With the start of the NHL season quickly approaching, every team is a contender, and every player is in the best shape of their life. Yet, despite all the early optimism, only a few players and teams are truly playing at an elite level heading into the season.
At GLORY, we decided to break down a few of the major NHL awards going into the season – and the most likely winners of each (as well as a dark horse candidate, for fun) – so you can distinguish between the contenders and the pretenders this preseason.
Hart Memorial Trophy:
Starting with the most important, the Hart goes to the player deemed “most valuable to their team,” or in other words, the MVP. Auston Matthews rode a 60-goal season en route to the first Hart Trophy win in Maple Leafs’ history last season.
The Contenders: Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisitl
For the next 10 years – if they all stay healthy – Matthews, McDavid, and Draisitl will be annual contenders for this trophy.
However, the league hasn’t seen a player win the Hart Trophy in back-to-back years since Alex Ovechkin achieved that feat in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, making it unlikely Matthews will take home the award for a second straight year. Instead, the safe pick is Connor McDavid.
With a full season with Evander Kane, McDavid looks poised to dominate the league this year. McDavid set a career high with 44 goals, 79 assists, and 123 points last season, helping carry his team to the Western Conference Finals. It may seem far-fetched, but McDavid could easily pass those career highs again this season. The 1.54 points per game mark he played last year was a worse pace than his Hart Trophy-winning 2021 campaign (when he set an unbelievable 1.88 points per game mark in 56 games).
If McDavid can come close to recreating his 2021 magic, it’s not inconceivable that he will push the 150-point threshold. And if McDavid becomes the sixth player in league history to pass 150 points in a season, how can the Hart go to anyone else?
Safe Pick: Connor McDavid
As promised, we do have one dark horse pick for this award: Cale Makar. The last defenceman to win the Hart was Chris Pronger in 2000, but Makar could end the drought.
The 23-year-old nearly scored 30 goals from the blue line last season and he’s only going to get better with another year of experience. It’ll be hard to unseat McDavid, but if Makar can pass the 30-goal mark and push up closer to the 100-point plateau amid another strong defensive season in Denver, don’t be surprised to see his name in the conversation.
Dark Horse Pick: Cale Makar
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Calder Memorial Trophy:
The Calder is awarded to the rookie of the year. Detroit’s Mortiz Seider took home this award last season after running over his competition all season. The big, young blue-liner also racked up 50 points in 82 games.
Contenders: Mason McTavish, Owen Power
This award didn’t need a third contender because it will almost certainly come down to these two players. Power or McTavish could have had a chance at the award last season if they had played a full year in the league, but they’ll have to duke it out for the honour this season.
It’ll come down to the wire, but Power will become the third defenceman in the past four years to win the award, joining Seider and Cale Makar. McTavish will have a strong year, but he’ll have to outplay Power by a noticeable margin considering he’s on a weak Ducks team while the Sabres are on an upswing. I wouldn’t be surprised by either winning this award, but the Owen Power hype train seems too strong to stop at this point.
Safe Pick: Owen Power
As far as a dark horse, it feels like anyone not named Power or McTavish is a long shot, but there may be competition in Buffalo for the Calder this season. Jack Quinn was a force in the American Hockey League last year, racking up 61 points (26g, 35a) in just 45 games for the Rochester Americans. If he can translate that offensive firepower to the NHL, he could be keen competition to his new teammate.
Dark Horse: Jack Quinn
The Vezina, given every year to the league’s top goaltender, may see its first repeat winner since Martin Brodeur in 2008.
Contenders: Igor Shesterkin, Ilya Sorokin, Andrei Vasilevsky
It’s hard to imagine Igor Shesterkin will take a step back after his Vezina-winning campaign last season – so the safe choice is picking him to repeat as champ this year. The Rangers netminder led the league in goals-against average, save percentage, and goals saved above expected last season. Shetserkin is so dominant he could easily have placed among the contenders for the Hart Trophy this season, after nearly winning it last year.
Sorokin and Vasilevsky will certainly have strong years if they stay healthy, but it would take an incredible effort to take down the reigning champ.
Safe Pick: Igor Shesterkin
The dark horse pick for the Vezina comes out of the Western Conference, one of the stars of the first round of the playoffs last season: Jake Oettinger.
Oettinger had a solid campaign in 2021-22 (finishing third in goals saved above expected, just behind Vasilevsky and Shesterkin), but he was borderline unbeatable in the playoffs, finishing with 1.81 goals against average and a .954 save percentage. The Stars will look different under new head coach Peter DeBoer, but if Oettinger can translate his playoff performance to the regular season, there may be no one closer to Shetserkin.
Dark Horse Pick: Jake Oettinger
James Norris Memorial Trophy:
The Norris, as it’s usually referred to, goes to the defenceman who “demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position.” The award is often criticized for being more about points than defensive play, but Cale Makar and Victor Hedman have in recent years defined what it means to be an all-around defenceman in the NHL. Makar took home the Norris last season (and then just a few days later took home the cup).
Contenders: Cale Makar, Victor Hedman, Roman Josi
It wasn’t hard to pick contenders for the Norris going into this season. Last year’s finalists were so dominant it’s hard to imagine anyone will come close this season. As I explained earlier in Makar’s case for a dark horse Hart win, the sky is the limit for the young defenceman.
Bobby Orr’s 14 Norris Trophy wins may look like an unbreakable record right now, but Makar may be the only modern-day defenceman that could give him a run for his money.
Safe Pick: Cale Makar
As far as a dark-horse winner for the Norris, Mackenzie Weegar could impress on a stronger defensive team during a contract year. Weegar ranked fourth among NHL defencemen last season in takeaways, just behind household names Alex Pietrangelo, Adam Fox, and Jacob Slavin. It was a double-edged sword for Weegar, though, as he also ranked fourth in giveaways among defencemen. However, on a more structured, defensively aware Darryl Sutter team, Weegar will look to limit his mistakes and capitalize on his strengths. This might be the least likely dark horse of them all, but the NHL is an unpredictable league.
Dark Horse: Mackenzie Weegar
Frank J. Selke Trophy:
The Selke is awarded yearly to the best defensive forward in the league. Like the Norris, the Selke winner usually must be a major offensive star to be considered. Patrice Bergeron won the award last season, the fifth of his career.
Contenders: Patrice Bergeron, Aleksander Barkov, Elias Lindholm
It feels hard to not pick Bergeron to win the Selke for the second straight year. If he stays healthy, it’s borderline impossible to bet against the reigning winner. His contract seems to be structured for him to retire at the end of this season, and the Bruins will need everything they can get from their stars to make it into the playoffs in a tough Atlantic Division.
Barkov could make a run for the award again, but it remains to be seen how he reacts to the new coaching style of Paul Maurice. Similarly, Lindholm has plenty of new pieces moving in as his two linemates, Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, both left during the offseason.
When in doubt, bet on the steady veteran.
Safe Pick: Patrice Bergeron
Phillip Danault finished eighth in Selke voting last season, just two spots behind his teammate Anze Kopitar. Danault’s individual offensive numbers may hold him back – the forward finished with just 51 points in 79 games – but few players in the NHL are trusted to shut down major offensive stars like Danault. It’ll be hard to jump all the way from eighth to first, especially playing on a west coast team, but Danault should certainly garner more attention this season.
Dark Horse Pick: Phillip Danault
There are plenty of other individual NHL awards to choose from that we may examine another time, but for now, let us know your picks for these awards – which did we get right, and what did we get wrong? Who’s your favourite dark horse?