Now that the St. Louis Blues have ended their 51-year wait to capture a Stanley Cup, it’s time to distribute some individual hardware. There were a number of standout performers around the league this season, as six players reached the 100-point mark in the highest-scoring year since 2005-06. Only a select few deserve to be celebrated as the very best in their field, though.
While the awards won’t be handed out until Wednesday night, we’ve decided to make our own picks in the meantime. Let’s dive in.
Jack Adams Award: Barry Trotz, New York Islanders
After leaving the Washington Capitals and joining the New York Islanders in the offseason, Trotz was faced with a dilemma: His roster possessed neither the pure talent nor the shutdown personnel to tip the scale in any particular direction…so he had to choose one side at the expense of another.
In the end, he clearly believes that defense still wins championships.
He didn’t quite reach the mountaintop in his first season in Long Island, but he engineered a remarkable improvement on the defensive side of the puck. The Islanders allowed the fewest goals (2.33 GAPG) in the entire league just one year after allowing the most (3.57 GAPG) with Doug Weight running the show. Many will credit Robin Lehner (2.13 GAA, 93.0 SV%) as the catalyst, but it was Trotz’s system that facilitated this stinginess.
Without the players to dominate in all three zones, New York’s coach focused on ruling the trenches. The closer you got to prime real estate, the better the Islanders were. They controlled 47.8% of the shot attempts (26th), 49.4% of the scoring chances (16th) and 52.5% of the high-danger opportunities (12th) at 5-on-5. From top to bottom, the team clogged shooting lanes and kept opponents to the outside. The Isles may have been outshot on most nights, but Trotz’s quality-over-quantity mantra resonated with his squad. They leaned on their defensive structure and opportunistic attack to rank second in high-danger goal share (57.7%).
It was tough, blue-collar work, but Trotz got his players to buy in and they certainly reaped the rewards. Under his guidance, an apparent rebuilding year turned into home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
— YeSUV🚙 (@IslesWhiteSUV) January 24, 2019
Calder Trophy: Elias Pettersson, Center, Vancouver Canucks
The 35-36-11 Canucks were pretty bad in 2018-19. However, there is a significant silver lining to consider: Pettersson, the fifth overall pick in 2017, looks poised to grab the reins and lead his team out of the gutter. With 66 points in 71 games, the 20-year-old quickly established himself as Vancouver’s top gun up front and a great fit alongside sniper Brock Boeser. Though a couple of injuries derailed his momentum, he still managed to finish 30th leaguewide in points/60 (minimum 900 minutes played at 5-on-5).
Despite his slight 176-pound frame, he proved capable of holding his own in the big leagues with his pace, vision and elusiveness. He processes a dizzying sport in slow motion, constantly slicing defenses open to create quality looks for his teammates. Better yet, he strikes a nice balance between playmaking and finishing, which keeps the opposition guessing just long enough for the Canucks to capitalize.
In essence, he shed any concerns that his talent may not translate to the pros.
More importantly, he appears committed to helping his club even when he isn’t lighting up the scoreboard. He outperformed the team average in virtually all metrics and even managed to post a positive goal share (51.1%) while facing stiff competition. All in all, his production and impact at 5-on-5 push him to the head of this season’s rookie class.
A stronger and more experienced Pettersson may well emerge as a full-fledged superstar as early as next season.
Elias Pettersson is ridiculously good. pic.twitter.com/Po5nzj97rR
— anttoni honka fan club (@DraftLook) February 3, 2019
Selke Trophy: Ryan O’Reilly, Center, St. Louis Blues
Before anyone mentions recency bias, we highlighted O’Reilly as the rightful winner amid his struggles in April and have been singing his praises all year long. This is a regular season award and the 28-year-old was simply brilliant in the 2018-19 regular season.
Unlike his Blues counterparts, he was also the picture of consistency. Along with a coaching change and Jordan Binnington’s emergence as the new starting goaltender, O’Reilly’s steadiness paved the way for a stunning worst-to-first story. He posted 77 points in 82 games and was a force throughout the campaign, absorbing tough minutes and tilting the ice in St. Louis’ favor nonetheless. During his shifts, St. Louis controlled 53.4% of the shot attempts, 54.8% of the scoring chances and 56.0% of the high-danger chances. Among forwards who played at least 1,000 minutes at even strength — which is to say forwards who are heavily relied upon — he posted the ninth-highest goal share (62.2%).
Those are phenomenal numbers for a player carrying his three-zone burden.
Don’t let his grizzled appearance fool you: O’Reilly may be the least physical Selke finalist in years. However, that doesn’t stop him from tormenting the league’s stars with his active stick and razor-sharp hockey sense. He’s continually in the right place at the right time and seldom concedes inside leverage, making opponents work for every bit of breathing room they can muster.
Well before St. Louis took home its first ever championship and O’Reilly was named postseason MVP, he was quietly delivering a winning brand of hockey.
Note the hand configuration of Ryan O’Reilly on this goal… how in the world? pic.twitter.com/JRFdHqt6ev
— NHL (@NHL) November 5, 2017
Vezina Trophy: Ben Bishop, Goaltender, Dallas Stars
Since Binnington (1.89 GAA, 92.7 SV%) only made 32 appearances in the regular season, this is the biggest no-brainer on the list.
Bishop was sensational for the Dallas Stars in 2018-19, mounting a furious playoff push from the net out that eventually resulted in a wild-card spot. Among goaltenders with at least 40 games played, he ranked first in both GAA (1.98) and save percentage (93.4). Moreover, he didn’t enjoy the level of support that Binnington did down the stretch: Dallas ranked 22nd in CF% (48.3) and 15th in SCF% (50.5).
Despite mediocre possession numbers, the Stars finished second in on-ice save percentage (93.5) and high-danger save percentage (86.5). They played a defense-oriented system designed to outlast their opponents, which required their goaltender to make big saves in key moments — and Bishop was always there to answer the call.
The 6’7”, 215-pounder stands out from other lanky goaltenders because he seems entirely comfortable in his frame. That assuredness in the crease allowed his troops to exceed expectations and will surely inspire confidence for the team’s outlook in 2019-20.
More Ben Bishop showtime saves, please!
— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) April 27, 2019
Norris Trophy: Mark Giordano, Defenseman, Calgary Flames
This isn’t about the 35-year-old being “due” for a Norris Trophy. Calgary’s captain simply reached new heights in 2018-19. He posted 74 points in 78 games (2nd among defensemen) and was at the forefront of a high-flying Flames squad that clinched its first division title in over a decade.
Though you should take anything Drew Doughty says with a grain of salt, we have to agree with his position in this case. It takes a two-way beast to know one. Per 60 minutes, Giordano was the single most productive blueliner in hockey last season — and he accomplished that feat while facing the other team’s best players on a nightly basis. He and TJ Brodie formed a wonderful top pairing that posted terrific underlying stats (57.7 CF%, 56.3 SCF%, 53.9 HDCF%, 59.8 GF%) regardless of their competition.
While the Flames were indeed a powerhouse, Giordano was no passenger. He ranked fourth in relative CF%, 11th in relative SCF% and ninth in relative GF% among rearguards, easily outperforming the averages of a team that finished first in the Western Conference. He was depended upon to shut the opposition down and supplement the offense with his mobility, playmaking and killer instinct, and he regularly delivered the goods.
Sure, Calgary suffered a brutal upset in the first round, but its regular season restored faith in an organization that needed it in the worst way. Fittingly, its captain led the charge from the back end.
Mark Giordano: “FREEZE” 😳🖐🏻 pic.twitter.com/CW79HwaTJL
— Bar South N Celly™ (@BarSouthNCelly) February 28, 2019
Hart Trophy: Sidney Crosby, Center, Pittsburgh Penguins
Nikita Kucherov may have enjoyed the most productive season since Mario Lemieux’s 161 points in 1995-96, but no player was more valuable to his playoff-bound team — sorry, Connor McDavid — than Sidney Crosby.
Beyond finishing sixth in scoring (100 points in 79 contests) and second in points/60 (2.92), he was often the lone Pen fighting the good fight in 2018-19. In a year when Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel showed little interest in helping out their captain, Crosby offered Pittsburgh the strongest two-way campaign of his illustrious career. The 31-year-old fully embraced his defensive responsibilities, regularly maintaining sound positioning and winning his battles down low to kick-start the club’s transition game.
With Crosby on the ice, Pittsburgh owned 54.5% of the shot attempts, 56.1% of the scoring chances and 58.6% of the high-danger bids. Even though he obviously faced the opposition’s best every game, he posted the single highest goal share (65.6%) among players who logged 1,000-plus minutes at 5-on-5.
Without him, those numbers plummeted to 47.9 CF%, 50.7 SCF%, 51.6 HDCF% and 50.0 GF%. Crosby ranked third leaguewide in relative CF%, ninth in relative SCF%, 11th in relative HDCF% and fourth in relative GF%.
When most of the roster floundered, Crosby excelled. He hit the century mark for the first time in five years, turned Jake Guentzel into a 40-goal scorer and coaches can only dream of their superstars displaying his commitment to three-zone hockey. He has never been this effective at both ends of the ice.
While the Pens were embarrassed in the conference quarterfinals, they wouldn’t have even reached the postseason if not for Crosby’s heroics.
So, yeah, we lost last night… but Sidney Crosby was sensational (as usual).
Here’s another look at his natural hat trick ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/HsWhj39T2y
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 29, 2018