Top News

TRAIKOS: Should we wait until the Cup is awarded to cast NHL Awards ballots?

Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders attends the nominee media availability on June 18, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders attends the nominee media availability on June 18, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — One week doesn’t change anything.

Nikita Kucherov said it. And he said it again. And yet, it was difficult to believe he actually meant it.

How could he?

One week essentially changed everything. Maybe not for Kucherov, who after scoring a league-best 128 points had a regular season for the ages. But it certainly changed everyone’s view of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who despite having one of the most dominant years of any team in the history of the NHL, will be mostly remembered for being swept in the first round of the playoffs.

“At first it sucked,” said Kucherov, who is the frontrunner to win the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award as MVP on Wednesday at the NHL Awards on Wednesday. “It’s not something that we expected before the playoffs. But we take it as it is. There’s nothing you can do about that. We just have to learn. We just want to prove people that what happened in the playoffs was a mistake, a fluke, and we just got to get better and prove them wrong.”

Kucherov wasn’t the only award finalist who arrived in Las Vegas with a bitter taste in his mouth.

The Norris Trophy favourite (Calgary’s Mark Giordano) failed to advance to the second round. The same goes for the Vezina Trophy finalist (Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy), while the odds-on pick to win the Calder Trophy (Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson) didn’t even qualify for the playoffs.

The voting for the NHL Awards occurs before the playoffs begin, so you never know what’s going to happen after Game 82. But still, no one could have predicted how much the regular season differed from the post-season.

It raises the question: should we wait until the Stanley Cup is awarded to cast our ballots on who truly had the best season?

“Let’s be honest, this is a celebration of what went on in the regular season,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who is a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy. “There’s only two teams that got to play all the way into June. Along the way, teams get knocked off. We were one of them. It just goes to show how hard it is to be there at the end.”

“I think it’s good that they vote on it right after,” said St. Louis’ Ryan O’Reilly, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and is also a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward. “It’s a long season. I don’t think I think playoff performances could definitely impact your view on a guy, especially with what he’s done in the post-season.”

This was a bizarre playoff. Even stranger than last year, when an expansion team reached the final. The teams and players who had success in the regular season didn’t necessarily carry that success into the playoffs. And vice versa, as the St. Louis Blues, who were dead-last on Jan. 2, ended up proving.

The top-seeded teams from each conference failed to reach the second round. The defending champion Washington Capitals, along with Nashville, Toronto and Winnipeg all went out early. And so, you had a scene on Tuesday where players were talking about all that went right in the regular season while also juxtaposing it with all that went wrong immediately after.

“It was a weird year as far as the playoffs,” said Giordano. “This year was weird. The four division winners went out early. But I think what you take from it is the teams that went to the final were well-balanced, gritty, hard-working teams. We can learn from that for sure.”

It was an odd scene. On one hand, players were being lauded for their performances in the regular season. But on the other, because so many of their seasons ended early, it was a reminder of all that was good and bad about their years.

It was also a reminder that success in the regular season doesn’t mean squat.

“We got the Presidents’ Trophy. That’s the award for the season we had,” said Cooper. “And then you win the next season (the playoffs) and you get the Stanley Cup. Don’t get me wrong, we’re extremely proud of everything that happened in the regular season, but you play to win the Stanley Cup.”

mtraikos@postmedia.com

twitter.com/Michael_Traikos

HART

Finalists: Sidney Crosby, Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid

Year’s Best: Brad Marchand, Boston

Combine his 100 points in the regular season with 23 points in the playoffs — second only to Ryan O’Reilly’s 24 points — as well as a trip to the Stanley Cup final and it’s clear that he was the MVP for the entire year.

NORRIS

Finalists: Brent Burns, Mark Giordano, Victor Hedman

Year’s Best: Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis

The Blues captain tied for 21st amongst defencemen with 41 points in the regular season. But it was his playoff numbers (19 points in 26 games) that really stood while leading St. Louis to a franchise-first championship.

VEZINA

Finalists: Ben Bishop, Robin Lehner, Andrei Vasilevskiy

Year’s Best: Tuukka Rask, Boston

Poor Tuukka didn’t get the finish that he richly deserved. But with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage in the playoffs, as well as a 27-13-5 record in the regular season, he has every reason to hold his head high.

CALDER

Finalists: Jordan Binnington, Rasmus Dahlin, Elias Pettersson

Year’s Best: Jordan Binnington

Full disclosure: I had Binnington first on my Calder ballot. Not only was the Blues goalie the reason why St. Louis went from the worst team in the NHL to the best in the second-half of the season, but he stopped 32 of 33 shots in Game 7.

SELKE

Finalists: Patrice Bergeron, Ryan O’Reilly, Mark Stone

Year’s Best: Ryan O’Reilly

Chances are that Bergeron will win his fifth defensive player of the year award. And it’s deserved, considering that he followed up a 79-point season with a trip to the final. But O’Reilly, who was playoff MVP, shut down Bergeron in the final.

JACK ADAMS

Finalists: Craig Berube, Jon Cooper, Barry Trotz

Year’s Best: Craig Berube

Berube deserves full marks for stepping in mid-season and getting the Blues into an unlikely playoff berth. That he capped off the remarkable run by winning a Cup only adds to his accomplishment.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

Recent Stories