As we approach the quarter mark of the season, what we start to see include which teams are serious contenders, on the bubbles, and vying to win the draft lottery. This also applies to players. We start to see who is consistently scoring, making timely saves and being game changers.
This leads into early speculation as to who will win what awards. At this point of the season, some names in the trophy conversation are obvious choices while others are surprises. Here are my VERY EARLY predictions for the 2018 NHL Award winners.
Calder Memorial Trophy – The Calder Memorial Trophy, given to the league’s Rookie of the Year, is perhaps the most underrated individual trophy in the league. It often gets overlooked by the Hart and Vezina trophies. Multiple Calder winners go on to have extremely successful careers, which make it quite an important award.
- Projected Winner – At this point in the season, the clear favorite is Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller. Keller is my favorite to win the award simply because he is doing the most with the least. He plays on an abysmal Coyotes squad. For a rookie to be almost at a point per game pace on that bad of a team is the real deal.
- Finalists – Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks), Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders)
Art Ross Trophy – The Art Ross Trophy is awarded to the league’s leading scorer at the end of the regular season. Past winners include some of the game’s all-time greats, such as Gretzky, Lemieux, Jagr and Crosby.
- Projected Winner – Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning has been on an absolute tear since the first puck drop of the season. After a torn lateral meniscus limited his 2016-17 season to just 17 games, the former Maurice Richard winner wasted little time at reminding us why he should still be considered one of the top 10 players in the league. Currently sitting on 30 points in just 17 games, Stamkos is on pace for an absolutely ridiculous 144 points, an amount that is absurd in today’s game. Don’t expect the man they call “Stammer” to slow down anytime soon.
- Finalists – Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning), Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers)
Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy – The Maurice Richard trophy, named after perhaps the greatest pure goal scorer in the history of the sport, is awarded to the league’s leading goal scorer at the end of the regular season. Past winners include generational superstars Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
- Projected Winner – The current goal leader, and most likely winner according to almost everybody around the sport, Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The consistent lamplighter is on pace to put up 77 goals by the time the season is over. To put that in retrospect, only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull have put up more goals in one season. That’s hall of fame company to be grouped with. While 77 goals doesn’t seem very realistic, at his pace a 60 goal season is not out of the question.
- Finalists – Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs), John Tavares (New York Islanders)
Jack Adams Award – The Jack Adams award is awarded to the league’s coach of the year. This is often awarded based on improvement from the previous season and overall consistency throughout the regular season despite potential injuries to key pieces.
- Projected Winner – Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper is the early front runner for the award. After a disappointing 2016-17 season that kept the Bolts out of the playoffs, Cooper has steered the team back on track, turning them into a dominant force early on. Everybody from the first line, to the backup goalie, is clicking thanks to their coach driving the ship in the right direction. Look for the Lightning to win the President’s Trophy as the best team at the end of the regular season.
- Finalists – John Stevens (Los Angeles Kings), Gerard Gallant (Vegas Golden Knights)
Vezina Trophy – Awarded to the league’s top goaltender, the Vezina Trophy has had some of the best net minders of all time as multiple winners, including Martin Broduer and Patrick Roy.
- Projected Winner – This season, Los Angeles Kings backstop Jonathan Quick has been the anchor they’ve needed. With 9 wins out of a possible 13, a 2.29 Goals Against Average and a .932 Save Percentage, the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner is showing signs of what made the Kings the first 8th seeded team to ever win the Stanley Cup. Quick is standing on his head every night, often looking like a brick wall, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
- Finalists – Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning), Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators)
James Norris Memorial Trophy – The Norris Memorial Trophy is given at the end of the regular season to the best all-around defenseman. Hall of Fame greats who have won the award multiple times include Doug Harvey (7 time winner), Bobby Orr (8 time winner) and Nicklas Lidstrom (7 times).
- Projected Winner – Former 2 time winner Erik Karlsson appears to be an early favorite to take home a third Norris trophy. After missing the first 5 games of the regular season still recovering from off season foot surgery, the Ottawa Senators captain already has the best Point Per Game rate at among defenseman. He’s on pace to put up the best single season numbers of his career despite missing games and, with his consistency, expect Karlsson to put up close to 90 points this season.
- Finalists – Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning), Nick Leddy (New York Islanders)
Hart Memorial Trophy – The big boy as far as individual awards, the Hart Memorial Trophy is awarded at the end of the regular season to the Most Valuable Player. The cream of the crop have won this award multiple times. Gretzky, Howe, Lemieux, Crosby and Ovechkin are some of the big boys to win.
- Projected Winner – While the race is close right now, I believe Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov will be the runaway favorite to win the award by the time the season ends. I know many people, particularly Edmonton Oilers fans, will be up in arms over not having reigning winner Connor McDavid as the favorite; however, considering how dominant the Lightning have been, corresponding to how disappointing the Oilers have been, that gives Kucherov the edge. While I do believe both the McDavid and the Oilers will pick it up and make the playoffs, I do not see Kucherov and the Lightning slowing down at any time this season. Barring a major injury (knock on wood), expect Kucherov to take home the big boy in Vegas come June 2018.
- Finalists – Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames), John Tavares (New York Islanders)