The 2020 Lach in the Crease Awards

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NHL Awards voting season is officially upon us, and while the Professional Hockey Writers Association is busy trying to figure out if Leon Draisaitl is Hart-worthy or how to deny Quinn Hughes of the Calder Trophy he so richly deserves, I decided to go in a different direction.

The Canucks already have a set of fan-voted team awards that usually get awarded at the end of every season but thanks to COVID-19 they were never handed out, causing Twitter to have a weekly “Markstrom vs. Pettersson” MVP debate. Rather than add a piece of kindling to a forest fire of opinions, I’ve created a new selection of very prestigious team awards to hand out to various Canucks.

Prepare to walk the red carpet, because it’s time for the first annual Lach in the Crease Awards show.

The Mats Sundin Trophy

Awarded to the best player who joined the Canucks mid-season (through trade or signing).

Winner: Tyler Toffoli

I’d be lying if I said honouring Mats Sundin’s legendary half season in Vancouver wasn’t a big inspiration for this awards show. Roster changes are part of the winning equation for any good hockey team, and every so often a player lands in a new city and catches lightning in a bottle.

This season the Canucks made only one outside addition involving a roster skater, and they made it count.

Tyler Toffoli may have only gotten ten games with the Canucks before the season was canceled, but he brought a lethal scoring touch with him. Playing on the top line alongside Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller, Toffoli notched 10 points after the trade from Los Angeles and helped soften the blow of losing Brock Boeser to a rib injury earlier in February.

With playoff hockey potentially on the horizon, we may not have seen the last of Toffoli in Vancouver before he hits free agency this offseason. But even if we don’t, his short time wearing green and blue will live on in Canucks lore.

Honourable mention: Louis Domingue

The Nikolay Goldobin Award

Awarded to the best AHL call up of the season.

Winner: Zack MacEwen

Every year at least one Utica Comets player captures the minds and hearts of Canucks fans and eventually earns a chance to make his season debut at the NHL level. Whether the player sticks all the way through doesn’t matter when it comes to this award. What matters is the thrill their call up to the big leagues brings to fans in a long NHL season.

There were multiple good candidates this season, but “Big Mac” Zack MacEwen took the cake – or, burger.

MacEwen became a useful piece for Travis Green when injuries began to befall other wingers like Boeser and Josh Leivo. Playing multiple roles alongside centres like Bo Horvat and Adam Gaudette, MacEwen suited up for 17 games and picked up six points in the process, including his first NHL goal.

 

MacEwen fits an important piece of the puzzle as the Canucks move closer and closer to regular playoff contention. The ability to play up and down the lineup in various roles while still providing an offensive touch is crucial for any team with postseason aspirations.

Whether his late season play will be enough to earn him a raise when he hits restricted free agency and a regular spot on the team next season remains to be seen. But with a Stanley Cup tournament potentially on the way, there could be even more opportunities ahead for “Big Mac” Zack to officially graduate from the Comets. 

Honourable mentions: Justin Bailey, Tyler Graovac

The West Coast Express Trophy

Awarded to best forward line of the season.

Winner: Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller (“The Lotto Line”)

The West Coast Express. The Legion of Doom. The French Connection. A great line can do more for a team than put pucks in the net. They can become a trio of skill and chemistry whose NHL exploits will be remembered most from their time on the ice together. You can’t think about Markus Naslund’s tenure in Vancouver without Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison alongside him.

There were two good candidates for the award this year, but only one is set to shape the Canucks’ championship aspirations for seasons to come.

J.T. Miller’s arrival in Vancouver had its’ supporters and detractors at the time, but no one could’ve predicted the success he’d find alongside Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. Minted “The Lotto Line” for their jersey numbers (6-40-9, it’s a Canadian thing), Miller and Pettersson finished the season first and second in team scoring with 72 and 66 points respectively, while Boeser finished tied for fifth with 45 points despite missing 12 games due to injury.

What made the line so successful was the missing piece Miller added as a play carrier and net front presence, leaving Pettersson and Boeser more opportunity to set up around the goal and worry less about chasing pucks along the boards. According to Evolving Hockey, the Lotto Line finished the shortened season with a Goals For Percentage of 67.06, putting them eighth among the NHL lines with 200 minutes played or more.

With Pettersson and Boeser both still on RFA deals and Miller’s contract going until 2023, there’s a very good chance they’ll be up here accepting this award again. Maybe even every year.

Honourable mentions: Bo Horvat, Tanner Pearson and Loui Eriksson (“The Closers”)

The Cody Hodgson Trophy

Awarded to the player with the best individual performance of the season.

Winner: Jacob Markstrom (Feb. 12, 2020 vs. Chicago)

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When a team plays 82 contests every single year, sometimes the best efforts of individual players can get lost in the shuffle. After all, hockey is a team sport. But that’s why it’s important to honour the players who either single handedly won their team two points or had a night to remember in a game that mattered emotionally, like a young Cody Hodgson did in “Game 8”.

The Sedins’ jersey retirement ceremony would have grabbed every single hockey headline in Vancouver on February 12, if not for the greatest game of Jacob Markstrom’s career.

While his teammates mustered three goals on 20 shots against Corey Crawford and the Chicago Blackhawks, Markstrom turned away every one of a staggering 49 Chicago shots. His performance that night holds the franchise record for most saves in a shutout effort, breaking the previous 43 save mark also set by Markstrom two months earlier against the Carolina Hurricanes.

But sure NHL.com, he’s only the thirteenth best goalie in this year’s playoffs.

 

Honourable mentions: Jacob Markstrom (Dec. 12, 2019 vs. CAR), Tanner Pearson (Nov. 30, 2019 @ EDM), J.T. Miller (Jan. 2, 2019 vs. CHI)

The Alex “Dragon Slayer” Burrows Trophy

Awarded to the player with the best celebration(s) of the season.

Winner: Adam Gaudette

It finally seems like we’ve entered an era where fun celebrations on goals aren’t considered by old hockey men to be “an insult towards everyone in the arena and their families”, and the sport is better off for it. So it seems only fitting that we encourage the behavior by awarding some hardware to the player who routinely puts a hilarious exclamation point on their goals.

And they don’t call him Adam “The Celly Gaud” Gaudette for nothing.

https://youtu.be/aLmZkubFt_g

Gaudette’s signature move is a one-legged slide across the ice and a fist pump, with a jump into the glass sometimes thrown in during home games. While each individual component isn’t that uncommon to see in an NHL game, Gaudette’s passion for goal scoring ties it all together into a celly that even gets his teammates going.

His brief use of the more rare “Superhero Reveal” move during the preseason also deserves some recognition, and should it become a regular part of his toolkit it’d definitely earn him extra skill points in next year’s race.

It’s worth noting that this selection was also easy simply because there isn’t another Canucks player with a celebration worth recognizing. When it comes to energizing their teammates after goals, Vancouver’s young guns really need more development time.

The Roberto Luongo Trophy

Awarded to the player whose skill and effort makes the largest impact on the present day team and the franchise’s future.

Winner: Quinn Hughes

Obviously, no one can predict the future. But in those rare cases when a player that’s capable of potentially changing a team’s trajectory for the better makes his debut, you know it instantaneously.

For the Canucks fans before my time those names included Linden, Bure, Naslund, Sedin and Sedin. The next generation already has Pettersson and Boeser. And for seven year-old Lachlan that name was Roberto Luongo, who I’ve chosen to name the trophy for.

Whether or not a Calder Trophy is in the cards, Quinn Hughes will finish 2019-20 with at least one award for his shelf.

Instead of going through all the reasons why Hughes won – because let’s be honest, you already know why – let me tell you a story.

The Canucks home opener on October 9th was the first live game I’d seen in Vancouver in half a decade. But even with all the 50th season festivities and Bo Horvat’s captaincy ceremony before the game, the energy inside Rogers Arena felt different than nearly all the home games I’d watched from California since 2014.

Early in the first period the Canucks get a power play opportunity. The first unit can’t convert so out comes the second, with Quinn Hughes as the quarterback. After an Adam Gaudette shot went wide, Tanner Pearson was able to collect it from the side boards and chip it back towards the 19 year-old rookie along the blue line.

Hughes took one look at the Los Angeles Kings net, wound up and fired.

 

When that cannonball of a shot beat Jonathan Quick’s glove, the crowd erupted. But it wasn’t the usual “we scored a goal” cheer, or even a “first goal since April” cheer. It was a noise I’d only heard once, in the season opener the year before.

It sounded like a cheer of hope, from a fanbase that hasn’t had much in years. Hughes’ rookie season not only provided a massive boost to the Canucks’ defense, but to the belief that a fantastic young core is coming together in Vancouver. With time and the right supporting cast to surround himself, Pettersson, Boeser and Horvat, the sky very well could be the limit.

Honourable mention: Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller

The Pat Quinn Lifetime Achievement Award

Awarded to the person whose play and/or work leaves a permanent mark on the Canucks franchise, fanbase and image.

Winner: Judd Brackett

Legends aren’t born from simply being good at what you do. It takes a combination of skill, personality and a bit of mystery to become something larger than life; someone that truly lives on in the minds of people long after you’ve taken your final bow.

Nobody fits that description better than Judd Brackett.

When it came to management, Brackett spent plenty of time working in the shadows of the Canucks’ hierarchy. As the Canucks’ Director of Amateur Scouting since 2015-16, he helped turned drafting into the team’s strongest skill for the first time in franchise history.

Thanks to the hard work of his collaborative scouting staff Vancouver landed stars like Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, and restocked the prospect cupboard with the likes of Mike Dipietro, Jack Rathbone, Kole Lind and Vasili Podkolzin. But as the legend of Brackett’s efforts grew among fans and media, so did the divide between him, Benning and assistant GM John Weisbrod.

Soon the integral scouts Brackett had brought to the table were being pushed out and replaced by people in line with Benning and Weisbrod’s direction. Since upper management was unwilling to let the director do his job, Brackett decided to walk.

Even though he’s going on to bigger and better things, the mark Brackett leaves on the Canucks’ current core and fanbase is unmistakable. The draft picks he fought hardest for will improve over time and, hopefully, become integral parts of a winning culture in Vancouver.

But even as the players he helped bring to the Canucks come and go, the “people’s champion” persona Judd Brackett unknowingly cultivated while working under a controversial management duo will be remembered in this city for a very long time.


And with that, the inaugural Lach in the Crease Awards show is over! Feel free to join me at the after party on Twitter, where you can yell at me for my trophy choices choices and take advantage the open bar (if your fridge has drinks of course).


In lieu of gift baskets, a donation has been made on behalf of the winners to Black Lives Matter Vancouver. Click here if you’d like to donate to the cause, or check out blacklivesmatters.carrd.co for even more donation options.

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