The 2022-23 New Jersey Devils are having one of the greatest seasons in the history of the franchise. They won more games in the regular season than any other Devils team. They earned more standings points than any other Devils team. They came back from 0-2 in a playoff series against Our Hated Rivals to go up 3-2 and ultimately take it 7 games - with the critical Games 5 and 7 ending with 4-0 victories at the Rock. What more can you add to this campaign? Well, we will find out starting tomorrow when the Devils open up their second round series in Raleigh. How about some individual awards for the Devils? That would be pretty sweet as that has not happened since 2017-18 when Taylor Hall won the Hart and Brian Boyle won the Masterton. Well, it is at least possible as of this evening.
The NHL announced the finalists for two awards this evening. Nico Hischier was announced as a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which is awarded to the league’s best defensive forward. Jack Hughes was announced as a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy, which is awarded to the league’s most gentlemanly player. Both awards are voted on for how the players performed in the regular season. Both awards are voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The winners will be announced at the 2023 NHL Awards in Nashville on June 26, 2023.
By being named as a finalist, each Devil finished in the top three for their respective awards. If nothing else, this announcement is evidence that Hischier and Hughes are getting recognized by the Hockey Media for their performances. The Devils glowed up in a major way in 2022-23. Their shine cannot be ignored. Do either have a real chance of bringing either trophy back to New Jersey?
In the case of Hischier, I am very doubtful. The other finalists for this award are Patrice Bergeron and Mitch Marner. Bergeron has won the Selke five times and has been a finalist for 12 seasons. He won it last season. The Selke is often seen as a reputation trophy and Bergeron’s reputation is sterling. The exact opposite of his teammate, Brad Marchand, in fact. And Bergeron’s reputation is well earned. Even at age 37, when he was on the ice, Boston had an expected goals against rate of 2.06 per 60 minutes, a SF% above 60%, a shot attempt against rate of 48.42, and a CF% above 59.8% in 5-on-5 play. All while putting up 14 goals and 31 points in 5-on-5 play. That is an excellent stat line. That xGA/60 rate is superior to Marner’s xGA/60 of 2.42 (good but not great), Hischier’s xGA/60 of 2.28 (great but not elite), and over 600 other NHL players who played at least 300 minutes in 5-on-5 hockey in this past season. As for penalty killing, Bergeron was not among the league’s elite penalty killers but, again, posted better on-ice rates than Hischier and Marner even though they have averaged more ice time on the PK this season than Bergeron. Bergeron’s case is a bit more solid than just familiarity.
I think some other forwards could have been given more love for this award (Aho? Gourde? Jordan Staal?). However, if the choices are Bergeron, Hischier, and Marner, then I would think Bergeron has the edge. Throw in the reputation basis and I will be surprised if Bergeron does not win it again. Again, I am happy to see Hischier nominated. A Selke could be in his future after all.
As for Hughes, I am more confident. The other finalists are Brayden Point and Anze Kopitar. All three players were important scoring machines for their respective teams while taking fewer than ten penalty minutes. Hughes took three minor penalties all season. Kopitar took two minor penalties all season. Point had one minor penalty and, surprising given this award, a five minute fighting major (February 7 against San Jose). Out of all three players, Hughes put up the most goals (41) and points (99). However, Kopitar is the only one of the three who killed penalties for his team. It could be seen that his two-way play plus just two minor penalties all season gives the veteran an edge. Reputation may also help as Kopitar won the Lady Byng once and was named a finalist another time. Arguments in that vein could be made for Aleksander Barkov (8 PIM) or even Jaccob Slavin (8 PIM as a defenseman who plays a lot) That said, if the Hockey Media wants to reward the highest scoring player of the three, then Hughes has a real shot here.
All the same, there is a honor in being named a finalist for a NHL Award. Those among the People Who Matter who wanted the larger hockey world to give the Devils some respect should be pleased. This is more than respect. This is acknowledgement that they were standout players in a standout season for this franchise. Hopefully the PHWA voted more in favor of Hischier and Hughes for their regular season play. (Again, the playoffs do not count for this.) We will all find out on June 26. Please leave your reactions to these award announcements in the comments. Thank you for reading.