The past couple weeks saw the NHL announce the finalists for the 2022-23 season awards, with the ceremony unveiling the winners coming June 26. While some years bring a lot of discussion, many of the awards this year seem to already have winners locked in. That is mainly due to Connor McDavid being Connor McDavid in the Hart Trophy’s case, and while the Boston Bruins didn’t have the playoff success they probably hoped for, they seem likely to take home a few awards with Linus Ullmark (Vezina Trophy), Jim Montgomery (Jack Adams Award) and Patrice Bergeron (Selke Trophy) looking like heavy favorites to win their categories.
So, with the actual discussion being not all that entertaining this year, I thought I’d bring a fresh perspective on the NHL awards – and look at who would win the awards solely based on analytics. People complain about how much points seem to sway votes in some of the awards, so why not eliminate that factor entirely outside of the overall impact of those points to the game, and take an unbiased approach to the awards.
Now, I’m not saying these are who should be getting winning the awards, as obviously analytics aren’t everything. The exercise is more just to have fun and see what would happen if you did go by the numbers, and while there are some surprises, I think it’s hard to fully disagree with a lot of the selections.
Hart Memorial Trophy
Winner: Connor McDavid (EDM)
Runners-Up: Matthew Tkachuk (FLA), Nathan MacKinnon (COL)
Surprise surprise, the analytics also indicate that Connor McDavid is the MVP of the 2022-23 season. Leading the league in goals, assists, and points will obviously be the big reason why he gets all the votes to the casual eye, but under the surface he’s still the easy winner. He has half a win on Matthew Tkachuk overall, and of the three top candidates, McDavid is the only one to have a positive defensive goals above replacement as well, so the haters can’t even say he doesn’t know how to defend.
Tkachuk and MacKinnon round out the top three, and I don’t think anyone should be surprised. Tkachuk provided the highest offensive goals above replacement in the league last season with 28.2, and the Panthers needed all of that to squeak into the playoffs. While Mikko Rantanen might be the more popular pick from Colorado for the Hart, MacKinnon managed to get the third highest goals above replacement while only playing 71 games, really showcasing his value.
Nine goalies could have been considered based on a raw GAR considering they ranked higher than McDavid in that category, but I decided to adjust it to per 60 minute rates in their case considering they have a massive time-on-ice advantage. The closest one was Linus Ullmark in that regard, but he wasn’t close to any of McDavid, Tkachuk, or MacKinnon.
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
Winner: Anze Kopitar (LAK)
Runner-Ups: Brayden Point (TBL), Jaccob Slavin (CAR)
For this award, I broke down the players’ goals above replacement to a very specific part of it, that being how their penalty drawing and taking creates and causes goals for their team. I dug a little bit further than that since this is more focused on the “taking penalties” aspect of the award and looked at just that half of the players’ penalty GAR, and these were the results we got.
The award goes to Kopitar, as the combination of only taking two penalties in 82 games for the Kings while playing an elite shutdown game goes to show his commitment to playing a clean game, leading to his discipline providing the Kings with 3.5 goals above replacement. It’s easy to take a silly penalty when you get beaten, but Kopitar is smart enough to not get himself in those positions too often, and the few times that he does, he decides to go with poise over recklessness. It’s why he’s already won one in 2016, and why he was actually a finalist this year as well.
After that is another actual finalist in Brayden Point, who only took one undisciplined penalty and one fighting major for seven penalty minutes on the year in 82 games, which created 3.3 goals above replacement. The final actual finalist in Jack Hughes missed out by only 0.3 goals, as the last spot goes to Jaccob Slavin, another consistent finalist for this award, who only took four penalties all year while being one of the best shutdown defensemen in the league. It’s a much trickier job to be disciplined as a defenseman, and that’s why he’s consistently recognized, winning the award back in 2021.
Winner: Ilya Sorokin (NYI)
Runner-Ups: Juuse Saros (NSH), Linus Ullmark (BOS)
This one may come as a surprise. Ullmark looks like the runaway favourite for the Vezina this year, and he’s certainly deserving of a win after capturing the unofficial triple crown of NHL goaltenders, leading the league in wins, goals against average, and save percentage. You would think that by the numbers, he’d be the winner still because of that, but the problem is that two of those stats are more team stats than goalie stats, and while save percentage still has value, it doesn’t adjust to the goalie’s environment in front of them.
That is why Ilya Sorokin is the winner by the numbers. If you look at metrics that do adjust to the environment in front of them like delta-fenwick save percentage, goals saved above expected, and goals above replacement, Sorokin leads goalies in the former two stats and is second behind Juuse Saros in the latter. That may come as a shock to some, as the New York Islanders are well known for their stifling defense, but that hasn’t been the case this season. They were only 18th in 5v5 xGF% at 50.42%, but it was actually above water due to their offense ranking 13th with 2.79 5v5 expected goals for per 60 minutes, while their defense ranked 19th with 2.74 5v5 expected goals against. These aren’t Barry Trotz’s Islanders, and they got into the playoffs largely due to Sorokin’s play.
That’s not to completely discredit Ullmark’s season, but playing behind a Boston Bruins team that ranked fifth in 5v5 expected goals against per 60 minutes with 2.39 certainly puts him at a disadvantage against two great goalies that dragged their teams to competitiveness in Sorokin and Saros. The fact that Ullmark still ranked third in all three stats still speaks to how well he played behind the Bruins, so he’s well deserving as a finalist here, but he sits third behind two goalies that did it in worse environments.
Calder Memorial Trophy
Winner: Matty Beniers (SEA)
Runner-Ups: Johnathan Kovacevic (MTL), Stuart Skinner (EDM)
I don’t think anyone should be surprised with Beniers leading the way by the numbers. In terms of total impact, he clears the rest of the field with ease, although there isn’t quite as much competition as what we’ve seen in previous seasons. He was the highest scoring forward, and was second behind Matias Maccelli in points per game, but the fact that Beniers had the second best defensive GAR among rookie forwards also really helps his case.
Skinner is a similar case, providing a ton of value of the Edmonton Oilers when they desperately needed it, but Kovacevic may be the biggest off the board selection so far. It’s hard to see him getting too many actual votes, especially with just 15 points in 77 games this season, but the impact he had on the Canadiens blueline can’t be overlooked. He was second among rookie defensemen in defensive GAR, and was third in offensive GAR, while he also led all Canadiens defenders in both categories, and led the whole team in outright GAR. A lot was made about the Canadiens young blueline, and Kovacevic led the way at both ends of the ice. I’m not out here saying he needs to get votes, but by the numbers he had a great season.
James Norris Memorial Trophy
Winner: Vince Dunn (SEA)
Runner-Ups: Quinn Hughes (VAN), Hampus Lindholm (BOS)
And now we finally run into our first award that completely disagrees with the voters. While they all likely received some votes, none of Dunn, Hughes, or Lindholm ended up as a finalist for the award, but according to the numbers, they should have gotten a bit more consideration.
Dunn led all defensemen this season in goals above replacement with 22.2, a big reason being that he was behind only Erik Karlsson in offensive GAR with 19.2 while also being above water in defensive GAR with 1.3 (which Karlsson was 15th worst in the league in with -5.5). Dunn was only tied for 11th in scoring with 64 points, but it served as a catalyst for the Kraken’s deep forward group, and besides, people keep complaining about how this award always goes to the top scorer anyways.
Hughes is a similar one, with a strong offensive season, but more impressively he saw his defensive game improve on a Canucks team that was not good in that regard, and one of the only options on their blueline for tough minutes. If you want a true two-way winner, Lindholm is your guy, being the only defenseman to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive GAR, and doing so on a record-setting Bruins team should have given him a lot more recognition than he got.
Jack Adams Award
Winner: Rod Brind’Amour (CAR)
Runner-Ups: Lindy Ruff (NJD), Jay Woodcroft (EDM)
If there’s any award that should be by the numbers, it’s the Jack Adams Award. This award has notoriously been influenced either by low expectations for the team going into the season (Lindy Ruff and Dave Hakstol fill that quota this season) or by good goaltending (hello Jim Montgomery). Now, Montgomery makes some sense considering the historic season for the Bruins (although Jon Cooper didn’t win anything for the Lightning’ record-tying season in 2019), and obviously Ruff is deserving of it as a finalist, but there are a lot of good coaches that don’t get recognized for this award because they met their expectations.
Look at Brind’Amour, who won the award in 2020-21 when his team didn’t quite lead the league possession-wise, but led the league in save percentage. This season, they had more than four percent on the next closest team, but were 19th in save percentage. There’s a lot to praise about the consistency of Brind’Amour’s Canes teams, which many describe as 18 clones of him as a player, something that was super important this year with the injuries to Max Pacioretty and Andrei Svechnikov. If this award was truly given to the best coaches, he would be one of them.
Ruff does hit the “We thought your team was bad” quota, but the Devils were a dominant team this season, and many expected their one hindrance would be Ruff. That hasn’t been the case this year, and their first round series against the New York Rangers might be the best example, as even though playoffs don’t count for this award, it showcased one coach that made adjustments as the series went along, and another that didn’t. Jay Woodcroft rounds out the finalists, proving to be an innovative mind for the Oilers to allow the team to be playdrivers even when McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t on the ice, something they’ve desperately needed to push the team over the top.
Frank J. Selke Trophy
Winner: Sam Reinhart (FLA)
Runner-Ups: Mark Stone (VGK), Noah Cates (PHI)
The Selke is another trophy for which the analytics version of the finalists have no similarity to the actual NHL finalists, and this one features one player that isn’t a big surprise in Mark Stone, one dark horse candidate in Sam Reinhart, and one “who?” candidate in Noah Cates.
Reinhart as the winner will certainly come as a shock, especially since Aleksander Barkov gets a lot more of the defensive cred on the Florida Panthers, but Reinhart has emerged as an elite two-way player since moving to Florida in 2021. Just because he plays on the third line doesn’t mean he gets easier matchups, and it then allows the Panthers’ top-six forward group to have a bit of a lighter load knowing they can afford to throw any of their three lines against anybody. That’s resulted in him having the top defensive GAR among forwards with 7.9, although it shouldn’t be a surprise that the always defensively reliable Stone is right behind him at 7.5.
I don’t need to explain the Stone pick at this point of his career, but Cates probably needs a little bit more insight. He’s emerged out of nowhere this season as a defensive specialist in his first full season in Philadelphia, and like Reinhart, it wasn’t due to easy minutes. Injuries and a weak lineup led a lot of younger players in Philly to be played out of their element, but it didn’t faze Cates, as he ended up being the perfect replacement for Sean Couturier when he was out all season. By the end of the year, Cates was centering the team’s second line, and for people who keep screaming for a Selke candidate that isn’t also putting up a ton of points and is a true defense-first player, Cates had only 38 points in a full 82 game season.
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