Predicting the future of anything is tough to do, and it becomes even more difficult in sports. This is why the house always wins; no one can actually tell you what’s going to happen, as there are too many variables.
With that said, I’ve spent the morning trying to predict the next five winners of the Norris Trophy (best defenseman), the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP), and the Vezina Trophy (best goalie). The Vezina is probably the most difficult to guess, as goalies tend to fluctuate in their development more so than skaters.
The Hart Trophy is a little easier though; back in 2005, I would have guessed that both Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were going to win a few MVP awards in their careers; so far they’ve combined for five. They could add to that total—I believe they will, a fact that’s verified by the list I’ve compiled. Very few players win a Hart Trophy before grabbing a few years of experience under their belt, so it's a little easier to guess, based on which young players are already at a high level.
Without further ado, take a look at my picks and tell me how wrong I am in a most vitriolic manner, as this is the internet after all. Enjoy:
15 2017: Norris – Erik Karlsson
In 2015-16 Erik Karlsson became the first defenseman to score at least 80 points in a season since Nicklas Lidstrom accomplished the feat in 2005-06. Nonetheless, rather than handing Karlsson his second consecutive and third total Norris Trophy, they gave it to Drew Doughty instead.
It was Doughty’s first Norris Trophy, and many saw it more of a recognition of his body of work, rather than of a single season’s worth (much like when the Academy awarded Martin Scorsese his first Oscar for 2006’s The Departed – it wasn’t his best work, but it was very good still).
With all that in mind, we think it’s safe to say that Karlsson is the early Norris favorite heading into 2016-17. He’s the best offensive defenseman in the league, and he drives the play with the best of them. If anything good happens in Ottawa these days, it can almost always be traced back to something that Karlsson did.
14 2017: Hart – Sidney Crosby
After a painfully slow start under head coach Mike Johnson in 2015-16, Sidney Crosby really turned it on after the mid-season coaching change, finishing third in overall scoring. Crosby’s second half was worthy of a Hart Trophy, and he finished second in overall voting as it is.
He was eclipsed in 2015-16 by Patrick Kane, who had a career year and is unlikely to replicate such a performance next season. That opens the door for Crosby to return to the spotlight, and he should win his third Hart Trophy in 2017.
We should mention that there is a chance Dallas’s Jamie Benn snags this. Consider him a dark horse pick, but Benn has produced at an alarmingly consistent rate in the Lone Star State for the past two seasons, and if a few extra bounces go his way he could be the 2017 MVP instead. It won't be easy for Crosby.
13 2017: Vezina – Carey Price
In 2015 Carey Price became the first goalie since Jose Theodore in 2003 to win both the Vezina and the Hart Trophy in the same year. Expectations were high for Price and the Montreal Canadiens heading into 2015-16, but all hope came crashing down in November 2015 when Price’s season came to an early end.
After getting off to a hot 9-0 start, the Canadiens failed to make the playoffs come spring 2016. This only further proved Price’s value to the club and his team, as they obviously couldn’t keep their heads above water in Montreal without their all-star goalie there to constantly bail them out.
Today, Price claims to be 100% healthy. If there is truth to that claim (there’s really no way to know for sure), Price is the early favorite to win the Vezina in 2017. Brayden Holtby could challenge to repeat, but my guess is that voters will recognize that he also has a way better team playing in front of him.
12 2018: Norris – Drew Doughty
Drew Doughty just took home his first Norris Trophy in 2016, earning the honor after many years of stalwart service on L.A.’s back end. While it’s unlikely he repeats in 2017, we think it’s equally likely that he wins at least one more of these trophies, and 2018 is as good a guess as any.
Voters seem a little torn on how to judge the Norris Trophy. How much weight should offensive ability hold? After all, it’s a trophy to reward the best defenseman and as such, it should reward that above all else, no?
Since we picked Karlsson for the award in 2017, we’re giving the edge back to Doughty for 2018. They don’t seem to like to reward offense two seasons in a row—as illustrated by Doughty’s win in 2016—so in 2018 it will be Doughty’s turn one last time.
Following this one, we'll see a new crop of defensemen take home the hardware.
11 2018: Hart – Connor McDavid
Connor McDavid burst onto the scene in 2015-16, and despite a collar bone injury that cost him nearly half the season, he managed to turn a lot of heads. The 2017-18 season will be McDavid’s third NHL season, and it will be the first in which he earns the NHL MVP honors and is awarded the Hart Trophy.
The one factor that holds McDavid back from getting it in 2017 is the fact that, well, he plays for the Oilers. The Oilers aren’t quite ready to take that next step into the playoffs, but they might be in 2018, and if they make it you can bet that McDavid will be the biggest reason.
In fact, 2018 could be McDavid’s first Art Ross Trophy as well (awarded to the league’s leading scorer), but to be honest if he remains healthy in 2016-17, he could win it in 2017. He put up 48 points in 45 games in 2015-16, and the sky is the limit for the teenager who’s been referred to as a generational talent since he was 15 years old.
10 2018: Vezina – Cory Schneider
One of the more underappreciated goaltenders in the NHL is Cory Schneider. He was forced to split the crease in Vancouver in the early stages of his career despite the fact that he was good enough to be a number one. These days in New Jersey he keeps the Devils relevant.
We’re betting that in 2018, Schneider is finally recognized for what he is, and that’s one of the top goalies in the world. There will be a lot of competition for this award, as there are young goalies like Matt Murray and John Gibson who could work their way into conversation by this point.
Schneider will be 32 by the time this awards season rolls around, so it will be one of the last times the voters will get a realistic chance to recognize Schneider for his work, and they won’t let it pass them by. That’s assuming the voters know what they’re doing, though, so…
9 2019: Norris – Victor Hedman
Ever since being drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning 2nd overall in 2009, Victor Hedman has improved every year. We all know that defensemen develop slower than forwards, and at just 25 years old we’re willing to bet that the Swede has a couple more steps to make.
Hedman finished 7th in overall Norris Trophy voting in 2016, so it’s not like he was completely off the radar last year. Defensemen typically hit their primes in their late 20s, and if Hedman takes this hardware home in 2019, he’ll be 28 years old.
It makes sense that Hedman will win it this year, as he’s proven to be a dominant defensemen in this league already, and the more he learns, the smarter he’ll get, and the more difficult he’ll become to play against. Hedman could win more than one of these before his career is over.
8 2019: Hart – Jamie Benn
Jamie Benn has been surprising people in the NHL ever since he was drafted in the 5th round by the Dallas Stars in 2007. He defied probability by even making it to the NHL, as most fifth round picks don’t ever play a single game.
Benn has gone on to win a scoring title in the world’s best hockey league, and he also is the proud owner of a Gold Medal as a member of the 2014 Canadian Olympic Team. A Hart Trophy and a Stanley Cup are really the only missing pieces of hardware, and maybe the stars align for Benn in 2019.
Yes, this would likely mean McDavid has an off year (or another injury), and also that Crosby starts to slow down, (even just a bit, as Benn is arguably not that far behind Sid the Kid today). But, it could happen, if only for just one season.
7 2019: Vezina – Martin Jones
A little bit of a dark horse pick here, but you have to go off the board a bit when it comes to goalies. Martin Jones got his first taste as a full time starter in 2015-16 in San Jose, and he seized the opportunity, posting a 37-23-4 record to go with a 2.17 GAA and .919 save percentage.
At 26 years old Jones has many good years left in him, and if his career continues to thrive in the Bay Area, he could put together a decent career that could very well include a Vezina Trophy. He’ll be 29 when the trophy is awarded in 2019, a ripe age for a goalie, especially one who’s a late bloomer like Jones.
The Vezina picks are the most difficult to predict, but after the stellar 2015-16 season Jones quietly had, he could definitely break into the upper echelon of NHL goalies soon.
6 2020: Norris – Aaron Ekblad
Former first overall pick Aaron Ekblad will win his first Norris Trophy in 2020 at the age of 24. Ekblad is already a top-pairing defenseman, and he has been since he broke into the NHL as an 18-year-old in 2014-15.
If you want to know just how valuable Ekblad is to Florida, just look at the four games he missed last season after sustaining an injury on Jan. 10. The Panthers went 0-3-1 without their defensive stud, and three of those games were against non-playoff opponents.
That sort of dominance at that young an age is rare for a defenseman, so I expect this to be the first of two or three Norris Trophies for Ekblad. He could perhaps win even more than that if he stays healthy and continues to improve.
These could also be the years where we really start to see the Florida Panthers make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
5 2020: Hart – Connor McDavid
After missing out on the Hart Trophy for whatever reason in 2019, McDavid will return to the podium in 2020. There’s a small chance that the Oilers are actually not a terrible team at this point, but no matter where McDavid is playing throughout his career he’ll always be in the conversation for this award.
If you were lucky enough to check out some of the Oilers games last season with McDavid in the lineup, you know just how electric of a player he is. Even in games where he registered no points, he’d still be the most noticeable player on the ice for either team for all the right reasons.
Wayne Gretzky won eight consecutive Hart Trophies in the 1980s, and that record will never be met; McDavid could win a solid five of these awards in his career (Gretzky won nine), and that would be an equally incredible feat for the modern era.
4 2020: Vezina – Cory Schneider
The man who I believe is already a top three goalie in the NHL will return to the top for a second and final time in 2020. He will be turning 34 that season, but he has only played 270 games to this point, so there are a lot of miles left on Cory Schneider.
This prediction is of course banking on the fact that the Devils are a more competitive team come 2020, and I’m aware their prospect cupboard isn’t exactly stacked. However, the NHL is an unpredictable league sometimes, and the Devils do have a history of success as an organization.
Some people will say that this is too old for someone to win the Vezina, but it’s happened many times, even in recent history. Tim Thomas won it at ages 34 and 36; Martin Brodeur won back-to-back Vezinas at ages 34 and 35, so clearly it happens.
3 2021: Norris – Aaron Ekblad
Five years from now, Aaron Ekblad will be the best defenseman in the league, and we predict that in 2021 he wins his second consecutive Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman. He’s already a top-20 in my mind, and the guy is only 20 years old.
The development of other young up-and-coming defensemen is definitely the wild card here, as curves for defensemen are tough to predict. Guys like Noah Hanifin, Shane Gostisbehere, Hampus Lindholm—these are all very good young defensemen who could all still potentially take another huge step forward.
Even with all that considered though, Ekblad is the smarter bet than any of them. He’s more dominant already, and he’s younger to boot.
This guy is really set to be a dominant force in the coming years. Many talented defensemen will be missing out on Norris Trophies because of him.
2 2021: Hart – Auston Matthews
Leafs Nation will celebrate as Auston Matthews is awarded the Hart Trophy in 2021. He will become the first Leaf to earn the honor since Ted Kennedy accomplished the feat in 1955. Incredibly, Toronto only has had two Hart Trophy wins in franchise history (the other being Babe Pratt in 1944).
Auston Matthews isn’t as highly touted of a prospect as Connor McDavid, but he’s as close as they come these days. Matthews chose to play against men in 2014-15 rather than boys, and he spent the year playing in Zurich. He posted very impressive numbers for an 18-year-old, recording 24 goals and 22 assists in 36 games.
Simply using the rule of averages, there is bound to be a season where Matthews outperforms McDavid, and why can’t it be 2021? Matthews will be 23 years old, which is the right age for an elite NHL forward to win the Hart Trophy these days.
1 2021: Vezina – John Gibson
One more pick that goes off the board is John Gibson for the Vezina in 2021. Again, as I previously stated the Vezina is a tough one to predict, as goalies tend to break out from out of nowhere. For instance, would anyone have picked Brayden Holtby to win the 2016 Vezina back in 2011?
Gibson is a top prospect, but every so often top goalie prospects fall off a cliff. Andrew Raycroft, Justin Pogge, and Jim Carey are all names that come to mind. But Anaheim has seen more of Gibson than anyone else, and they’ve placed their bet on him for the future by dealing away Frederik Andersen.
Sure, the Ducks acquired Jonathan Bernier as a safety net, but it’s my bet that Gibson seizes the crease this season and goes on to be the Ducks starter for the next decade. If Anaheim remains a solid team (a tough prospect for a club that has just two forwards with births beyond 1987), Gibson could be in the running for a Vezina at this point.