It’s that time of year, the final push to the finish line, both for NHL teams competing in the regular season and for those of us who have survived another winter and who are ready for Spring and Summer Hot Avs.
It’s also the last chance for players making their case for the annual NHL awards to prove to the voting members of the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association, those familiar broadcasters you see nightly on your telescreens and the general managers who decide the goaltender of the year, that they deserve all the fame and accolades and the place in the annals of league history that comes with winning the Hart or Calder or Lady Byng or Vezina or Selke trophies or the Jack Adams Prize.
Some awards races, like the Patrice Bergeron/Frank Selke award for best defensive forward, seem pretty boxed in by the regular faces (ahem, Bergeron). Others are on the edge, like most valuable player or rookie of the year. And some are subject to the recent and home bias of the region in which the voter exists.
So while it’s easy to say Cale Makar for Norris is both the right choice for the Norris Trophy and a home run decision, the fact is the 23-year-old wonderkid has been a league-wide sensation this season. . Plays like his Kirby Dach undress before moving on Marc-Andre Fleury and throwing a backhand into the string has become as much a part of the current hockey zeitgeist as any mind-blowing move Trevor Zegras comes up with every evenings.
And while Makar’s moves undoubtedly earned opposing players about two minutes of hate and angered fans, what Makar did on both sides of the puck caught the attention of his NHL colleagues and their fans. coaches.
“It’s obviously a guy who’s out there helping lift his team to that next level, and usually it’s always the guy who scores points. But that’s what you would do if you lifted your team” , said Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina Hurricanes bench manager, two-time Franke Selke Trophy winner, Stanley Cup champion and Jack Adams Award winner, of his criteria for a Norris-worthy candidate. Obviously they’ve got one here that’s top of the list in my opinion because he does so much for this group offensively but also you notice that every time he’s on the ice. vote.
Despite the fact that 2020 Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi recently made an incredible effort and 2018 winner Victor Hedman is apparently still worthy of consideration, this award has belonged to Makar for some time now, an argument that I have already advanced.
Everyone saw what the Calgary native did on offense, but what goes unmentioned is how good he was on the other side of the puck. In fact, his defensive game has been so solid that it’s often – unfairly – attributed to playing under another underdog fullback, Devon Toews.
“I don’t think it should hurt him. Every team is built differently,” Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said of the situation. “He has a great partner in Toews. I believe these two guys should be candidates, but there are guys in the league, right? The list will shrink. »
Now, obviously, knowing that Makar has a strong horse in the race, his own trainer is going to solicit his player, but the reasons Bednar is so attached to Makar is what makes him a worthy candidate.
“He is, for me, the guy, and that’s partly because he’s added to his game now with us. The dynamic attacking player that you see every night, who was there from the start. Obviously, that is improving. You look at his numbers, right? He’s as dangerous as any forward in the league,” Bednar said of his Norris criteria. “But if you look at a guy like Hedman , who won, he leads his team on the power play, on the shorthanded, in regular ice time. You gotta be able to do it all. You can’t just be an offensive guy and then win the Norris unless you run away with the point total of 30 points or whatever. And even then, I disagree with those votes.
“I think you have to be a solid defender, a guy you can rely on; being able to play against the best players from other teams every night. Take on those defensive responsibilities by playing 5v6, 6v5, shorthanded, which is what Cale does now, right? It’s the growth of his game.
Bednar added: “I think you have to be able to do all of that. And Cale doesn’t just do that now, he’s really good at it. It’s a powerful penalty killer for us. He plays in all situations. It’s endgame when we [need] a track. He’s late in the game when we’re defending a lead, and that’s the kind of thing I think you need to see every night from a guy if he’s going to be considered for it.
Makar, who is only in his third full season with the Avalanche, is at that level of overall dominance. It’s not easy to defend in a league full of powerful attacks, but he does it. It’s not easy to stand out among his peers, but he does. And of course, the roster of this squad is certainly ready to go the distance, full of all the top talent you can imagine. Should that hurt Makar’s accomplishments more than if you’re considering Mikko Rantanen or Nathan MacKinnon or Nazem Kadri or even Darcy Kuemper for the Hart Trophy?
“The one that gets complicated, it’s true, is the Hart because he’s the most valuable to your team. You kind of have to study the whole team. So I think you get guys like [Leon] Draisaitl, [Connor] McDavid, MacKinnon, Rantanen and everyone wants to see it as a negative. “Well, they are playing with one of the other best players in the world.” They don’t control it, you know what I mean? I think guys can get overlooked for that,” Bednar said. “I think there’s a case to be made for a lot of guys and all those trophies personally.”
My guess for Hart? Igor Shesterkin.
My guess for Norris? It’s gonna be closer than it should be…