The Hart, Norris and Vezina trophies may be the three most anticipated awards to be handed out at the 2016 NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 22.
A look at the underlying numbers suggests that Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars deserves to win the Hart, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators has to be the frontrunner for the Norris, and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals should be the Vezina favorite.
Here is a breakdown of the finalists for each of the three awards:
Finalists: Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars; Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins; Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
The Hart Trophy is awarded to the "player judged most valuable to his team," as voted by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA).
Video: MIN@DAL, Gm5: Ja. Benn beats Dubnyk with nifty move
Though the three finalists finished first, second and third in the League scoring race, Kane is the favorite to win this award because of his considerable margin of victory. Kane had 106 points, compared to 89 for Benn and 85 for Crosby.
Crosby may have the edge if his slow start is set aside. After Dec. 12, the day Mike Sullivan was named Penguins coach, Crosby scored 30 goals, which ranked second to Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (36), and had 66 points, which tied Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks for the League lead.
Video: PIT@NYR: Crosby tips in game-winning goal in OT
However, the Hart has two components: the player's production and his value to his team. In that sense, this award can reveal just as much about the team for which the winner plays as it does about the player himself.
Though all three finalists come from strong teams, Benn's success helped the Stars improve from 92 points in the 2014-15 season to 109 points in 2015-16 and earn their first division title since 2005-06.
Team success, and the fact that he plays more of a valuable two-way role than the other finalists, having been deployed against top opponents at each end of the rink and in all game and manpower situations, could make Benn the surprise victor.
Finalists: Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks; Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
Voted on by the PHWA, the Norris Trophy is awarded to the "defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position."
Offensively, Burns has a slight edge on Karlsson. The Senators defenseman outscored Burns 82 points to 75, but he had more opportunity to score. Karlsson's ice time at even strength was 17 percent greater than Burns', and he had 14 percent more ice time on the power play. Given the same ice time as Karlsson, Burns would have scored an estimated 86.7 points.
Doughty had 51 points, tied with Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild, Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators and P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens for ninth among NHL defensemen. His status as a Norris finalist clearly isn't based on his scoring, but on his all-around game. The Kings allowed 192 goals, third fewest in the League, compared to 207 for the Sharks (tied for 10th) and 241 for the Senators (26th).
Video: DAL@LAK: Doughty unloads laser to take the lead
NHL.com's enhanced stats shed further light on Doughty's selection. With him on the ice at 5-on-5, the Kings had 1,778 shot attempts to their opponents' 1,241. Doughty's shot attempts differential of plus-537 shot attempts was the highest in the League, putting him well ahead of teammate Milan Lucic, who was second at plus-422.
In fairness, Doughty's numbers were boosted from playing for a possession-focused team. The Kings may have had an outstanding 58.89 shot attempts percentage when Doughty was on the ice, but they also were at 54.6 percent without him.
In comparison, Ottawa's SAT percentage was 51.5 percent with Karlsson, 44.3 percent without him. That could be a strong point in favor of Karlsson winning the Norris for the second straight season and the third time in five.
Finalists: Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning; Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals; Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
When voting on which goalie is "adjudged to be the best at this position," NHL general managers historically have placed far too much emphasis on wins and losses.
That's probably the only reason Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings is among the 2016 Vezina Trophy finalists; his 40 wins were second to Holtby's 48, but his numbers near the League average in almost every other category.
The problem is that wins are a team statistic, just as dependent on how many goals a team scored as how many the goalie allowed. Even the goals-against statistic can depend as much on the number of scoring chances a team allowed as how well the goalie played.
Video: NYI@TBL, Gm5: Bishop makes spectacular pad save
That's why quality starts are a better way to evaluate how consistently a goalie gave his team a chance to win, because they're awarded in any game when a goalie stops at least a League-average number of shots, regardless of how many he faced and regardless of whether his team scored enough to win.
In this regard, Holtby has the advantage among the three finalists, with 42 quality starts in 66 games, or 63.6 percent.
That Bishop has the edge on Holtby in save percentage, .926 to .922, coupled with the fact that he is slightly behind in quality-start percentage (61.7 percent), would seem to suggest this is a very close contest (Quick's quality-start percentage was 55.9). However, Holtby's 48 wins to Bishop's 35 will hold the greatest weight for voters, and should make him a lock for his first Vezina Trophy.