At the start of each month, we'll track the favorites for the major NHL awards. Picks are based on current achievements and probability of voter support as the season progresses.
Nothing made sense in the first month of the NHL season. A billion goals were scored. Presumed Stanley Cup contenders stumbled out of the gate. An expansion team was in first place. Jaromir Jagr (briefly) played for the Calgary Flames.
All of this is to say that our first slate of awards finalists could very well be the ones read off a teleprompter in June -- or this entire list will be flushed by December. It's been that kind of season.
Let's start with the stats-based awards:
ART ROSS TROPHY
ROCKET RICHARD TROPHY
(leading goal scorer)
And now, the nominees are ...
Leader: Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs' goals total with Matthews on the ice is double-digits better than that of their opponents; when he's off the ice, it takes a double-digits swing in the opposite direction. Which is to say that Auston Matthews has dragged this underwhelming Leafs team to a playoff seed early in the season by himself, thanks to 10 goals and eight assists in 20 games. He's on a 60-goal pace and on an Alex Ovechkin-goal-scoring pace for his career (at least 50 goals in the first 96 career games). Connor McDavid got his Hart last season; perhaps Auston Matthews gets his in 2018.
Favorite: Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues. Pietrangelo has 13 points in 14 games while skating 26:03 per game, getting more offensive in a lineup without Kevin Shattenkirk. This pick is not only for his strong start and that of his team -- Norris winners universally are from playoff-bound teams -- but because the hype has been building around his play for a month. Remember: The Norris lately loves new faces, as a different player has won it in six of the past seven seasons. Pietrangelo is off to a great start, and if those offensive numbers hold, it could be his turn -- even if, arguably, he's not even the best defenseman on the Blues. (That would be Colton Parayko.)
Leader: Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks are a below-average-possession team with a woefully diminished defense corps (thanks, salary cap). Yet they're on the playoff bubble thanks to Crawford, whose .944 even-strength save percentage and 100 percent save percentage on low-danger chances (via Corsica) through the first 11 games was absolutely stellar. Crawford hasn't always gotten the Vezina love -- his highest finish was fifth in 2016 -- because the team in front of him was always Cup-caliber. Now, with the thinnest Blackhawks team he has had in front of him, Crawford's steady play gets the spotlight.
Leader: Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins. While the temptation to put Mikhail Sergachev here just to squeeze a lemon into the Montreal Canadiens' wounds was palpable, I'll give the nod to a young defenseman whose team was shrewd enough to hang on to. McAvoy plays 22:40 per game, and the Bruins are doing anything but shielding him. He had one goal and seven assists in 11 games, third among rookie defensemen. Clayton Keller has been outstanding -- Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane are the only players with more points at this point in their rookie seasons since 2005. But McAvoy is going to get a perfect storm of East Coast bias, Original Six love and World Juniors appreciation from the voters if he continues to play like this.
JACK ADAMS AWARD
Leader: Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights. Remember how we said this entire list could be flushed by December? Yeah, that's the Jack Adams right now. There's no way you can't give the edge to the coach of an 8-4-0 expansion team, and one that might be even better had it not been for a cataclysmic series of goalie injuries. Gallant wins this in a walk if the Knights actually make the playoffs -- and probably still wins it if they're on the bubble in the final games of the season. The odds on that happening are still rather bleak; but, hey, what's the sense of playing in Vegas if you don't consider the long shots?