With the playoffs starting in just over a week, the NHL season is on its way to a close. While these last few games will highlight teams vying for postseason berth and jockeying for a higher seed, now is the time to turn the focus to regular season player awards before the playoff bracket is set.

A list of the biggest awards in hockey consists of the Art Ross Trophy (most points by a single player), Calder Memorial Trophy (rookie of the year), Maurice Richard Trophy (leading goal scorer), James Norris Memorial Trophy (best defenseman) and Vezina Trophy (best goaltender).

This year, Pittsburgh’s center Sidney Crosby has distanced himself as a leader for the Art Ross Trophy. He has eclipsed 100 points, creating a nearly 20 point buffer between himself and second place, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf. While Crosby is a lock to win, Tyler Seguin’s performance for the Dallas Stars also deserves some recognition. After being traded from Boston this summer, the young superstar has shown the speed and scoring capabilities that made him the second overall draft-pick three years ago.

The Calder Memorial Trophy, meanwhile, is designated for “the player selected as most proficient in his first year of NHL competition.” As with the Art Ross, the choice for the Calder Memorial Trophy is obvious: Colorado’s center Nathan MacKinnon. The rookie has played every single game of the season this far, amassing 60 points and validating the Avalanche for selecting him first overall. Additionally, he has been a major contributing factor in the Avalanche’s rise to becomeingone of the best teams in the Western Conference. Look for him to be a driving force behind their continued success in future seasons.

As for the Maurice Richard Trophy, the Washington Capitals’ very own Alex Ovechkin is once again favored to win, closing in on 50 goals for the fifth time in his prolific career. With four games left and the Capitals in the thick of a playoff push, look for Ovechkin to raise his play and add a few more tallies before the season closes. The Russian winger has once again excelled on the power play, where we’ve seen him continue to score goals from his signature one-timer position at the top of the left circle.

The James Norris Memorial Trophy could be the most hotly contested award this season and will likely come down to the individual preferences of the voters. Unlike the Art Ross and the Maurice Richard Trophies, the Norris Trophy is not directly correlated with scoring but with defensive play. For that reason, players like Boston’s Zdeno Chara and New York’s Ryan McDonough have seen their names mentioned in the conversation, despite having far fewer points than favorites Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks or Alex Pietrangelo of the Blues.

While Keith is the current favorite for the award, it would not be surprising to see Chara continue his late-season push and win, especially if the Bruins are able to secure the President’s Trophy for the best record in the league behind his leadership. Advanced statistics have shown that Chara plays a majority of his time against opponent’s toughest competition, and he has enjoyed sustained success even while defending the league’s best. Only Ryan McDonough has shown comparable ability, but a combination of the Rangers’ overall struggles and his youth will likely exclude him from the Norris this year.

Finally, perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Chara’s aforementioned defensive contributions is Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask, who currently leads the field of hopefuls for the Vezina Trophy. Rask has posted an impressive 2.04 goals against average throughout the course of the season with a save percentage of .930. His seven shutouts lead the league, and his lights-out play has been a major factor in Boston’s success.

Another possible recipient is Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, whose slightly higher goals against average of 2.23 and slightly lower save percentage of .924 can be largely attributed to six additional games played behind a far inferior defensive. Unlike the Norris, however, the Vezina typically coincides more closely with statistical performance, so Rask continues to be the favorite. Last year, for example, many experts believed that the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist outplayed Vezina-winner Sergei Bobrovsky, but the Bluejackets’ netminder ultimately won because of a better statistical profile.

It will be interesting to see how the awards race shapes up over the coming games, especially considering this season’s highly contested playoff chases. Some players will surely be glad to win their individual trophies, but competition will rise across the board next week because most players only care about one: Stanley Cup.

 

Matt Castaldo is a junior in the College. More than a Game appears every Tuesday.

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