With the 2018 NHL Awards show set to take place on Wednesday, we asked our esteemed panel all the big questions ahead of the event.
Who was the biggest snub out of the finalists for any award?
Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: John Gibson was robbed for a Vezina Trophy nomination. He started 60 games and posted a .927 even-strength save percentage behind a leaky Anaheim Ducks defense (33.1 shots against per game, sixth highest in the NHL), with 65 percent of them quality starts. He was phenomenal, and should have been elevated into the top three ahead of Andrei Vasilevskiy or Sergei Bobrovsky.
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: It's criminal that Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy is not a Calder Trophy finalist. McAvoy shouldered big responsibilities in Boston and did it with ease. Among rookies with 50 or more games, McAvoy's 22:09 minutes per game should hold significance; the next-closest challengers (Ryan Pulock and Robert Hagg) didn't crack 18:30. The snub is a positional bias. Over the past 25 years, just four defensemen have won the Calder. Although voters are too often seduced by something tangible -- offensive production -- I'm also surprised that Kyle Connor, who led all rookies with 31 goals, didn't make the cut.
Chris Peters, hockey prospects analyst: I don't think there were any egregious snubs this year. There were so many tight races. One player who I thought deserved a trip to Las Vegas as a finalist was Gibson. He was spectacular throughout the regular season, holding the Ducks together as injuries really put a strain on their roster. He had a career year, but I don't think it's a huge snub given the quality of Connor Hellebuyck, Pekka Rinne and Vasilevskiy this season.
Ben Arledge, Insider NHL editor: Coat-tailing off Emily, Greg and Chris here, McAvoy and Gibson are certainly the big ones here. McAvoy's missed time to injury probably cost him the nomination, while Gibson missed out to a pair of 44-game winners ahead of whom he probably deserved to be recognized. Plenty of other guys could have gotten Hart consideration, too, including Claude Giroux and William Karlsson, but in the end, they got the three names right. Outside of McAvoy and Gibson, there weren't any truly horrible misses this year.
Sachin Chandan, ESPN The Magazine researcher: I get it, his team was lousy, but Connor McDavid was the best player in the NHL this season, and he's not even one of the finalists for the Hart Trophy? The NHL community debated for months over how much team success should be tied to individual awards, especially when Taylor Hall and Nathan MacKinnon single-handedly dragged their teams to the playoffs. McDavid will likely win the Lindsay Trophy for Most Outstanding Player, which is why he's the most obvious snub for Hart consideration.
Which award would you eliminate?
Wyshynski: The General Manager of the Year Award. What a truly bizarre mess of an award this is. How many GM moves take years to finally show results? How many horrible deals one year pay unexpected dividends years later? Heck, the Brooks Orpik signing by Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan was called "a disaster" and "insane" when it was handed out in 2014. Four years later, every player in that champagne-soaked dressing room credited Orpik's contributions to a Stanley Cup championship. Either give out the award after five years of evaluation or dump it.
Kaplan: Lady Byng, for the "Most Gentlemanly Player." I don't want to eliminate it as much as I'm craving a better rationale. I love the spirit of the award, as I believe sportsmanship should be celebrated. However, it feels impossibly arbitrary and difficult to quantify. Unless we get some transparency -- have on-ice referees list us several examples for each nominee and explain what they did that was so exemplary -- this award doesn't hold as much weight for me as it should.
Peters: The Mark Messier Leadership Award. It's incredibly similar to the King Clancy award; it just selects from a smaller pool of players, and its selection process is a little too loosely defined. That said, when Deryk Engelland wins it this year -- as I'm assuming he will -- I look forward to his speech.
Which new award would you create?
Wyshynski: The Jere Lehtinen Award for best defensive winger. First, because wingers are never given proper consideration for the Selke Trophy, which is uniformly given to the best two-way center. Second, because it would be such a novel concept to name an NHL award after a non-North American player, wouldn't it? Since, like, they win so many of them? As for who wins the award for 2017-18, my vote's for Taylor Hall.
Kaplan: Breakout Player of the Year. I love the idea of rewarding late bloomers. This can differentiate from comeback player of the year because the player doesn't necessarily have to overcome a significant obstacle, they could have just found their way later on, often by product of circumstance. This season's obvious runaway winner: Mr. Six-Goals-to-43-Goals, William Karlsson.
Peters: I've always liked the idea of comeback player of the year to better differentiate that from the Bill Masterton Award. It could be a comeback from anything -- time away in Europe or the minors, an injury, poor play. This year's winner would be Florida Panthers winger Evgenii Dadonov, who had 65 points in 74 games after five years away from the NHL. As hard as it is to remember, he appeared in 55 games between 2010 and 2012 for Florida before making his comeback this season.
Arledge: The Wendel Clark Grinder of the Year Award. Who is going to the front of the net? Who is digging in the corner for loose pucks? Who is playing the tough minutes against the best players? Who is killing penalties? Who is throwing his body around and making his presence known in other spots than the score sheet? Wayne Simmonds would probably just have this thing permanently on his mantel.
Chandan: Moment of the Year, voted on by the fans. I believe that there needs to be at least one award in which the fans have a say. Since we already have two best player awards, a best defenseman award and a best goalie award, it has to be something else. One way to do it: Release a list of 10 nominees at the end of the regular season, and give fans from April to mid-June to vote.
Are Norris Trophy nominations too offense-based? Should an award for best defensive defenseman exist?
Wyshynski: I used to think this was the case -- until Mike Green didn't win the Norris because he was too offensive-tilted. It was at that point it clicked for me: a great offense can also be a great defense, based on puck possession and zone time. The opposition can't score if it's not in the attacking zone. Plus, the Norris is for best overall defenseman, and that's a heck of an honor. So much so that winning the Rod Langway Award -- a fictional award created by the PHWA in a midseason poll, awarded to the best defensive defenseman -- would be more of an acknowledgement of one-dimensional play than the Norris is accused of being.
Kaplan: I'm not overly concerned about it. I think voters are sophisticated in their analysis and value overall game. Let's be honest: Although there is importance in having a stay-at-home defender on the roster -- Orpik's value to the Capitals comes to mind -- the most successful defensemen in today's NHL do a bit of everything to stay involved (such as John Carlson). Plus, offense isn't the be-all end-all criterion. Carlson (68 points), Brent Burns (67), John Klingberg (67) and Shayne Gostisbehere (65) all posted higher totals than the three finalists, Victor Hedman (63), Drew Doughty (60) and P.K. Subban (59).
Peters: Considering none of the top-four scoring defensemen in the NHL is among the finalists this year, I'm going to say no. But I do understand, historically, that has not always been the case. I think the way we view defending, however, is changing. There's a wider acceptance inside hockey, in the media and among fans that a defenseman's offensive contributions do add to a team's defense. Keeping the puck in the offensive zone, possessing the puck and moving it out of the D-zone quickly all require a certain level of skill and are valuable elements of being a good defender.
Arledge: Erik Karlsson didn't strike me as the blueliner presenting the "greatest all-around ability in the position" when he won it in 2014-15, and the trophy has a tendency to get a few nominations here and there who are lacking in the defensive department. That said, nothing about this year's trio felt off. All three defensemen established elite play at both ends of the rink. However, a shutdown-defenseman award would be pretty interesting -- although Doughty, a nominee for the Norris this season, would be right in the midst of that discussion, too.
Chandan: I do think there should be a best defensive defenseman award, particularly since we have a best defensive forward award. However, the Norris Trophy does a decent job of including the better defensive defensemen, especially with Doughty being nominated in three of the past four years. If such an award did exist, I'd toss Doughty in the mix along with Calgary's Mark Giordano and Anaheim's Josh Manson.