The Masterton Trophy is the final trophy for me to make my initial pick this season (out of those trophies that I make picks upon). Officially this trophy is given to the player who best demonstrates perseverance, dedication and sportsmanship in hockey. The trophy was created when Bill Masterton died as a result of injuries sustained in an NHL game. He was a rookie player who had not had much chance to make an impression, so it wasn't clear what to make the qualifications for the trophy in his honor. Even after the trophy has been around for over 45 years, the voters don't exactly agree on what this award is given for.
Sportsmanship is one of the three qualities that is in the description of this award. A few of the top players in career penalty minutes such as Gary Roberts and Ken Daneyko have won this award. Last year, Devan Dubnyk won the award largely because he didn't retire when he almost played himself out of the NHL in Edmonton and he survived to have a very good season in Minnesota. There is no shortage of struggling players. Making it as an NHLer despite struggling and almost playing yourself out of the NHL does show perseverance but it isn't on the level that should be required for this trophy. I think the best most consistent definition of this trophy is for the player who overcomes the biggest hardship to be a successful player. There are players who overcome illness and career threatening injury to carry on their careers. This is a far bigger test of perseverance and dedication to hockey than having a poor season or two.
NHL hockey players in general are well behaved when compared to other major sports leagues. Sure a few players get in trouble from time to time, but they cannot rival the NFL or NBA for the frequency or severity of player's crimes. What happens if one of those few bad apples in the NHL is the best player in the league? That is the situation that we may be having now. Sidney Crosby is not off to a great start. Alex Ovechkin has been playing acceptably but is not in any MVP race. Reigning MVP Carey Price is injured and isn't expected to be back until well into January at the earliest. The best player in the NHL right now may be Patrick Kane. Yesterday, I picked him as the current leader for the Hart Trophy. He was a contender in last year's race until injury ended his regular season with about 20 games to go. He is a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP of the playoffs. There is no doubt that Patrick Kane is a good player. He is a bit younger than Crosby and Ovechkin and he may be ready to take over as the NHL's best player.
The problem is that Kane spent much of the summer under investigation for rape. Although no charges have come from the allegations, it has tarnished Kane's reputation and his reputation was never particularly strong.
At the beginning of November I picked Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers as the MVP to that point. Lundqvist is having a good season and I would still pick him for the Vezina Trophy at this point but his numbers are dropping. Lundqvist is still posting a .936 saves percentage and a 2.05 GAA. I think he has been surpassed by a position player in Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. Kane is the MVP so far this season.
Kane leads the NHL in scoring with 37 points and has a +12 +/- rating. Those are MVP numbers. This is a problem for the NHL. Kane is not a player they wanted to highlight this year. He was investigated for but not charged with a rape in the off season. He has been in trouble in the past after an assault on a taxi cab driver in 2009, who was unable to provide him proper change. This isn't NFL-level thuggery, but it is a black-eye for the NHL. The NHL probably hoped that Kane would have a solid but unspectacular year so that he wouldn't be in the spotlight. An MVP calibre year is the opposite of that. The MVP should be the most marketed player in the NHL but Patrick Kane is hard to market given his legal issues.
I have yet to write about the players leading in the AHL scoring race, but I figured I had better get on it soon because the current leader may not be there for long. William Nylander of the Toronto Marlies (Maple Leafs affiliate) leads the league with 23 points. This is a three point lead over the next contenders.
Nylander was the Toronto first round draft pick in 2014. He was selected eighth overall. He is a Swedish player who came to the AHL at the end of the Swedish season last year. This year at age 19, he is leading a minor pro league in scoring. That makes him a tremendous NHL prospect. When his NHL club is a struggling one in the Toronto Maple Leafs, it is only a matter of time before he gets to play in the NHL. When that happens, his AHL scoring lead will soon end.
Nylander is the son of former NHLer Michael Nylander. His younger brother Alexander plays for the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL and is considered a top prospect for the 2016 draft. I think both brothers will be in the NHL before long. William may be leading the AHL in scoring now, but he likely will not win the scoring race this year because his NHL days are coming soon.
I have a real problem with the way the NHL often picks coaches of the year. They find the most improved team and assume that improvement must be because of coaching and thus give coach of the year to the coach of the most improved team. Often a team's "improvement" is a fluke that cannot be sustained into the next season. This makes the coach of the year pick look silly in hindsight.
The last two Adams Trophy winners are clear examples of this. Last year Bob Hartley of the Calgary Flames was named coach of the year. He had guided a Flames team into the playoffs when nobody thought that was likely. This year his Flames sit in second last place. Did he suddenly forget how to coach over the summer or was the impact of his coaching overstated significantly last year? I vote for the second choice.
Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche won the Adams Trophy the year before that. This year his Colorado team is tied with Calgary in points. This is a little worse than last year, although they were well out of the playoffs last year as well. These are two poor coach of the year choices.
At the end of October I made my first Norris Trophy pick. At that point, PK Subban of the Montreal Canadiens was the leading defenceman so far in the season. He has been surpassed since then. Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators is the top defenceman so far this season. Karlsson has 23 points in 21 games and is posting a +9 +/- rating. This places him sixth in the NHL in scoring. He is doing this while playing a big role with the Sens. His ice time per game is fourth in the NHL.
Another candidate at this point is John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars who has one more point than Karlsson in an extra game played but with a lesser role and lesser ice time on his team.
Erik Karlsson has won the Norris Trophy twice in the past. He won in 2012 and in 2015. Everyone who is Hall of Fame eligible who has won the Norris Trophy twice is inducted in the Hall. Yet I do not consider Karlsson a Hall of Famer yet. This is because it is still early in his career. He is only 25 years old and has played slightly over 400 career games. It is still possible that his career could fall apart. This is becoming less and less likely as the season continues. Should this season be a success - as it looks like it will be - I will likely consider him a future Hall of Famer. Karlsson is very close to that threshold.
It can be tough to make a pick for defensive awards at an early pint in the season. Defensive stats are more indirectly measured than offensive ones. I am ready to make my first Selke Trophy pick this season. The best defensive forward so far this year has been Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins.
Bergeron is no newcomer to the Selke Trophy. He won it three times already. A fourth win would tie him with Bob Gainey for the most Selke wins ever. Bergeron is clearly the best defensive forward in the NHL today. Is that going to be good enough for the Hall of Fame?
There is a strong group of rookies this season. Five players have impressed enough that I have thought them contenders for the Calder Trophy in the early season but a leader is starting to emerge. Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers was clearly a front-runner until he fell with a broken collar bone. Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings and Colton Parayko of the St Louis Blues have looked like top contenders but as time passed they fell behind the two front-runners of Max Domi of the Arizona Coyotes and Artemi Pararin of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Today I am ready to make Panarin my first pick as the Calder Trophy leader. He has 18 points in 18 games with a +6 +/- rating. He has been able to get regular ice time on a talented Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks team.
About a week ago, I made my first pick for the Lady Byng Trophy. I picked Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars as the early leader. Seguin remains a top player. He is tied with Patrick Kane for the league scoring lead. He has slipped as a gentlemanly player. He has six penalty minutes in his last three games. Thus it is time to pick a new leader.
My new selection as Lady Byng leader is Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings. He leads the Red Wings in scoring with 15 points and has yet to record a single penalty this season. Zetterberg's teammate Pavel Datsyuk has been a perennial Lady Byng leader in the past several years. Datsyuk has only played one game so far this year due to injury, so he is not a serious contender for any awards at this point, but Zetterberg has been strong in his absence and is an early Lady Byng Trophy leader.
I find it interesting to try to track the worst player who is playing regularly in the NHL. Usually at early points in the season it is a name player off to a horrid start. As time passes any better known player will be good enough to not be the worst player in the league. This leaves lesser known role players and goons. These are players who are usually well liked and hard working so their coaches do not want to take them out of the line-up despite their failures.
So far this season we have a name player who has been the worst in the league so far. Jonas Hiller of the Calgary Flames has failed in goal. He is posting a .861 saves percentage and a 3.67 goals against average. To make matters worse for Calgary, their other goalies Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio have only been marginally better. Goaltending is a big reason why Calgary is last in the West Conference. They expected much better from Jonas Hiller.
I have little doubt that Hiller will get better as the season continues - largely because it is hard to get much worse. Jonas Hiller should be a solid goalie. His start is unsatisfactory. It is out of character based on his career.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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