There won’t be as much hardware for the Chicago Blackhawks this year. In 2015, it was the Stanley Cup and all the flashy metal that came along with that. Last year, it was Patrick Kane as league MVP and Artemi Panarin as rookie of the year even as the team fell short in the playoffs.
This time around, there probably won’t be anything. Kane isn’t really in the mix for another Hart Trophy, Panarin obviously isn’t eligible for another Calder, and there’s nobody else on the team really angling toward that kind of honor. In the end, this will be the Hawks’ first season without a major award winner since 2011-12.
But because this website is ran by those pesky millennials, it’s time to give out everyone’s favorite: PARTICIPATION TROPHIES!! Or, well, trophies that definitely don’t mean anything. Here’s to guessing Panarin doesn’t have a bonus in his contract for earning praise from bloggers.
There are still team awards to be handed out, though, because the Blackhawks may not have won anything this year, but they’re still winners in our hearts. Or something. It’s gonna be a long spring.
So here are our awards for MVP, best rookie, best forward, best defenseman, biggest surprise, biggest disappointment, and best prospect.
MVP: Patrick Kane
From the season opener through elimination in Nashville, Kane was the Blackhawks’ player. He finished the regular season with 15 more points than any other member of the team, and posted another solid possession year with a plus-2.8 percent Corsi Relative, per Hockey-Reference.
He wasn’t as productive as the year before, but the vast majority of that decline came on the power play. At even strength, Kane scored 66 points, down from 69 a year ago. In fact, his 5-on-5 points per 60 actually went up this year from 8.6 to 8.8. But the Hawks’ power play went in the gutter, and that’s partially on Kane as their leading scorer.
Still, nobody contributed more over the 82-game slate.
Best rookie: Ryan Hartman
Who would’ve guessed before the season that Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine would be the only NHL rookies with more even strength goals than Hartman this season? His 19 goals and 31 points don’t pop off the scoresheet, but the fact that he played so little on special teams makes it more impressive.
Most top young scorers get chances on the power play to build confidence and get involved offensively, but Hartman was operating in more of an even strength energy role this season. Then he went out and scored more goals as an NHL rookie than he had in either of his full AHL seasons.
And none of it was a fluke, either. He doesn’t have a ridiculous shooting percentage (11.2) or some uneven usage in abnormally favorable situations. Yes, there were a couple empty-netters in there, but lots of players ultimately get a boost from playing at those times.
Best forward: Patrick Kane
Same deal as MVP.
Best defenseman: Duncan Keith
Keith kind of gets this award by default in a year where none of the Hawks’ defensemen truly played their best. The thing is, even non-peak Keith is still extremely good, as he finished his age-33 season with 53 points in 80 games, good for fifth in the NHL.
There’s no doubt that Keith is still an elite offensive defenseman, but it’s his possession-driving game that’s taken a step back. This year Keith posted a 50.7 percent even strength Corsi, which ties with 2007-08 as his worst season on record. Part of that is a reflection of the team-wide decline in possession over the past two years, which might explain why defensive-minded assistant coach Mike Kitchen got fired Monday, but it also shows that Keith isn’t having the same impact in the defensive and neutral zones.
Best prospect: Alex DeBrincat
An easy pick after the season he just had. The Blackhawks got DeBrincat in the second round with a selection acquired from the Andrew Shaw trade. He went on to dominate the OHL for a third straight season with a league-leading 65 goals and 127 points in 63 games.
Those incredible numbers signal that DeBrincat could be the next great Blackhawks scorer, but he’ll need to overcome the physical deficiencies that caused him to drop out of the first round. Listed at 5’7, 165 pounds, DeBrincat will be one of the smallest players in the NHL if he makes it.
But in a strong year for Blackhawks prospects full of high-scoring performances, DeBrincat was the easy pick.
Biggest surprise: Richard Panik
Entering this season, Panik had recorded 47 points in 181 games across three organizations. He was moving toward journeyman status, and the kind of career that ends under the dim lights of the AHL or a European league. And then he got partnered up with Jonathan Toews and had the best season of his career.
Panik finished with 22 goals and 22 assists while playing all 82 games for the Hawks in the regular season. He wasn’t always the most consistent or all-around dominant player, but he added crucial depth scoring to a team that needed it.
Biggest disappointment: The defensive reinforcements
Make your pick. Brian Campbell was a great bargain signing who ended up showing his age while struggling to fit into the Blackhawks’ pass-don’t-carry system. Gustav Forsling managed to make the NHL roster at age 20, then struggled for a few weeks before ending up in Rockford. Michal Kempny usually looked good when he played, but got stuck in the dog house because of the same defensive zone mistakes that took down David Rundblad, Trevor Daley, and others before him. And Johnny Oduya, well, he wasn’t the same Johnny Oduya from 2015.
So those are my awards! What do yours look like? Leave them in the comments!