Trophies are true representatives of success, whether earned by scoring the most points or by being voted by league members as the most valuable player. Trophies also represent a truer team stat, though some goalies deserve nods for being the reason behind their teams’ success.
Below is the first installment of predictions for year-end trophy accolades throughout the NHL. This article provides a more significant analysis of assessing one of the point awards, the Art Ross, awarded to the league’s player with the highest point total. This article also reveals potential Hart Trophy nominees, given to the league’s most valuable player (MVP), the Vezina Trophy, NHL’s best goaltender, and the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s top rookie.
Art Ross Trophy
The Art Ross Trophy is presented to the NHL player who collects the most points and is one of the more challenging awards to garner due to the talent throughout the modern NHL. Every year since the 2019–2020 season, this award has been won by a member of the Edmonton Oilers. Leon Draisaitl took home the trophy for the 2019–2020 season, while Connor McDavid won the next three consecutive seasons.
Unlike last year, McDavid has not run away with the scoring title; instead, he ranks 130th overall, hindered by poor puck luck and lack of team finishing. Currently, Elias Pettersson ranks as the top point-getter in the NHL, assisted by Vancouver’s strong powerplay, where 48% of Petterson’s points have been obtained.
Following Petterson is the resurgent Artermi Panarin and Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov. Separated by a single point apiece, Panarin’s playmaking has been on full display, driven by play at even strength when paired with young Alex Lafreniere, who is having a breakout season and living up to his potential. Kucherov is the highest goal scorer among the top five, with an elite release he exploits, indicated by his league-leading shot total at even strength.
Exhibiting the dominance of Vancouver, the other two scorers rounding out the top five are both Canucks. Like Petterson, roughly half of J.T. Miller’s and Quinn Hughes’s points have come via Vancouver’s third-ranked power play, each contributing to the other’s goals, with Miller tending to be the sniper to Hughes’s set-up.
Hart Trophy voting and predictions can prove difficult as almost every fanbase believes their superstar is deserving of holding the league’s most prestigious award.
From a league and writer perspective, it is difficult not to be biased and present the award to the top NHL point-getter, alas, the Connor McDavid argument. In terms of this iteration, due to the small sample size, Pettersson’s offensive dominance and contributions to Vancouver’s strong start elicit him as the Most Valuable to his team’s overall success. The argument against Pettersson remains in the underlying metrics, where Pettersson is above the league benchmark at controlling puck possession and shot quality but does not retain the highest point shares, an NHL version of MLB’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
The next two candidates are Sam Reinhart and Thatcher Demko. Reinhart’s case rests in his individual contributions. First, Reinhart is not top in points, sitting eighth, but does hold a six-point margin over his next closest teammate. Additionally, Reinhart sits fifth league-wide with 2.8 point shares (PS), effectively contributing directly to 2.8 of the total 19 Florida points.
Thatcher Demko, discussed in greater detail in the next section, has played otherworldly through his first ten games. Along with Quinn Hughes and Petterson, Demko has been the most vital to Vancouver’s success, retaining the NHL’s most goalie point shares (similar to Reinhart) and is top two in both goals saved above expected (GSAX) and goal saved above average (GSAA).
David Pastrnak holds the highest PS for forwards and ranks at or near the top of a variety of categories, including second in shot attempts, fourth in individual expected goals, and second in independently created scoring chances.
Lastly, Artemi Panarin makes a strong case based on offensive metrics as well. Panarin sits second league-wide in points, retains a 10-point margin over the next closest ranger, and sits second among forwards in PS, only behind Pastrnak.
The Vezina Trophy generally goes to the league’s top goaltender. Although Jake Oettinger and Cam Talbot are within the top five of the Vezina rankings, they are not to the same degree of Thatcher Demko, Adin Hill, and Jeremy Swayman. Consideration for including both is their strong performance in conventional and underlying metrics, placing within the top five of most categories.
Hill and Swayman represent a very strong second and third position that will continue to push Demko over the course of the season. Hill’s strong play has carried over from the playoffs and has shown no signs of a Stanley Cup hangover, tending the net for the NHL-leading. Swayman is proving that a Vezina win for the Boston Bruins isn’t a fluke as he and Linus Ullmark represent the best goalie tandem in the NHL. Not only do they place second and third in WAR, but these two goalies are within the top three of most categories, including save percentage (SV%), goals saved above expected (GSAx), and goals saved above average (GSAA).
Providing the strongest case for the Vezina is Demko. Demko has posted league or top-echelon statistics in various categories, including WAR, Goalie Point Shares, SV%, GAA, GSAX, and GSAA. The level of Demko’s play has exceeded that of the rest of the league’s netminders, proving he should be a primary candidate for the award.
The Calder Trophy has much greater variability in its week-to-week play due to rookie play, time on ice changes, call-ups, and line-up adjustments. Therefore, although Connor Bedard is regarded as the top favourite for leading the rookie trophy race, the rest of the rankings may substantially change by the next iteration of this writing in one-months time. Although this is generally an analytics-based article, arguments surrounding league-norm shot quality and control metrics are lesser to each candidate being under 50%.
The hype is real for Bedard as he settles into the NHL. Not only has his shot been NHL caliber, but his physicality and defensive takeaways on a lowly Chicago team have shown indications of improvement. Although the point total gap is only two, Bedard is tied for fifth league-wide in goals and has his point production at a roughly point-per-game pace. Furthermore, Bedard leads all rookies in total point shares at 1.6, indicating his value to the 10-point Chicago Blackhawks.
Pavel Mintyukov’s ranking may surprise many who have not heard of the Anaheim Duck’s young defenceman. Not only does he have nine assists, with five of them being primary, but he also sits second in terms of point shares, only behind Bedard. Additionally, he is one of the only rookies to post positive puck possession metrics, indicating he controls the flow of shot attempts when present on the ice. This is a surprising statistic, given Anaheim ranks 29th in the NHL at controlling puck possession.
Where the rankings likely differ is between the next three rookies. Logan Cooley receives the edge, retaining the best mark at the qualitative shot quality metric, indicating he provides better offense and limits opportunities against better than other candidates. Furthermore, he holds 11 points in 13 games, or roughly a 69-point pace, with seven of his 10 assists being primary.
Adam Fantilli and Leo Carlsson are fairly equal by comparison. Both retain similar puck possession and shot-quality metrics, with subpar shot quality control, about 4.4% less than the league average, and both are roughly average at puck control. Fantilli is given the edge via point production, but Carlsson has been impressive with one point less in four fewer games played, though this can be influenced by recently netting his first career hat trick, a feat most NHLers have yet to accomplish in their careers. Overall, this season’s crop of rookies has been impressive, and I am excited to watch this race heat up throughout the season.
Although this is the first in the series, the following installment will cover various other trophies, including the Norris, Rocket Richard, Jack Adams, and Selke. Further updates on the trophy races listed above will be revisited later.
Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire