To recap my pre-season predictions – you can find my Metropolitan Division predictions here; the Atlantic Division is here; the Pacific Division is here; and the Central Division is here – I turn my attention to the NHL individual player awards.
As mentioned in these tips, readers should understand that these are solely my tips, and not THN’s official predictions. They are here. I just spit, really. These are educated guesses. In any case, let’s get to them right away.
In the running: Auston Matthews, Toronto; Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado; Alexsander Barkov, Florida
The winner: Connor McDavid, Edmonton
Why? Because McDavid is still only 24 years old and he’s still getting better. Because without him, his Oilers team would not be a playoff ban. And because he does what he does with astonishing speed and pinpoint accuracy. Matthews and MacKinnon got a lot of second and third place votes for the Hart last season, and they’ll be just as good this year. The same goes for Barkov, who is at the heart of a dynamic, promising Panthers team. They’re all franchise players, but they’re a hair or two behind McDavid in terms of overall dominance and value.
Art Ross trophy
In the running: Auston Matthews, Toronto; Connor McDavid, Edmonton; Patrick Kane, Chicago
The winner: Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton
Why? Because Draisaitl was able to do what he did in 2019-2020 when he scored the best 43 goals and 67 assists of his career, dwarfing his teammate McDavid by 13 points this year. This is not a negative comment on McDavid, who is almost certain to win the Art Ross for the second year in a row; rather, it is an appreciation of what the almost 26-year-old Draisaitl is capable of.
Matthews (and teammate Mitch Marner) will also generate a lot of offensive, and now that old friend Jonathan Towes is back in action this season, Kane could put up bigger numbers than last year when he scored 51 assists (for the second Consecutive year) and 66 points for the Blackhawks, finishing sixth overall in NHL points. Kane’s career low of 15 goals scored in 2021 has hurt his overall score, but at 32 he’s still got a lot in the tank and could be a 30+ goalscorer this year.
In the race: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay; Darcy Kümper, Colorado; Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida
The winner: Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg
Why? Because Hellebuyck was again dominant for the Jets last season and scored 2.58 goals against and 0.916 savings rates in 45 games. There’s no reason to believe that will change as the 28-year-old is giving his team the chance to win every game he plays in. Hellebuyck won his first Vezina two seasons ago with numbers very similar to last year, so expect him to be a Vezina front runner again this season.
Vasilevskiy finished second in the vezina voting last season (after winning his first vezina in 2018/19) and he will still play behind one of the best squads in the sport. Kuemper will find life a lot easier in Colorado than in Arizona, where he’s put up solid stats (2.56 GAA, 0.906 SP) on a terrible Coyotes team. It should thrive with the avalanche. Bobrovsky is looking to bounce back from a 2021 roller coaster season in which he was benched in the playoffs in favor of backup Chris Driedger, who now plays for the Seattle Kraken expansion. I think Bobrovsky will have a successful year with the Panthers. He’s 33 years old now, but I think he has pride and motivation to shake off last year and focus on being Florida clear number 1 in the postseason.
James Norris Memorial Trophy
In the race: Adam Fox, New York Rangers; Cale Makar, Colorado; Shea Theodore, Vegas
The winner: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay
Why? Because Hedman remains one of the best of the best and now has two Stanley Cup championships on his résumé. He is now 30 years old and scored 45 points in 54 games with the Lightning last year. With a full schedule of 82 games, he’s likely to end this season with 10-15 goals and 55-65 points while working as a smart, efficient backend defender. Hedman led the Bolts on average last year on the ice (25:03) and has an elite group of D-Men around him. He’s consistently great and deserves his second Norris. Fox (who won Norris last season) and Makar are both 22 years old and still developing, which should scare opponents.
And Theodore, aged 26, is one of the top point producers for the Golden Knights (a career with the best 34 assists and 42 points) who also eats up more than 22 minutes per game. Theodore has thrived in Vegas and his steady rise into the group of the best defenders in the game looks like he will continue. But yes, Hedman can do everything, and very well.
On the move: Moritz Seider, Detroit; Jamie Drysdale, Anaheim; Michael Bunting, Toronto
The winner: Cole Caufield, Montreal
Why? Because Caufield will start the season in the top line of the Canadiens (with center Nick Suzuki and left winger Tyler Toffoli) and he will collect a lot of points. Caufield will also show that you don’t need height (he’s 1.70 m tall) to generate offensive, and if Montreal is to make the playoffs in the tough Atlantic Division they will need a sizable contribution from 20-year-old Caufield. Seider is a key piece of the Detroit puzzle and should cause a sensation alongside veteran Nick Leddy in the Red Wings’ second pair of defenders. Bunting is a clue to me here. He has a small sample size (11 goals and 14 points in 26 career games played), but the 26-year-old quickly earned the term “fat rat” at training camp – and the Leafs need more of his tenacity. If he earns a place in Toronto’s top six group of strikers, he could pose a tremendous threat.
Rocket Richard Trophy
In the running: Alexander Ovechkin, Washington; Mikko Rantanen, Colorado; Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton
The winner: Auston Matthews, Toronto
Why? Because Matthews is now at full strength (he had wrist surgery in August) and he’s trying to repeat himself as the Rocket Richard champion. If Matthews was that good last year – and he was eight goals more than runner-up McDavid – imagine what he’s going to do now that he’s cured and 100 percent healthy.
Ovechkin had an off-year in 2021 with just 24 goals and 42 points in 45 games last year. Some players would love to have a down season like this, but Ovechkin has always scored at a pace of 50-60 goals and should be bouncing again this year. Rantanen plays arguably the best line in the NHL (with MacKinnon and winger Gabriel Landeskog), and he’s still only 24 years old. He finished fifth in the Rocket Richard race last season and will be back in 2021-22. Draisaitl finished fourth in the goalscoring race last season (31 goals in 56 games) and, along with his teammate McDavid, will be a front runner in this award this season.
Jack Adams Prize
On the run: Joel Quenneville, Florida; Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay; Rick Bowness, Dallas
The winner: Barry Spy, New York Islanders
Why? Because there is a good reason that even defiance has already won two Jack Adams Awards. He’s meticulous, accomplished, and almost always brings out every drop of value from the players who work for him. The islands are likely to be great this season, and Defiance will be largely responsible. He’s not a shoo-in for the Jack Adams Award 2021-22, but he’ll very likely fight for it.
Quenneville has a deeper, better Panthers team to work with, and its structure and openness will serve Florida well as they try to get past their domestic rivals in Tampa Bay. If that happens, Quenneville could be the favorites to win his second Jack Adams Award; he first won it 20 years ago when he coached the St. Louis Blues to a 51-19-11-1 record. Florida could win 50 games this year and Quenneville still won’t be happy. But that’s the mark of a talented coach. He will always want more.
Cooper hasn’t won a Jack Adams Award yet, and that doesn’t feel appropriate when we talk about a consecutive Stanley Cup championship team that Cooper was responsible for. The Lightning are going to be great this season and Cooper needs to be recognized as a great bank manager. And the low-key Bowness could surprise people by leading the stars in the ranks of the Central Division and becoming a real leader in the Cup. Bowness is a hockey lifer, and he has a veteran roster that can do serious harm. He’s a dark horse in this Jack Adams race, but he has to be considerate.
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
In the running: Auston Matthews, Toronto; Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles; Jacob Slavin, Carolina
The winner: Aleksander Barkov, Florida
Why? Because in this subjective category, Barkov is a good bet to challenge Lady Byng and win. In his eight NHL seasons, Barkov was never penalized for more than 18 minutes a year – and he only earned 18 minutes once. In four seasons, he played an average of 10 minutes or less. Barkov has already won a Lady Byng (2018-19), and he has an average of almost 21 minutes of ice time per game. He’s a smart, calming force who focuses his energies into smart decisions.
Matthews averaged 21:33 Ice Age last year and is always the main target for opponents. When he led the league (and fifth overall with 66 points), he played a clean game and very rarely returned the favor of the opponent’s attempts to distract him and take physical action against him. He could win his first Lady Byng this season. Kopitar won his first Lady Byng in 2015-16, and although he is now 33, he finished last season with the eighth most votes for the award, he will play on a rejuvenated Kings team and he will have more to help on the defensive . This could be his last great shot on the Lady Byng, but it’s there as long as Kopitar keeps a balanced keel and stays focused.
Slavin was the runaway Lady Byng winner in 2021 with 82.7 percent of the vote and 73 votes in first place. The second best vote winner was Minnesota Wild Blueliner Jared Spurgeon, who will also be in the Lady Byng mix this season . But Barkov (who finished fourth in the voting last season) should be the winner here.
Frank J. Selke Trophy
On the run: Aleksander Barkov, Florida; Patrice Bergeron, Boston; Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis
The winner: Mark Stone, Vegas
Why? Because Stone is an all-encompassing threat when he steps on the ice for the Golden Knights. On offense he is one striker per game; and in defense he uses his size and instinct to crush the opponent and push him off the puck. Stone, Bergeron and Barkov were last season’s Selke finalists, which Barkov eventually won for the first time. Bergeron, who already has a whopping four Selke trophies under his belt, is always a threat at both ends of the rink even at 35.
O’Reilly, who won his first Selke in 2018/19, finished fifth in the choice of the trophy last season. At 30, O’Reilly is in his prime and always plays a responsible defensive game. He can be a 60-70 point player again and serve as the engine for the blues game plan. But Stone has a big year ahead of Vegas, and I think he’ll win his first Selke Trophy in a close vote.