Analyzing Bruins' chances to win Hart, Vezina, Selke, Jack Adams

Scott McLaughlin
June 10, 2020 - 11:28 am

We’re still many weeks away from NHL playoffs season, but it is officially NHL awards debate season thanks to the fact that ballots were sent out to voters this week.

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As you might expect given they had the best record in the NHL this season, the Bruins will be involved in plenty of those debates, with David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand (Hart), Tuukka Rask (Vezina), Patrice Bergeron (Selke) and Bruce Cassidy (Jack Adams) all deserving to be among the frontrunners to win some hardware.

But, will any of them actually win? We decided to take a look at the case for and against each of them, and then pick who we think should win.

Hart Trophy (MVP)
The case for Pastrnak: He tied with Alex Ovechkin for the lead league in goals with 48 (winning a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy in the process), tied for third in points with 95, tied for the league lead in game-winning goals with 10, and was a big part of the Bruins’ second-ranked power play, leading the league with 20 power-play goals. Getting into the formulas that try to measure a player’s value, Pastrnak led the league in Hockey-Reference’s point shares with 13.2, but comes in a little lower in Evolving-Hockey’s (Patreon subscription required) standing points above replacement (10th at 6.1). (Author’s note: Evolving-Hockey also calculates goals above replacement and wins above replacement, but I think SPAR is the easiest to conceptualize in terms of impact, so we’ll stick to that for this article.) Simply put, Pastrnak was one of the most productive offensive players in the league all season long, and a big reason the Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy.

The case for Marchand: He actually rates better than Pastrnak in SPAR (fifth at 7.0), thanks to his better defensive play (including his excellent penalty-killing) to go along with offensive numbers that aren’t too far off, even if they’re more assists-heavy (87 points on 28 goals and 59 assists). Marchand also gets a boost from the fact that he was second in the NHL in penalties drawn, which is pretty valuable when you have the second-best power play in the league. Ultimately it’s hard to see Marchand being above Pastrnak on too many ballots, but it’s worth highlighting that his case isn’t without merit.

The case for the field: For starters, this is a loaded field with lots of good cases to be made and no clear favorite. The Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl led the league with 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists), 13 more than anyone else, and excelled even on a different line than Connor McDavid and even when McDavid missed seven games due to injury, although his defensive shortcomings may hurt his chances. McDavid himself deserves consideration, as he finished second to Draisaitl with 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists) despite missing seven games, but he will probably be hurt by the fact that Draisaitl is viewed as the Oilers’ top candidate.

Nathan MacKinnon was by far the biggest reason the Avalanche remained among the NHL’s top teams all season long despite a preposterous number of injuries up and down their roster. His 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) ranked fifth in the league and were 43 more than any other player on his team. Artemi Panarin also did a lot of heavy lifting to keep the Rangers in playoff contention, and ultimately get them in thanks to the expanded 24-team field. His 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists) tie him with Pastrnak for third in the NHL, and as Ryan Lambert points out, the Rangers were plus-75 in all situations with Panarin on the ice and minus-39 with him off. Panarin’s 8.5 SPAR is tops among all skaters.

Speaking of heavy lifting, Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck absolutely deserves to be among the Hart favorites. We’ll get deeper into what makes the UMass Lowell product’s season so impressive below, but suffice it to say that if it weren’t for Hellebuyck the Jets might not even be a playoff team under this expanded 24-team format, never mind battling for a spot in the usual 16-team field at the time the season was paused. Hellebuyck’s 9.1 SPAR beats even Panarin and lands him atop the league.

A player who probably won’t get as much consideration as he deserves is Canucks forward Elias Pettersson, whose terrific two-way play lands him second among skaters in SPAR (8.1) and helped lead the resurgent Canucks back to the playoffs for the first time in five years. But 66 points (27 goals, 39 assists) probably just isn’t going to cut it when the rest of the forward candidates are in the 90s or higher.

Our pick: Connor Hellebuyck. This was really tough. There are legitimate cases for everyone mentioned above, but in a year when so many forwards are so tightly packed together without a whole lot of separation between them, we’ll go with someone who has clearly separated himself, and that’s Hellebuyck. By all rights the Jets should’ve been near the bottom of the standings. They rank 27th in shots-for percentage (47.4%), 25th in Corsi-for percentage (48.0%) and dead last in expected goals-for percentage (43.1%), meaning that all things being equal they should’ve been outscored more than any other team. Instead, the Jets had a plus-13 goal differential and were mere percentage points out of the 16-team playoffs when the season was paused. Hellebuyck was far and away the biggest reason why. He was second among all goalies in minutes played, first in shots faced, first in saves, first in shutouts (6) and seventh in save percentage (.922). If that last number doesn’t really jump out at you, well, context matters. Hellebuyck played behind a poor defensive team that gave up a lot more shots and a lot more quality shots than the goalies ahead of him. His value is reflected not just in his league-leading SPAR, but also in Evolving-Hockey’s goals saved above expected, where his 19.86 dwarfs second-place Darcy Kuemper’s 8.71. Hellebuyck also stepped it up down the stretch as the Jets made their playoff push, posting a .934 save percentage in 16 games after the All-Star break.

Vezina Trophy (best goalie)
The case for Rask: He ranked second in the NHL in save percentage (.929), second in even-strength save percentage (.939), first in goals-against average (2.12), second in shutouts (5), second among goalies in SPAR (6.7), and sixth in goals saved above expected (7.31). If the traditional rate stats (save percentage and GAA) are what you value, then Rask is your guy. Among goalies who made at least 40 starts, Hellebuyck (.922) and the Stars’ Ben Bishop (.920) were the only other two with a save percentage of .920 or better, and Rask was well clear of them at .929.

The case for the field: The field in this case is really just one guy: Hellebuyck. The Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, the reigning Vezina winner, will get some votes and may very well be the third finalist after leading the league in wins with 35 while playing a true workhorse No. 1 role in a league that is increasingly shifting toward 1/1A platoons (a la Rask and Jaroslav Halak with the Bruins), but if that’s what you’re looking for then Hellebuyck is right there and beats Vasilevskiy in basically every other metric besides wins, which is more of a team stat (and in which Hellebuyck still ranks second). We’ve already laid out Hellebuyck’s case in the Hart section, so no need to repeat it here.

Our pick: Connor Hellebuyck. Rask’s season may have been enough to win him a second Vezina in most seasons, but what Hellebuyck did behind a much worse defense and in much more of a workhorse role (58 games to Rask’s 41) should make him an easy choice here. But the Vezina is voted on by the league’s 31 general managers and I’m not super confident they’re going to get this right, so don’t be shocked if Rask or Vasilevskiy pull off the upset.

Selke Trophy (best defensive forward)
The case for Bergeron: You really could rename this the Bergeron Award. He’s won it four times and he’s been one of the three finalists each of the last eight seasons. This should be a ninth straight, as Bergeron once again rates highly in pretty much every metric we have to measure a forward’s defense. Among forwards who played at least 600 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, Bergeron ranks eighth in Corsi-for percentage, 13th in Corsi against per 60, ninth in shots against per 60, and 15th in expected goals against per 60. Among centers who took at least 900 draws, he ranks fourth in faceoff percentage at 57.9%. If you consider the other favorites to be Blues center Ryan O’Reilly (the reigning Selke winner), Flyers center Sean Couturier, Lightning center Anthony Cirelli and Golden Knights winger Mark Stone, as most people seem to, well Bergeron beats all four of them in most of the metrics above (Stone narrowly edges him in Corsi-for percentage, O’Reilly and Couturier top him in Corsi against per 60, and Couturier also takes faceoff percentage). Add in his superb penalty-killing and it’s yet another very strong Selke resume for Bergeron.

The case for the field: There’s an interesting discussion around the Selke about big-name, top-line players like Bergeron, O’Reilly, Couturier and Stone vs. middle-six or bottom-six forwards who rate very highly in advanced defensive metrics like the Avalanche’s Valeri Nichushkin, the Penguins’ Zach Aston-Reese and the Devils’ Blake Coleman, who all rank in the top five in Evolving-Hockey’s total defense rating, which combines even-strength defense goals above average and shorthanded defense goals above average. Cirelli kind of falls somewhere between those two, but seems to be building enough momentum and name recognition to be at the big boys table. You have to scroll down a bit to get to the heavyweights in that total defense metric, as Bergeron ranks 27th, Cirelli 32nd, Stone 44th, O’Reilly 50th and Couturier way down at 201st.

So, the case for the field is two-fold. One is the case for the other big names. O’Reilly won it last year and had another terrific defensive season, so a repeat win could be completely justified. Couturier and Stone have been elite defensive forwards for years but neither has ever won the Selke, so there could be a push to get one of them their first. Cirelli could be a trendy pick for those who want to be first on the bandwagon for the next great defensive center. Then there’s the case that it’s time to shift this award away from big names, embrace the analytics, and give it to someone like Nichushkin, Aston-Reese or Coleman who is easy to overlook because they don’t play as many minutes or score as many points.

Our pick: Patrice Bergeron. Make it a record-setting fifth win. I think the advanced metrics are valuable and informative (as you can probably tell from how many I’ve used in this article), but I’m not quite ready to embrace the defensive ones as the end-all, be-all when it comes to determining the Selke winner. I’d be fine with one of the analytics darlings winning, and my pick of that bunch would be the Northeastern product Aston-Reese, but Bergeron is still the complete package who rates highly in both traditional and advanced stats while playing top minutes against top competition. And as this excellent Sportsnet article lays out, there is still no one better at turning a defensive shift into an offensive one.

Jack Adams Trophy (best coach)
The case for Cassidy: Yes, the Bruins went to the Stanley Cup Final last season and returned pretty much the same team, but there’s still something to be said for Cassidy’s ability to A) have this team ready to go right from the jump after a devastating end to last season, and B) keep them charging full-steam ahead all season long while also not overworking his veteran core en route to winning the Presidents’ Trophy. It may be tempting to view the Bruins as a team a coach can just kind of plug in and watch it go given the veteran leadership, the talent and the lack of dramatic change, but hockey is never that simple, and Cassidy still deserves credit for knowing exactly which buttons to push and when to push them.

The case for the field: As is the case in pretty much any sport, the coach of the year award generally turns into a “who most exceeded expectations” award. That’s not even necessarily a knock -- exceeding expectations is often a sign of great coaching -- but just pointing out reality. In that vein, the Flyers’ Alain Vigneault is a deserving frontrunner this year. He took over a team that had a minus-37 goal differential and missed the playoffs by 16 points last year and had them competing for a division title and playing like one of the best teams in the NHL down the stretch before the season was suspended.

The Blue Jackets’ John Tortorella also deserves a lot of credit for keeping that team in the playoff hunt (and ultimately in the playoffs thanks to the expanded field) after an offseason that saw them lose both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky and had everyone counting them out. Same goes for the Oilers’ Dave Tippett, who found a way to get enough from players not named Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and get Edmonton back to the playoffs for the first time in three years.

Then there are the coaches who kept their teams playing well despite having to deal with an inordinate number of injuries: the Penguins’ Mike Sullivan and the Avalanche’s Jared Bednar. Sullivan had to deal with Sidney Crosby missing 28 games, Evgeni Malkin 14, Kris Letang eight, Brian Dumoulin 41, Bryan Rust 14, Jake Guentzel 30 and on it goes, and he still had the Pens just missing out on a top-four spot in the East. Bednar had Nathan MacKinnon to lean on all season, but had to go without Gabriel Landeskog for 16 games, Mikko Rantanen for 28, Andre Burakovsky for 12, Nazem Kadri for 19, Cale Makar for 13 and Erik Johnson for 11, and still had the Avs just a few percentage points behind the Blues for the top seed in the West.

Our pick: Alain Vigneault. He seems to always work some magic when he takes over a team, and his first season in Philly was no different. This would be Vigneault’s second Jack Adams win, as he also won it in 2007 after his first season with the Canucks.

A note on the Norris: This isn’t worth a full write-up because he doesn’t really have a serious chance to win, but I just wanted to point out that there is a case to be made that Charlie McAvoy isn’t as far out of the Norris Trophy (best defenseman) conversation as you might think. He ranks sixth among defensemen in SPAR (5.7), just behind Norris favorites Roman Josi (Predators), Victor Hedman (Lightning) and Alex Pietrangelo (Blues), and 11th in expected goals-for percentage (56.2%) thanks to a strong total defense rating (fourth in the NHL). McAvoy’s 32 points, while nothing to sneeze at, aren’t quite going to cut it in the Norris debate, but if he can get that up into the 45-50ish range or better in coming years while still playing this well defensively and in transition, look out. As far as who should actually win the Norris, I’m going Josi. The Capitals’ John Carlson has the points lead among defensemen with a very impressive 75 and may very well win this thing, but Josi is a better all-around player and isn’t too far behind offensively with 65 points.

Related: Kevan Miller named Bruins' Masterton Trophy nominee