2019 NHL AWARDS SHOW
It’s been a relaxing week since the end of the Stanley Cup Final where the St. Louis Blues lifted the championship trophy for the first time in their franchise history, ending the longest drought of any team in the NHL.
The past few days have seen a few intriguing trades announced and there should be plenty of fireworks left between now and the first round of the NHL Entry Draft on Friday, but after a six-month regular season and two grueling months of playoff action, we still have one piece of business to settle before the door officially closes on the 2018-19 NHL season. That’s the annual end-of-season NHL Awards Show which once again comes live from Las Vegas on Wednesday evening, June 19th.
Wagering on the prop bets for award winners over the years has been very profitable for myself but if these Futures tickets could be cashed at the All-Star break, I’d be doing even better. In the 2017-18 season, more than 150 writers and broadcasters in the Professional Hockey Writers Association (the PHWA), along with 2,000 fans, voted for their mid-season award winners for the first time since the 1968 season (list found here).
Among the notable winners, Nikita Kucherov was the panel’s mid-season selection for the Hart Trophy as league MVP, Victor Hedman the choice for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best all-around defenseman and Andrei Vasilevskiy as the best goaltender for the Vezina. It would have been a Tampa Bay clean sweep and it would have been for me, as well, with preseason selections of Kucherov at +4000, Hedman at +750 and Vasilevskiy for +2500. Quite the (almost) windfall.
Only Hedman would go on to cash a winner for us at the end of that season as Kucherov faded down the stretch and Vasilevskiy burned out due to injuries and a heavy workload. Fortunately, we picked up a nice number on Taylor Hall for the Hart before end of the season and still netted +11.0 units on the NHL Awards for the 2017-18 season.
This year, over the All-Star break in January, the more than 125 writers of the PHWA submitted their early ballots once again (found here) for a sneak peak into who they believe were the current frontrunners for 2018-19 hardware. And once again, I would have cashed another Hart (Kucherov +1500) and Vezina (John Gibson +850) winner if awards were won in good faith after just half a season.
Unfortunately, they’re not. Gibson would buckle under the immense pressure of being bombarded on a nightly basis in the Anaheim crease as the Ducks slid into irrelevancy, along with our Gibson ticket. Kucherov, however, stands to still earn us a sizeable win if he is awarded the Hart Trophy, as expected.
One thing to keep in mind for these NHL Awards is that the outcomes are already predetermined before the playoffs even begin. The PHWA, NHL Broadcaster’s Association and 31 NHL General Managers all submit their official votes upon the conclusion of the regular season mid-April – before the playoffs start. Many casual bettors fail to realize this and will place a wager on a trophy winner thinking playoff performance is considered in the result. It’s not. These are regular season awards only and it’s important to realize the votes are locked in before all the playoff heroics.
Let’s look at some of the more popular awards which will be given out and who I believe will take home the hardware and whether there’s still any worthwhile wagers still to be made. My preseason Futures for each individual award are included below but can also be found in this thread of tweets.
Let’s start with the biggest prize of the night, the Hart Memorial Trophy awarded to the league’s Most Valuable Player.
All odds courtesy of Bodog/Bovada as of time of writing. All stats below courtesy of hockeyreference.com and NHL.com
Nikita Kucherov (TB) – 82 Games Played. 41 Goals (T-6th), 87 Assists (1st), 128 Points. Led NHL in scoring with the most points of any player since 1995-96 (Mario Lemieux, 161 and Jaromir Jagr, 149). Led league with 1.56 points per game, the most since 2012-13 (Sidney Crosby, 1.56). Factored in 40.1% of team’s goals.
Sidney Crosby (PIT) – 79 Games Played. 35 Goals (T-21st), 65 Assists (7th), 100 Points. Tied for fifth in NHL scoring. Tied for fifth in league with 1.27 points per game. Factored in 36.9% of team’s goals.
Connor McDavid (EDM) – 78 Games Played. 41 Goals (T-6th), 75 Assists (2nd), 116 Points. Finished second in NHL scoring. Finished second in league with 1.49 points per game. Factored in 50.7% of team’s goals, the top percentage of any player in the league.
Let’s be honest. The NHL MVP award should go to McDavid every year if we’re judging solely on pure talent, but that’s not the way it works and despite a huge snub from last year’s nominee list, McDavid was at least recognized for this season’s offensive accomplishments on a very poor Oilers team.
It’s also nice to see Crosby grace the nominees here, giving us the two greatest players over the last two generations up for the award (although Patrick Kane fans will carry the “snubbed” flag this season). Crosby hit the 100-point mark for the sixth time in his 14-year career, becoming just the sixth player in league history to record as many 100-point seasons, joining Wayne Gretzky (15 times), Mario Lemieux (10), Marcel Dionne (8), Mike Bossy (7) and Peter Stastny (7).
This year’s trophy, however, will go to Nikita Kucherov who recorded the most points we’ve seen from a player in nearly 25 years and set a single-season record for a Russian-born player with 128. He took over the scoring race lead way back on December 27 and never relinquished the lead and won by a dominating 12 points over McDavid in second place. Some will argue against Kucherov, saying the award is for the “player most valuable to his team” – and they’d be right. Kucherov recorded at least one point in 62 of 82 games he played, and his team went 54-5-3 when he found the scoreboard. And 8-11-1 when he didn’t. That’s value.
PREDICTION: Nikita Kucherov
WAGER: The recent surge of Nikita Kucherov to super stardom since the start of last season came as a surprise to most but he made my preseason list as the top choice for this award entering the 2017-18 season at a healthy +4000. He was the leader at the halfway point before faltering down the stretch to deny us a huge victory but that didn’t deter me from adding him again prior to this season. It will be our only preseason win this year but Kucherov at +1500 will still net us a healthy profit for our preseason player props. If you weren’t fortunate to grab a ticket on him earlier this season, it’s a steep price at -1100 now but one could argue there’s value still with the probability of him winning this award likely higher than the 91.6% the current line implies.
Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB) – 53 Games Played (53 Started). 39-10-4 regular season record, led league with 39 wins. Goals-Against Average (GAA) of 2.40 (9th). Save Percentage of .925 (T-6th). 6 Shutouts (T-4th). Goals-Saved-Above-Average (GSAA) of 26.40 (2nd).
Ben Bishop (DAL) – 46 Games Played (45 Started). 27-15-2 regular season record. GAA of 1.98 (2nd). Save Percentage of .934 (1st). 7 Shutouts (3rd). GSAA of 32.24 (1st).
Robin Lehner (NYI) – 46 Games Played (43 Started). 25-13-5 regular season record. GAA of 2.13 (3rd). Save Percentage of .930 (2nd). 6 Shutouts (T-4th). GSAA of 26.24 (3rd).
It should be noted this is one award not voted upon by the PHWA, but rather the 31 NHL General Managers and they tend to value one thing above all else – wins. On the surface, Bishop’s stats are outstanding with the league’s best save percentage and second-best goals-against average. His under-the-surface numbers are even more impressive with the league’s top-rated GSAA and best 5-on-5 save percentage (.938) but those stats won’t hold much weight with most GMs.
Bishop will also be the sentimental favorite being the 32-year old posting career-high numbers and a nominee for the third time in his career but with just 27 wins to his credit and 45 games started, the voters for this award will be drawn to the magic number of 39 wins for Vasilevskiy.
There’s also more separation between Vasilevskiy’s numbers and his backup Louis Domingue than what there is for Bishop and Anton Khudobin and Lehner with Thomas Greiss. That’s a surface-level observation but unfortunately that’s about as deep as these GMs go.
PREDICTION: Andrei Vasilevskiy
WAGER: If I was given a vote for this award, I’d ultimately have to go with Ben Bishop, but we have to keep in mind who the real voters are here. The majority of the 31 GMs are going to see 39 wins vs. 27 and 25 and decide Vasilevskiy is a runaway winner. At +240, there’s just not enough value for me to take a chance that these team leaders have evolved yet in the way they vote. I also had a team contact all but guarantee me Vasilevskiy wins this, which is enough to keep me off the underdog.
Our preseason wagers were set up nicely and looking like we could have a one-two finish around the mid-point of the season, but with Anaheim floundering over the second half and the workload wearing down John Gibson and Frederik Andersen of the Leafs, both faded out of contention. Our longshot on Antti Raanta had promise but an early injury quickly ended that dream. Vasilevskiy is probably worth a small wager here at -320 if you’re looking to get involved but I’m going to pass and just eat the 2.5-unit loss.
Mark Giordano (CGY) – 78 Games Played. 17 Goals, 57 Assists, 74 Points. Finished second among NHL defensemen in scoring. League-high +39 rating.
Brent Burns (SJ) – 82 Games Played. 16 Goals, 67 Assists, 83 Points. Led all NHL defensemen in scoring and led his team in scoring. Third defenseman in NHL history to lead his team in scoring for three consecutive seasons.
Victor Hedman (TB) – 70 Games Played. 12 Goals, 42 Assists, 54 Points. Finished 11th among NHL defensemen in scoring. Looking to become first back-to-back winner since Nicklas Lidstrom won three straight awards from 2005-06 to 2007-08.
The award for the league’s best defenseman often lands in the hands of the best offensive player but the definition of the award itself should come into play this year. The best “all-round ability” is what separates Giordano from Burns.
While Burns would often be placed in offensive-friendly situations, starting in the offensive zone 63.4% of the time (at even-strength), Giordano would be relied upon to face the opponent’s top line night-in and night-out. Tasked as a shutdown defender and starting just 48.3% of zone starts in the offensive end, Giordano’s complete 200-foot game netted him just nine points less than Burns, still good for third in defensemen goals and second in overall points. Giordano’s league-best plus-39 rating will also be a high selling point for voters who still value outdated basic stats like that.
Hedman gets a surprising nomination this season after winning the award last year. His 54 points were good for just 11th overall in defensemen scoring and his Point Shares contribution to his team was just the eighth-best among blueliners, behind honorable mentions John Carlson and Kris Letang. When you consider Hedman posted solid numbers across the board while mostly paired with Dan Girardi though, it’s hard to not just hand him the award again and thank him for his service.
PREDICTION: Mark Giordano
WAGER: After cashing a +750 winner last season on Hedman, injuries derailed our top hopeful this year after an outstanding Norris-worthy start from John Klingberg. A 56-point season from Roman Josi wasn’t enough to garner a nomination, despite the third-best defensive rating in the league at the position, behind only teammate Matthias Ekholm and Giordano. The winner here is going to be Giordano but at -1000 and only small limits available, there’s not much we can do. Like Kucherov and the Hart Trophy, feel free to throw a few bucks down for a free lunch but overall, I’ll just eat the 1.5-unit loss on our Norris preseason wagers.
Elias Pettersson (VAN) – 71 Games Played. 28 Goals, 38 Assists, 66 Points. Led all rookies in scoring. Led Vancouver in goals, assists and total points in just 71 games played. Set Canucks rookie record for points (Pavel Bure, 60).
Jordan Binnington (STL) – 32 Games Played (30 Started). 24-5-1 regular season record. Blues rookie records for wins and shutouts (5). Led all NHL goaltenders with 1.89 GAA.
Rasmus Dahlin (BUF) – 82 Games Played. 9 Goals, 35 Assists, 44 Points. Led all rookie defensemen in assists and total points. Third in overall rookie scoring. Second-most points in NHL history for a defenseman before the age of 19 (Phil Housley, 57).
It was an incredible season in the NHL with multiple ubertalented rookies, showing us the future of the league is in great hands. The Vancouver Canucks Elias Pettersson was the one who clearly stood above everyone though with 66 points in 71 games, 21 more points than Brady Tkachuk’s 45 points. Pettersson also led his own team in goals, assists and points, improving the Canucks eight points in the standings from the year prior, despite playing 11 games less than second-leading scorer Bo Horvat.
The 20-year old showed he is a true game-breaker and his impact became clear once opponents began to specifically game plan around stopping him – and he still soared. The only thing able to slow Pettersson down was a knee injury in January and although he wasn’t quite the same player upon returning for the rest of the season, he still put up 24 points over his final 33 games, a 0.73 points per game rate which still eclipsed Tkachuk’s next-best rate of 0.63 ppg.
His biggest challenger is St. Louis Blues goaltender and new Stanley Cup winner, Jordan Binnington. The 25-year old goaltender had one hell of a run starting with a shutout in his very first start and rescuing his team from last place in the overall standings and carrying them all the way to a third-place finish in the Central Division.
Unfortunately for Binnington, voters locked in their choice upon the conclusion of the regular season so don’t have the influence of the playoff run to alter their view, or the added time to gain perspective on just how great the impact Binnington’s play really had on the Blues season. And that’s unfortunate, since looking back at it now, Binnington’s impact for his team was arguably greater than Pettersson’s on his. Or, at the very least, significantly closer than the betting odds suggest.
Rasmus Dahlin gets buried a bit here in a distant third but should by no means go overlooked. He’s a special talent who had an unbelievable year and when you score more points than the great Bobby Orr did before the age of 19, Buffalo Sabres fans have every reason to pump the tires of their new beloved stud.
PREDICTION: Elias Pettersson
WAGER: This is the one category which has seen a significant price change since odds opened, with Pettersson dropping from -7500 to the current -2000 number. With low limits, even a little public money can cause the swing, so I wouldn’t read much into it. A lot of public money betting into these props likely don’t even realize the votes were cast before the start of the playoffs, with casual bettors thinking Binnington should win this because of his playoff run. In hindsight, it’s a valid point and if voters could vote now, I’d argue the newly-crowned Stanley Cup winner would warrant more attention. Fortunately for Canucks fans, these awards are for regular season only and votes were locked in back in April, so Pettersson gets the decisive win here.
Jon Cooper (TB) – Cooper guided Tampa Bay to their first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history with a record-setting season of 62 wins and 128 points. They finished 21 points better than the second-best team (Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames, 107 points each), the largest gap since the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings (27 points) and tied that same Detroit team for the most wins in NHL history in a single season. They were the first team in league history to record at least 30 wins at home and on the road. Lightning finished with 128 points and won the Atlantic Division, 13 more points than their 2017-18 total which also won the division crown.
Barry Trotz (NYI) – Led New York to fifth overall in the NHL with 103 points, the team’s best single-season since they recorded 104 points in 1983-84. Helped transform the defense which gave up a league-high 293 goals in the 2017-18 season to a league-low 191 goals this season, only the second team in league history to record such a feat (1918-19 Ottawa Senators). Islanders finished with 103 points and second in the Metropolitan Division, 23 more than their 2017-18 total and 11th place finish in the Eastern Conference.
Craig Berube (STL) – Promoted from associate coach to head coach on November 19 after the Blues started 7-9-3. The team finished 38-19-6 under Berube, including 30-10-5 after January 2 when St. Louis was in last place overall in the NHL standings. Blues finished with 99 points and third in the Central Division, 5 more than their 2017-18 total and ninth place finish in the Western Conference.
The Jack Adams Award for the best coach of the year is another one not voted on by the PHWA, but rather by the NHL Broadcaster’s Association. The voters here are often enamored by a coach who takes a non-playoff team the year prior and sees a significant standings increase.
Gerard Gallant won it last year for taking the expansion Vegas Golden Knights all the way to a Pacific Division crown in their inaugural season. John Tortorella won it two years ago for taking the Columbus Blue Jackets from a 76-point, 15th place Eastern Conference finish to a 108-point, third place division finish. The majority of winners in this category share similar stories.
Occasionally though, the Broadcaster’s Association rewards an exceptional season for an already top team. Barry Trotz won this award three years ago when he took his 101-point Washington Capitals who finished second in the Metropolitan Division the year prior, to a 120-point Presidents’ Trophy.
Trotz is up for nomination again this year with one of the classic Cinderella stories taking the Islanders from a non-playoff team to a 103-point, second place finish in the Metro and many feel he’s the type of story this category typically loves.
That’d be true. In fact, there were a number of great coaching stories around the NHL this season, including honorable mentions to Bill Peters in Calgary and Rod Brind’Amour in Carolina, along with fellow nominee Craig Berube who took the Blues from the depths of Hell to securing a playoff spot.
Like Trotz’s win in 2016 though, we have another Presidents’ Trophy coach nominated with Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper who had an already great team and took them to legendary status. The Lightning weren’t just the top team in the league this season, they were one of the greatest regular season teams in the history of the NHL and for that, I believe Cooper will be recognized.
PREDICTION: Jon Cooper
WAGER: Jon Cooper (-105) 1 UNIT. In a season where several coaches took their team from a bottom-feeder to a respectable playoff team, Cooper’s historic season in Tampa Bay stands out and should garner enough votes to rise above a split between Trotz and Berube who have similar stories.
— END 2019 NHL AWARDS —