If you can believe it, there are 19 days left in the 2015-16 NHL regular season.
Trust me, I can't put my head around it either. The dregs of the mid-season are over and the playoffs are nearly upon us. But, you know what else is close at hand? Award season.
Sure, the entertainment industry has wrapped up their big ceremonies and dolled out awards to those deserving of the honor -- looking at you Leo -- but it's only just beginning for hockey fans. In the run up to the playoffs, not only will you be hit over the head with stories on the various postseason races, you'll also be up to your eyeballs in predictions for the NHL's yearly awards.
We've written a couple of times at the quarter and halfway mark of the season who we thought had the best shots at the individual awards. A lot has changed since, and things could still shift in the weeks to come. Even so, the lines are being drawn in the sand. There are clear favorites to win, some that have been there since the beginning and some that have only recently emerged.
You probably know who those favorites are, and those favorites will probably win at the end of the day. Nevertheless, you probably can't help but want to root for someone -- unless you're fans of said favorite players -- to dethrone the leaders. We all love a good underdog story. It's human nature to want to see the big Goliaths fall to the plucky and scrappy Davids of the world.
So, let's give you what you want: NHL players to root for other than those standard front-runners you can't stand. They may be underdogs, but they all make compelling cases for the awards. In a parallel universe, they may even win them. Sure, they'll probably lose out to the favorites, but we still root for underdogs despite the odds anyway. Who's to say we can't do the same here too?
Who will (probably) win: Patrick Kane
The runaway of all runaways. The easy choice. The safe pick. You already knew this before you clicked on this article. With 92 points in 74 games and career highs across the board, Kane is the clear favorite and has been all season long. Against a Professional Hockey Writers' Association that often boils this award down to the player with the most points -- six of the last 10 Art Ross trophy winners also won the Hart the same year -- there's no contest, really.
Who you should root for: Carey Price
I know I'm not the first to float this idea, but hear me out. Is Kane really the most valuable player on the Chicago Blackhawks? On a roster bursting with talent, can he really be considered Chicago's best asset? The Hart trophy isn't a league MVP award, it's an honor bestowed upon the "player judged to be the most valuable to his team."
Laugh all you want at Montreal's situation, but Price clearly is the most valuable player on the. This season is a microcosm of what the Canadiens are without Price between the pipes. After he went down with an injury at the end of October, the team literally fell apart.
If that's not the definition of "most valuable to his team," I don't how what is.
Why Price won't win
Price was the Hart Trophy winner last year after a league-leading 44 wins, 1.96 goals against and .933 save percentage. The PHWA won't award a goaltender two years in a row -- Dominik Hasek was the only one in NHL history that did it in the late 1990s -- and especially one that played just 12 games this year.
Who will (probably) win: Corey Crawford
This award was basically a lock for Braden Holtby midseason, but since then the Washington Capitals netminder kind of dropped off a cliff.
While wide-spread panic reaches across the D.C. metropolitan area, a usurper has come for Holtby's crown. And his name? Corey Crawford.
Crawford is basically this decade's Chris Osgood, a goaltender who's good in his own right but whose accolades are taken away by the team that is set in front of him. A product of the system, if you will. Crawford has finally started to break that narrative this season with a stellar body of work. A .932 save percentage and a 2.32 goals against is nothing to sneeze at, and he's doing it with the third most shots against in the league.
Who you should root for: Roberto Luongo
You may see Crawford as an underdog in his own right -- he's never won the Vezina trophy in his nine-year career -- but if you're looking for a real dark horse, Luongo should be your guy. Why? He's 36 years old and he's putting up top-ten numbers in the league against goaltenders who have played over 50 games this year. He's played 56 games, to be precise, and he's one of the big reasons why the Florida Panthers are hanging out at the top of the Atlantic this year.
It also helps that his Twitter account is full of gems like these:
Is 3 hot dogs after the 2nd period last night in Montreal a sandwich???— Strombone (@strombone1) March 16, 2016
Why Luongo won't win
Sadly, he's not the best goaltender this season. Open and shut, really.
Who will (probably) win: Erik Karlsson
Like the Hart Trophy, the Norris is often given to the defenseman who scores the most points in a season. If we're going by that, then Karlsson deserves the Norris in a landslide. Karlsson has exactly a point-per-game pace in 72 games played this year, and his 61 assists not only lead NHL defensemen, it leads all league players this season. In fact, Karlsson is the first player to hit 60 assists since Nicklas Lidstrom did so nine years ago. Why should we deny the Norris to one of the best offensive seasons a defenseman has had in years?
Who you should root for: Drew Doughty
Funny you should ask. Detractors of Karlsson say that the Norris isn't an offensive defenseman's award. It's a merit based on "all around ability in the position," not just an award for the defenseman that has helped get the puck in the net the most. If you're looking for underdog, Doughty is your man this year. Either Doughty is long overdue for his outstanding work in the defensive zone or he's a key piece in an already stellar defensive system the Los Angeles Kings have.
Doughty is as divisive as a pick as any, and isn't that really what you wanted when you started to read this?
Why Doughty won't win
History has Karlsson winning because of the offensive output, but there seems to be evidence that he does, in fact, have defensive skill.
LA Corsi% w/o Doughty: ~ 55.4%— Travis Yost (@travisyost) March 19, 2016
Ottawa Corsi% w/o Karlsson: ~ 44.1%
Basically the difference b/t the Blackhawks/Kings and Thrashers/Oilers.
Who will (probably) win: Artemi Panarin
If you can believe it, like many of the other trophies on this list, the Calder is another one that the PHWA typically awards to the player with the most points. Panarin has this one wrapped up, if these trends continue. Having 64 points in 72 games on a dynamic Blackhawks team is basically all incentive the voters need to hand him the trophy. That's what playing on a line with the inevitable Hart Trophy-winning Patrick Kane can do.
Who you should root for: Shayne Gostisbehere
If you want to stick it to the establishment, Gostisbehere is the best choice. Canada will probably want my head for skipping over Connor McDavid, and that's fine. To that I say this: McDavid is not an underdog, Gostisbehere is. The little Ghost Bear that could, Gostisbehere has helped turned the Philadelphia Flyers from a middle-of-the-road team to, as of Wednesday, a playoff team.
If we're going by value, Gostisbehere is the most valuable rookie this season. It's not hard to see why, when 15 of his 16 goals this year have either been equalizers or go-ahead goals for the Flyers. If Philadelphia makes the playoffs this year, a lot of that praise should be handed directly to Gostisbehere, no questions asked.
Why Gostisbehere won't win
He's fallen out of the top five rookie scorers and simply put, the Calder isn't the award for the NHL's most essential rookie.
Panarin will lead rookie scorers, Gostisbehere is the most VALUABLE rookie, McDavid is one of NHL's best players. Larkin, Eichel also great.— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) March 17, 2016
Jack Adams Trophy
Who will (probably) win: Barry Trotz
Normally the Jack Adams is given to the head coach of a team that performs better than expected in a given season. It's basically the definition of an underdog award, especially considering Flames head coach Bob Hartley won it last year after Calgary's improbable run. There are a few coaches that fit that criteria this year, but what Trotz has done to this Capitals team has helped rejuvenate the franchise.
They may be in a slump right now, but Washington is the deepest they've been in years and have run away as the league's No. 1 team because of it.
Who you should root for: Mike Sullivan
Mike Sullivan has turned the Pittsburgh Penguins from a lifeless mess of a team to one playing some of it's most organized and structured hockey in years. Pittsburgh went from hovering near the basement of a weak Metropolitan Division to one of the top three teams in the division. Sidney Crosby found his game in Sullivan's system, and it's one that actually seems to fit the pieces in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins no longer look like a top-heavy team with a patchwork defense, but one that covers their weakness with aggression and speed. It's an overwhelming system, and one that surprisingly hasn't gotten more love from prospective voters.
Why Sullivan won't win
Sullivan will finish with 54 games behind the bench by this year's end and can go as high as second place in the Metropolitan Division. He would have needed to have Ken Hitchcock's season from 2011-12 to really make a push for the award. Sorry Pittsburgh.