NHL Midseason Awards: Evaluating the Frontrunners for Each Award
The NHL has officially passed the halfway mark of the 2020-21 season. There have been several huge surprises, disappointments, risers, and fallers so far this season. Let’s examine the frontrunners for each of the five main awards: the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Calder, and Selke trophies. Additionally, let’s look at who the honorable mentions are for each award.
These midseason awards will be primarily evaluated by analytics but will take into account other elements. It is important to remember context as it is still early in the season and these could easily shift over the course of the remainder of the season.
The Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team
Frontrunners: Connor McDavid (1), Aleksander Barkov (2) & Auston Matthews (3)
Honorable Mentions: Leon Draisaitl, David Pastrnak, Mark Stone, Nathan MacKinnon & Nikolaj Ehlers
This really isn’t any strong argument against McDavid. He is the best and most valuable player in the league. He leads the league with an absurd 2.6 wins above replacement according to Evolving-Hockey. He has 20 goals, 38 assists, and 58 points in 33 games. Even looking at his underlying offensive numbers, he’s been the best in the league by a considerable margin. The element McDavid is his ability to continue to shock. There is always something he has to debut in his bag of talent tricks. This season is his elevated defensive game. His defense has been suspect but he has cleaned up his defensive game and is actually above-average league-wide. He already won this in my books.
There will be more about Barkov’s elite defensive and two-way game later, but he is just insane. The 25-year-old center has a stat line of 12-22-34 in just 29 games this season. He’s been a monster on both ends of the ice and truly deserves to be a finalist for the Hart Trophy as of now despite him being a tier below McDavid.
Matthews has been unbelievable this season. He ranks second in expected wins above replacement. He has been an elite offensive player while still being reliable defensively. The 23-year-old has 21 goals, 15 assists, and 36 points in just 27 games. He’s easily been the Toronto Maple Leafs’ best player and the anchor of their offensive core.
It appears he has reached a new level in his game which is why he deserves to be a finalist for the Hart. He has a 60 Corsi for percentage and 64.15 expected goals for percentage. He’s been dominant this season and is on pace for a career-high in goals too.
The five honorable mentions are all deserving a frontrunner spot and have been among the best players in the league. It rounds out with Draisaitl, MacKinnon, and Stone which isn’t surprising as they are incredibly valuable. Pastrnak has not only been the elite offensive player he is but he has been respectable defensively which is a surprise. Ehlers has been the Winnipeg Jets’ most valuable player this season and has displayed his immense value.
An annual award given to the defenseman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position
Frontrunners: Norris: Jeff Petry (1), Charlie McAvoy (2) & Samuel Girard (3)
Honorable Mentions: Justin Faulk, Adam Fox, Adam Pelech, Devon Toews & Cale Makar
Jeff Petry leads the Norris race as of right now. He has 11 goals, 16 assists, and 27 points in 30 games which is good for third in defenseman scoring. The 33-year-old veteran defenseman ranks second in wins above replacement and first in expected wins above replacement according to Evolving-Hockey.
Likewise, he has a 56.32 Corsi for percentage and 52.46 expected goals for percentage. The only issue is that he has been guilty of abnormal finishing that will likely come back down to earth. His career-high shooting percentage is 7.6 and he is currently at 14.9. With this being said, as of right now, it’s his trophy to lose.
McAvoy is one of the NHL’s best two-way defensemen. As usual, he has been elite once again this season. Even with the departures of Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara, McAvoy and the Bruins have virtually been unaffected. (from ‘With Charlie McAvoy, the Bruins Filled a Void From Within,’ New York Times,’ 02/21/2021) He has a high shot and expected goal share. The 23-year-old right-shot defenseman has a 57.18 CF% and 56.29 xGF% so far this season. He has notched three goals, 14 assists, and 17 points in 28 games too.
Like Petry, Girard has been guilty of an uncharacteristically high shooting percentage and on-ice finishing. His career-high shooting percentage is 4.8 and he is currently at 10. It isn’t a knockdown of his game but more concern and indicator that he will regress in the future. The 22-year-old defenseman has five goals, 17 assists, and 22 points in 26 games. Furthermore, he has a 62.37 CF% and 61.55 xGF%. The young defenseman is having a great season and has been a steady two-way force for the Avalanche.
There are some strong honorable mentions that could rise over the second half of the season, especially Makar who has been solid this season, albeit it was a small sample size before he sustained an injury that sidelined him 10 games.
The Vezina Trophy is an annual award given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position
Frontrunners: Andrei Vasilevskiy (1), Marc-Andre Fleury (2) & Thatcher Demko (3)
Honorable Mentions: Semyon Varlamov, Phillip Grubauer, Calvin Petersen, Igor Shesterykin & Darcy Kuemper
Vasilevskiy has been regarded as one of the best goaltenders in the league for a while but has received criticism, rightfully so, from the analytics community. His underlying numbers have portrayed a completely different picture from the accepted narrative around the league. With this being said, he has finally begun to boast elite metrics this season which is very promising
Let’s examine two very telling metrics which include goals saved above expected and goals saved above average, the former taking into account shot quality and the latter essentially taking into account the workload each goalie faces. Vasilevskiy has a league-leading 14.12 GSAx and 14.88 GSAA. Likewise, he boasts a respectable .932 save percentage. There is no doubt he has been the best goaltender in the league to the midway mark, but Vegas’ Fleury is not too far behind.
Fleury is having a career year with the Vegas Golden Knights. One has to wonder if it is due to the Robin Lehner injury. The 36-year-old goaltender flourishes when he has the starting role and gets the majority of starts which can be traced back to his days with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has a respectable 12.53 GSAx and 13.7 GSAA which both rank second. It truly is amazing what Fleury is doing after the array of rumors involving him. Furthermore, he has a league-leading .933 save percentage.
In hindsight, the Vancouver Canucks have to be regretting their free-agent acquisition in Brayden Holtby. To their defense, Holtby has taken a huge step back and Demko has made significant strides that weren’t necessarily expected. The 25-year-old has been one of the biggest surprises to begin the season as he is playing at a level that merits Vezina Trophy consideration at the very least. The former second-round pick has an 11.75 GSAx and 10.03 which rank third and fourth respectively. He has a .920 save percentage despite being behind one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL which speaks volumes.
It would take an incredible second half of the season for a goalie that isn’t on the honorable mention list to have any significant chance at stealing the Vezina. For that matter, anyone not named Varlamov or Grubauer will have a tough time as it is to gain any traction on the three frontrunners for the Vezina.
An annual award given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL
Frontrunners: Kirill Kaprizov (1), Igor Shesterykin (2) & Pius Suter (3)
Honorable Mentions: Josh Norris, Nils Hoglander, Tim Stutzle, Kaapo Kahkonen & Kevin Lankinen
The frontrunners had a massive change in the past couple of weeks. Lankinen’s first month and a half of the season was truly unbelievable and he not only was just behind Kaprizov in the Calder race but he had a legitimate case for the Vezina up to the past several weeks. The past few weeks have been utter chaos for the rookie goaltender and there is some concern there. He could easily jump right back into the conversation as the season progresses, but to play the safe bet, he just misses. The biggest question is whether the past few weeks are a sign of him coming back to the earth which is why the safe bet as of now is to list him as an honorable mention.
Kaprizov is the clear-cut frontrunner at this point and he has kind of run away with it. It is absolutely ridiculous that there has been some criticism about it being unfair because of his age. In my mind, he neutralizes that because of his transition to North America and having to adapt to new surroundings and such. He is a rookie according to the rule book and that’s all that matters.
The league is taking notice of the budding star winger as he is a very developed player which has been evident this season. He’s got all the tools to ascent to stardom; a tantalizing shot, incredible edge-work, strong vision, and playmaking along with a strong hockey IQ. The 23-year-old winger has 10 goals, 15 assists, and 25 points in just 28 games. He’s top 10 in the league in on-ice goals per hour displaying his elite ability to increase the Wild’s rate of scoring. He has truly transformed the Wild roster and organization.
It’s disappointing to see Shesterykin placed on injured-reserve and hopefully, it isn’t too long. He’s had a strong rookie season so far, strong enough that he is a frontrunner for the award. He has a 3.79 GSAx and a 5.95 GSAA which rank eighth and ninth respectively among goalies who have played more than 10 games. He also holds a strong .921 save percentage in 15 games. He most definitely deserves any and all recognition from the league and fans alike.
Suter has been one of the most underrated rookie forwards. He has a stat line of 8-5-13 in 31 games is good for seventh in points among rookies. While he may be five points short of second-place Stutzle, he holds much more respectable underlying numbers with a 51.71 CF% and 54.18 xGF%.
Outside of a couple, the rookie class isn’t exactly a group of high-end forwards, but there is depth. One rookie that barely missed the cut was Jason Robertson which is something to monitor as the season progresses. The biggest criticism will be having Stutzle as an honorable mention when he’s second in rookie scoring, but the harsh reality is that his impact is missing. He has been a defensive liability and one of the worst in the league. His offensive underlying numbers don’t scream anything either. The biggest thing to watch out for is Lankinen to see if he can recover and regain traction after the past several weeks which have been tough.
The Frank J. Selke Trophy is an annual award given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game
Frontrunners: Aleksander Barkov (1), Sidney Crosby (2) & Joel Eriksson Ek (3)
Honorable Mentions: Joe Pavelski, Andrew Mangiapane, Jack Eichel, Jesse Puljujarvi & T.J Oshie
Before we examine the frontrunners for the Selke trophy, there has to be an examination of the criteria for the highly questionable award. The Selke is supposedly given to the best defensive forward yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of the most decorated defensive forwards in the league are bottom-six forwards. For example, the Wild’s Marcus Foligno is one of the best defensive forwards by any defensive metric yet would never be given consideration. The harsh reality is that this trophy is the hardest to judge as it is open-ended. The Selke winner almost certainly has to be a top-six forward and a two-way presence. For this reason, there is no reason to waste any time pretending this is solely based on the defensive aspects of the game. This is the criteria we will work with.
Barkov leads the way in the Selke race. He carries 2.2 even-strength defensive goals above replacement – a comprehensive metric that takes into account all defensive aspects of the game – which is undeniably strong.
The 25-year-old has an impressive on-ice 1.71 expected goals against per hour at 5-on-5. Likewise, his RAPM xGA/60 – a metric that takes into account several additional factors – ranks near the top. He anchors a strong first-line and is a staple on the penalty kill which further qualifies him. He has truly been a two-way force and one of the best defensive forwards league-wide.
Crosby is just behind Barkov but still a contending frontrunner nonetheless. His 2.1 even-strength GAR just trails Barkov who has the slight edge in this regard. Likewise, his on-ice 1.91 expected goals against per hour at 5-on-5 is still very respectable. Furthermore, his RAPM xGA/60 is more favorable to the veteran who has a slight edge over Barkov in this regard. The deployment of Crosby might be a knock-off to some because of his lack of ice time on the man advantage, but this shouldn’t be used against him as he has been a top defensive forward anyways.
Eriksson Ek is just behind Barkov and Crosby in the Selke race. He has a legitimate case to win at this point in time. He has a slightly less 1.3 even-strength defensive GAR than both Barkov and Crosby. His on-ice 1.83 expected goals against per hour at 5-on-5 ranks between the two above. He trails both of them in RAPM xGA/60 too. His impact on the penalty kill is an added bonus to add to his resume.
The five honorable mentions round out the top contenders for the Selke Trophy. The Sabres’ trio of forwards in Eichel, Reinhart, and Skinner have all been top defensive forwards this season which is very interesting too.
It has been an exciting season so far that has resulted in unexpected frontrunners for numerous awards and several expected leaders being buried in poor starts. McDavid leading the Hart race is no surprise. Likewise, Vasilevskiy leading the Vezina race, Kaprizov leading the Calder race, and Barkov leading the Selke race are not at all surprising. While the leaders may not necessarily be a surprise, there are several surprises still in the mix for the awards.
While the sample size is biggest enough to judge players and evaluate the frontrunners for each award, there is still roughly half a season remaining. It is important to take these with a grain of salt as there is a strong chance that things can change in the backend of the season. It is an important reminder that some players could be the victim of slow starts while others could be guilty of an unsustainable level of play.
The question remains, who will be the face of each award in this truncated season with a historically unique schedule?
(All data as of March 20th; Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick & Hockey-Reference)
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