The National Hockey League announced the recipients of four of its annual awards Thursday, two months after the regular season was abruptly halted, then canceled.
Though there was little suspense since all four awards honor regular-season statistical leaders in various categories, the awards were a psychological marker that reified a bizarre timeline that has seen play suspended, players largely unable to train on ice and, most recently, steps taken toward a complex, expanded 24-team playoff that would be played over the summer.
“I think it’s one of those moments where we realize that the regular season is over and it’s on to playoff mode,” Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said.
Yandle acknowledged that some of the award races could have changed shape in the canceled portion of the season, but he emphasized that every player was dealing with the same unusual circumstances. The league had completed about 85 percent of the regular season when play was suspended on March 12.
“It’s not like one or two teams got to play 10 games more. Pretty much everyone played the same amount of games and those guys were recognized for having amazing years,” Yandle said.
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin won his record ninth scoring title as he and Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak shared the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, awarded to the league’s top goal scorer. Both players scored 48 goals. Ovechkin was two goals shy of his ninth 50-goal season, which would have tied a record shared by Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy, with 13 games left on the Capitals’ schedule when the season was halted.
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews finished the truncated campaign one goal behind Ovechkin and Pastrnak. In addition to a potential tie-break, Matthews could have potentially fired his way to the trophy had the season been completed. Washington had played 69 games while Boston and Toronto had each played 70 when play was suspended.
“I wouldn’t mind having a game against Boston or Toronto just so those three guys can decide,” Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “Or, if they want to be creative, they could create a challenge for those three guys and have a competition between them to show their skills.”
Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top point producer in the most comfortable fashion of any of Thursday’s winners. He finished 13 points ahead of his teammate Connor McDavid.
Draisaitl, the first German player to win a scoring title in a major North American league, will undoubtedly receive consideration for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the N.H.L.’s most valuable player. A fan of his country’s soccer league, the Bundesliga, Draisaitl said he hoped the N.H.L. would glean lessons from that league’s restart earlier this month.
“I think they have done a good job of making it safe for everyone and they’ve done a very professional job of getting as close to a normal game day as possible,” he said.
In a much closer race, the Bruins’ goalie tandem of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak won the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded each season to the goalies for the team that allowed the fewest goals. They edged out the Dallas Stars’ Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin by just seven goals allowed, and had played one more game than Dallas.
The Bruins also earned the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the team with the highest point total. They had a game in hand and a 6-point advantage on the runner-up St. Louis Blues, their Stanley Cup finals adversary last year.
Unlike the N.B.A., which in some circumstances uses league honors to dictate the earning potential of its players, bonuses in the N.H.L. for league awards are limited. The vast majority of players do not have financial incentives in their contracts by way of guarantees in the collective bargaining agreement, as those only apply to entry-level players and over-35 veterans on one-year contracts.
Only one player who was an award winner or runner-up Thursday, Khudobin, is headed toward potential free agency. None are on entry-level contracts and none face potential salary arbitration for next season.
The player agents Allan Walsh and Eustace King agreed that any potential bonuses regarding trophies or their factoring into salary arbitration were matters that the N.H.L. and its players’ union would adjudicate in the near future because of the uncommon nature of this season and next. It was one of many issues to be resolved between the two sides in the near future.
“All we have right now is an agreement on the format of a return to play, if we are able to get to the point where we are able to play games, that’s all we have,” Walsh said.