Generally, this comes up at the quarter-mark or halfway through the season. But hey, it’s Christmas, so let’s hand out some Christmastime NHL awards just to get into the spirit of the thing! Who is leading in the various categories that the league likes to hand out some weird looking silverware for at a very awkward ceremony in June while everyone waits to get drunk (if they’re not already)?
Worst sports moments of the week
Honorable Mention: Artemi Panarin, Sidney Crosby
Yeah, yeah, any idiot looking at the leading scorers in the league could have come up with this one. But the Lightning don’t really belong in the playoff race. All their team metrics are middling at best, and without Kucherov doing what he’s doing, leading the scoring race by six points over Nathan MacKinnon, the Bolts might be closer to the Senators than they’d ever care to be. Kucherov inhabits a colossal area these days in the amount of chances he’s getting and also creating, where only the other two live.
Panarin has taken a leap this year, with the Dark Helmet theory of playing. “KEEP FIRING, A**HOLES!” Panarin is firing the puck both on net and at all far more than he ever has in his career, and he’s poised to blow by his career-high of 32 goals. The Rangers have given up on the idea of using him and linemates Vincent Trocheck and Alex Lafreniere anywhere near the defensive zone, and they’re getting oil-baron-on-the-disco-dust kind of production from it.
Crosby is holding the Penguins thing together, and though he doesn’t have the scoring totals of the other two, his chance creation is right there with them. If the Pens ever discover where the net is again, he’ll be racing up the scoring leader charts.
Honorable Mention: Adin Hill, Thatcher Demko
Swayman will have to swim against the current of everyone screaming that he only takes half the starts, splitting evenly with Linus Ullmark. But most top goalies don’t get more than 55 starts anyway, and he’s been the best. This is the way the game is going now. Swayman is tied for the best save-percentage in the league and is second in expected goals saved even with his limited workload. Which tempers the argument just a touch that he plays behind a defensive juggernaut in Boston when he has to bail them out this much in just half the amount of time.
Demko has finally come good and his numbers line up with Swayman’s evenly while taking on more starts. The Knights seem to have discovered a goalie by accident in Hill, but he backstopped a Cup winner last spring and is now putting up numbers that gets him into the velvet-rope surrounded club of elite goalies. There really isn’t a wrong choice among the three.
Honorable Mention: Quinn Hughes, Drew Doughty
Yes, I only exist to send Canucks fans into orbit and there’s an easy argument for Hughes, who leads all d-men in points at the time of writing. But he’s also played six more games than Makar thanks to the latter’s injury issues.
As for Doughty, his role has changed a bit in LA and he’s starting way more shifts in his own end than earlier in his career. But he’s still pushing the play and getting the Kings into the offensive zone as much as he always has, even if he doesn’t have the points to prove it. He’s probably the biggest reason the Kings are as good as they are.
Honorable Mention: Sean Couturier, Dakota Joshua
Look, no one knows what they’re voting for when it comes to this award. Pretty much for its entire existence voters found a No. 1 center who won a lot of face-offs and scored a lot and called him a defensive forward. Patrice Bergeron won it every year and he was a brilliant defensive center, but no one bothered to notice in the last few years of his career that he was almost exclusively deployed in the offensive zone, which helped boost his defensive numbers.
So as always, we’re going to find a forward that plays defense a lot. And that’s Vegas’s Nicolas Roy, who only starts a third of his shifts in the offensive zone, and yet has the fifth-lowest xGA/60 among forwards in the whole league, and he flips the play consistently. This kind of mining work allows the Knights’ top two lines to only worry about scoring, which they do. Roy is one of the most unique weapons in the league.
Couturier fills the role of No. 1 center who can play both ends of the ice, and Joshua is some of the same story as Roy, a center actually deployed as a defensive stopper and doing it.
Honorable Mention: Adam Fantilli, Marco Rossi
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