We are creeping up to the present day on NHL Saturday, with a look this week at the 2019 season—the last one before Covid changed the North American professional sports landscape. We also had a very surprising Stanley Cup champion—a first-time winner for the second straight season, and that’s always good for the sport. No one wants to see the same teams winning it all the time, after all …
Let’s get to it!
2019 Hart: Nikita Kucherov (original, confirmed)
The top 3 forwards in the league were clear cut: Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (14.61 PS), Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (12.98), and Oilers C Leon Draisaitl (12.63). The vote went to Kucherov, as somehow Edmonton still missed the postseason with these two stars scoring a ton (221 points combined). Go figure. That makes this an open-and-shut case, which is rare, of course.
Kucherov’s numbers: 41G, 87A, plus-24, 62 PIMs, and 19:58 ATOI. He topped the NHL in assists and points, as Tampa Bay tied the NHL record for wins in a season (62). Ironically, just like the 1996 Red Wings, who also won 62 games, the Lightning were bounced from the playoffs before the Stanley Cup Finals.
2019 Norris: Mark Giordano (original), Morgan Rielly (revised)
The four best blueliners were Calgary Flames veteran Mark Giordano (12.6 PS), San Jose Sharks star Brent Burns (12.0), Toronto Maple Leafs phenom Morgan Rielly (11.7), and Washington Capitals stalwart John Carlson (10.5). At age 35, Giordano won the vote, after never cracking the Top 5 before in his career. Burns, of course, won our nods here in 2016 and 2017.
All four teams made the postseason with the following cushions: Calgary (21 points), San Jose (15), Toronto (4), and Washington (8). This makes Rielly our winner, as without him, the Leafs would not have made the playoffs. Hold the jokes on Toronto’s first-round postseason woes for now, as Rielly earned this award this time out, for sure.
His numbers: 20G, 52A, plus-24, and 23:07 ATOI. Throw in 114 blocks, 61 hits, and 60 takeaways, and it’s clear how Rielly compiled a nice combination of 7.0 OPS and 4.7 DPS at age 24.
2019 Vezina: Andrei Vasilevskiy (original), Frederik Andersen (revised)
Five goaltenders finished in the Top 10 overall for Point Shares: Montréal Canadiens veteran Carey Price (12.47 PS), Maple Leafs starter Frederik Andersen (12.46), Tampa Bay phenom Andrei Vasilevskiy (12.35), Winnipeg Jets star Connor Hellebuyck (12.06), and Arizona Coyotes journeyman Darcy Kuemper (12.01). The vote went to Vasilevskiy for winning a league-best 39 games.
The postseason breakdown, however: The Habs missed the playoffs by 2 points, and Arizona came up short by 4 points. The remaining margins for error? Toronto (4), Tampa Bay (32), and Winnipeg (13). It’s hard to give this hardware to anyone except Andersen, as he was a different maker for the Maple Leafs, much like Rielly was in the Norris analysis above.
Statistics for Andersen: 36-16-7 for a 46-28-8 team, showing that his backups were mediocre at best. The other marks (2.77 GAA, .917 S%) don’t jump out at us, but it’s the relative contextual value that matters, and in that sense, Andersen was pulling a lot of weight for an average team. Yes, he had help in Rielly, but overall, Toronto wasn’t that good of a team. This is Andersen’s second nod from us (2017).
2019 Calder: Elias Pettersson (original), Miro Heiskanen (revised)
There were 5 rookie standouts this year: Vancouver Canucks C Elias Pettersson (7.8 PS), Buffalo Sabres D Rasmus Dahlin (6.6), Dallas Stars D Miro Heiskanen (6.5), Philadelphia Flyers G Carter Hart (6.2), and St. Louis Blues G Jordan Binnington (6.0). But only Dallas and St. Louis made the postseason, so vote-winner Pettersson won’t get to keep his trophy.
The Blues finished 6 points ahead of the Stars, too, in the Central Division standings, so our award goes to Heiskanen: 12G, 21A, 71 blocks, and 23:07 ATOI. That’s a lot of ice time to trust to an age-19 defenseman, for sure, and it paid off for Dallas with a postseason appearance.
2019 Conn Smythe: Ryan O’Reilly (original), Tuukka Rask (revised)
In a 7-game thriller, the St. Louis Blues beat the Boston Bruins to claim their first Stanley Cup, with C Ryan O’Reilly (23 points in 26 games) winning the Conn Smythe vote. He was his team’s top scorer, which isn’t saying much, obviously. We’re more impressed with the rookie Binnington in net (16-10, 2.46 GAA, .914 S%). While those numbers are not electric, they’re still solid enough on a low-scoring team.
Consider that O’Reilly did not lead the Blues in any statistical category except points, and his mark isn’t that impressive overall. What about Boston? In a defensive-oriented postseason, the Bruins also did not have a skater with at least one point a game, but Boston G Tuukka Rask posted a 15-9 record with a 2.02 GAA and a .934 S%.
Yes, Rask came up short in a Game 7 at home, but he was the best player in the postseason through our eyes. He deserved this Conn Smythe more than anyone else, so that’s where we’re going. We took his Vezina vote win away in 2014, but this is some poetic justice for him, in the end.