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Why Four Canes Deserve NHL Award Consideration

Making the case for Staal, Slavin, Nedeljkovic and Hamilton to receive recognition for their seasons

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

We've already presented the case for Rod Brind'Amour to win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's coach of the year, and of the chances the Carolina Hurricanes have to claim hardware at the 2021 NHL Awards, that's probably the best bet.

But there are also a few players who deserve to at least be in the conversation for some more of the league's annual awards, so let's take a look at who should be considered for what.

Jordan Staal: Frank J. Selke Trophy

With 38 points (16g, 22a) in 53 games, Jordan Staal recorded one of his most prolific offensive seasons in recent memory. Had this been an 82-game season, Staal would have been on pace to total 58 points, which would have been a career high. He was also tracking to reach the 20-goal threshold for the first time since 2015-16. These are numbers that would be comparable to Sean Couturier's stats from a season ago, though it's worth noting that was also a shortened campaign (Couturier played 69 games in 2019-20).

Video: CAR@DAL: Staal buries a slick pass on the power play

After Staal's two-goal performance in Dallas on April 27, Justin Williams stumped for his former teammate, tweeting "J. Staal for Selke."

Tweet from @JustinWilliams: J. Staal for Selke

"Willy is biased," Staal smiled. "I'm happy with where I'm at and where the team is at. It's been a fun season."

Brind'Amour's vote is obvious.

"Yeah, obviously. I've been saying it for a long time," he said. "You do have to have the numbers. I get it. Clearly he does. Hopefully he'll get his due."

The NHL defines the award as one given "to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game." That's what Staal does best, and he does it on a nightly basis against the opposition's best. He's a suffocating defensive force all over the ice, both at even strength and on the penalty kill. It's what Brind'Amour did best, too, when he won the Selke in consecutive seasons in 2006 and 2007.

But, as Brind'Amour noted, there's clearly more to the award, too, and that's the offensive production. That side of Staal's game saw a resurgence this season. Is it enough to earn him a nomination for the Selke trophy? Maybe. Maybe not.

Even still, his head coach and his teammates know just how valuable he is, and that's really all that matters.

"I don't think he ever changes. He just grinds," Sebastian Aho said. "His level of commitment to the game plan - it's actually how the Canes are and how we want to play. It's literally him. It's every night. He doesn't take a night off. That's awesome to see what kind of pro he is."

Jaccob Slavin: Lady Byng Memorial Trophy

It's fair to wonder why an award for "the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability" has not yet been given to Jaccob Slavin because that, in 22 words, is exactly who Slavin is.

Best type of sportsmanship? Check. Gentlemanly conduct? Check. High standard of playing ability? Check.

Curiously enough, only three defensemen have ever won the award. Brian Campbell (Florida Panthers) was the most recent to do so in 2012. Before that? Red Kelly in 1954. 1954!

Why defensemen are so often overlooked for this award is an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries" begging to be produced. In any case, Slavin certainly fits the bill.

In 52 games during the 2020-21 season, Slavin averaged a team-high 22:59 of ice time and is routinely tasked with shutting down the opposition's best. Like Staal, he's a critical part of the team's penalty kill, too. Through it all, Slavin was whistled for just a single penalty - delay of game (puck over glass). Obstruction infractions? Zero. Stick infractions? Zero, and he's often utilizing his stick to interrupt a passing lane or poke the puck away from an opponent.

Video: CBJ@CAR: Slavin slides in front of net to stop shot

Slavin is a defensive wizard, one of the best in the game, certainly one who has "a high standard of playing ability." He's a sportsman and a gentleman, and he should no longer be overlooked for the Lady Byng.

Alex Nedeljkovic: Calder Memorial Trophy

As good as Alex Nedeljkovic was in goal for the Canes this season - and he was really good - he's not going to win the Calder Memorial Trophy. In all likelihood, that honor will go to Kirill Kaprizov or Jason Robertson. But, Nedeljkovic certainly deserves to be one of the three finalists.

Nedeljkovic finished the season with a 15-5-3 record and three shutouts in 23 games. He posted a 1.90 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage, which rank first in the NHL among goaltenders who have played at least 20 games. That's not rookies - that's all goaltenders. He finished out the season even hotter, with a 7-1-1 record, a 1.55 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage and a shutout in his last nine appearances.

Video: CAR@FLA: Nedeljkovic makes a sprawling save

Those are cream-of-the-crop numbers not just among rookies but among all NHL goaltenders, and are deserving of Calder recognition, even if Nedeljkovic is just a finalist for the award.

Dougie Hamilton: James Norris Memorial Trophy

This one is probably the biggest longshot of the group, but let's talk it through.

Before suffering a season-ending leg injury in Columbus last year, Dougie Hamilton had recorded 40 points (14g, 26a) in 47 games and was widely considered to be firmly in the Norris Trophy conversation. Through 47 games this season, Hamilton had totaled 39 points (8g, 31a), but for whatever reason, it didn't seem like his name was generating the same buzz in the Norris conversation. Maybe it was the fact that he had just one goal in his first 25 games, but what about his 17 assists in the same stretch? And what about his 24 points (9g, 15a) in his last 30 games of the season? Only Sebastian Aho had more points for the Canes in that stretch, as he was better than a point-per-game producer.

Video: CBJ@CAR: Hamilton nets OT winner on a breakaway

Hamilton finished the season with 42 points (10g, 32a), ranking tied for third on the team in scoring, and only six defensemen in the NHL had more points.

Is it a longshot to consider Hamilton for the award given "to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position"? Maybe. You could probably even make an argument for Slavin to be considered, even if his offensive numbers aren't as robust. But, we probably shouldn't totally ignore the season Hamilton put together.

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