March 22, 2019

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Opinion

High-altitude Jets not on hockey writers' awards radar

Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was snubvbed by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. (John Woods The Canadian Press files)</p>

Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was snubvbed by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. (John Woods The Canadian Press files)

First in the Central Division. Third in the Western Conference. Fourth in the entire league.

And nowhere to be found when it comes to the NHL's most prestigious individual awards.

Just like Rodney Dangerfield, the Winnipeg Jets got no respect from the Professional Hockey Writers Association, which released its annual midseason award results on Thursday.

The top three vote-getters in 10 different categories were unveiled, and not a single member of the local club made the cut. In fact, I've confirmed that no Jets cracked the top five. Ballots were cast by more than 125 writers in all 31 markets, including yours truly.

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First in the Central Division. Third in the Western Conference. Fourth in the entire league.

And nowhere to be found when it comes to the NHL's most prestigious individual awards.

Just like Rodney Dangerfield, the Winnipeg Jets got no respect from the Professional Hockey Writers Association, which released its annual midseason award results on Thursday.

The top three vote-getters in 10 different categories were unveiled, and not a single member of the local club made the cut. In fact, I've confirmed that no Jets cracked the top five. Ballots were cast by more than 125 writers in all 31 markets, including yours truly.

While the Jets didn't get any love despite their on-ice success, which includes a 31-15-2 record going into the all-star break, there's still plenty of Canadian content. Of the 30 players and executives in the top three of the 10 categories, a dozen are from clubs north of the border. Calgary has six, Toronto three and Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver have one each.

So who got snubbed from Winnipeg?

The only obvious one would be the architect of the team, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who isn't in the running for the GM of the Year Award despite building a Stanley Cup contender almost entirely on draft picks, plus a handful of strong trade and free-agent acquisitions.

I had Cheveldayoff No. 1 on my list. He was a finalist last June in the year-end voting, ultimately losing out to Vegas GM George McPhee, and his work this year includes signing free-agent goalie Laurent Brossoit (10-0-1 as a starter) and getting contributions from sixth- and seventh-round draft picks in Mason Appleton and Sami Niku, the reigning AHL rookie and defenceman of the year.

Cheveldayoff also locked up the heart and soul of the team, captain Blake Wheeler, to a long-term extension and got Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck under contract as well, along with several other important deals to keep the Jets under the salary cap and largely intact for sustained success.

Calgary GM Brad Treliving is at the top of the results — I had him second — and it's hard to quibble with some of the moves he's made to build the Flames into a powerhouse. The trade that delivered Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin to town, not to mention the impressive work from undrafted free-agent signing David Rittich in net, have complemented strong drafting in recent years.

San Jose's Doug Wilson and Lou Lamoriello of the New York Islanders were second and third in voting. For the record, I had McPhee third as the Golden Knights continue to impress with new additions, including Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty having an impact.

Cheveldayoff's exclusion is the only one I can really quibble with. I didn't have any other Jets in my top three for the other awards — my full ballot appears below — although a few were knocking on the door. Had we been able to expand our list beyond three, I would have given Mark Scheifele some Hart Trophy consideration as most valuable player to his team, and had Paul Maurice in the running for top coach.

Scheifele and his right-hand man, Blake Wheeler, are clearly in tough against some elite competition despite sitting in the top 12 of overall league scoring.

Nikita Kucherov (22 goals, 56 assists), Johnny Gaudreau (29 goals, 44 assists) and Connor McDavid (29 goals, 44 assists) formed the top three for the Hart, which is pretty much in line with what I had. A strong second half from Scheifele (25 goals, 34 assists) or Wheeler (nine goals, 52 assists) could potentially put them on the voting radar, but I wouldn't hold my breath on that.

I'm told Scheifele did get a few top-three Selke votes as league's top defensive forward — including one from Free Press colleague Jason Bell. But not enough of them to put him on the podium. Boston's Patrice Bergeron leads the race despite missing a chunk of games with injury, while Aleksander Barkov of Florida and Mark Stone of Ottawa round out the top field.

The Norris Trophy for top defenceman features a pair of Canadian blue-liners with Calgary's Mark Giordano just ahead of Toronto's Morgan Rielly. San Jose's Brent Burns is third.

Had he not gone down with injury in December, it would have been interesting to see whether Dustin Byfuglien would have earned some votes. The veteran defenceman was certainly tracking in that direction and sat eighth in scoring among blue-liners at the time of his injury with four goals and 25 assists through 32 games. Byfuglien, now 18th among defencemen in scoring, is expected to return to action as early as next week.

Barry Trotz leads the pack for the Jack Adams Award as top coach, and who can quibble with that given the job the Dauphin native has done in his first year with the Islanders, coming off last season's Stanley Cup win with Washington. Trotz has the team on the top of the Metropolitan Division, playing a terrific defensive game and they've managed just fine despite losing top sniper John Tavares to free agency.

Bill Peters of Calgary and Jon Cooper of Tampa finished second and third. It's a bit surprising that Maurice didn't at least make the top five, especially after being named to coach the Central Division all-star team this weekend in San Jose.

Hellebuyck likely won't be repeating as a Vezina finalist this year, as his rather pedestrian numbers (2.85 goals-against average and .910 save percentage) have him well back of the pack. Brossoit's brilliance has been in limited starts, taking him out of any consideration for the award.

John Gibson of Anaheim, Marc-Andre Fleury of Vegas and Frederik Andersen of Toronto lead the way, for now. But this is a category where things could change in a hurry.

The Calder Trophy for rookie of the year features the runaway favourite in Elias Pettersson of Vancouver, followed by a pair of first-year defencemen in Buffalo's Rasmus Dahlin (last summer's No. 1 overall pick) and Miro Heiskanen of Dallas. At this point, the race is to see who finishes second to the slick Swede.

There's nothing wrong with being a gentleman, and a trio of players who would need GPS to find the penalty box are in the running for the Lady Byng as most sportsmanlike. Aleksander Barkov of Florida (one minor penalty in 48 games), Rielly of Toronto (two minors in 49 games) and Sean Monahan of Calgary (five minors in 51 games) have certainly been on their best behaviour this season while playing big minutes and big roles on their teams.

The PHWA also votes on a pair of so-called "non-traditional" honours — awards that don't officially exist — in the Rod Langway Award for best defensive defenceman, and the Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Mattias Ekholm of Nashville, Giordano of Calgary and Victor Hedman are in the running for the Langway. This is one where I would have strongly considered Josh Morrissey and/or Jacob Trouba among my top five, given the role the top pair for the Jets play in shutting down opponents on a nightly basis.

Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders, Jeff Skinner of Buffalo and Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild are on the comeback trail. All three are putting together nice stories this season, but Lehner's terrific campaign is especially heartwarming given his well-documented struggles with addiction and bipolar disorder.

Of course, there's still plenty of hockey to be played, so many of the above categories could change by the time the regular-season schedule wraps up in early April.

And as nice as these personal awards would be, there's one trophy that trumps all others and every player in the game wants more than anything. And the race for Lord Stanley is shaping up to be another doozy.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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