Now that the Christmas break is over, here are three trophy races to keep track of for the rest of the regular season. Consider this a special edition of Morning, Joe.
Calder race: It’s never too early, or too often, to discuss the Calder Trophy race. The two top rookies entering the season were the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ Auston Matthews and the Winnipeg Jets‘ Patrik Laine, the Nos. 1 and 2 picks in June, respectively. And they haven’t disappointed. In fact, both have been outstanding. Laine has 30 points in 36 games, while Matthews has 26 in 33. But, in this season of the young player, there’s more to the rookie race than these two. The Leafs forwards Mitch Marner and William Nylander are very much in the mix, as is Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski. There’s so many outstanding and dynamic young players that this race will come down to the wire. In the end, Laine will walk away with the hardware. He’s showing no signs of slowing down and, if anything, he’s gaining confidence, which is a scary thought because he’s already a confident 18-year-old forward.
Vezina race: Like the Calder, there are plenty of candidates in the Vezina Trophy race: the Montreal Canadiens‘ Carey Price, Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky, the Minnesota Wild‘s Devan Dubnyk and the Boston Bruins‘ Tuukka Rask are all in the conversation as top goalie. Don’t rule out the Washington Capitals‘ Braden Holtby or the San Jose Sharks‘ Martin Jones either, as possible late-season candidates. If the season were to end today, Bobrovsky would likely be the top vote-getter. Price is considered the best in the world. Rask is one main reason the Bruins are in the playoff race. All of them have won a Vezina. Dubnyk has not. If he continues to have one of the lowest goals-against averages (he’s at a league-leading 1.57), it’s looking good that he could earn his first this season.
Stanley Cup race: The Pittsburgh Penguins will become the first team since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings to win back-to-back Cups. Here’s why: the Penguins are relentless. Not only do they have the best player in the world in Sidney Crosby, but they also have depth, a strong defensive core and a solid goaltending tandem with Matt Murray and Marc Andre-Fleury. Coach Mike Sullivan was given a three-year contract extension and he’s getting the most out of the players. Parity is making repeating a difficult task, but the Penguins have the team to accomplish the feat, especially after having learned from doing it so recently. My preseason choice was the Tampa Bay Lightning, but nearing the halfway mark of the season, the Penguins are the team to beat once again this spring.