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NHL Awards Watch: Gauging the MVP race ahead of the playoffs

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The final weeks of the NHL season could be absolutely chaotic, from determining playoff seeding to watching teams skate hard until their bubbles burst.

The final NHL Awards Watch of the season reveals similar uncertainty. Some races have razor-thin margins. Others could get there, as potential finalists close their seasons in style. The MVP race has a clear favorite — but how solid is his support?

Once again, what separates NHL Awards Watch apart is that these are the actual ballots from the actual awards voters. 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.

Bear in mind that the PHWA votes for the Hart, Norris, Calder, Selke and Lady Byng finalists; broadcasters vote for the Jack Adams; and general managers handle the Vezina.

All stats are from Hockey-Reference.com, Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey.

Jump ahead:
Ross | Richard | Hart
Norris | Selke | Vezina
Calder | Byng | Adams

Art Ross Trophy (points leader)

Current leader: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Watch out for: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Longer shot: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers


Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy (leading goal scorer)

Current leader: Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Watch out for: No one is catching Auston Matthews
Longer shot: Seriously, this race is over


Hart Trophy (MVP)

Leader: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Finalists: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning; Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

According to our sample, Nathan MacKinnon is going to take home his first NHL most valuable players trophy.

The Avalanche star was first overall on nearly 77% of the ballots we surveyed, thanks to 127 points in 75 games this season. He’s likely to finish in the top 5 in goals scored and potentially 30 points better than anyone else on his team.

MacKinnon led the Awards Watch MVP race in January and February before Kucherov stole the lead back last month. But MacKinnon took the momentum back thanks to two epic scoring streaks:

  • His 35-game home points streak (Oct. 19-March 26) in which he tallied 77 points in that span. It was the second-longest home points streak in NHL history behind Wayne Gretzky’s 40-game record set in the 1988-89 season with the Los Angeles Kings.

  • His 19-game points streak from Feb. 13-March 26 made MacKinnon the first player in NHL history to have two separate point streaks of 19 games within the same season.

“MacKinnon gets the nod here because his consistency has been at a historic level,” a voter said. “What MacKinnon has done this year has been unlike anything we’ve seen from him and something we’re used to seeing from the likes of a Sidney Crosby or a McDavid.”

It’s all there for MacKinnon. The Avalanche are a playoff team. He’s set new career standards for goals and points in a season. He has a sizable lead over their second-leading scorer, Mikko Rantanen. He has nine game-winning goals this season, including two in overtime.

“It’s just too difficult to ignore MacKinnon on a top-heavy Avs team with Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar joining MacKinnon as the only Colorado offensive players over the 50-point mark this season,” another voter concluded.

The climate was already favorable for a MacKinnon MVP run, given how many voters considered him “due” after finishing second for the Hart twice (2018, 2020) and third once (2021). He’s done little to discourage that effusive support — even if the competition for this award is as fierce as it’s been in recent memory.

“McDavid is making this increasingly difficult, but I’m still leaning MacKinnon,” another voter said. “Maybe I’m falling into the ‘it’s his turn’ narrative, but he really has been the best non-goalie in hockey all season.”

“A big part of me really wanted to give my Hart vote to Artemi Panarin, who isn’t getting enough credit for the Rangers’ success during a down year for Mika Zibanejad,” one voter revealed. “But Nathan MacKinnon can’t be denied.”

“Though I feel confident this is the way I’ll go, I feel more confident I will literally lose sleep over this vote,” another voter said.

MacKinnon’s support is emphatic — again, nearly 77% of the ballots had him on top — but it’s not unwavering. Some voters called the race “ridiculously close,” and that their votes could ultimately change.

“As I think about it, honestly, [Connor] Hellebuyck is closer than I think when filling this out,” one voter said of the Winnipeg Jets goaltender.

“I’m getting gray hair trying to figure this one out,” another said. “I think you could make a great case for any of four guys — MacKinnon, Kucherov, McDavid and Auston Matthews — but MacKinnon has the mix of points, goals and importance to team that are going to make it hard not to vote for him. That could shift in the coming weeks.”

McDavid has certainly complicated things for some MacKinnon voters. He’s likely to lead the league in points-per-game average for the sixth time in his career. He’s battling MacKinnon and Kucherov to win his sixth Art Ross Trophy for leading the NHL in points — and his fourth in a row.

“McDavid is still the best player, but MacKinnon has had a slightly better season,” one voter noted.

McDavid had 116 points in the 61 games after the Oilers made their coaching change. As Edmonton turned its season around, he turned heads in the MVP race. McDavid previous won the award last season and in 2021. He’s trying to become the first back-to-back MVP since Alex Ovechkin (2007-08 and 2008-09).

“We’ve talked so much about this being a back-and-forth between Kucherov and MacKinnon for this award,” one voter explained. “Now, we’re asking: Is he really about to do this? Maybe McDavid does win the Hart after all.”

“If Edmonton finds a way to win the division and McDavid keeps picking up a dizzying number of points with what remains of their super difficult, condensed schedule, I’ll have to think long and hard about it,” another added.

For all of this theoretical support for McDavid, he trailed Kucherov in actual support among our voters. Kucherov was a distant second behind MacKinnon, appearing first on just over 15% of the ballots.

The Lightning star — and NHL All-Star Game lightning rod — won the Hart Trophy in 2018-19 and will surpass his goals and points from that MVP campaign. Through 73 games, there was a 45-point gap between Kucherov and the next highest scorer on Tampa Bay (Brayden Point).

The Lightning have faced their share of adversity this season, from injuries to average goaltending to a diminished supporting cast. Kucherov has been the constant in leading the team to what should be a seventh straight playoff appearance.

“He has contributed to 49% of the Lightning’s goals,” one Kucherov voter noted, “and while the other two top candidates both have a teammate in the top 10 and a pair of teammates in the top 20 in league scoring, only Point is in the top 20 in scoring for Tampa Bay.”

The only other player to receive a first-place vote has a similar case to Kucherov. David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins was 40 points ahead of Boston’s second leading scorer Brad Marchand through 76 games. The Bruins went through major offseason changes to their offensive group. Pastrnak not only hasn’t skipped a beat, but he still has a chance to match his 113-point career best from last season, when he was second for the Hart.

Matthews was third for the Hart in last month’s Awards Watch but didn’t earn a first-place vote this time. The case for Matthews is a simple one: If the Maple Leafs star becomes the first NHL player to break the 70-goal mark since Teemu Selanne and Alex Mogilny both did it in 1992-93, who could deny him the Hart Trophy?

“Matthews is likely going to fall short of 70, but if he does get it, he would jump ahead of McDavid,” one voter argued.

Of course, that voter had MacKinnon ahead of both of them. For now.


Norris Trophy (top defenseman)

Leader: Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks
Finalists: Roman Josi, Nashville Predators; Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

The Predators’ decision to cancel their players’ trip to see U2 at The Sphere in Las Vegas is the stuff of hockey legend by now, leading to a 16-0-2 run that catapulted Nashville into a playoff seed. Running parallel to that streak was a run of dominance by defenseman Roman Josi that has put him squarely in the Norris Trophy conversation at exactly the right time.

Josi has 27 points, including eight goals, in his last 21 games for the Predators. That gave him 76 points in 75 games this season, tying him for third among all defensemen in scoring with Edmonton’s Evan Bouchard entering Wednesday night. Josi was also tied with Makar for the league lead in goals among defensemen, with 19.

It’s also put him squarely on the radar for voters, as Josi tied Makar behind Hughes, the current leader for the Norris with around 54% of the first-place votes.

“Roman Josi can still steal this,” one voter declared.

“Roman Josi is giving me serious pause here, but still leaning towards Hughes,” one Hughes backer noted.

“Maybe it’s the goals. Maybe it’s recency bias,” one Josi voter explained. “Josi does the most with the smallest supporting cast.”

“He might end up on a potential Hart ballot for me,” another Josi voter said.

Josi previously won the Norris in 2019-20. Makar won it in 2021-22, and like Josi is making a strong bid to add another one to the mantle.

Makar had 81 points in 70 games, including 19 goals. His time on ice is actually down from the previous two seasons (24:54 per game), but it’s not impossible that he could win the scoring race for defensemen despite playing fewer game than Hughes.

“Makar and Hughes are neck and neck,” one voter noted. “I give the nod to Makar on the strength of his 19 goals.”

Another voter was adamant that Maker playing in all situations was the biggest point of demarcation.

“The biggest difference between the three? Makar averages over 2:30 of penalty kill time per game for Colorado while Hughes and Josi barely average 30 seconds per game on the PK,” they explained. “Call me a traditionalist, but I still like to award defensemen that actually, you know, defend as a big part of their job.”

“Makar has more than double the short-handed minutes than Hughes, which could be factored into how some people vote,” another voter added.

“Makar is the still the best defenseman, but Hughes has had a slightly better season,” a Hughes backer argued.

There have been six versions of Awards Watch this season. Quinn Hughes has now topped five of them for the Norris Trophy, including three months in a row. But his leading margin has dropped from 78% in March to 57% in the final edition, thanks in no small part to Josi’s emergence.

He led all defensemen in points with 84 points in 75 games, and was a plus-38 in that span. He’s been a major driver of play for a Canucks team that’s stunned the NHL by challenging for a division title.

“Quinn Hughes should win, and it shouldn’t be close,” one voter declared. “Makar has closed the gap in points sufficiently that he could realistically challenge Hughes on reputation. Reputation is the only case to be made this season though.”

No other defensemen received a first-place vote besides these three. Among the other blueliners that earned a mention were Bouchard, Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Noah Dobson of the New York Islanders and Gustav Forsling of the Florida Panthers.


Calder Trophy (top rookie)

Leader: Brock Faber, Minnesota Wild
Finalists: Connor Bedard, Chicago Blackhawks; Luke Hughes, New Jersey Devils

What makes the Calder Trophy race so fun this season is the philosophical debate between the Connor Bedard voters and the Brock Faber voters.

The Bedard voters will say their guy has 58 points in 61 games, despite missing a chunk of the season to a broken jaw. As of Wednesday night, he led all rookies in points and goals. His 0.95 points-per-game average puts him among the top 50 scorers. He did all of this on a terrible Chicago team, which explains why he’s a minus-38. He did all of this as an 18-year-old, having spent three years in Canadian junior hockey, rather than having three seasons of NCAA hockey experience and entering the NHL as a 21-year-old like Faber.

The Faber voters will say he is sixth in the NHL in average time on ice with 25 minutes per game through 74 games. Not for rookies, not for defensemen, but for all NHL players. His 41 points ranks him third among all first-year players. He’s stepped in and played a vital role for the Wild, exceeding expectations and having a remarkable rookie season for a defenseman. Bedard, while clearly destined for superstardom, didn’t meet them to have the kind of transcendent rookie season his first overall pick status portended.

Faber tied Bedard in the February NHL Awards Watch, grabbing the spotlight while the Blackhawks phenom was injured. He nudged ahead of him last month. Now, in the season’s final weeks, Faber collected 54% of the first-place votes to Bedard’s 46% to lead the Calder race.

“The award is for ‘most proficient’ rookie. When healthy, Bedard has been the class’s most proficient offensive player,” one voter explained. “Yet, Faber’s overall body of work is outstanding, and in my mind at this moment, more proficient on aggregate.”

Some Faber voters simply said his exceptional season can’t be ignored.

“What Connor Bedard is doing is rare, but a rookie finishing top-10 in the NHL in ice time is even more rare,” one Faber voter noted.

“I thought Connor Bedard would be a lock if he returned to good health. He’s had his moments as a close to point-per-game player. But he’s a minus-39. Whether you value the stat or not, that’s indicative of some real issues playing a two-way game,” another voter argued. “It was going to take a very strong rookie season to wrest the Calder away from Bedard, and Faber may have just done that with a truly impressive first NHL season.”

Some Bedard voters are starting to believe it might be the other guy’s time.

“I’m starting to accept it could be Faber,” one voter said.

“Bedard is the clear leader, but both Hughes and Faber have been remarkable,” another allowed.

Hughes didn’t receive a first-place vote, but was prominently mentioned by several voters as a runner-up. He’s second among all rookies with 43 points in 76 games, with 27 points scored running New Jersey’s power play after Dougie Hamilton was lost for the season to injury. He’s a minus-24, but has given the Devils 21:24 of ice time per game, and has showed flashes of the offensive star the team believes he can be on the back end.

Other rookies mentioned by voters included Wild center Marco Rossi, who could end up first in rookie goals; Carolina goalie Pyotr Kochetkov; Flyers forward Tyson Foerster; and defenseman Pavel Mintyukov of the Anaheim Ducks.

But it’s a two-player race. And some Bedard voters are still convinced that when the votes are counted, it’ll be the phenom over the minutes-eater.

“Bedard with a bullet,” one voter opined.

“The prophecy will be fulfilled,” another quipped.


Vezina Trophy (top goaltender)

Note: The NHL’s general managers vote for this award

Leader: Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
Finalists: Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers; Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks

As stated above, the PHWA does not vote on the Vezina Trophy. The general managers do. Hopefully they have a different view of the race for top goalie this season, because if it were up the writers, Hellebuyck would win this thing in an absolute rout.

The Jets goalie was the unanimous choice for the writers we surveyed this month. Every single one had Hellebuyck, who won the Vezina in 2019-20, first overall on their ballots.

“Winnipeg has been a playoff team all season thanks in large part to defense and the goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck,” one voter declared.

“Hellebuyck has remained the constant for the Jets at times when they’ve looked like a really strong favorite to win the West, and when they’ve struggled for consistency,” another explained. “What he’s done has led to questions about if this is not only the best year of his career, but if this could be the year that he takes the Jets to a conference final.”

Hellebuyck has a .919 save percentage in 55 appearances. According to Stathletes, he leads the NHL in goals saved above expected (18.57). Like the Jets, his numbers took a downturn in the last month, but the voters believe it could have been much worse for Winnipeg were it not for Hellebuyck.

“Hellebuyck is holding on in spite of the Jets recent swoon,” one voter said.

“A pedestrian March doesn’t change this,” another concluded.

Demko was mentioned the most as a runner-up. An injury in early March impacted his candidacy and increased Hellebuyck’s lead for the award. But before that, Demko had a .917 save percentage in 49 games, helping Vancouver to the top of the Pacific.

“Demko is definitely in the conversation as well, but it feels like Hellebuyck was key to everything that the Jets accomplished this season,” one voter noted.

The next goalie most prominently mentioned? Bobrovsky, who has 33 wins, a .912 save percentage and four shutouts. He’s not an analytics darling, with only 3.15 goals saved above expected, but enough of our voters liked what they say from Bob to mention him.


Selke Trophy (best defensive forward)

Leader: Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Finalists: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings; Jordan Staal, Carolina Hurricanes

Barkov has led this race for five straight months and ends the final NHL Awards Watch for 2023-24 with 73% of the vote.

The Panthers have a 1.54 goals-against average per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 when Barkov is on the ice. They average 59% of the shot attempts. He’s second on his team in takeaways and wins over 57% of his faceoffs. Barkov last won the Selke in 2020-21.

“There are a few awards where it is nearly impossible to choose from the top contenders. This is the opposite of that,” one voter noted.

“Best two-way forward on best defensive team. He’s still underrated, right?” another voter asked, cheekily.

Staal had the next highest number of first-place votes. He anchors different incarnations of the Hurricanes’ checking line, winning 58% of his faceoffs. He’s a vital part of the league’s best penalty kill as well. He has a strong analytics case, with a 1.75 expected goals against per 60 minutes.

The question: Can a player win the Selke with a minus-14?

Staal has never won the Selke. Kopitar has won the award twice. He was next up in support for our voters. Kopitar has a 2.25 expected goals against average per 60 minutes. He wins faceoffs, kills penalties and continues to be one of the NHL’s top two-way centers.

Other players to receive first-place selections from our voters: Vegas Golden Knights center William Karlsson and Minnesota Wild center Joel Eriksson Ek.

“Good on faceoffs, strong all-around season for the Wild and tops among the best candidates in penalty kill ice time,” the Eriksson Ek voter argued. “This could be a wide-open category with players like J.T. Miller and Aleksander Barkov in the mix, but Eriksson Ek seems to check a lot of the boxes among a field of Selke candidates that is truly missing Patrice Bergeron this season.”


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.

Generally, this winds up being awarded to the player with a lot of points and few penalty minutes. Through Wednesday, Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson was 15th in scoring, with 10 penalty minutes this season. Take that as you will.


Jack Adams Award (best coach)

Note: The NHL Broadcasters’ Association votes on this award.

Leader: Rick Tocchet, Vancouver Canucks
Finalists: Andrew Brunette, Florida Panthers; John Tortorella, Philadelphia Flyers

Tocchet has led this category from the moment it was clear the Canucks would challenge for the division championship. He challenged his players early in the season and got results. His systems had a demonstrable impact on Vancouver’s team defense, as the Canucks remain a top-5 team in goals-against average (2.68) this season.

“Tocchet is the clear leader with the job he has done shoring up the Canucks defensively and staying in first without Demko,” one voter said.

“Tocchet took a team that faced questions about a lack of cohesion and turned it into a full-on juggernaut that’s about to enter the playoffs as one of the more fascinating situations in the NHL,” another voter added.

“John Tortorella deserves some Jack Adams credit for what’s happening with the Flyers as well, but it feels like Tocchet is the overwhelming favorite here,” another concluded.

Torts was tied for the second-most first-place votes with Brunette. The Flyers bench boss is currently pulling out every trick from his coaching bag to get Philadelphia into the playoffs, from scratching players to calling them out after losses to questioning if they understand what it takes to make the postseason.

“I’m gonna zag and not pick Tocchet for Jack Adams. He’s done a great job, but it’s pretty astounding that the Flyers are about to make the playoffs with this roster,” one voter explained. “They’ve had injuries, lost their starting goalie, were sellers at the deadline and somehow are still going to make the playoffs. If they get in, Torts has my imaginary vote.”

In his first season with the Predators, Brunette had his players competing in an aggressive, speed-centric system. But his candidacy for the Jack Adams was bolstered by what’s become a hockey fable: That Brunette (and GM Barry Trotz) punished his underperforming players by not allowing them to attend a U2 concert at The Sphere in Las Vegas, and that it led to an epic winning streak that’s put them in a playoff seed.

That’s the stuff Jack Adams Awards are made of.

“The 18-game point streak caught everybody’s attention, but the Predators have shown substantial improvement in multiple areas in Brunette’s time,” one voter noted. “They are perhaps the most surprising playoff team based on preseason expectations.”

“Brunette has excelled at two things we see pretty clearly from the outside: tactics/playing style and player buy-in,” another added. “What a tremendous second half for the Preds.”

Other coaches to receive first-place votes on our ballots included Jim Montgomery of the Boston Bruins, Kris Knoblauch of the Edmonton Oilers and Spencer Carbery of the Washington Capitals.

“What Carbery has accomplished to get the Capitals fighting for a playoff spot cannot be ignored,” one voter argued. “Especially when the Capitals moved on from a few players at the trade deadline with the belief they were going to focus on the future.”

The Jack Adams voters love a good narrative, which is why our Tocchet backers are a little nervous.

“I have concerns that the broadcasters are particularly prone to narratives and might let the U2 story sway them into voting for Andrew Brunette,” one said. “Fortunately, Tocchet is loved by the broadcasters, too. No disrespect to Brunette and Tortorella, but what Tocchet has done from start to finish in one of the hardest places in the league to succeed makes this an easy call.”