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Fantasy Hockey: Handing out year-end awards after an NHL season like no other

·9-min read

We are a weekend away from the conclusion of the fantasy hockey season and I must say, I really enjoyed this one. Sure, it had its moments with regards to COVID-19 outbreaks, but the finish line is in sight and it appears that every team will cross. 

While I’m glad the NHL will likely return to its normal scheduling and divisional format, it was fun to watch an all-Canadian slate for a season — even if the division itself wasn't all that great. In an NHL campaign where it certainly wasn’t difficult to point out the sore spots, it had some positives and a uniqueness to it that we’ll likely never see again.

To wrap up the year that was in fantasy hockey, here are 10 made-up awards handed out by me. If you don’t like what you see, make up your own awards.

Most Valuable Player: G Philipp Grubauer, Colorado Avalanche

I can’t say this about all award recipients, but this selection is backed up by completely irrefutable data that is not up for debate. Philipp Grubauer was on 32.6% of the top-500 head-to-head Yahoo public league teams, more than any other player. No quantifiable argument for any other player can match the strength Grubauer holds in just this stat alone.

Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer is your 2021 fantasy hockey MVP, according to us. (Getty)
Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer is your 2021 fantasy hockey MVP, according to us. (Getty)

The German goaltender wasn’t one of the first names off the board at the position, earning a 81.8 average draft position (ADP) in Yahoo drafts, making him the 15th ranked goalie. During the 2020-21 season, however, Grubauer has arguably been the best goaltender in the league. The 29-year-old’s 27 wins rank second, his .920 save percentage sits at 11th, his 2.03 goals-against average ranks fourth and his six shutouts are second amongst all netminders. Playing behind a very solid Colorado Avalanche team, Grubauer’s numbers have been stellar — and he is your fantasy hockey MVP.

Least Valuable Player: LW/RW Patrik Laine, Columbus Blue Jackets

Unlike other players who failed to meet their draft capital in fantasy hockey, Patrik Laine doesn’t have an injury crutch to lean on. Plain and simple, the Finnish forward stunk in 2020-21. Owning a 25.1 ADP in Yahoo drafts, it was expected that the 2016 second-overall pick would continue to evolve as one of the best goal-scoring threats in the league. Laine’s performance this year, however, has been nothing short of a major step backwards.

Things really went south for the 23-year-old after an electric season debut. In his first and only game of the year with the Winnipeg Jets, Laine recorded two goals and an assist — including the overtime game-winner. Shortly after, he was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets and that’s when things got ugly. In 43 games with his new team, Laine has recorded just 10 goals and 18 points, a horrid minus-28 mark, and just 80 shots, which puts him on-pace for a career-worst 149 shots over an 82-game season. Nothing about Laine’s game has helped fantasy managers, thus earning him prestigious LVP honours.

Waiver Wire Add of the Year: D Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes

Drafted in just 12% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, there wasn’t a whole lot of pre-season hype for Jakob Chychrun even after he posted a solid campaign as a 21-year-old in 2019-20. Looking at the situation now, it was a massive oversight to underrate the up-and-coming blueliner. Four days into the NHL season, it was clear to me that passing on Chychrun in my drafts was a mistake, but luckily, I was able to scoop him off the wire along with many other fantasy managers who were handsomely rewarded.

The 2016 first-round pick has taken major strides in nearly every category. His 18 goals leads all blueliners, his 21 assists are a career-high, his 169 shots are second amongst rearguards and his 85 blocks are impressively tied for 27th amongst all players at the position. He’s been the complete package as a defenseman and as he continues to develop, I believe we’ll see him begin to use his 6-foot-2, 210 lbs frame even more. He’s someone worth stashing in keeper and dynasty leagues and will certainly be drafted in a lot more fantasy leagues next year.

Performance of the Year: LW Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

(April 27 at Nashville Predators: 2G, 3A, +2, 3 PPP, 6 SOG)

Jonathan Huberdeau’s five-point outburst wasn’t the highest point total any player recorded in a single-game this season, Mika Zibanejad holds that honour with a pair of six-point efforts. On the surface it’d make sense to hand Zibanejad this award due to that simple fact, but if there’s one thing that is equally important in reality as it is fantasy, it’s timing, and Huberdeau went off when fantasy managers needed him the most.

Huberdeau’s monster performance came last week, which happened to either be the semi-finals or final for nearly every single fantasy hockey league. There’s a good chance that if you had the Florida Panthers star on your team, you won a very important matchup, thus making it the top performance of the year.

Rookie of the Year: LW/RW Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild

Dallas Stars rookie Jason Robertson didn’t make this an easy decision, but I ultimately sided with Kirill Kaprizov for rookie of the year. You can make a case for either freshman, but Kaprizov has been a standout for the Minnesota Wild and fantasy hockey managers since opening night and it’s his ability to drive offense on his team that ultimately won him the award.

Kaprizov, 23, is older than most first-year players and it’s evident in his play. The two-time KHL goal king leads all rookies with 26 goals and 47 points, numbers that also lead his team. Kaprizov’s ADP was 151.1 in fantasy hockey drafts before this season, but he’s poised to be a top-75 pick in pools next year.

Puck Punching Bag Award: D Alec Martinez, Vegas Golden Knights

The illustrious and prestigious Puck Punching Bag Award is handed out to the player that simply put his body in front of more rubber than any other player. Entering the final weekend of the season, Alec Martinez’s 155 blocks are an impressive 34 more than the next closest player, Edmonton Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson.

I think it’s important to recognize the guy who blocks the most shots, because it’s really one of the hardest and most painful parts of the job. Martinez has also made himself valuable to fantasy managers with his sterling plus-26 mark, which is tied for fifth in the NHL.

Golden Donut: G Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders

Semyon Varlamov earns the Golden Donut for finishing with seven shutouts, leading the NHL in that category. Playing in 35 games, the 33-year-old has impressively earned one shutout for every five appearances and has totaled as many perfect performances this year as he has in his last four seasons combined.

With a 148.4 ADP, Varlamov was being selected outside the top-25 amongst goaltenders and behind guys like Joonas Korpisalo and Ben Bishop, who never played a game this season. His numbers have been absolutely phenomenal as his .930 save percentage and 2.02 goals-against-average rank third amongst all goalies. His standout performance is one of several that highlighted the benefits of waiting on goalies in fantasy hockey drafts.

Mr. Irrelevant Award: C Vincent Trocheck, Carolina Hurricanes

The Mr. Irrelevant award goes to the player drafted in less than 5% of Yahoo leagues who had the largest impact. Selected in just 3% of Yahoo fantasy drafts, Vincent Trocheck exceeded even the loftiest of expectations.

Coming off a disappointing 2019-20 campaign that saw the 27-year-old net just 11 goals and 38 points across 62 games, Trocheck really wasn’t a high priority for any fantasy manager as he owned a 163.3 ADP. Those who were lucky enough to scoop him off the wire were treated to a season-long hold as Trocheck has recorded 17 goals, 26 assists, 415 faceoff wins and an impressive 105 hits. His versatility has been a huge benefit in fantasy and is the reason why he’s this year’s Mr. Irrelevant Award recipient.

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Old Guy’s Got Game Award: C Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Everyone’s always talking about the best young players in the league and how the NHL is a young-man’s game, but let's not overlook the vets that can still get it done. The Old Guy’s Got Game Award is given to the player who’s 35 or older that continues to produce at an elite level, and Patrice Bergeron is the obvious choice for the distinction this time around.

Bergeron, who turned 35 last summer, continues to age like a cast iron skillet. For the eighth-straight season, the Boston Bruins’ captain has reached the 20-goal plateau. Additionally, Bergeron has produced a respectable 25 helpers as he continues to anchor one of the best lines in hockey, playing alongside Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. The middle man continues to be a master at the faceoff dot, winning a league-best 683 draws while his plus-26 rating is tied for fifth. A great player to have in fantasy, it’s scary to think that Bergeron is even more valuable in reality as he continues to be the game’s best two-way forward.

Are You Serious? Award: C Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The patented (pending) Are You Serious? Award is given out to the most absurdly amazing accomplishment by any player through the season. It could be a ridiculous single-game performance, a week-long shutout streak or anything that is simply incredible. This season, Connor McDavid defied what anybody thought was possible with his performance.

Through 52 games, McDavid is currently sitting at 31 goals and 96 points (96 POINTS!!!). With four games left, the Edmonton Oilers’ captain needs just four points to hit 100, and it seems like all but a foregone conclusion that he’ll do so. Hockey fans have been witness to one of the most incredible individual seasons ever and McDavid has solidified his claim as the game’s best player.

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