Sometimes it seems NHL awards are only handed out to generate online outrage or to reward long careers. The purely objective counting stats awards like the Art Ross or the Jennings are nice, because there is an easy way to determine who wins them. It’s the subjective awards that tend to get most folks riled up on social media or produce the “Why Player X was snubbed” columns. After all “most valuable” means different things to different folks, right?
Well if the real awards skew towards futile and objectionable, imagine how insubstantial trophies awarded after the first round of a playoff series between just two teams are. That’s not going to dissuade us from handing them out anyways.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Columbus Blue Jackets opened the first round with a five-overtime game and battled closely for the next four. While the stats themselves indicate that Tampa Bay was by far the better team, each game was close and could have swung either way had some bounces gone in opposite directions. Both teams won games they probably had no business winning (Columbus in Game Two and Tampa Bay in Game Five) which is another indication of how close things were.
Still, in the end the Lightning won in five games. Along with their well deserved few days of rest, we’re handing out some virtual hardware to reward their hard work.
First Round Vezina Trophy -
It’s Joonas Korpisalo. Right? There is no argument in this category despite the outcome of the series. Andrei Vasilevskiy was good, and at times very good, but without Korpisalo’s play this match-up is a sweep, and a pretty one-sided one at that.
His Game Five performance will dull the shine of how well he played in the first four games, but Korpisalo was downright elite in the first four. While the players in front of him did an excellent job of preventing shots to actually reach him, when they did Korpisalo made the save more times than he should have. He was rocking along to a .960 SV% for the first four and that seemed low while watching the games in real time.
He made 85 saves in one game. EIGHTY-FIVE! That’s absurd.
First Round Selke Trophy -
This is a tight race between three Lightning forwards, and they were all on the same line. The most surprising outcome of the series was the domination of the Yanni Gourde/Blake Coleman/Barclay Goodrow line. Whenever they were on the ice, the puck was in the Columbus zone. It took awhile for them to capitalize on all of the chances they generated, but in the meantime they did their job in keeping the danger 200 feet away from Andrei Vasilevskiy.
That’s pretty good for a combination that didn’t exist five months ago.
Since there can only be one winner, we’re going with Blake Coleman. Of the forwards that played in all five games he tied for the fewest high-danger chances allowed (with Goodrow) at 6 and total scoring chances against (22). He was on the ice for only 54 shot attempts against.
He gets the nod over Goodrow simply because he spent a little more time on the ice and generated a little more offense (yup, in true NHL fashion we’re using offense to determine a defensive award). They really could be co-champions in this category, to be honest. Not only were they really good at even strength, they were solid on the penalty kill - something that the Lightning struggled with as a team overall. The duo did not allow a goal shorthanded and were on the ice for whatever little offense the team generated while down a skater.
First Round Norris Memorial Trophy -
In a runaway vote, Victor Hedman adds this virtual trophy to all of his real ones. He led the Lightning in ice time with 155:36 and in shots with 22 and attempted a team high. His shots created a team-high 5 rebounds, which was part and parcel to the Lightning’s game plan of getting pucks on net and creating chances down low.
At even strength he posted a CF% of 65.25, second highest among Tampa Bay defensemen (trailing only Zach Bogosian’s 65.38%, a result of those few shifts per game Coach Cooper slid Mikhail Sergachev next to Hedman). It wasn’t just wildly flinging the puck at the net either. He led the team with an xGF of 5.36 and high-danger chances (28) so Hedman was generating quality chances. All of that while only being on the ice for two goals against in all situations.
Hedman was also a presence during the games. He made a key play in the fifth overtime against Cam Atkinson that prevented a breakaway chance. His long reach was constantly swatting pucks off of sticks or breaking up passes in the defensive zone. More so than in any series we’ve seen, he was activating from the blue line. His game-winning goal in Game Three was the result of him cutting down the ice and finding the soft spot in the slot between a couple of backcheckers for Carter Verhaeghe’s pass.
It would have been nice to have access to player tracking data just to see how much ice he covered in the series, because it seemed like he was everywhere during his shifts. All this while presumably managing whatever injury he suffered in the round robin game against Philadelphia.
The only other contender for this award would be Columbus blueliner Seth Jones. He got a lot of press from the national coverage due to the time he spent on the ice during the series. It wasn’t misguided praise either, as his 179:24 of ice time in a five game series is impressive. Unfortunately, not enough good things happened during his time on the ice for him to snatch this away from Hedman.
While he was on the ice at even strength his team didn’t have the puck a lot as he posted a 40.59 CF%, he was on the ice for more goals against than goals for (3 -2), was upside down on scoring chances (49 for, 70 against), and high-danger chances (14 for, 26 against). While offense shouldn’t be a factor in deciding defensive players, posting only two assists, both on the power play, with all of that ice time wasn’t enough for the Blue Jackets.
First Round Hart Memorial Trophy -
If Columbus had pushed this to six or seven games Joonas Korpisalo probably gets a little play in the category. They didn’t so in the end this is a pretty easy choice. Yes, the Yanni Gourde line was super important in the Lightning dictating play for much of the series. And yes, Victor Hedman was a beast with a bum ankle (probably), but we’re leaning on the old adage that big time players make big time plays.
No one made bigger plays in this series than Brayden Point. He led the team with four goals, had a team-high seven points (tied with linemate Nikita Kucherov), and positive possession numbers all across the board. Oh yeah, he scored two overtime goals. Not a bad week for the young center.
It seems The Pause came at a perfect time for Point. He was having a perfectly fine season up until March with 64 points (25 goals, 39 assists) in 66 games, but the Point we’ve seen since hockey has returned has been an even better version of the one we saw last year. The rest he got during the break has helped him recover from a long offseason that included hip surgery and rehab.
During this series he was simply the fastest player on the ice during his shifts. He also seems to be skating and handling the puck with more confidence. Kucherov and Ondrej Palat are his ideal linemates and their chemistry is immaculate. There were even strength shifts during this series where one would think they were on the power play as they kept Columbus pinned back with their passing and puck retrieval.
It was a good sign for the Lightning that their best players produced in Round One. No one produced more than Brayden Point.