Once the current Stanley Cup Playoffs wrap up, the league will quickly transition into awards season. Which, naturally, brings about a myriad of debates over who should win those other coveted trophies; and the point-counter points emerging are as strong as ever. Every season there are close calls when choosing a winner and 2017-18 will be no different. At this level of the game, nitpicking becomes necessary as players are separated by percentage points in each category.
LA Kings captain Anze Kopitar earned nominations for the Frank J. Selke Trophy and the Hart Memorial Trophy, while Drew Doughty was nominated for the James Norris Trophy. Below is an overview of the nominees for each trophy, along with some opinions on who should win and why. To help paint the picture, we also grabbed the player’s odds of winning of winning each trophy at this site for sports betting. Feel free to leave your thoughts after reading over ours, and check back next month after the NHL Awards are handed out on June 20th in Las Vegas.
Frank J. Selke Trophy – Anze Kopitar: (3/2)
Hockey fans have become accustomed to seeing Kopitar in the race for the award for best defensive forward in the game. He has been nominated four of the last five seasons, winning it in 2016. This past season, he led the league in time on ice for forwards averaging 22:09 per game played and led the forwards on his team in shorthanded time on ice as well. The minutes he logged in critical situations helped the Kings to allow the least amount of goals in the league (2.46/game) and the best penalty kill (85%) while doing so. In a proactive form of defense, Kopitar tied Claude Giroux for least amount of time spent in the penalty box among top 10 scorers with 20 PIM. He also finished the season tied with Phil Kessel for seventh in the scoring race with 92 points, a career high for the talented Slovenian.
Kopitar’s competition for the 2018 award comes from one of the best defensive forwards to ever lace up a pair of skates, four-time Selke trophy winner Patrice Bergeron. The Bruin forward is nominated for the seventh year in a row, a new record, and his Boston team was fourth in goals allowed (2.57) and third in penalty kill percentage (83.7%). Flyers forward Sean Couturier earned his first nomination for the trophy by leading his team in short-handed ice time and being third in average ice time in the NHL. Couturier is a fantastic player and deserving of a nomination, yet this race is effectively him as David facing two Goliaths in Kopitar and Bergeron. We would give the edge to Kopitar here for a few reasons: his defensive stats were marginally better than Bergeron’s, his team’s defensive stats were marginally better than Bergeron’s and he did this all while having the highest offensive output of his career. The award is for the forward who best excels at the defensive aspects of the game, and this year, it’s Anze Kopitar.
James Norris Trophy – Drew Doughty: (2/1)
Once again, the Kings top blueliner is in the hunt for the NHL’s top defender award. Doughty earned a nomination the tough way, playing more than anyone in the league with an average ice time of 26:50 per game played. That’s nearly 45 percent of a 60 minute game to put it in perspective. He also churned out 50 assists and 60 total points, both career highs. As stated in the Selke section above, the Kings had the best team goals-allowed and best penalty kill, both stats that reflect immediately on Doughty, having played nearly half of every game for the club.
The toughest competition for Doughty comes from Tampa Bay defender Victor Hedman, who earned his second consecutive nomination and is seeking his first win in the category. Depth on the blue line, or lack thereof, is what gives Doughty the edge over Hedman. The latter’s time on ice average was a minute less per game played, though he had three more points than the LA blueliner. Nashville Predator P.K. Subban is also nominated for the award, but the depth on the backend in Music City allowed him to play nearly three less minutes per game than Doughty and puts him in third of these three.
Although the Norris trophy has (fairly) gained the reputation for going to the defenseman with the most points scored, this year the numbers won’t tell the story alone. With the all three candidates being so numerically close in many important categories and the general difficulty of articulating high-end defensive play, the best perspective may come from the players they face. “He is probably the best defenseman in the league,” said Connor McDavid, the NHL’s top scorer and arguably the best hockey player on planet Earth today. That is high praise from about as high as it can come, until they name the award winner. Considering all factors, Doughty should grab his second Norris this summer.
Hart Trophy – Anze Kopitar: (40/2)
In 2017-18, Kopitar earned his very first nomination for the Hart Trophy, given to the player judged to be most valuable to his team. Kopitar has long been the MVP for the LA Kings and his success this year, along with the Kings return to the playoffs, earned him league wide recognition. Kopitar earned the highest point total of his career, scoring 35 times and adding 57 assists for 92 points. The 92 points bested his career high by 11 points and was also his highest output in eight seasons. As you read in the Selke Trophy section, Kopitar spearheaded the effort for LA and led the best defensive team in the league to the best team goals against average and least amount of total goals allowed. He did this while playing the most of any forward in the league and playing the most time on the penalty kill for his team.
His fellow nominees are Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon and New Jersey’s Taylor Hall. Each earned nominations after having years that saw them finish in fifth and sixth place in the NHL respectively, netting 97 and 93 points. Another significant factor leading to both players being singled out was their effort and impact on guiding their teams to back to the playoffs after finishing dead last in the conference in 2016-17. Much has been made about Hall outscoring his closest teammate by 41 points, a large margin by any standard. What hasn’t been stated nearly as often is that Kopitar outscored his next highest scoring teammate (Dustin Brown) by 31 points. MacKinnon outscored Mikko Rantanen by just 13 points. Yet, where Kopitar really begins to set himself apart is with his defensive prowess, while also producing offense at a nearly identical rate to MacKinnon and Hall. MacKinnon averaged 18 seconds of shorthanded time per game and Hall just six seconds. That averages out to a penalty kill shift every other game for MacKinnon and one PK shift every five games for Hall. At the same rate, Kopitar averaged more than four shifts per game, all while being within five points of both players. To us, MVP’s play at all stages of the game and are not only the top point producers. Despite the scoring help, MacKinnon has a stronger case for the award than Hall because the Central division is incredibly difficult to come out of, not to mention coming from last place the season prior. All said, Kopitar should grab his first MVP award and the first for any Kings player since Wayne Gretzky won way back in 1989.