Hockey writers, broadcasters and GMs will cast their votes in the coming days for each of the league's major end-of-season awards. Here are my finalists and how I think things might shake out when the hardware is handed out in late June in Las Vegas.
The smoke has cleared a little on what was once a rather crowded field at the top of the Hart Trophy race. It could get more crowded if Nikita Kucherov leads the Tampa Bay Lightning to a playoff berth, but that looks highly unlikely.
That brings us back to the Oilers captain, who is about to win his first NHL scoring title at the tender age of 20. McDavid has been as consistent as the day is long, and he didn't just get his hard-luck team to the postseason for the first time since 2006. He also has Edmonton challenging for home-ice advantage while leading the league with 1.20 points per game.
Crosby is going to win the Rocket Richard Trophy, awarded to the leading goal scorer, and boasted a 1.18 points per game pace while steadying a Penguins team beset by a host of injuries. I included Karlsson over other worthy finalists Brad Marchand, Sergei Bobrovsky and Brent Burns because of how much the Swede's game has evolved this season (more on that below).
I didn't have Karlsson at the top of my ballot the first two times he won this award, which is given to the league's best defenseman. But it's hard to ignore his role in guiding the Senators to what would be a wholly unexpected playoff berth this spring. If the criticism of Karlsson has been that he's a one-dimensional figure, the fact that he leads the NHL in blocked shots this season should dramatically change the perception of the slick-skating defender.
Burns looked like he was going to run away with this trophy -- and perhaps be a serious Hart Trophy contender -- earlier this season, but the last few months haven't been as kind to Burns or the Sharks. As for Keith, he has quietly put together one of his best seasons and reminded us why he's a two-time Norris Trophy winner and a former playoff MVP.
This would be Bobrovsky's second Vezina Trophy, pairing with his first, in 2013. In between, he struggled with injury and consistency -- so the 28-year-old's return to the top of the goaltending heap is even more impressive. Quite simply, no player has been more important to the Blue Jackets' surprise season than Bobrovsky. He deserves the nod ahead of Price, who has been quietly exceptional, especially at even strength, for the Atlantic Division-champion Canadiens. (Price told colleague Pierre LeBrun that even he would give the Vezina to Bobrovsky.)
Dubnyk, meanwhile, is paying the price for late swoons by both him and his team. Although Dubnyk looked, for much of the season, to be the front-runner for the award, the fact his numbers trailed off late should not diminish his accomplishments this season.
This season featured many superlative first-year performances. But in the end, the choice turned out to not as difficult as it would have been a month ago. While Laine and the Jets faded down the stretch, with Winnipeg missing the playoffs yet again, Matthews and the Maple Leafs soared toward an almost-certain postseason berth -- and are even battling for home-ice advantage. Given the fact that Matthews is a center who set the record for most goals by American rookie, not to mention that the roster around him is also painfully young, there isn't really any debate about who is the top rookie.
Laine's 36 goals made him an easy choice for second on my ballot, while in another season, it might have been Werenski getting the hardware. Still, the 19-year-old defenseman -- who has been out of the lineup with an injury -- should be more than satisfied with a rock-solid rookie campaign and a trip to the postseason with the Blue Jackets.
Jack Adams Award
There are always way too many coaches doing yeoman work to fit on a a three-person ballot -- which usually costs guys like Joel Quenneville and Mike Sullivan, who coach teams that are expected to excel. I went back and forth on Babcock versus Tortorella, but the way the Leafs closed out the season in such a strong fashion is a testament to their coaching. In spite of the team's inexperience and the growing pressure in Toronto, this team got better at the most important parts of the game at the most important time of the season.
As for Tortorella, what do you say about Columbus, which has been among the top teams on both sides of the puck for most of the season? You say, "Come to Las Vegas for the awards." I gave the third-place nod to McLellan, whose work with the Oilers will likely be overshadowed by McDavid's outsize presence. But, not unlike the Leafs, this is a very good Oilers team -- not just a team with a really good player. And that's because of the work done by McLellan and his staff.