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Nikita Kucherov is the Lightning’s best chance at NHL Awards

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Jon Cooper and Victor Hedman are also nominated. Winners will be announced Wednesday.
The Lightning's Nikita Kucherov was the Hart Trophy favorite months before the regular season ended. And he seems to be a sure bet for Wednesday's award. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
The Lightning's Nikita Kucherov was the Hart Trophy favorite months before the regular season ended. And he seems to be a sure bet for Wednesday's award. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published Jun. 17, 2019

The NHL season is over, the Stanley Cup has been awarded. Now it’s time to return to the regular season.

Nikita Kucherov will — finally — get his individual due. He likely will be awarded the Hart Trophy, given to the league’s MVP, on Wednesday night during the NHL Awards show, airing at 8 p.m. on NBCSN.

That won’t be the salve to his or fans’ disappointment in the spectacular failure that was the Lightning’s playoff showing, or playoff invisibility. But it doesn’t need to.

The NHL Awards recognize the regular season, and that was when the Lightning shined.

Kucherov was referred to as the Hart favorite months before the regular season ended.

He was the fastest player to 100 points since Mario Lemieux in 1996-97 back on Feb. 21. Kucherov finished at 128 points, the most of any Russian player ever and the most in the NHL since Jaromir Jagr and Lemieux in 1995-96.

Related: RELATED: Nikita Kucherov achieved superstar status, but there’s still something missing

The Hart Trophy often follows the league leader in points, but not necessarily. Taylor Hall was sixth with 93 points last year when he won (Kucherov was third with 103 points and wasn’t a finalist). This year’s finalists are the top scorers (Kucherov and Connor McDavid), plus Sidney Crosby who tied for fifth.

The case for Kucherov is not only that he scored a lot of points.

He scored a record number of points in a way that elevated his game above anyone else this year. Kucherov made plays that had even his coaches wondering what he was doing because he was ahead of everyone else.

That explains Kucherov as favorite for the Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding as voted by the players), but not Hart (most valuable as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association).

How much difference did one more star make on a great Lightning team? Kucherov elevating his game to a new level was a large part of Tampa Bay breaking all the franchise records it set the year before.

Related: RELATED: Curious abut Victor Hedman’s importance to Lightning? See playoffs

The Lightning doesn’t match the NHL wins record without Kucherov. That’s pretty valuable.

Kucherov is the Lightning’s best chance at an award (read: a lock), but he isn’t the only possibility. Jon Cooper is a finalist for the Jack Adams (coach of the year, decided by the National Hockey League Broadcasters Association). Victor Hedman could repeat with the Norris Trophy (best defenseman, decided by the PHWA). Andrei Vasilevskiy again is up for the Vezina Trophy (best goalie, decided by the general managers).

Of these, Hedman is the least likely to win. He had a good year and his value to the Lightning was all but cemented, but he didn’t have nearly the year he did last season when he won the Norris. Calgary’s Mark Giordano is the favorite in that race.

Vasilevskiy has a clear case for Vezina, after finishing third in last year’s voting. He led the league in wins (39), sixth in save percentage (.925) and ninth in GAA (2.40), all while backstopping the league’s best team in a historic regular season.

Related: RELATED: Andrei Vasilevskiy made dazzling saves but also allowed goals

The goalie definitely stole games (the 54-save overtime win against Washington and 49-save win over Toronto come to mind) to earn those wins. Despite the Lightning’s offensively onslaught all season, rarely did the team steal Vasilevskiy a win.

Vasilevskiy’s issue could be his former teammate Ben Bishop. The Dallas goalie led the league in save percentage (.934) and was second in GAA (1.98). The Stars didn’t have the success the Lightning did, but Bishop was a big part of the season they had.

That brings us to Cooper. The Lightning coach certainly earned his spot as a finalist. He took largely the same team as last season and elevated it to a new regular-season level. That can’t be all from the players.

The number of stars on the Lightning, however, could work against Cooper. Coach of the year awards tend to go to the coach deemed to have done the most with the least. Cooper did not have the least.

Barry Trotz took the Islanders from the bottom third of the league to competing for the Metropolitan Division in his first year with the team. Craig Berube took over St. Louis in November,d then took the Blues from worst in the league (beginning of January) to a spot in the playoffs.

This race is hard to predict, but even without the bias of knowing how each team ended its regular season, Berube looks like a good pick.


  1. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak (81) in the third period overtime of an NHL hockey game Monday, Feb. 17, 2020, in Denver. The Lightning won 4-3 in overtime. [DAVID ZALUBOWSKI  |  AP]
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning center Blake Coleman (20) passes the puck past Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Lightning 7-3. [ROSS D. FRANKLIN  |  AP]
  3. San Jose Sharks right wing Barclay Goodrow (23) controls the puck ahead of New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, at Madison Square Garden in New York. [MARY ALTAFFER  |  AP]
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik  [Times staff]
  5. The Lightning traded for Blake Coleman, right, eight days before the trade deadline. [ROSS D. FRANKLIN  |  AP]
  6. The Lightning signed defenseman Zach Bogosian, whose contract was terminated by Buffalo earlier this week. [MARK ZALESKI  |  AP]
  7. Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin poses with the puck commemorating his 700th career NHL goal that he scored against the New Jersey Devils in the third period at Prudential Center on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in Newark, New Jersey. [PATRICK MCDERMOTT  |  AP]
  8. Carolina Hurricanes right wing Nino Niederreiter (21) and center Martin Necas (88) speak to Hurricanes emergency goalie David Ayres as he takes the ice against the Toronto Maple Leafs during second-period NHL hockey game action in Toronto, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) [FRANK GUNN  |  AP]
  9. Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) gives up a goal to Arizona Coyotes' Derek Stepan as Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn (2) slides along the ice and Coyotes right wing Conor Garland (83) looks at the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. [ROSS D. FRANKLIN  |  AP]
  10. Fans gather in Thunder Alley at Amalie Arena before the start of the 2019-2020 NHL season home opener between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers on Thursday, October 3, 2019, in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
  11. Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cedric Paquette shoots as Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury defends during the third period Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in Las Vegas. The Golden Knights won 5-3. [ISAAC BREKKEN  |  AP]
  12. Columbus left wing Artemi Panarin (9) and Columbus Blue Jackets center Matt Duchene (95) celebrate in front of the Lightning bench during the Blue Jackets' first-round victory over Tampa Bay in the first round of the 2019 NHL Playoffs. The four-game sweep was Columbus' payoff for a few deals at the trade deadline for players with expiring contracts. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times]