By: Mike McKittrick
About two-thirds of the way through the NHL regular season and we have a lot to look forward to. Trade deadline moves, heated playoff races, and the most exciting playoffs in professional sports. And yes, the NHL playoffs are the best playoffs in professional sports and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on. But something that doesn’t get enough mainstream attention is the awards race. I’m putting my individual trophy picks, and odds, on notice and identifying each of the major NHL award dark horses, runner up, and dark horse in each category. To make this a little more fun, I’m going to add in their current odds to win each trophy and see if we can make some money here.
Jack Adams (Coach of the Year)
My Prediction: Rod Brind’Amour +800 (Carolina Hurricanes)
Originally I had the Canes bench boss as my dark horse pick, but I thought a little more in depth with what he’s done with this team. Carolina had to find a way to replace half of their defensive core from the previous season, including superstar Dougie Hamilton and promising blue liners Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean. As if that wasn’t hard enough, they also lost every goalie who appeared for them to free agency or via trade this offseason. But Brind’Amour led teams have always had the same M.O: build your team from the backend forward. Their next man up mentality proved to be true, as they currently lead the league in goals against with a new goalie tandem and three new full-time defensemen. Tony DeAngelo hadn’t played hockey in over a year due to a lack of common sense and Ethan Bear was acquired and slotted into a top role that he wasn’t accustomed to. Every button that Carolina has pushed, has been the right decision. Not to mention Carolina ranks third in goals for in the league. Rod Brind’Amour knows how to get the best out of his players, and this season is no exception as they rank first in the Metro and second in the league behind only Colorado.
Runner-Up: Gerard Gallant +450 (New York Rangers)
Gallant is a phenomenal coach and the Rangers have been thrilled to have him since Vegas let him go. He’s turned New York from a fringe playoff contender to a team that has the potential to make a good run in the playoffs. Another coach that benefits from hungry players and a good defensive system, Gallant was probably the favorite early on in the year. My main thing holding me back from crowning him my favorite, where he falters in comparison to Brind’Amour, is how heavily reliant the Rangers have become on one person from each unit. In net, it’s been the Igor Shesterkin show as he’s been incredible from day one. But I’ll get to him more later on in this piece. Defensively, Adam Fox (another name you’ll hear later) drives this team from the blue line forward. He’s a special talent that makes this team far from one dimensional on the back end. Offensively, Chris Kreider has carried the load and had a career year. As a Devils fan, I hate seeing my rival succeed. As a hockey fan, I want to see him get help because he needs and deserves it. But as a whole, being reliant on one guy, if any of these three were out of the lineup for an extended period, they are a completely different team, which I don’t believe Carolina has that problem.
Dark Horse: Jared Bednar +750 (Colorado Avalanche)
This pick is more by proxy than anything else. When your team is the best team in the league, you have to be getting some consideration for coach of the year. Bednar has dealt with injuries to goaltender Darcy Keumper and superstar Nathan Mackinnon, while Nazem Kadri is having a career year at 31 years old, leading the team in points and earning his first all star game nod. Colorado is on pace for 125 points this season, well ahead of the pack and the favorite for the presidents trophy. I think the issue here is that there is so much talent on this roster that there is so much talent in this roster that whoever coaches this team will get overlooked. Colorados lack of adversity will hurt Bednar in this vote unless Colorado breaks a couple of regular season records.
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year)
Winner: Lucas Raymond +300 (Detroit Red Wings)
When I think of a Calder Trophy winner, I think who has been the most productive to their team. Their team doesn’t necessarily have to be good, but he is a bright spot in his first season. This season, the Calder is pretty wide open, as there are about 4 or 5 players that I think can win this award. But overall, I think that Lucas Raymond has the slight edge here. He has 16 goals and 27 assists for 43 points, most for a rookie this season. Throughout the season, he’s demonstrated consistent play and helped make the Wings a .500 hockey club, compared to one of the worst teams in the league last season. If he gets in the 25 goal range by the end of the season, it’ll be pretty hard to pass him up as rookie of the year.
Runner-Up: Moritz Seider +225 (Detroit Red Wings)
The other half of the dynamic rookie duo in Detroit is defenseman Mo Seider, who has looked great this season and currently the chalk for Calder. He has 5 goals and 35 assists for 40 points, 17 of which come on the power play. He also averages over a hit and 2 blocks per game defensively, showing he is not just an offense first defenseman. The main reason I have him behind Raymond is because Seider has been hot and cold in spurts, evident of having 1 goal and 10 assists in his current 7 game point streak. I don’t believe he keeps up this pace to catch Raymond, but I also would not be surprised if he wins either.
Dark Horse: Jeremy Swayman +1400 (Boston Bruins)
I could’ve gone a few routes here, but I ultimately went the value route. Trevor Zegras is an incredibly flashy and marketable player, but sometimes his flash overshadows his production. Michael Bunting leads all rookies in goals with 19, but he plays on a line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. When you’re playing with a pair of top 25 players in the NHL, I question how much is your production against being a product of your linemates. That leaves me with major dark horse Jeremy Swayman, rookie goaltender who has been amazing since taking over the starting job. He currently has a record of 14-7-3, but boasts a goals against of 1.95 and a save percentage of .930. I highly expect Swayman to be the go-to guy for Boston down the stretch, likely grabbing between 18-20 more starts. If he ends up with 25+ wins and maintaining his goals against average and save percentage, he could steal the award out from under everybody. More of a long shot than Bunting or Zegras, but the value just wasn’t there on the other two.
Rocket Richard (Top Goalscorer)
Winner: Auston Matthews +100 (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Congrats, Toronto! You guys finally won something! But in all seriousness, Auston Matthews is arguably the best goalscorer in hockey today. In 51 games played, he has 39 goals, one ahead of Leon Draisaitl for the league lead. But Matthews’ goal scoring ability is second to none, he has one of the quickest releases in the NHL, and he already has a Rocket Richard title to his name last season. I think now that he has been fully healed from wrist injury to start the season, he’s been averaging .73 goals per game this season. The one thing to remember is, a shared title is still winning the trophy. So multiple people can win, making Matthews’ chances even better.
Runner-Up: Leon Draisaitl +175 (Edmonton Oilers)
Current league leader in goals up until today was Leon Draisitl, who is another solid choice here. But my worry is how his game has fallen off Edmonton has fallen off. In his first 19 games, he averaged over a goal per game, recording 20 goals. However, that means he’s only recorded 18 goals over the last 36 games, a scoring pace significantly lower than how he started the season. I think his hot start wasn’t a complete anomaly, as he has clear talent, but I don’t expect him to pick up on that pace either. He probably finishes somewhere in the 45-47 goal range, but I think that’s going to end up just short of the mark he needs to reach.
Dark Horse: Chris Kreider +700 (New York Rangers)
How Chris Kreider is having this sort of season is beyond me. Prior to this season, Kreider never had more than 28 goals in a season. He eclipsed that mark prior to the all star break this year and has been the heart and soul of this Rangers offense. Sitting at 36 goals, he is only 2 out of the league lead. But I think eventually something has to give and teams will focus on him, forcing other players to beat them. I don’t think enough teams acknowledge the fact that Kreider is a legitimate goal scoring threat given the other big names on that team. However, he’s not a potential 50 goal scorer like Matthews or Ovechkin or Draisaitl. The value here is just too good to pass up.
James Norris (Top Defenseman)
Winner: Cale Makar -150 (Colorado Avalanche)
Cale Makar is a modern day Bobby Orr. He’s fast, he’s an offensive weapon, and scores at a pace most forwards would be very happy with. In this day and age, this award goes to the top offensive defenseman unless you’re a complete liability on the blue line, which Makar is not. He leads all defensemen in goals with 18, fourth in assists with 42, and first in points with 60. The young phenom currently boasts an 11 game point streak. He also has a +/- of +36, second for all defenseman in the league. I’ll be brutally honest here, I already got my $750 bet in at -150 because I want to lock in the price. I only see his price going further into the negatives from here and only injury keeps the 23 year old from his first Norris Trophy.
Runner Up: Victor Hedman +250 (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Victor Hedman is a guy that does it all. He scores, he’s a playmaker, has incredible size to throw the body and make defensive plays. He has 11 goals and 43 assists on the year along with being the backbone of the Lightning defense. His entries into the offensive zone is second to none, and he averages just over 25 minutes a game in ice time. I just don’t know if all things considered, he overtakes Makar.
Dark Horse: Roman Josi +1500 (Nashville Predators)
Roman Josi has 14 goals and 45 assists, one off from Makar’s lead. But I think Josi hasn’t done as much as Makar has this season. Josi has had stretches of games where he’s looked great, like having 6 points over his last 2 outings. But he’s also had stretches where he’s looked average. He hasn’t had the consistency Makar has had, but still a worthy candidate.
Vezina Trophy (Top Goaltender)
Winner: Igor Shesterkin -185 (New York Rangers)
After 3 mentions of the New York Rangers, fourth time's the charm as the big apple finally takes home hardware. Igor Shesterkin is having one of the best seasons in recent memory, boasting a 27-6-3 record, 1.96 goals against and .940 save percentage. He could even be in the conversation for the Hart Trophy, something we haven’t really seen since Carey Price won the award in 2015. I can’t say he single handedly is leading the Rangers to a playoff berth, but he currently has the best resume by far of any goaltender in this conversation. Much like Makar, get your bets in on this early, because his line will jump with every start. He’s likely to be in the -200 range by this time next week, so get his price while you can.
Runner-Up: Andrei Vasilevskiy +1100 (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Another situation where I have to name another runner-up, so it may as well be the best goaltender in the league over the past three seasons. Vasilevskiy has great stats, but it doesn’t matter at this point. He may lead the league in wins with 29, but nothing compares to Shesterkin. If you want a value pick in case Shesterkin has a complete collapse, this is your guy.
Dark Horse: Jacob Markstrom +650 (Calgary Flames)
Markstrom had the best start to the season of any goalie in the league. Although he’s been good, he hasn’t been as good as the other two mentioned. Pretty good doesn’t win you anything here, and the price doesn’t dictate a throw in bet either.
Hart Trophy (League MVP)
Favorite: Auston Matthews +300 (Toronto Maple Leafs)
I wrestled with this for a while, weighing the pros and cons. Ultimately, I went with the goals leader and player whose team is currently in the playoff picture. Auston Matthews has a very similar resume to Connor McDavid, but ultimately I have to factor in his team’s success as the variable that puts him over the top. Toronto is sitting with 74 points and a 35-16-4 record while Edmonton has a 30-22-4 record for 64 points. Additionally, Edmonton is not in a playoff spot and Toronto is safely in the playoff picture. Thus, Matthews has the edge.
Runner-Up: Connor McDavid +250 (Edmonton Oilers)
If McDavid won this award, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest. He leads the league in points with 79 points and is arguably the face of the league. Only issue is, as mentioned, he’s currently not in the playoffs. I can’t, in my heart, give the MVP to a player on a non-playoff team where half the league makes the postseason. In my mind, your value is diminished if you miss the playoffs. If Edmonton makes the playoffs, Connor McDavid is likely the frontrunner for the Hart Trophy.
Dark Horse: Jonathan Huberdeau +900 (Florida Panthers)
Two years ago, most people would say that Aleksander Barkov was the most underrated player in the league. Now, I’d say it’s his teammate Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau ranks third in the league in points with 75 points (18 goals and 57 assists) in just 52 games. However, the casual fan would never be able to guess that. For a team that is in the hunt for the President trophy as the best regular season team, Huberdeau has been the driving force behind the offense this season. His play on the wing thus far this season should get him consideration for the league's top prize, but not enough to win at the moment.