NHL Awards 2021

The NHL season is on its way, but we don’t have a firm answer on whether the start date will indeed be Jan 1 as the league hopes it will be.

That said, if the league and the players hit that target date, NHL hockey is just a little more than a month away. It’s likely to be a shortened season in terms of the games played, which means we could be just five months, or so, away from the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

While we don’t know the logistics in stone for the 2020-21 NHL season, we do know this: we have NHL Awards futures to tackle.

Over at Bovada, we have a quartet of awards to handle including the Hart Trophy as the league’s Most Valuable Player, the Norris Trophy as top defenseman, the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender and the Calder Trophy for the league’s top rookie.

Let’s get into some 2021 NHL Awards odds and predictions with a pick for each award as well as a value pick that we find deeper down the board!

Hart Trophy

Coming off a 110-point season that easily led the league last season, Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl will look to defend his league MVP nod at +1200 odds, the fifth-best on the board. One would have considered Draisaitl a risky pick due to the fact he’s not even the best player on his own team as Connor McDavid comes in at +600 for the Hart in 2021, but his missing time combined with Draisaitl’s continued dominance in the 2019-20 campaign gave the German the upper hand.

Hart finalist from last season Nathan MacKinnon (+550) is actually the favorite at the moment while fellow nominee Artemi Panarin comes in at +800, the third-best odds on the board.

Those are just some of the many names available for betting, so let’s see who among the favorites is the best bet while digging a little bit deeper into the pool of options for a value play as well.

Jack Eichel, Sabres (+1500)

He isn’t among the names mentioned above as all of them are quality candidates, however Eichel’s +1500 odds are the sixth-best on the board and provide nice value in the process.

The term ‘Most Valuable Player’ refers to the player most valuable to his team, not the player that leads the league in scoring. I had some issue with Draisaitl winning the award last season over someone such as MacKinnon who carried his team on his back and nearly steered the Avs to the best winning percentage in the Western Conference.

At any rate, the player most valuable to his team conversation has to include Eichel. Over the last two seasons, Eichel leads the Sabres with 160 points. Second on that list is Sam Reinhart with a distant 115, followed by Jeff Skinner with 86. Last season, Eichel paced the Sabres with 78 points, 28 more than linemate Reinhart’s 50 and fellow linemate Victor Olofsson and his 42 points.

That trio is unlikely to remain together with the addition of Taylor Hall on the left wing as he and Eichel could form one of the most powerful duos in the NHL next season. Hall, the 2018 Hart Trophy winner, finally provides Eichel with an elite winger in which to work with in all situations while the Sabres as a team have more forward depth than we’ve seen in year’s past.

That forward depth will likely need to help the Sabres get into to the postseason, which could be Eichel’s biggest obstacle in winning this year’s Hart. The Sabres haven’t made the playoffs since the 2010-11 campaign, and while this is a regular-season award, a player that misses the postseason almost never wins this award.

Complicating matters for what looks like an improved Sabres team on paper is the loaded Eastern Conference that not only features the likes of the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division, but seven of eight teams in the Metro boast serious postseason aspirations.

Nonetheless, Eichel is firmly one of the best players in the NHL. That we know. He finished 10th in points (78) and ninth in goals (36) last season. Add in Hall and an increased chance of making the playoffs and Eichel seems like a nice combination of reality and value for the 2021 Hart Trophy.

Value Pick – Sidney Crosby (+2200)

If you want to strive for some increased value, give Sid the Kid a look at +2200.

The real question with Crosby is whether he can stay healthy enough to endure what should be a tight schedule in 2021, but there’s little doubt he remains in his offensive prime even if he plays next season at 33 years of age.

He underwent core muscle surgery last season, but managed 47 points in the 41 games he did play, good for a 94-point pace in a full 82-game season. He also tallied exactly 100 points in the 2018-19 campaign and has never finished with below 84 points in any season that wasn’t shortened significantly by injury or lockout. That seems like a nice floor.

The 2005 first overall pick will likely begin the season with a new right winger in Kasperi Kapanen who returns to Pittsburgh in a trade with the Maple Leafs. Not only that, but a full season of the Crosby/Jake Guentzel duo gives the former a big opportunity to rack up points.

Since the start of the 2018-19 season, Guentzel ranks sixth among left wingers with 60 goals despite playing far fewer games than his counterparts. On a goals-per-game basis, his 0.495 figure ranks second in the NHL next to only Alex Ovechkin. Of course, playing with Crosby on a full-time basis is a big reason why, but the built-in chemistry with Guentzel and a fresh, speedy winger in Kapanen could have Crosby posting big-time numbers next season.

Of course, there’s something to be said for reputation and name brand here. He’s a two-time Hart winner and remains in the conversation as one of the best players in the world. If he were to approach or crack a 100-point pace next season and the Pens return to form at or near the top of a difficult Metropolitan Division, his name will surely be in the conversation.

It appears there’s quality value for Crosby in the Hart Trophy race.

Norris Trophy

The favorite to win this year’s Norris Trophy is the Predators’ Roman Josi at +400, and he also happens to be the defending champ after fending off John Carlson and Victor Hedman for last season’s honor.

In fact, those three names sport the top three odds to win the award in 2021. The list of available options is much shorter for the Norris than the Hart, but let’s look into who is a best pick among some of the top names as well as some of the bottom to grab some additional value.

Victor Hedman, Lightning (+550)

Hedman is a mainstay in the Norris discussion and there’s every reason to believe he will return to the conversation next season.

After all, he’s coming off a historic playoff run in which he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and is just the third defenseman in NHL history to score 10 goals in a single postseason.

Point production shouldn’t be an issue next season, either. Hedman finished third behind Carlson and Josi with 55 points in 66 games last season and will return to anchor one of the top power plays in the league where he tallied 22 points a season ago.

Being on a playoff contender also issn’t an issue here, something that could affect the favorite Josi whose Predators have certainly lost more than they’ve gained this offseason. The Lightning are currently one of the favorites to win the 2021 Stanley Cup at many sportsbooks, including Bovada where they sit at +800, tied with Vegas for the second-best odds behind only the Avalanche and their +700 odds. As far as simply getting into the dance, the Lightning are seemingly a lock.

With 11 seasons under his belt and coming off a deep playoff run, some could point to health and/or the so called “Stanley Cup hangover” as a reason to fade the 6-foot-6 blueliner. However, he certainly looked fresh and healthy despite an injury scare in the round-robin this summer and if he can stay healthy in 2021 there’s every reason to believe the Swedish rear guard will be in the Norris discussion once again.

Value Pick – Morgan Rielly, Maple Leafs (+1400)

There’s plenty of reasons to believe Alex Pietrangelo could be in the Norris conversation at these very same odds, but I’ll take Rielly on a Maple Leafs team set to compete again in 2021.

It will be a new-look Leafs roster, at least in the bottom-six forward group and on the blueline, but it’s the latter that has be believing in Rielly more than anything else.

The Leafs’ biggest offseason addition is former Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie, a player who spent much of the last few seasons playing alongside 2019 Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano. A left shot, Brodie has played most of his NHL career on the right side.

By all accounts, he’s a lock to skate on a top defensive pairing again next season, this time with Rielly on a Maple Leafs team that was in desperate need for a right defenseman to support the team’s top defenseman on the left side.

With the rock-solid defending of Brodie on the right, expect Rielly to get closer to, or reach his offensive ceiling next season, and let’s be honest, this award has much more to do with offense than it does defensive play.

After all, Rielly ranked third behind Brent Burns and Giordano in defenseman scoring with 72 points in 82 games in the 2018-19 campaign. He also led all defenseman with 20 goals that year.

After dipping to just three goals and 27 points in an injury-shortened 47 goals last season, Rielly should be in for a big bounce back with a fresh partner after having to focus far more on the defensive given partner Cody Ceci’s suspect play on the back end in Toronto a season ago.

Also, with the departure of Tyson Barrie to the Edmonton Oilers in free agency, look for Rielly to retain his spot on the team’s deadly top power play unit alongside the likes of Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares. That unit ranked sixth with a 23.1% clip a season ago and after Rielly ranked eighth with 46 power play points from the 2017-18 to 2018-19 seasons, he should be in for a big boost in special teams production next season.

All told, there’s number reasons to believe in Rielly to win this year’s Norris Trophy at nice value.

Vezina Trophy

A timeshare in goal cost Tuukka Rask the Vezina Trophy last season while Connor Hellebuyck’s bounce back to elite form earned him the nod. Rask and Hellebuyck return to the top of the odds list at +500 alongside Tampa Bay Andrei Vasilevskiy this time around.

That said, there’s a mix of veterans and young guns available on the board as well, so let’s look at the best picks to win the award with value always in mind.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lighting (+500)

We witnessed a timeshare and lack of games played hurt Rask despite posting an elite 2.12 GAA that led all qualified netminders and a .929 Sv% that ranked second behind Dallas’ Anton Khudobin. Given another 1A/1B timeshare with Jaroslav Halak next season, I’m not seeing much value in Rask at the top.

Hellebuyck could get back into the discussion to be sure, and a timeshare isn’t an issue in Winnipeg as the 27-year-old will indeed get the lion’s share of starts after playing in a league-high 58 games last season.

However, a timeshare isn’t an issue in Tampa Bay, either, as Vasilevskiy will get a large portion of the starts over veteran backup Curtis McElhinney next season to be sure. We’ve seen games played and the wins factor work in Vasilevskiy’s favor when he won this award two seasons ago, and both should benefit his case again this time around.

The 26-year-old posted a 2.56 GAA and .917 Sv% while winning a league-best 35 games last season, numbers that largely represent career norms. The 2012 first-round pick hasn’t posted a save percentage below that .917 mark since his sophomore 2015-16 season while he’s been at or above that numbers in each of the last four campaigns.

With the Boston Bruins set to miss forward Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak for at least a month each – and Pastrnak closer to two – to start the season, the Lightning seemingly have the edge in the Atlantic Division race out of the gate.

If he continues to rack up wins and posting career-norm numbers, while remaining healthy, there’s going to be plenty of value in Vasilevskiy to win his second Vezina in three seasons.

Value Pick – Carey Price, Canadiens (+1500)

Could Price re-establish himself as one of the best in the business next season. He actually might have already done so in the postseason after stifling the Penguins in the qualifying round en route to a 1.78 GAA and .936 Sv% across 10 playoff games.

I’m aware more rest is on the way moving forward for Price after the Canadiens acquired Jake Allen from the St. Louis Blues this offseason, however don’t expect the same timeshare that we’ll see in places such as Boston and Dallas where Ben Bishop sits at +1800 on the board.

He likely won’t be at the top of the games played mark where he tied Hellebuyck for the league lead at 58 last season, but he’ll continue to get the bulk of work, and with far more teams likely to utilize a tandem more than a starter/backup mindset moving forward, I’m not concerned about Price’s workload hindering his Vezina chances like I am someone such as Rask or Bishop.

The return to form the playoffs was a welcomed sight after another subpar regular season in which Price worked to a 2.79 GAA and .909 Sv%. Price posted a nice 2.49 GAA and .918 Sv% in the 2018-19 season, however his 3.11 GAA and .900 Sv% in 2017-18 was a career-worst season for the now-33-year-old.

By all accounts, the Canadiens should be a better defensive club next season, although it’s far from a sure thing. In on the blueline is Joel Edmundson and prospect Alexander Romanov while Ben Chiarot was a fine addition on the left side next to captain Shea Weber.

The Canadiens tied for 19th in team defense last season, but the blue stabilization should help them increase on that mark next year, but Price returning to playoff form – or close to it – should have the veteran in the Vezina discussion at quality value.

Calder Trophy

It doesn’t get much closer than the Calder Trophy race than it did last season as Colorado’s Cale Maker edged fellow rookie defender Quinn Hughes of the Canucks for the honor.

There are certainly some interesting candidates in this year’s field including a pair of Rangers teammates at the top in the form of goaltender Igor Shesterkin (+175) and Alexis Lafreniere (+375). Shesterkin was excellent in posting a 2.52 GAA and .932 Sv% across 12 regular-season contests a season ago while Lafreniere looks to make an immediate impact on a rising Rangers team that took him first overall in this year’s draft.

Alexis Lafreniere, Rangers (+375)

My one concern with Shesterkin will be playing time. While he’s likely to be on the heavy end of a timeshare, keep in mind the Rangers have another young, talented netminder in Alexander Georgiev who has shown flashes of being a quality NHL netminder. Georgiev is actually a couple months younger than Shesterkin and owns a career .913 Sv% himself in parts of three seasons while serving as Henrik Lundqvist’s understudy.

The Rangers figure to utilize both young netminders and roll with the hot hand when necessary, and there’s no guarantee that is Shesterkin.

Lafreniere, he of 112 points in just 52 QMJHL contests last season, will get every opportunity to prove himself in his first season. He’s unlikely to play with 2020 Hart Trophy nominee Panarin as both are left wingers by trade, but he could find himself on the top line next to Mika Zibanejad at some point. The Rangers are as deep as anyone at left wing with Panarin, Lafreniere and Chris Kreider, however if Lafreniere comes out firing you can bet a top-six role would be imminent.

Lafreniere could be the most hyped prospect since Sidney Crosby was drafted first overall in 2005, and if he lives up to that billing, he’s got an excellent shot of pulling off the upset over teammate Shesterkin in the Calder Trophy race.

Value Pick – Nicholas Robertson, Maple Leafs (+3500)

We’ll make a huge jump here all the way to Robertson who will get an opportunity to crack the Maple Leafs’ lineup despite plenty of bottom-six additions in the offseason.

Toronto’s trade of Andreas Johnsson to the Devils opens up a spot on the left wing, but they also added Jimmy Vesey in the offseason while Alexander Kerfoot is likely to move to left wing with the addition of the ageless Joe Thornton.

Nonetheless, Robertson will get his chance as he looks like a steal in the second round, No.53 overall to the Leafs in the 2019 draft. After he dominated the Ontario Hockey League with a league-high 55 goals in just 46 games, Robertson got his first taste of NHL hockey in the qualifying round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, scoring one goal across his four games played.

Robertson was also utilized on the second power play unit in the postseason and he’s a good bet to skate on the Maple Leafs’ second unit this season if the sharp-shooter cracks the roster.

Head coach Sheldon Keefe wasn’t afraid to use him, either. Robertson skated at least 10:33 in all four games he played and logged at least 12:14 in three of the four games.

Of course, the odds tell us he’s a longshot. But if the 19-year-old cracks the roster and plays a role in this high-octane Maple Leafs offense – third best in the NHL last season – he could pull off a major upset at big-time value for the Calder Trophy.