The NHL Can Take This For Free: The Most Improved Player Award

I can go on and on about how the NBA are leading the way on how a professional sports league should be run. But I won’t. I just think it would be cool if the NHL stole some ideas from them. For instance, the Most Improved Player of the Year award. That would be pretty neat, right Gary? Because the NHL does not have enough awards already, clearly.

Every award has to have some rules. So I just created some out of thin air that I thought were reasonable.

Firstly, the player cannot have been awarded any other award in their NHL career. Reputation in hockey is everything. If a player is already recognized as a great player in this league, or one of the best in that year, then how can they improve? Even if a player is a Calder winner, as the best rookie in their year, that is still enough recognition to always be in the mind of the average fan.

Another hypothetical rule for this hypothetical award, is that they player has to have enough of a career to be an established NHL player. I personally would say have at least two seasons before the current award-eligible year. After all, how could a player improve if this was his only NHL season?

Now, with those rules some players and their seasons will be viewed differently. As with every award, the story of their season is so significant in what their votes will look like.

A player can go from a great player to an elite, league-leading, player. A different player can go from a middling tweener that couldn’t get any time on the ice, to a player that plays a significant role in his team’s success. Different levels, but it is all up to each member of this imaginary Professional Hockey Writers Association to vote on what story deserves this highly prestigious award.

Now on to the players that I have graced with the nomination.

Image result for mikael granlund

MIKAEL GRANLUND

In his 5-year career in the NHL, this year has been Granlund’s best. He led the Wild in points and assists, while coming in second for goals and having the second-most time on ice in this forward group.

Last year, he sported a mediocre 0.54 points/game, but he has increased that to a 0.85 points/game. This massive jump in offensive production could be a direct reaction to Granlund shifting from centre to the wing.

But he is on the wing of the Mikko Koivu, and his line is guaranteed a huge amount of defensive-zone starts. He is producing so much more offensively, despite Granlund is starting a massive 61.3% of his shifts in the defensive zone. Last year, only 39.9% of his shifts started there. That is a massive role change for him and he is finding a significant amount of success in this role. Boudreau is one smart-ass coach.

Is he just getting the right bounces and having good luck this season? Perhaps, but I doubt the imaginary PHWA care for that. Some members just want a quick vote so they can get back to writing about hotdog vendors and their customers.

NAZEM KADRI

Oh, here comes the Toronto media train. The coverage of this Leafs team is enormous and it is only going to get bigger when they get even better. But underneath all the worship for the Three Rookies, Kadri is coming out in a key role for this team and is getting more recognition for it.

Similar to Granlund, Kadri is getting a massive amount of defensive zone starts, 62.6% compared to 48.4% last year. But he is the centre on his line and is constantly facing up against the league’s best and brightest, trying to shut them down.

Again, like Granlund, he is producing at a much higher rate offensively this year. From a middling 0.59 points/game last year, to a successful 0.74 points/game this year. Producing a 0.59 points/game on last year’s last-place Maple Leafs team was a massive success on his own.

So maybe Kadri isn’t exactly the Most Improved Player, but the Better Recognized and on a Better Team that He is Playing in a Different Role Within…player.

Image result for arvidsson

VIKTOR ARVIDSSON

Before this season, I doubt anyone but fans of the Nashville Predators and people really into middle-round drafted Swedish prospects, knew who Viktor Arvidsson was. But he has certainly made his great name, a Tennessean household name.

Arvidsson is a little exception to my already made-up rules. This is his third season, but two years ago he only played 6 games in the NHL, and 56 the year after. Does that really matter though when I made up the rules? I like Arvidsson, so there.

He has had the highest jump in his points/game. From a Seth Griffith-esque 0.29 points/game, to a very respectable 0.79 points/game. His average time-on-ice saw a massive un-Seth Griffith-esque jump as well, from 12:24 last year, to a thicker 17:09. Mainly, his found chemistry with linemates Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg, is to blame for that.

Is this just a player with only 62 previous NHL games, finding his footing and simply just developing to the player that he is going to be? Well, isn’t that still improving?

Image result for kucherov

NIKITA KUCHEROV

Remember when I said in the beginning about different levels? Nikita Kucherov is that good player, going into an elite top, top player in the league.

Since the Tampa Bay Lightning were distraught with injuries for the majority of this season, certain players had to step into the spotlight and run this team that were major cup contenders at the beginning of the season. Kucherov was one of those players for them.

Last year, he was seen as a great secondary scoring option, next to Stamkos. Even though he led the team in scoring for both seasons, he turned it up to a whole new level this most recent season.

Kucherov posted a great 0.86 points/game last season, this season he scored at an elite 1.15 points/game. That is comparable to Sidney Crosby’s 1.18 points/game he had this season as well.

Like I said previously, Kucherov improved his game to become an elite scorer and a top-tier talent in the NHL. He was already well-known and acknowledged before, but this is a whole new area for him.

Image result for justin schultz

JUSTIN SCHULTZ

You didn’t think I would only include forwards in this, right? Well, I almost did.

Justin Schultz is having a terrific season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has become a heavily-relied on defenceman within their system. That is a massive improvement from just the beginning of the 2015-16 season, where he was seen as another useless Edmonton Oilers blueliner.

The increase in his time-on-ice is a significant sign that he is now a more important part to his current team. Last year, from when he was traded to the Penguins until he won the Cup, he only played an average of 13:37 a night. But this season, he is playing a staggering 20:27 on average during a game. That is a heavy increase in trust for a defenceman that was seen as a massive liability just 16 months ago.

His Corsi For% relative to his teammates skyrocketed as well from last year. Posting a lowly -7.0 last year, making his team always worse when he was on the ice. Versus an improved 1.9 this season, making him a positive Corsi player compared to his team when he was on the ice.

But is this all because of the individual his own desire to be a better player within the Penguin’s system? Perhaps his season is just the sum of playing on an amazing team with one of the best group of forwards.

20 of his 51 points were solely on the powerplay. That is quite high, even for an offensively-minded defenceman. Brent Burns, one of the most offensively-minded defencemen, had only 25 of his 76 points when his team was on the powerplay. Erik Karlsson only had 27 of his 71 points on the man advantage.

It is clear that Schultz had a concerning high amount of his points when his team was on the powerplay. But that doesn’t cancel out the fact that he was put in tough situations and contributed well to a very successful team. Also that he looks like a standard pre-set player on Be a Pro in any NHL game.

CONCLUSION

Honestly, this award could be really interesting. There are similar awards like the Masterton Trophy, that is given to a player that has overcome and persevered through any tragedy/injury in their life. But, my great award is given for the on-ice performance of the players. There can still be great stories to come through that.

They can award it to the highly-drafted player that didn’t live up to expectations but improved to become a great player. Maybe give to the already established 30-year-old player that found a new love for the game and is having the best year of his career. Choose between the player that is going to most likely continue playing at this level, or to the veteran that is having the best time of his life and you think he deserves some recognition for that. There are so many options and so many stories that can go along with this award. The PHWA will eat this up.

C’mon NHL, do something interesting for once.

-all data from hockey-reference.com-
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