With the 2020-21 NHL season getting underway it is time to preview some of the top contenders for some of the league's major awards, including the MVP, Vezina, Norris, and Jack Adams.
He has been close, finishing as the runner-up on two different occasions and sixth one other time, but has yet to actually win the MVP award. Could this be the year it happens? The Avalanche are going to be contenders and MacKinnon is a leading candidate to finish as the top scorer in the league, something that always puts a player at the top of the MVP discussion.
As long as he stays healthy McDavid is going to be a contender for the scoring title and the MVP. He has finished in the top-five of the MVP race in each of the past four years and in the top-two of the scoring race in each of those years. He already has one MVP award and is looking to join an exclusive club of players to win it again. Only 18 players have won it more than one time, and only two active players (Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin). The Oilers could be good enough to put him back in that discussion.
A back-to-back MVP winner? It is certainly possible. Draisaitl has been one of the league's elite offensive players the past two years and is one of two MVP candidates on the Oilers (joining McDavid). As long as McDavid stays healthy though it seems difficult to imagine Draisaitl finishing ahead of him in the scoring race or MVP race, but if he repeats his performance from the past two seasons he will certainly be in the discussion.
Panarin played his way into the MVP race a year ago in his first year with the Rangers, and he should be there again this season. What is likely to hurt him in the race is the likelihood that the Rangers will miss the playoffs, which is seen as disqualifying among many voters. Still, Panarin is going to be one of the best players in the league and if the Rangers are even close to the playoffs he will get plenty of attention again.
With David Pastrnak set to miss the first part of the season, it is going to be an opportunity for Marchand to build his own MVP case. You may not like the way Marchand plays, you may not like the sideshow antics, you may not even like him, but you have to acknowledge he is one of the NHL's absolute best players.
At this point, it would be a mild upset if Hedman does not win. At the very least, you have to expect him to be a finalist if he is healthy all season. Hedman is the best all-around defenseman in the game right now and is the top player on the league's best team. He controls the game in all three zones and all phases. Shutdown defense, elite offense, smooth in the transition game. He does it all.
Heiskanen has been one of the league's best young defenders during his first two years in the league and took an especially significant step a year ago in year two of his career. He was the Stars' best overall player on their playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final and would have been a Conn Smythe winner had the Stars won. If he continues on this path he will win a Norris Trophy in his career. Will it be this season?
The reigning Norris Trophy winner has to be in the discussion. Josi is coming off a great 2019-20 season and has been one of the league's top defenders for several years and finished in the top-seven of the voting five different times. He is a lock for 15 goals and 50 points from the blue line every season.
Hamilton was on track to be a finalist for the award a year ago until an injury sidetracked his regular season. Expect a huge season from him as he enters a contract year for the Hurricanes. When healthy there was a strong argument to be made he was the best all-around defenseman in the NHL a year ago and there is no reason to expect him to regress much this season.
He might be the next big thing in the NHL. In fact, he is part of a trio of young defensemen (joining Dallas' Miro Heiskanen and Vancouver's Quinn Hughes) that are going to be competing for the Norris Trophy for the foreseeable future. Makar won the Calder Trophy as the league's rookie of the year a year ago and should take another significant step forward this season for a Stanley Cup contending Colorado Avalanche team.
He is already a special goalie and is on track to be one of the best players of his era. He has been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy three years in a row and has helped make the Lightning the NHL's best team over the past half-decade. A team this great with a goalie this great is a huge challenge for the rest of the league.
Hellebuyck won the award a year ago (the second time he finished in the top-three of the voting over the past three years) for the way he helped carry an undermanned Jets defense to playoff contention. He is durable, he plays at an elite level and is going to be in the discussion again if he can get the Jets back to the playoffs. Or at least close to them.
Always underappreciated in Boston, Rask is still one of the league's elite goalies. He is going to have his work cut out for him this season playing behind what looks to be the thinnest Bruins defense in years. He is good enough to make up for that. He has won the award once and was the runner-up a year ago.
Lehner is one of the league's best goalies, and while he may have to split the time with Marc-Andre Fleury, it seems pretty clear that there is a path there for him to get the majority of the playing time. He won the job in the playoffs, and coach Pete DeBoer seems to favor him. If he does get the majority of the playing time he is good enough to play his way into the Vezina discussion and perhaps even win it.
He was one of the biggest surprises in the NHL a year ago, finishing in the top-five of the Vezina and Calder Trophy award votes. Was it a fluke? Or is he the real deal? I am going to take the chance and say he is the real deal and will help Columbus not only stay in the playoff race all year but also get them back to the playoffs.
Shesterkin officially takes over the New York net in place of Henrik Lundqvist, and he is the leading front runner for the Calder Trophy this season. He appeared in 12 games a year ago and was sensational in that initial debut. He is one of the biggest reasons the Rangers should have some optimism for this year and the future.
Yes, the Rangers have two Calder Trophy candidates this season. The Rangers had lottery luck on their side for the second year in a row to give them a second consecutive top-two pick, rapidly accelerating their rebuild. Expectations should be kept within reason for Lafreniere (not every No. 1 overall pick immediately steps in and dominates) but a big season from him could help put the Rangers into more serious playoff contention.
The Wild have been waiting for Kaprizov to make his debut for five years now. He is finally here. The 23-year-old is older than most rookies in the class, but he has been one of the best players in the world not in the NHL and was a dominant offensive force in Russia's KHL. Expect an immediate impact from him, and perhaps even an All-Star level performance.
The Ducks need something to give them some hope for a quick turnaround, and they do have some intriguing young players coming through the organization. Zegras is the most promising and perhaps the most likely to take a big step toward stardom this season. A gifted playmaker, Zegras was dominant at the recent World Junior Championships and is coming into this season with plenty of hype behind him due in large part to that performance.
The Kings have the best farm system in hockey and they just keep adding impact talent to it. Byfield, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 class, is the biggest potential superstar of them all. He is not a totally finished product (what teenager player is?) but he brings enormous potential to the lineup this season and is going to be one of the most exciting rookies in the league.
He might actually be a bit of a long shot because his team might be too good, raising expectations for what he should accomplish. But as long as the Avalanche do not underachieve (they should not) he is going to get plenty of attention and votes for behind behind the bench of a Stanley Cup contender.
The Jack Adams award usually goes to a coach whose team exceeds expectations. One that makes the playoffs when it is not expected, usually due in large part to great goaltending. Well, that pretty much describes this potential outcome here. The Blue Jackets are not a lock to make the playoffs, and they have the goaltending that could steal a spot for them. The recipe for a coach of the year award is all right here.
Simply because he might be the best coach in the NHL and he just keeps finding ways to squeeze as much as he possibly can out of this New York Islanders roster. The organization has had more success with him in two years than it had in the previous 20 years (combined!) before him.
Cooper has never won the Jack Adams award and it seems like he could get the "career achievement" vote this year. He has been one of the top coaches in the league for years now, is coming off of a Stanley Cup victory, and is going to be coaching a season without one of his best players (Nikita Kucherov) which almost certainly be mentioned as part of his argument.
The Oilers have a chance to be pretty good this season, not only due to their two superstars at the top of the roster and their improved depth but also because the North Division for this season is wide open. It is winnable for them. If he has the Oilers competing for a division title and looking like a contender that is going to be a strong point in his favor.