Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s 2022 award predictions series. As the regular season wraps up and the playoffs begin, we’ll be taking a look at potential nominees and winners for the major NHL awards. The 2022 NHL Awards will be a one-hour show between Games 3 and 4 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, hosted by the same city that will host those games. Tonight, we cover the Lady Byng Predictions for 2022.
2022 Lady Byng Predictions
The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy recognizes the league’s most sportsmanlike player combined with a high level of skill and ability. Hockey fans tend to overlook or disregard this award before the others. Typically people want to see who wins the Hart as the league MVP, or the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. The Lady Byng falls by the wayside, but shouldn’t. People focus on the “gentlemanly conduct” side of the equation and don’t find it as exciting as the other awards. But the other qualification still holds that the winner must exhibit top-end ability.
As a result, the Lady Byng captures a very specific, but immensely valuable type of player. The victor of this award has to be an elite talent in the NHL, supported by the fact that only 19 of the 88 annual recipients are not members of the Hall of Fame. That doesn’t include the following active players or inactive players not yet eligible: Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan O’Reilly, Anze Kopitar, Johnny Gaudreau, William Karlsson, Aleksander Barkov, Nathan MacKinnon, and Jaccob Slavin. Judging by that short list of names, odds look good that most of these players will eventually find their way into the Hall of Fame too.
Last season, Slavin took home this hardware after taking only a single minor penalty across 52 contests. That, combined with his team-leading 22:59 in average ice time and 87 blocked shots, made the Carolina Hurricanes defenceman a fantastic Lady Byng selection. Slavin leads by example like past Lady Byng winners and would improve any NHL roster. So, who checks those boxes in 2021-22?
In 81 contests this season, Zibanejad potted 29 goals and 52 assists for 81 points. This established a new career-high point total for the 28-year-old, and he only collected 12 penalty minutes in that span. That’s his lowest penalty minute total since 2012-13 when he played just 42 games as a rookie.
This isn’t entirely new territory for the centre either. For the last two years, Zibanejad received nods for the Lady Byng. He never got a full-on nomination, but finished 8th and 52nd amongst vote recipients in 2020 and 2021, respectively. He deserved better in both those campaigns, and hopefully, the voters finally see it that way this time around.
Despite a disappointing season for the Winnipeg Jets as a whole, their star left-winger Kyle Connor achieved new highs on his own. His 46 goals obliterated his previous best single-season total, as did his 46 assists and 92 points. He managed to do all that additional scoring while also reducing his penalty total to a measly four minutes.
The most impressive aspect to consider here is that Connor’s ice time jumped from 18:44 per night in 2020-21 to 21:49 in 2021-22. That’s a significant amount of time on ice for a forward, as he received top minutes against the league’s top talent all year long. To be able to make that kind of jump, and score at a rate unparalleled in his career thus far is amazing in and of itself. But he also played smart and by the book, taking just two minor penalties across the entire NHL season. Connor just had his best, and most disciplined, year of his career and the Lady Byng could wind up in his possession as a result.
The Colorado Avalanche keep Toews’ prominence well-hidden, thanks to Cale Makar distracting everyone. But when taking a closer look at the Avs and their success, it’s easy to see Toews’ fingerprints all over. He took major strides in 2021-22, scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace from the team’s blueline. He ended with 57 points in 66 games, making it his first campaign with a double-digit goal total. His 44 assists matched the 44 he collected in 2019-20 and 2020-21 combined.
Toews is a bit unlike the other nominees selected here in that his penalty minute total actually hit a career-high. But, that new total still sat at a forgettable 20 minutes. That’s only 10 minor infractions, incredible for a top-pair defenceman logging a monstrous 25:22 in ice time per game. That ice time total ranked ninth across the entire league this season. None of the eight players ahead of him took as few penalties as Toews did. The only guys who came close weren’t able to score as consistently as he did, either. Maybe the Lady Byng will be the way Toews gets out of Makar’s shadow for just a little while…
Lady Byng Winner Predictions: Kyle Connor
This trophy remains just as difficult to concretely determine as any of the other objective awards. Even narrowing down to these three was difficult, and probably won’t mirror the league’s finalists perfectly. There are tons of quality players who also exhibit quality conduct on the ice. But ultimately, Connor’s explosion of offence, combined with that absolutely ridiculous penalty total of a paltry four minutes, is impossible to look past.
That takes nothing away from the others, though. Toews deserves more notoriety, which seems to be happening. It just takes more time due to the superstars around him in Denver. And if Zibanejad continues playing the way he has for the past three seasons, he’ll certainly gain more and more notoriety as a Lady Byng-esque player. Though Zibanejad and Toews both trend in the right direction, Connor’s season just set the bar too high this time around to be ignored.