Detroit — The NHL would normally have a big, star-studded Las Vegas gala while announcing its awards winners.
But because of the coronavirus pandemic, these aren’t normal times.
The NHL is revealing individual winners for various awards during pregames of the two conference finals, ending with a 30-minute program during the Stanley Cup Final with the five biggest awards (Calder, Hart, Norris, Ted Lindsay, Vezina) at a date to be determined.
Ballots for this year’s awards were returned in mid-June, before the league’s restart and after a regular season that still had roughly 10-12 games to be played by every team.
So, it wasn’t a completed regular season, but it was enough to have developed a good grasp.
Here is a rundown of the individual categories, including the way The Detroit News voted in each category (placing first through fifth).
Hart Trophy (most valuable player)
Finalists: Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton), Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado), Artemi Panarin (New York Rangers)
Kulfan’s take: You can make strong arguments for all three finalists, but it’s difficult to sway against Draisaitl, who even with Connor McDavid as a teammate was the dominant Oilers offensive star.
Draisaitl’s 110 points — he was the lone player to eclipse 100 — was 13 more than the next player, McDavid (97).
Draisaitl led the NHL with 67 assists, and when McDavid was out for seven games with injuries late in the season, Draisaitl took the Oilers upon his shoulders and helped cement a playoff berth.
But give deserved recognition to MacKinnon — maybe the most complete player in the NHL currently — and Panarin, who signed with the Rangers as an unrestricted free agent and accelerated the organization’s rebuild.
Kulfan’s ballot: (1) Draisaitl, (2) MacKinnon, (3) Panarin, (4) McDavid, (5) David Pastrnak, Boston
More: Ted Kulfan’s NHL conference finals preview: Can Lightning finally finish the deal?
Norris Trophy (best defenseman)
Finalists: John Carlson (Washington), Victor Hedman (Tampa), Roman Josi (Nashville)
Kulfan’s take: Had the voting involved the playoffs — which, obviously, it doesn’t and shouldn’t — Hedman (2018 Norris winner) would be a runaway winner. He’s been a dominant presence on the ice and appears to be an important part of the Lightning’s leadership core.
Unlike the Hart chase and Draisaitl, there really isn’t a clear-cut favorite in this category.
Carlson led all defensemen in assists (60) and points (75), both career highs, and tied a personal best with 15 goals. Carlson averaged 1.09 points per game, becoming the first defenseman since Ray Bourque, Sergei Zubov and Al MacInnis all did it in 1993-94.
Josi had 65 points, played almost 26 minutes per game (25:47), and was a central cog in Nashville’s lineup.
But Carlson gets the edge here, in our humble opinion.
Kulfan’s ballot: (1) Carlson, (2) Josi, (3) Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis, (4) Hedman, (5) Jaccob Slavin, Carolina
Calder Trophy (rookie of year)
Finalists: Quinn Hughes (Vancouver), Dominik Kubalik (Chicago), Cale Makar (Colorado)
Kulfan’s take: Honestly, there isn’t much that separates Hughes and Makar, two of the brightest stars in this game right now — and for a long, long time.
Makar is an incredible talent and his statistics — 12 goals, 50 points, plus-12 rating, 19 power play points — speak for themselves. Makar is right there among the wondrous talent that has emerged the last several seasons.
Hughes, the former Michigan standout, led NHL rookies in points (53), assists (45), and power play points (25) all while averaging 21:53 of ice time (only Edmonton’s Ethan Bear averaged more at 21:58).
You could go either way — Hughes was spectacular during the playoffs — but on voting day The News went with Makar by a whisker.
For what it’s worth, Hughes could be the No. 1 pick on any given day, with Makar going next.
These two young players are fun to watch and judging from analysts’ feedback, Hughes has the edge over Makar in this category.
Kulfan’s ballot: (1) Makar, (2) Hughes, (3) Adam Fox, N.Y. Rangers, (4) Kubalik, (5) Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey
Selke Trophy (best defensive forward)
Finalists: Patrice Bergeron (Boston), Sean Couturier (Philadelphia), Ryan O’Reilly (St. Louis)
Kulfan’s take: At first inclination, all three are richly deserving of this award as three of the best all-around players in the NHL.
Bergeron has won this award four times and his defensive statistics were comparable with anyone’s this season — along with his other ample contributions to the Bruins.
O’Reilly won the Selke last year and was equally impressive this season with the most face-off wins (880) and face-offs taken (1,556), while scoring 61 points and averaging 20:34 of ice time (2.09 shorthanded).
But Couturier has gotten better every year and deserves recognition this season.
Couturier led the NHL in face-off win percentage (59.6%) and was third in defensive-zone face-off win percentage (59.5%). He led all Flyers forwards in ice time (19:50) and was plus-21.
Kulfan’s ballot: (1) Couturier, (2) Bergeron, (3) O’Reilly, (4) Mark Stone, Vegas, (5) Anthony Cirelli, Tampa
Vezina Trophy (best goaltender)
Finalists: Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg), Tuukka Rask (Boston), Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa)
Kulfan’s take: Hellebuyck (Walled Lake Northern/Commerce Township) was a key reason why Winnipeg was able to survive some big lineup losses and still remain formidable.
Hellebuyck was second in wins (31) and seventh in save percentage (.922), while possessing a 2.57 goals-against average and playing in 58 of 71 games.
That kind of reliability and elite level performance is crucial for a team that had key injuries like Winnipeg.
Kulfan’s ballot (NHL writers don’t vote for this award): (1) Hellebuyck, (2) Rask, (3) Ben Bishop, Dallas, (4) Vasilevskiy, (5) Carey Price, Montreal