After each season, the NHL bestows its top individual awards, recognizing the top goal scorer, top points scorer, most valuable player, best all-around defenseman, best goaltender, and rookie of the year, with honors named the Maurice Richard Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy, James Norris Memorial Trophy, Vezina Trophy and Calder Memorial Trophy.
Every preseason, pundits and fans alike engage in a spirited guessing game as to who might be lifting the hardware at the end of the season, but lots can change between October and April. Who can know which player will get the good -- and, often literally, bad -- breaks? Injuries to players like Steven Stamkos, Alexander Steen and Tomas Hertl have us playing the "what if" game this season.
As we hit the midpoint of the 2013-14 NHL season this week, we are in a much better place to handicap the awards battles. We know which would-be contenders are out of the running due to slow starts or injuries. We know which dark horses have entered each race.
By using some advanced stats, we can intelligently weigh our preseason projections (based on a large body of evidence, except in the case of rookies) with what we have seen on the ice over roughly 41 games per team. Below, we give you our predictions for the most likely finalists for each award, and our projected winner, leaning heavily on Hockey Prospectus' Goals Versus Threshold (GVT) metric, a comprehensive measure of who the best players are, as well as our VUKOTA system, which projects stats such as games played, goals, assists, points and GVT before each season starts.
Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy
Two-time winner Stamkos, having scored 51 goals in his sophomore campaign of 2009-10 and 60 goals in 2011-12, was a moderate favorite to lift the Richard following 2013-14. He lit the lamp 14 times in 17 games before suffering a broken right tibia, which will knock him out of the running for the hardware no matter what blistering pace he puts up after his return.
The big early-season surprise was Steen. He is second with 24 goals in 35 games but is currently on IR with a concussion. However, the 29-year-old centerman was potting goals at a 20.5 percent shooting clip despite a 10 percent career average and 12.7 percent career best; that combination of rates doesn't give much confidence in sustained scoring output, even if he were able to take the ice now.
So we are left with Alex Ovechkin (30 goals, first in NHL), Patrick Kane (23 goals, third) and Phil Kessel (20 goals, tied for eighth) as the likely top finishers; those three came in second, tenth and fourth in our preseason projections.