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Rethinking the NHL: Expanded league needs more awards

Here is the second of a few outside-the-box ideas on how the NHL could improve.

  1. August 14 – Rethinking the NHL: Conferences/Divisions/Scheduling/Playoff format
  2. Today – Rethinking the NHL: An expanded league needs more awards

NHL AWARDS

The televised annual NHL Awards show gets a bad rap mostly due to the NHL trotting out B-list celebrities who read scripted, teleprompter punchlines between handing out trophies. Even the most ardent fans take a break from hockey between the end of the Stanley Cup Final and the NHL Draft which means most of us take a pass on watching the Awards show. Especially this year, when a presenter or scriptwriter conjures up dialogue like this:

Yet moving from show business to the hockey end of things, one limitation of the NHL awards system is that every season, in a league that now has 31 clubs, numerous high-achieving players fail to be formally rewarded since by definition, an individual award can only be won by one player. Certainly, one could argue this maintains the prestige and value of a trophy since it signifies that the winner is The. Best. player in that category. However, the NHL is no longer a six-team league when most of the historic awards were instituted. During that Original Six era (1942-1967), there were approximately 108 players per season. Today, we have the same set of major awards but the talent pool has grown to 620 players. Surely the league could honor a few more worthy players each season for their achievements.

KEEP OLD TROPHIES, CREATE NEW ONES

It would be fitting that during this 100th anniversary year of the NHL, if the league made a dual decision to reward more current players along with immortalizing expansion era greats by placing their names on new trophies. Since the NHL’s current trophies bear the names of people who either donated the award or made executive contributions to hockey in the first 50 years of the NHL, let’s start honoring the great names of the league’s second half-century. Each new award – one per conference – would feature the name of someone who is synonymous with the position, skill or category being honored.

EAST & WEST CONFERENCE AWARDS

Let’s keep the existing awards to honor the pinnacle NHL players, but grant an award to the top player in the East and West for each major category. The world didn’t end in MLB when baseball started granting a Cy Young Award to the best pitcher in each league 50 years ago, after only granting a single Cy Young Award to just one major league pitcher in seasons past. The NHL will also survive even if it forges a new set of hardware.

This isn’t something revolutionary. Eight years ago, sources indicated the NHL was considering renaming the existing trophies. Numerous hockey pundits have made virtually identical proposals but I’d like to focus a little more on the details of how introducing new awards would work.

The Hart Trophy is hockey’s most prestigious regular season award, given to the most valuable player, and should continue to stand alone as the highest individual honor. However, one thing that bothers me is that goaltenders and defensemen are eligible to win two awards – the MVP (Hart) and a position-based award (Vezina for netminders; Norris for blueliners) while forwards are essentially limited to only the Hart. True, forwards have statistic-based trophies for point-scoring (Art Ross) and goal-scoring (Rocket Richard), but I’d like to give voters an opportunity to fill out a ballot annually for top forwards. Hence, the Mario Lemieux Trophy for the Eastern Conference and the Wayne Gretzky Trophy for the Western Conference. Choosing their names for these new awards needs no explanation.

For the other awards, half the fun is knowing how pissed off some people will be at these choices. A few random notes:

Top goaltender – Dominik Hasek was the best goaltender of the past 50 years. It’s not even particularly close.

Top defensive forward – Bob Gainey was the engine and last great leader who drove the last great Montreal Canadiens’ dynasty.

Top goal scorer – For some reason, the Boss never got his due possibly because his career occurred at the same time as Gretzky and was cut short due to an irreparable back injury. But Bossy stands alone at the top of the career goals per game list.

VOTING FORMAT

Of the six current awards listed in the table above that are based on balloting, both the Vezina and Adams require voters to list three names, ranked from 1st to 3rd on their ballots. Voting points are assigned on a 5-3-1 basis. For each of the Hart, Calder, Norris and Selke, voters must list five players, ranked 1st to 5th on their ballots. Voting points are assigned on a 10-7-5-3-1 basis, as seen in the Hart voting from this past season.

Hart Memorial Trophy Voting 2016-17
 Vote
Place Player Tm Points 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
1 Connor McDavid EDM 1604 147 17 3 0 0
2 Sidney Crosby PIT 1104 14 119 19 11 3
3 Sergei Bobrovsky CBJ 469 4 17 40 29 23
4 Brent Burns SJS 273 1 3 25 29 30
5 Erik Karlsson OTT 258 0 5 28 23 14
6 Patrick Kane CHI 206 0 3 20 20 25
7 Brad Marchand BOS 184 1 1 14 22 31
8 Nikita Kucherov TBL 119 0 0 11 15 19
9 Nicklas Backstrom WSH 60 0 0 3 11 12
10 Braden Holtby WSH 19 0 0 2 3 0
11 Auston Matthews TOR 17 0 0 2 1 4
12 Alex Ovechkin WSH 7 0 1 0 0 0
12 Ryan Suter MIN 7 0 1 0 0 0
14 Victor Hedman TBL 5 0 0 0 1 2
15 Devan Dubnyk MIN 4 0 0 0 1 1
15 Vladimir Tarasenko STL 4 0 0 0 1 1
17 Cam Atkinson CBJ 1 0 0 0 0 1
17 Cam Talbot EDM 1 0 0 0 0 1
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/25/2017.

To integrate our new awards into the existing voting format, an eligible Professional Hockey Writers’ Association member would vote in an almost unchanged manner. However, instead of listing three names for some awards and five for others, all awards would be streamlined into a ranking of five names, with the 10-7-5-3-1 point system plus a new requirement: at least one player or coach from the opposite conference must be listed. For example, a Pittsburgh-based PHWA writer more familiar with Eastern players, contemplating his Top Defenseman ballot, could vote for four Eastern defensemen and one Western defensemen or 3 and 2 or 1 and 4, but not 5 and 0. After all ballots are tabulated, the Eastern defenseman earning the most vote points wins the Bobby Orr Trophy while the corresponding top vote points-earner among Western defensemen garners the Paul Coffey Trophy. The Norris Trophy winner, of course, would be the defenseman with the most vote points, irrespective of conference, just like the present system. Using last season’s voting, Erik Karlsson is your Bobby Orr Trophy winner.

James Norris Memorial Trophy Voting 2016-17
Place Player Tm Vote Pts 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
1 Brent Burns SJS 1437 96 61 10 0 0
2 Erik Karlsson OTT 1292 63 86 9 4 3
3 Victor Hedman TBL 728 3 13 106 21 14
4 Duncan Keith CHI 384 2 4 19 70 31
5 Ryan Suter MIN 175 2 1 9 25 28
6 Shea Weber MTL 100 1 0 6 11 27
7 Drew Doughty LAK 51 0 0 1 10 16
8 Mark Giordano CGY 41 0 0 1 11 3
9 Dougie Hamilton CGY 23 0 0 0 6 5
10 Justin Schultz PIT 22 0 0 2 2 6
11 Roman Josi NSH 19 0 1 0 2 6
12 Dustin Byfuglien WPG 15 0 0 2 1 2
13 Jared Spurgeon MIN 14 0 0 2 1 1
14 Kevin Shattenkirk WSH 9 0 0 0 1 6
15 Torey Krug BOS 7 0 1 0 0 0
16 Alex Pietrangelo STL 7 0 0 0 1 4
17 Ryan McDonagh NYR 5 0 0 0 1 2
18 Zach Werenski CBJ 4 0 0 0 0 4
18 Seth Jones CBJ 4 0 0 0 0 4
20 Jaccob Slavin CAR 2 0 0 0 0 2
21 Cam Fowler ANA 1 0 0 0 0 1
21 Dmitry Orlov WSH 1 0 0 0 0 1
21 Marc-Edouard Vlasic SJS 1 0 0 0 0 1
Provided by Hockey-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/25/2017.

Fifty years from now, most hockey fans will still know about the achievements of Gretzky and Lemieux much like fans today understand the reverence people had more than fifty years ago for Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe. However, introducing new trophies with more great names ensures that at least once a year at the time of the Awards show, fans young and old can pause and either remember or learn about other great names found on NHL hardware and about their exceptional achievements on the ice and behind the bench.

3 thoughts on “Rethinking the NHL: Expanded league needs more awards

  1. Worst. Idea. Ever.
    By your logic, one player from the East or West would win two awards for the same category. McDavid would win the Hart and the Gretzky, Burns would win the Norris and the Coffey, Bobrovsky would win the Vezina and the Hasek, Matthews would win the Calder and the Fedorov, and Tortorella would win the Adams and Burns.

    Did you even think this idea all the way through? What’s next, participation ribbons to all teams that make the playoffs?

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    1. I have no problem with players earning two awards if they are the best in their conference at a certain skill or position and also elected as the best overall in the NHL – analogous to the championship team earning two major trophies at the end of a season (Stanley Cup and either the Wales Trophy or the Campbell Bowl for winning their conference).

      Thanks for reading.

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