Who are the frontrunners for the major awards halfway through the season?
Heading into the NHL’s All-Star weekend means that the 2021-22 season has reached its midway point. The first half of the season has been exciting, disappointing, surprising, fun, and eventful for every team.
Teams and players alike have begun to make their mark and the picture of what to expect from both parties is becoming clearer.
With half of the season already completed, let’s take a look at the some of the frontrunners for the NHL’s major awards and who could be taking them home in the spring.
Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP):
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
It’ going to be difficult to pry the Hart away from Connor McDavid, who’s on track to win it for the second-straight season and third time total, but another player actually deserves it more, this time.
Don’t get me wrong. McDavid is the best player on the planet and if he does win it again, it’ll be impossible to say that he doesn’t deserve it, but practically no player has been more valuable to his team than Ovechkin.
At 36-year-old, the future Hall of Famer is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down and the Washington Capitals are having such a successful season because of him.
They weren’t expected to do as well as they are, but projections of failure disappear once a player is on track to score almost 60 goals. In 46 games this season, Ovechkin has 29 goals and 58 points.
If he does score 60, by the way, that will be the second time he’s reached that landmark in his career, almost 15 years after doing it the first time. This has been a historic year for the “Great 8”, who is climbing the rankings of the NHL’s all-time goal-scorer list.
He’s experienced so much individual success this season, but Ovechkin has been crucial to his team’s success. They aren’t nearly one of the best teams and a top-10 offense in the league without their captain.
Ovechkin may no longer be the best player in the world, but he is the most valuable and therefore deserves to take home the Hart for the fourth time in his glorious career and first in almost 10 years.
(Defenseman of the Year):
Adam Fox, Rangers
The first person on our list projected to win back-to-back is the Rangers’ star defenseman.
Fox currently isn’t the favorite to take home the Norris for the second-straight year. He sits behind the Colorado Avalanche’s Cale Makar, who has made an incredibly strong case for himself.
However, Makar’s elite and unique offensive ability is what gives him the distinction. As an overall defenseman, no one in the league is better than Fox.
Fox is almost as elite offensively as Makar, with 47 points in 44 games this season, which is tied with his career-high. Makar is a more prolific goal-scorer than Fox, who has just seven goals on the season, but the point totals speak for themselves.
Not only is Fox nearly as good in his opponents’ zone as Makar, but he’s so much better than his counterpart defensively. Fox is a phenomenal defenseman, who has much responsibility at even-strength and on the Rangers’ solid top penalty killing unit.
Defending is obviously an incredibly important part of being a good defenseman and while offense is a key factor when awarding the Norris, defense is one too and no one does both better than Fox.
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year): Moritz Seider, Red Wings
One of the best parts of this season has been the rookies. So many different teams have talented, fun, and exciting first-year players who are taking the league by storm.
Lucas Raymond and Trevor Zegras, for example, are already becoming household names as two thrilling offensive threats on rebuilding teams that are emerging out of the mud.
These guys are two favorites to win the Calder, but no rookie currently deserves the award more than Raymond’s teammate, Moritz Seider.
The 20-year-old RHD has been outstanding in practically all situations for the Red Wings. He averages over 22 minutes of ice-time a game and has already been given great responsibility at even-strength and on the power play as well as as a penalty killer.
What’s incredible about Seider is that he’s almost equally excellent offensively and defensively.
He’s extremely reliable in his own zone, but does a fair amount of scoring and just generally provides a great deal of offense. In 47 games this season he has four goals and 29 points, which is impressive for a rookie blueliner.
Zegras is technically the current favorite to take home the Calder, but if Seider continues to play at this level and pull away from the rest of the pack, there’s no excuse for him not win it.
Zegras is the flashier player and deserves much praise for what he’s doing, but Seider is already unbelievably efficient and reliable at everything, fewer than 50 games into his career.
Along with Raymond, he’s been instrumental in the progress of this Red Wings team and is one of the team’s MVPs already.
Jack Adams Award
(Coach of the Year):
Mike Sullivan, Penguins
Many NHL coaches have done an impressive job so far this season. However, it’s difficult to say anyone has done better than Pittsburgh’s Sullivan.
Even Gerard Gallant, who should be the runner-up after turning a well-below-average New York Rangers team into one of the top groups in the league, isn’t quite there.
Expectations were low for the Penguins heading into the 2021-22 season. They were expected to be transitioning into a rebuild phase and weren’t projected to make the playoffs.
This became even more so the case when players up and down the lineup, both key players as well as depth guys, began dropping like flies to injuries and COVID, alike.
You’d expect the Penguins to be one of the worst teams in the league after hearing all this, right? Well here we are, halfway through the season, and the Penguins are not only in a playoff spot, but are also a fringe top-five team in the NHL.
They carry a four-game losing streak into the All-Star break, true, but this is a team that has been more successful than most this season and will surely play playoff hockey if they keep this up in the second half.
Evidently, Sullivan has done a phenomenal job. The Penguins are a top-10 offensive team, have an above-average power play and defense, and have the second-best penalty kill in the league.
They aren’t bad at a single thing and Sullivan deserves credit for it all. They even won an unbelievable 10 games in a row, when it looked like no team in the world could touch them.
Sullivan has never won the Jack Adams, nor has he ever been a finalist. If he isn’t going to win it now, then when will he? What he’s done is admirable and something every coach in every sport should aspire to do.
(Defensive Forward of the Year):
Patrice Bergeron, Bruins
We know it’s getting old, but Bergeron’s still got it. It seems like as long as he’s playing, he’s going to at least be a finalist for the Selke. The Bruins captain is tied for most Selke wins in NHL history and deserves to stand alone at five after this season.
Bergeron is having another great offensive year, but is untouchable in his own zone. He really can’t get much better in terms of defense and continues to be a reason why the Bruins defend well.
Ted Lindsay Award
(Most Outstanding Player):
Connor McDavid, Oilers
We didn’t give McDavid the Hart, but we mentioned that he is the best player in the world and, for that reason, the Ted Lindsay should be his in 2022.
This would mark the second-straight year that the Oilers captain has won the award and the fourth time in his already-exemplary career.
With 23 goals and 60 points in 41 games this season, McDavid is having another outstanding season and seems to churn out highlight-reel plays by the week.
He’s the best at what he does and it’s a real shame that we aren’t able to watch him on a better team.
(Goaltender of the Year):
Igor Shesterkin, Rangers
Have you heard that the Rangers really went from Henrik Lundqvist to Igor Shesterkin? Jokes aside, no netminder in the league deserves this award more.
The odds were nearly always in his favor, but Shesterkin is beginning to really pull away from the pack and if he doesn’t slow down, he’ll be the clear-cut favorite.
Shesterkin has been so good that he’s probably going to get some votes for the Hart, as well. He’s not only been the best goalie in the league, but he’s his team’s MVP and the Rangers aren’t a top team in the league without his heroics.
The Rangers were a little slow to get going earlier in the season and many stolen wins by Shesterkin got them points that they didn’t necessarily deserve.
Shesterkin leads all goalies in practically every category and the fact he’s an incredible puck-handler who’s capable of making key plays is a nice cherry on top.
You really can’t get much better than Shesterkin, at the moment, and he’s one of the few clear-cut favorites on our list.
Jim Gregory Award
(GM of the Year):
Bill Zito, Panthers
Several general managers across the league like Detroit’s Steve Yzerman have done an outstanding job and deserve widespread recognition and praise. Not giving it to the GM of the, at-worst, second-best team in the league right now would be a crime.
Zito just keeps somehow finding ways to make the Panthers better and better. Over the span of just a few months, he’s transformed the Panthers from a solid playoff team to arguably the best team in the league.
This is an incredible group, from the forwards to the goaltenders. The Panthers are elite at literally everything and probably have the best depth of any team.
Most recently, Zito went and added Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart, who were expected to do well, but have already gone above and beyond.
Zito also clearly has an eye for young talent. For example Anton Lundell, whom Zito helped draft just weeks after being hired in 2020, is a Calder favorite and has become an important piece of this team.
Zito was obviously handed a very good team and a good group of prospects, but he didn’t just sit on it. He’s worked on improving the team in any way that he can and it’s paid off.
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (Sportsmanship):
Evan Rodrigues, Penguins
This might be the most unexpected pick of the list. Earlier I wrote about how the Penguins have exceeded expectations this season.
Rodrigues is the main reason why and is easily the team’s MVP this season. He’s been more valuable to his team’s success than most players and the Penguins aren’t sitting pretty in the standings without him.
What hurts Rodrigues’ case more than anything else is the fact that he’s currently mired in a slump. He has 15 goals and 32 points in 46 games this season, but has recorded just two points in his last 13 games.
The entire team hasn’t been playing as well and that’s certainly a factor, but he won’t have any chance at the trophy if he doesn’t turn things around.
The player who wins the Lady Byng is usually a very productive player who doesn’t take many penalties. Rodrigues has been great this season, both offensively and defensively, while spending a grand total of zero minutes in the penalty box.
Will Rodrigues win the Lady Byng? Probably not, especially given how many of the league’s stars and top players are usually the favorites. However, he deserves some love and if the award were to be given right now, he will have earned it.