By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
It feels weird to think about with the season still so far from completion, but the NHL Awards season is still upon. Typically, this would be the time when the Stanley Cup Final is coming closer to an end and the NHL is near crowning a champion. This season, that will wait for at least a few more months.
Despite that, voting is underway for NHL awards and the Flyers are sure to be represented with candidates in a handful of categories.
Before we get into the Flyers candidates, there are certainly some awards where the Flyers don’t have any candidates. They will not have a Hart Trophy finalist or a Norris candidate or a Vezina candidate. The Flyers didn’t feature a true star scorer that blew away the rest of the league and while Ivan Provorov had a strong season on the blue line and Carter Hart put together another solid year in goal, they are not quite into the national discussion just yet.
Now, here are a look at some Flyers candidates for this awards season.
Frank J. Selke Trophy – Sean Couturier
Could this finally be Sean Couturier’s year? The Flyers center has become one of the best two-way players in the game, judging by his second-place Selke finish in 2017-18 and sixth-place finish in 2018-19. At the midpoint of the season, Couturier was voted as the favorite for the award.
The Flyers only got better beyond the midseason point, and Couturier was a huge reason why. Given the shortened regular season, Couturier didn’t set new career marks in goals or points, but with 22 goals and 59 points, he was well on his way to coming close to his career marks in goals (33) and points (76). Add in that Couturier had the second-highest plus-minus of his career at plus-21 with 13 regular-season games still to go and was a face-off dynamo and you have the makings of a complete player.
Of course, Couturier will once again have some stiff competition from perennial candidates Patrice Bergeron and Mark Stone and others like Anthony Cirelli and Ryan O’Reilly are certainly in the mix, but it feels like the rest of the league has recognized Couturier’s importance on the ice and just how well he plays at both ends.
Jack Adams Award – Alain Vigneault
This one is going to be a close race. There are multiple candidates for the Jack Adams that you could mention and receive no objection to the decision. Alain Vigneault definitely qualifies.
Vigneault came to Philadelphia with the goal of bringing the Flyers back to relevance by not just being in playoff races, but being considered a contender. They are not going to reach the peak of the Eastern Conference in a year, but given the wild circumstances of the season, Vigneault not only guided the Flyers to the playoffs, but got them a bye from the qualifying round, ensuring at least one seven-game series of playoff hockey. That’s a huge accomplishment for this team.
Now, while the Flyers were not on a lot of lists of teams expected to make the playoffs this season, they managed to get through the season without suffering too many major injuries. Other teams were not so lucky, yet maintained their playoff status. That’s where a lot of Vigneault’s competition will come from.
You can point to the best teams in the league and their coaches — Bruce Cassidy for Boston, Jon Cooper for Tampa Bay, Craig Berube for St. Louis and Jared Bednar for Colorado are all expected to get some votes — but the coaches that are the real competition are ones that worked through a variety of injuries to top players.
The front-runner for the Jack Adams is likely John Tortorella. Let’s face it, no one gave Columbus a chance to even be in the playoff picture after losing Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene to free agency. Throw in a bunch of injuries to top players like Seth Jones, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson and two relatively unknown goalies — who both also suffered injuries — and still somehow find a way to sit on the cusp of a playoff spot, that’s impressive.
Another candidate will be Mike Sullivan for Pittsburgh. When you take Sidney Crosby out of your lineup for months, deal with injuries to the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and lost Jake Guentzel for what was supposed to be the remainder of the season and don’t seem to miss a beat, you are doing something right as a coach.
Vigneault deserves a lot of credit and could very well be a finalist for the award, but it’s going to be a tough call when it comes to choosing a winner.
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy – Oskar Lindblom
The Masterton Trophy goes to a player who exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game of hockey. Oskar Lindblom is certainly that.
Lindblom is a very well-liked and respected part of the Flyers locker room, and that was on full display when he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in December and the Oskar Strong movement began and stretched around the league. Lindblom has been undergoing treatments and is expected to have his final treatments soon. While his playing career remains on hold, the hope is that he can make a full return to the game once his cancer battle is complete.
In this category, there are a lot of great nominees that are also deserving. Jay Bouwmeester is the nominee for St. Louis and has been recovering from a cardiac episode that happened during a game on Feb. 11.
Ottawa Senators forward and Cherry Hill, NJ native Bobby Ryan is also nominated. Ryan took a leave of absence from the team to go through the NHL and NHLPA’s player assistance program. He later revealed he suffered a panic attack and was battling alcohol abuse. He returned to the team in February.
Dallas Stars defenseman Stephen Johns returned to the ice in January after 22 months off the ice as he recovered from post-concussion syndrome. Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore is also nominated. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in May and recovered and returned in just a few months and went on to put up career numbers this season.