NHL Award Predictions

Wednesday is the day hockey fans have been longing for. The day in which they can sit back and watch some fast-paced, hard-hitting, action-packed hockey. The sounds of players slamming into the glass, skates gliding across the top of the ice, and the blaring horn after every goal will finally be back for millions of fans to watch all over the world.

This season is sure to be filled with twists and turns, as teams try to weave their way through the virus while also competing at their highest level to lift the Stanley Cup at the end of the road. The schedule is designed so each of the 31 teams plays 56 games and is confined to only teams in their division. The 4 divisions this year are re-aligned based on the geographical location of the teams. Another surprise for the season is that there will be 2 outdoor games, played on February 20th and 21st on Lake Tahoe. Following the regular season, there will be a traditional 4 round best-of-7 series play-offs that fans are accustomed to. The first 2 rounds will be in division and then the 4 teams that survive will be seeded by the regular season results and finish out the playoffs.

These are my predictions for the winners of both teams and individual awards that can be earned this unique NHL season.

Eastern Division Champion

The Eastern Division consists of 8 teams: the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, and New Jersey Devils. This is the most competitive division in the league as any team has a shot at going deep into the playoffs, besides the Sabres and Devils. In the end, the winner of the division will be the Philadelphia Flyers.

Right before the NHL season was suspended, the Flyers proved how good they actually were, winning 9 of the last 10 games they had before the pause. They were able to average 3.9 goals per game, while only giving up 1.9 goals per game during that stretch. Then, when the playoffs came around, they steamrolled through the round-robin by a combined score of 11-3 in their 3 games. They eventually went on to lose to the Islanders in 7 games in round 2.

The Flyers also have the luxury of a great group of young players including Joel Farabee, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Philippe Myers who now have an extra season in the NHL and some playoff experience to build off of. This is also combined with the experience of the veterans Claude Giroux, Jakub Voráček, and Sean Couturier. The Flyers also have a very good goaltending tandem in Carter Hart and Brian Elliott which will be vital in this season.

Central Division Champion

The Central Division consists of 8 teams: the Tampa Bay Lightning, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks, and Florida Panthers. This division has 2 powerhouses, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars, as well as 3 teams that could sneak up from behind, the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Nashville Predators. The winner of this division will be the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Tampa Bay Lightning will be without leading scorer Nikita Kucherov for the regular season, but this shouldn’t hinder their ability to be in the top 4 in their division. And a couple of games in the playoffs should be enough for him to get going. Once the whole team is rolling, it is incredibly difficult to stop the Lightning.

A team with the highest goals per game who also has a goalie with the best record in the league, Andrei Vasilvskiy, is very well suited for a regular season and 7 game series. Under the leadership of Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, the Lightning will win the Central Division and be able to go for the back to back come later this year.

Western Division Champion

The Western Division consists of 8 teams: the Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, and Las Vegas Golden Knights. This division consists of 3 powerhouses with a chance to go deep in the playoffs: the Las Vegas Golden Knights, St. Louis Blues, and Colorado Avalanche. When all is set and done, the Las Vegas Golden Knights will emerge the winner of this division.

The forward depth on the Golden Knights is arguably the best in the league. All 4 lines have players that can put the puck in the back of the net at any given moment and can play defense with the best of the league. Along with the forwards, they added Alex Pietrangelo to their defensive core and this experience is something that could help the Golden Knights through their division.

Another reason the Golden Knights have the best chance of winning is that they have the best Goaltending duo in the division, Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner. In this season, in which so many games are crammed into a tight schedule, goaltending will be very important to a team, and now more than ever it is imperative to have a good backup goalie.

Northern Division Champion

The Northern Division consists of 7 teams: the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Ottawa Senators. This division has many teams that could pose a threat to the division. In fact, there is a chance for anyone besides the Ottawa Senators to win. In the end, though, the Toronto Maple Leafs will walk away champions.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have improved their team in all facets of the game this year. The addition of Joe Thorton and Wayne Simmons bring extra experience, toughness, and leadership to a pretty young group of forwards, aside from John Tavares. The addition of TJ Brodie will significantly improve their previously struggling defense. And the addition of Jack Campbell gives them a better backup to Frederik Anderson.

The Northern division does not consist of teams with great defense and the addition of TJ Brodie puts the team over the top with the best defense. This, combined with a better backup to take the load off of Anderson, should help the Maple Leafs contain the number of goals they give up and they can put up goals at will with the star power they now have.

Stanley Cup Champion

The final 4 teams left are the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers, Las Vegas Golden Knights, and Tampa Bay Lightning. These teams now put their blood, sweat, and tears into every shift they have in order to lift the cup. At the end of the intense 3 series, the Las Vegas Golden Knights will walk away with their 1st ever Stanley Cup.

The Golden Knights will throw their firepower and relentless pressure straight into teams they come up against. With the experience, they have skating, Alex Pietrangelo and Max Pacioretty and in the net with Marc-Andre Fleury, this team has the ability to be extremely dangerous and hoist the cup at the end of the season.

Align with the ability to score quickly, they have enforcers in the back end that are to be feared while on the ice. Their main example is Ryan Reaves. This man will fight with anything that walks and you better keep your head up if he is on the ice. This will earn the Golden Knights the extra time they need to score more goals.

President’s Trophy (Best Regular Season Record)

This trophy is awarded to the team with the best regular-season record in the league. For this award, it is important to look at the divisions since teams only play in divisions this year. The Central division has 2 threats and it is from there that the President’s Trophy winner will reside. With only the Stars in a position to do super well this year, the Tampa Bay Lightning should be able to capture this trophy.

They have a very strong forward group and, arguably, the best defenseman and goalie in the league. The better part of the teams they have to go against isn’t in a position yet to beat the Lightning on a consistent basis. They will be able to get scoring from all over the place to replace Nikita Kucherov’s ability.

The goaltending of Andrei Vasilevskiy will also make it, so the Lightning doesn’t have to score too many goals to win. This, combined with their ability to put a puck across the goal line, will propel them to the best record in the league.

Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward)

Although the Selke Trophy is meant to be awarded to the best defensive forward, it has slowly evolved into an award for the best 200 foot forward. The winner plays great defense and is also able to put up points on the other side of the ice.

The past few seasons have had 3 main contenders: Sean Couturier, Patrice Bergeron, and Ryan O’Reilly. These are going to be the three that put up the best numbers for this award. The winner of this award will capture his 2nd in 3 years: Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues.

The biggest reason O’Reilly has the edge is that the other 2 contenders play on the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins, respectively. This means they play in the same division and will see each other 8 times a year. Ryan O’Reilly doesn’t have many good defenders in his division and great scorers to go against. This means he should be able to score and he will have to play defense against some of the NHL’s best forwards.

Ryan O’Reilly has a 33 plus-minus over the past 2 seasons and an average of 56.7 win percentage in faceoffs. These are 2 of the biggest stats looked at when it comes to the Selke Trophy. These stats provide a big reason why O’Reilly will be in the conversation for and should win the Selke Trophy.

The Rocket Richard Trophy (Most goals scored)

There are several players in the league that can put the puck into the back of the net in their sleep. However, there is no one in the league who scores like Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals does. Ovechkin tied with David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins for this award last year and has won it a record 9 times in his career.

He is lethal on the power play with his booming slapshot and is able to use his hands to score goals whenever he needs to. Ovechkin is currently 2nd in NHL history in goals scored behind only Wayne Gretzky and poses a serious threat to catching and passing Gretzky.

Ovechkin has been known for scoring goals his whole career and there are no signs of slowing down. His ability to score in multiple different ways virtually whenever he wants is why Ovechkin will win the Rocket Richard Trophy.

Art Ross Trophy (Most Points in the league)

Just like the Rocket Richard Trophy, there are several players who have a legitimate shot at winning this award by the way they play. Unlike the Rocket Richard Trophy that only looks at goals, the Art Ross looks at points which are a player’s goals and assists combined. The player who has the best chance at winning is Leon Draisatl of the Edmonton Oilers.

In the Northern Division, no team has all that great of a defense. There are some teams with some good goalies, however, with both his own scoring touch and the ability to get assists on goals from Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl should have no problem putting up points.

Draisaitl is the previous winner of the Art Ross Trophy with 110 points last season. This also left him being the only player in the league that was able to eclipse 100 points on the year. His skill set along with the goal-scoring ability of his teammates will help Draisaitl reclaim the Art Ross Trophy.

Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year)

Each year, several rookies come into the NHL hoping to make their presence known. This year is no different. There are a plentiful amount of young, aspiring NHL stars looking to come in and make their name known to the world. However, there is 1 clear favorite to win this trophy, Alexis Lafrenière of the New York Rangers.

Lafrenière was the first overall pick in this past draft. He was one of if not the most highly sought after prospects in recent history after leading the QMJHL with 112 points in 52 games. That is an average of 2.15 points per game, which is absolutely incredible to accomplish in any season.

Alexis Lafrenière has an ability to score unlike any other prospect this year and will use his talent and the fact that he will get to play right away to catapult his stats and earn himself the Calder Trophy.

Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie)

This trophy is presented to whoever is the best goalie in the league. There are several goalies that could pose a case for this award, but there is one in particular who has proven time and time again that he is one of the best goalies in the NHL. This person is Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Some of the stats that Vasilevskiy put up last year were a record of 35-14, and .917 save percentage, and 2.56 goals-against average, and 3 shutouts. All of these were top 20 in the NHL and 35 wins were the most in the league. 

Vasilevskiy is also the best current goalie when it comes to the shootout. Earning that extra point this year will be even more valuable since there are far fewer games this year. For these reasons, expect Vasilevskiy to play on a consistent basis and ultimately end up with the Vezina Trophy.

Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman)

An NHL defenseman is supposed to be the best defender on your team as in the name. However, each year defensemen are involved in scoring more and more. Several defensemen have become good at scoring such as Roman Josi, Miro Heiskanen, Quinn Hughes, and Cale Makar. This year, one defenseman on an NHL team will have to score more than usual and this will propel him to the Norris Trophy. This person is Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Victor Hedman was 3rd in points in the NHL and helped run the best offensive attack last year. Now that Nikita Kucherov is no longer available for the regular season, several players will have to step up and make up for that production. One of those players is Victor Hedman.

Needing to step up his production as well as being a good defender, he is what will earn Victor Hedman the Norris Trophy.

Hart Trophy (MVP)

The Hart Trophy is the most prestigious trophy in the NHL. This is given to the player who is voted to be the MVP of the NHL. This person must be so skilled that their team would just not be as good as it is if they were not on the team. The person who will do this the best is Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche.

Nathan Mackinnon was top 10 in goals and 5th in assists and points last year. His teammates always put up good numbers around him, but would they really be able to get the numbers they do if MacKinnon didn’t attract all of the attention he does?

The 2 biggest beneficiaries of his talents are his linemates Gabriel Landeskog who scored 21 goals, had 23 assists, and 49 points in just 53 games, and Mikko Rantanen who scored 19 goals, had 22 assists, and 41 points in just 42 games.

MacKinnon’s skill along with his ability to make his teammates better will win him the Hart Trophy this year and maybe a couple of times more in the future.