The World Cup of Hockey has come to an end, and preseason play has just begun in the NHL. That must mean the regular season is right around the corner. The puck drops on opening night on October 13th. There’s a lot of intrigue heading into the 2016-2017 after a wacky free agency. Only time will tell which players take home the awards for this year, but who are the early favorites?
Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP)- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
I know, I hate saying it too, but what Sidney Crosby has been able to accomplish in the last year has been remarkable. Last year, he finished third in points with 85, led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship and dominated the World Cup of Hockey with Bruin line mates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
After a couple of injury shortened seasons, Crosby has re-established himself as the best hockey player in the universe. Playing alongside the likes of Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin, Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary, among others, there’s no shortage of options for Crosby to pass to, or get set up by.
Honorable Mentions: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning; Connor McDavid (Yeah, seriously. And I’m not alone.), Edmonton Oilers; Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender)- Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
Bishop probably should have won this award last year after leading the league in Goals Against Average (2.06), second in Save Percentage (92.6%) and tying for second in shutouts (six). He still has one of the best defenses in front of him, with Victor Hedman, Braydon Coburn, Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman patrolling the defensive zone in front of Bishop.
He’s been among the goalie elite for a few years now, but he doesn’t have any hardware to show for it. This year, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see him have a GAA under two.
Honorable Mentions: Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens; John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks; Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Calder Memorial Trophy (Best rookie)- Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
The field for the Calder Trophy isn’t nearly as deep or talented as last year’s crop, but it still has it’s share of blue chip prospects. The best of those, by a pretty large margin, is number one overall pick and American born Auston Matthews. From Arizona (seriously), Matthews is just another in a vastly improving USA hockey development program. Matthews played his junior hockey overseas in Switzerland for the ZSC Lions, where he scored 24 goals in 36 games.
His ceiling may not be as high as McDavid’s or Eichel’s, but he’s still a generational talent. With more of a complete 200 foot game, his skills have been likened to those of Jonathan Toews, who’s only a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame and three time Stanley Cup champion for the Chicago Blackhawks.
In three games for team North America in the World Cup of Hockey, he scored a goal and had two assists while playing on the same line as last year’s number one overall pick Connor McDavid. All eyes will be on Matthews, as he’ll be tasked with returning the Maple Leafs around and becoming a competitive franchise once again.
Honorable Mentions: Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers; Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets; Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames
(RIP to that water bottle *taps plays in the background*)
James Norris Memorial Trophy (Top defenseman)- Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
The Calder Trophy winner in 2014, Aaron Ekblad is already a great defenseman, and is just one year away from stepping up into the elites. Year three is usually the year players make that jump, and I think he can do it.
The #1 pick in 2014, Ekblad is a solid two-way defenseman, who uses his size at 6’4” to clear out the crease in front of Roberto Luongo. This may be a bit of a reach pick, but Ekblad is a special talent that will now make his name known at the national level.
Honorable Mentions: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning; Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
Frank J. Selke Trophy (best defensive forward)- Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Already a 3x Selke winner, once Patrice Bergeron wins it following the 2016-2017 season, he’ll tie Bob Gainey with the most awards all time. It may not be an MVP award, but Bergeron couldn’t care less.
The consummate professional, Patrice always puts the team above him and is one of the most valuable players in the NHL. Every single team wants players like Patrice Bergeron, and it’s pretty much impossible to hate the man. And if you do happen to hate him, you might want to get yourself checked out.
Honorable Mentions: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings, Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks, Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (League leader in goals)- Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Ovechkin winning the “Rocket” Richard Trophy is a mortal lock, considering he’s won it the last four years, and six times in his career. The best goal scorer of his era, Ovi has scored more than 50 goals seven times, and likely would have eight if it weren’t for the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season.
Already a first ballot Hall of Famer, the only thing missing on his resume is a Stanley Cup ring, and as an overall fan of hockey, I hope he gets one before he hangs up the skates.
Honorable Mentions: Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars, Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars, Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
Prince of Wales Trophy (Eastern Conference Champion)- Tampa Bay Lightning
Getting back Steven Stamkos for cheap, for a player with his capability, was one of the stories of the off-season. The Lightning will now be able to keep some of their young pieces down the line, including Jonathan Drouin, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov.
On the defensive end, they have Victor Hedman, Jason Garrison, Braydon Coburn and Anton Stralman as their top four defensemen. Ben Bishop is one of the best goaltenders in the league.
For as young as this team is, they already have loads of playoff experience. Jon Cooper has lead this team to playoffs each of his first three years, making one Stanley Cup in 2015, but fell to the Los Angeles Kings. This year should be the year they get back to final.
Other Contenders: Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals
Dark Horse Contender: Philadelphia Flyers
Clarence S. Campbell Trophy (Western Conference Champion)- St. Louis Blues
I could’ve gone the easy route and gone Chicago or Los Angeles, but The Blues finally broke through reaching the Western Conference Finals after being knocked out in the first round each of the previous two seasons. Ken Hitchcock has lead this franchise to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons.
Despite losing David Backes and trading Brian Elliott, the rest of the key pieces return back for this season. Among the talented group is sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored 40 goals last season. Alexander Steen, Robby Fabbri and defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk, Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo. Those are the most notable names on one of, if not the deepest team in the NHL.
Backes was a team leader, and his loss will certainly be felt, but this team has the talent and depth to shadow the loss. Brian Elliott split time with Jake Allen in net last season, and was probably the better goaltender, but the Blues went for the upside of Allen.
Other Contenders: Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings
Dark Horse Contender: Anaheim Ducks
Stanley Cup Champion- Tampa Bay Lightning
To me, there is not a team that has the better combination of star power, depth and talent at all three levels more than the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa is one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NHL, because they play with such speed and can hang a six spot on any opponent on any given night.
Led by Steven Stamkos and a host of others, the Lightning could be heading towards a modern-day dynasty, much like the Blackhawks are on right now. Winning a championship in the 2016-2017 season should be the first in what could be multiple rings heading down towards Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay Wins Series 4-1
Conn Smythe- Steven Stamkos
Cover Photo via TheHockeyWriters.com
Other Photos and Gifs via TheLeafsNation.com, Gyfcat.com, CBSSports.com and HockeyGifs.com