in only five games this season. He has been a human highlight reel, the engine for his team and the single most dominant offensive force in the league this season. Edmonton has a 95.5% chance of qualifying for the postseason, per Money Puck.
“The only argument against McDavid winning his third Hart Trophy — the only other active player with that many is Alex Ovechkin — had been the Oilers’ iffy playoff status. It was a poor argument. This isn’t the NBA, where one player can have an inordinate impact on outcomes,” said another voter.
Another McDavid voter wondered what the field would look like if Connor ascended to a higher plain of MVP existence.
“You just can’t look past the 16-point lead McDavid has on the next closest player in the Art Ross race. But if you remove McDavid from the conversation — I know, you can’t — then this would be a fascinating conversation to have trying to decide between Leon Draisaitl, Tage Thompson, Jason Robertson, David Pastrnak and even Nikita Kucherov,” they said.
Robertson made the top three of last month’s Awards Watch but falls out of the ranking here in favor of Pastrnak, who topped one ballot and was mentioned as a finalist by a handful of voters.
This isn’t just a “best player on the best team” scenario, which has been a Hart Trophy trope in the past. He’s one of eight Bruins to appear in all of their games this season and has been their offensive leader when others were out of the lineup. Consider that his 72 points in 51 games were 26 points higher than any other Bruin through Monday’s games.
“Pasta had 13 goals in 14 January games for the league’s best team, which was still on pace for a league-record 133 points despite losing three of four before the break,” said one voter.
Thompson was a finalist last month and remains one of the top three in the latest survey. We’ve said for a while that Thompson has a chance to unseat McDavid if he continues his scoring pace — 56 goals and 112 points as of Monday — and the Sabres make the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-11 season, the longest current playoff drought in the league.
“If he gets the Buffalo Sabres to the playoffs, he is the unanimous winner,” said the voter that had Thompson as the front-runner.
Others players mentioned by our voters included Kucherov, whom one voter expects will overtake Thompson in their top three if the Sabres fade; Robertson, who led his closest scoring teammate by 18 points; and Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils, who leads the NHL in goals scored above replacement (20.3) and wins above replacement (3.1) according to Evolving Hockey.
But as of now, they’re all jockeying for second best.
“It’s very boring that McDavid is going to run away with this,” said one voter.
Norris Trophy (top defenseman)
Leader: Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
Finalists: Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres; Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
The top three for the Norris Trophy remains unchanged from our last survey, and Karlsson’s lead has widened.
Karlsson was in first place on around 53% of the ballots we surveyed. The 32-year-old defenseman is seeking his third Norris Trophy, having previously won the award in 2012 and 2015. He has been a finalist four times in his career.
His 66 points in 51 games puts him on pace for 106 points on the season. That would be the 10th highest total for a defenseman in NHL history. Only two blueliners have posted higher point totals in a single season: Bobby Orr (five times) and Paul Coffey (four times), both Hall of Famers.
“I am fully on the Karlsson for Norris train. He’s on pace to be the first 100-point defenseman in decades. He leads the league in 5-on-5 scoring, and the 28th-place Sharks actually outscore their opponents (69-54) when Karlsson is on the ice,” said one voter.
That “offense is the best defense” argument has been used as a cudgel against criticism of his defensive game in his previous Norris wins, and it’s a valid one here. But if the counterargument to his candidacy is that there are more well-rounded defensemen in the Norris conservation, that’s where attention turns to players like Dahlin and Makar.
Dahlin’s breakout season for the Sabres has been a joy to behold. He was second to Karlsson in scoring (55 points in 49 games) entering Monday, skating to a plus-19 rating (Karlsson was at minus-2). Unlike Karlsson, he sees regular time on the penalty kill.
“In his fifth NHL season, the 2018 first overall pick has emerged as a star,” said one voter.
Rightly or wrongly, a few voters mentioned that their support for Dahlin in the Norris race is tied to the Sabres’ chances of getting in as a wild card. Said one Karlsson backer: “If Buffalo makes the playoffs, [my pick] will change.”
Dahlin was first on around 22% of the ballots. Makar was right behind him, as the 24-year-old Avalanche defender is once again dominating on both ends of the ice. He’s on pace for his third straight point-per-game season.
Keep this in mind about Makar and Dahlin: Ever since Nicklas Lidstrom stopped collecting Norris trophies like they were Pokémon, repeat winners have been rare. Karlsson and Duncan Keith are the only two-time winners since 2011. The last seven players to hoist the Norris Trophy were first-time winners.
Of course, as Karlsson is showing, there’s also room for an “old guy’s still got it!” candidacy that bucks that trend.
New York Rangers defenseman Adam Fox just missed the cut and was the clear No. 4 choice among the voters.
“Tough field, as usual, to dwindle down to three finalists, let alone a winner. But Fox already has the hardware, averages more than two minutes plus per game in both special teams and keeps his PIMs low, ensuring he stays on the ice as much as possible,” said one voter.
Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey isn’t used on the PK as often as Makar, Dahlin and Fox. But his point-per-game season for the Jets was enough to earn a few mentions from our voters. Morrissey (53 points) entered Monday needing four points to pass Dustin Byfuglien’s franchise record for points by a defenseman in a single season (56).
“Again, the Jets need to get the word out about him,” said one voter.
Calder Trophy (top rookie)
Leader: Matty Beniers, Seattle Kraken
Finalists: Owen Power, Buffalo Sabres; Logan Thompson, Vegas Golden Knights
Beniers led all rookies in points (36 in 47 games) and goals (17) heading into the All-Star break. It’s no coincidence that Seattle is ascending the standings while Berniers provides them a presence in the middle that they lacked last season.
“Just doesn’t feel like a lot of high quality newbies this season, but what Beniers has done to give the Kraken that legit scoring threat is a big reason Seattle is at the top of the division,” said one Beniers backer.
A few Beniers voters were concerned about his recent injury, an upper body issue resulting from a hit by Tyler Myers that took Beniers out of the All-Star Game. Barring significant time out of the lineup, it appears he’s the front-runner.
“Beniers is still the obvious choice,” said one voter.
Thompson was at the All-Star Game for Vegas and earned the second-most first-place votes from our poll. His numbers have come back down to earth a little bit from the start of the season, but he has a .913 save percentage and a 2.69 goals-against average in 35 games. He also has an undeniable narrative: The rookie goalie who “saved” the Knights’ season after Robin Lehner’s offseason surgery shelved him for 2022-23.
“Logan Thompson has been a real life oasis in the desert for Vegas,” said one voter, cheekily. “But I think by the time we get closer to the end of the regular season, Owen Power is going to be a big part of this conversation.”
This is the first time that Power, the 2021 No. 1 overall pick, has finished in the top three on Awards Watch. He was the only rookie besides Beniers and Thompson to receive a first-place vote, but many voters mentioned him as part of their consideration. It’s possible that the player who unseats Beniers might be his old University of Michigan teammate.
“Owen Power may change my mind by season’s end. Underrated impact in Buffalo,” said one Beniers voter.
“I will keep a look at Owen Power till the end of the year,” said another.
Power leads all rookies in average ice time by more than two minutes per game (23:38). His 19 points in 47 games aren’t exactly Makar-like, but he has been the league’s most impactful rookie defenseman this season who plays in all situations.
Other rookies who earned a mention included Winnipeg Jets forward Cole Perfetti and Edmonton Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner, who has better underlying numbers than Thompson. Center Mason McTavish, the third leading scorer among rookies, didn’t garner any support from our voters. Neither did goalie Pyotr Kochetkov of the Carolina Hurricanes, who was in the top three last month.
Vezina Trophy (top goaltender)
Note: General managers vote for this award.
Leader: Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins
Finalists: Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators; Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders
When coach Jim Montgomery was hired in Boston, it was expected that the Bruins’ goaltenders would benefit from his system. But no one predicted that Ullmark would blossom into a leading Vezina contender, having never previously received a vote for the award.
No matter how you measure it, Ullmark is dominating this season. If you go by traditional stats, he leads the NHL in wins (26), save percentage (.937) and goals-against average (1.90). If you go by the analytics, he’s leading all goalies in goals saved above expected (29.9).
The Bruins are a juggernaut for many reasons, but Ullmark’s play is undoubtedly a primary factor. He was named first on 65% of the ballots we surveyed.
“Not sure there will be many varying discussions on this one based on the season he’s having,” said one PHWA voter.
If there’s a discussion to be had, it might be around Sorokin. The Islanders goalie was a clear No. 2 from our panel. He had a .923 save percentage and a 2.38 goals-against average in 38 appearances. As good as Ullmark is, he’s playing in back of a machine that’s on pace to potentially set a new NHL record for wins and points in the season. Sorokin, meanwhile, is on a team bouncing around the playoff bubble — and his performance is a big reason they’re even in the playoff conversation.
“A lot of good candidates, but he’s keeping them afloat,” said one voter.
Sorokin leads all goalies in wins above replacement (5.5), but one voter felt his game has slipped a bit in recent weeks.
“It’s allowed Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nashville’s Juuse Saros, the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin, Dallas’ Jake Oettinger and Philadelphia’s Carter Hart to creep into the conversation,” they said. “Past Ullmark, this is a tight race.”
Saros was the only other goalie to receive a first-place vote. He’s coming off a tremendous month (7-3-0, .929 save percentage) for Nashville. One voter noted that Saros leads Ullmark in goals saved above expected per 60 minutes and is right with him in quality starts percentage.
“All of this while shouldering a huge workload for Nashville,” they said.
Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who was in the top three last month, was in the conversation. So was Oettinger, with one voter saying he was the only other goalie “in the same stratosphere at the moment” as Ullmark.
Selke Trophy (best defensive forward)
Leader: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Finalists: Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils; Jordan Staal, Carolina Hurricanes
We can report that it wasn’t unanimous for Patrice Bergeron. But it might as well have been, given how he was the first choice on all but three ballots we surveyed.
The Bruins give up one goal per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 with Bergeron on the ice, the best average from any forward in the NHL. Their save percentage is .962, also the best in the league. He wins 61.3% of his faceoffs and plays in all situations.
Said our voters:
“Wash, rinse, repeat. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
“Yawn. The best defensive center in NHL history is winning a league-best 63.8 percent of his defensive zone draws.”
“I still can’t believe he’s this good.”
If Bergeron extends his NHL record to a sixth win for best defensive forward, it might be time to rename the trophy …
Somewhat miraculously, three other players received first-place votes over Bergeron. Hischier was among the finalists in last month’s survey and has had an impressive impact in all three zones for the Devils. His 58.7% success rate on defensive zone draws is the best on the Devils, and he logs more penalty-kill time than any other forward on the team (2:20 per game).
“Opponents are generating 27.65 shots against per 60 minutes with Hischier on the ice, and 1.91 goals per 60 minutes,” said one voter.
Staal received one very enthusiastic first-place vote. “It’s time to get Jordan Staal his Selke. Since he’s on pace for his most goals since coming to Carolina, there’s no better time than now to honor a player who shuts down the opposition’s best night after night,” they said.
The “most goals” aspect of that Jordan Staal argument winks at the long-standing Selke voting tradition of great defensive players only getting recognized when they put up big offensive seasons. See: Sean Couturier and Ryan O’Reilly. For the record, Staal has been a Selke finalist only once, in 2009-10, when he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The only other player to receive a first-place vote for the Selke was Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. His teammate, Mitch Marner, was in the top three last month but didn’t garner much discussion among voters. One voter who had a shout-out for Marner said they’d slot Tampa Bay Lightning winger Brandon Hagel ahead of him.
Matthews has a lower goals-against per 60 minutes this season than Marner but isn’t used in the same defensive situations as his teammate. Said our Matthews voter: “Penalty killing is overrated anyway.”
Lady Byng Trophy (gentlemanly play)
This is the part where I mention that the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play should be voted on by the league’s on-ice officials or by the NHL Players’ Association. That established, Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils had four penalty minutes in 49 games while ranking ninth in the NHL in scoring. His two penalties were for high-sticking and interference, so he might not have even meant to commit these crimes. Classic oopsies, if you ask us.
Jack Adams Award (best coach)
Note: The NHL Broadcasters’ Association votes on this award.
Leader: Jim Montgomery, Boston Bruins
Finalists: Rick Bowness, Winnipeg Jets; Lindy Ruff, New Jersey Devils
The same three finalists from last month’s NHL Awards Watch, with Montgomery once again lapping the field. He earned over 65% of the first-place votes as the Bruins continue to challenge NHL regular-season records for wins and points.
Montgomery’s candidacy also has a public relations advantage, in that Bruins players have sung his praises to the heavens for giving them the structure, accountability and temperament for success in his first season behind the Boston bench.
“Top defensive team by a mile, top offensive team, near/at the top in special teams, guided team through early absences of Marchand/McAvoy. All this in a year many of us (yes, including me) predicted this was the year the Bruins started to show their collective age only to put together one of the best regular seasons in history to this point,” said one voter.
“Unless Boston slows down after the break, it’s Montgomery’s award for hitting another gear with a team that was expected to show signs of aging,” said another voter.
“Yeah, they have the players, but he’s getting the best out of nearly everyone,” said another voter.
The second choice was Bowness, whose Winnipeg Jets have been in contention for the Central Division lead for most of the season. Like Montgomery, he’s in his first year with his team and getting tangible results. One voter backed “Bones” for the Jack Adams “for improving defensive metrics and somehow avoiding an implosion within the dressing room.”
Ruff was third among our voters, and it’s easy to see why: The Devils were a .384 points percentage team last season that rolled into the All-Star break with a .694 points percentage. The Devils are among the top six in the NHL offensively and defensively. Ruff has also managed to keep a very young team on track after a blazing start and a December slump.
“Sorry we doubted you last month, Lindy. The Devils had the NHL’s third-best points percentage at the break,” said one voter.
Just outside of the top three was Dave Hakstol, whose Seattle Kraken are challenging for the Pacific Division after an underwhelming inaugural season.
“Hakstol’s success in Seattle is a reminder that just because coaches don’t succeed in their first go-round, that doesn’t mean that they are lousy hires for their second chance. The best ones get better because they learn from their mistakes and adapt,” said one voter, calling Seattle “the NHL’s biggest surprise” this season.
One other name discussed: Buffalo’s Don Granato. Anyone who can break the non-playoff streak in Buffalo deserves some kind of trophy. Might as well be the Jack Adams.