NHL Awards Watch: The way-too-early edition for 2021


When the NHL Awards are handed out each year, there are accusations of geographic bias.

Sometimes it’s due to the size of a market. More often it’s complaints about how one division or conference is covered by a larger press corps than another — the storied “East Coast bias” that always seems so severe in theory, but ineffectual in practice. (Fun fact: The Western Conference has four of the past five Norris Trophy winners.)

But in this wacky 56-game sprint of an NHL season, those laments about “bias” creeping into awards voting may have renewed merit, thanks to the existence of the realigned North Division, aka the “We The North” Division, aka the All-Canadian Division.

I do a lot of radio hits in Canada. Recently, the preamble to those chats has been a variation on this: “As you know, we’re all obsessively watching the division with all the Canadian teams, where every night is a playoff game and every victory or loss feels like life or death. So since we have no idea what’s happening outside of these seven proud Canadian franchises, what’s up the Florida Panthers, eh?”

It’s not just the media. Everyone is obsessed with following the All-Canadian Division. “You know what the circumstances are in your division. So you maybe focus on that a little bit more than you did in the previous years,” Toronto Maple Leafs star John Tavares said this week.

Singular focus isn’t exclusive to the North Division. Because there are no games between non-division opponents — and no conferences at all — in the 2021 season, fans and media are naturally going to watch more games that impact their teams directly. Combine that with the intra-divisional schedule and there may not be as much time watching other teams as in traditional interconference seasons.

We’ve gone from a buffet of teams to a prix fixe menu.

That said, I’m confident that the dedicated voters for these awards will survey the entire league for worthy candidates, taking on this responsibility with the stoic seriousness and hyperbolic sense of duty that makes Baseball Hall of Fame voters look apathetic by comparison.

Here’s the NHL Awards Watch for February. This is informed speculation, taken from conversations around hockey and with voters, regarding the current contenders for each award. Keep in mind that the Pro Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) votes for the Hart, Norris, Calder, Selke and Lady Byng; broadcasters vote for the Jack Adams; and general managers handle the Vezina. Also keep in mind the “You Gotta Be In It To Win It” protocol for the Hart and the Jack Adams.

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