As we continue our NHL midseason report this week, Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun hand out their midseason awards:
Midseason Report: Team grades | Awards | Second-half radar | Fantasy Focus
Burnside's pick: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Why: Even though Crosby remains sidelined with a concussion, it does nothing to diminish the stellar season the Pittsburgh captain is having. As of this writing, Crosby still led Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos by nine points in the scoring race and by a goal in the goal-scoring race. The fact that the Penguins immediately stumbled when Crosby went out of the lineup illustrates how important his impact is on a team that remains a viable Stanley Cup contender.
LeBrun's pick: Crosby
Why: The length of his absence due to his unfortunate concussion might reopen what was no debate for this trophy. But he'd have to miss at least two weeks for that to happen. At the halfway point, it's a slam dunk for Sid; the Hart is his to lose.
Burnside's pick: Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
Why: There will be those who think Boston netminder Tim Thomas deserves consideration not just for the Vezina but the Hart Trophy as well. They might not be wrong. At midseason, Thomas would seem to be a runaway favorite to win his second Vezina Trophy in three seasons. He leads the NHL in all critical goaltending categories, including save percentage, goals-against average and shutouts.
LeBrun's pick: Thomas
Why: One fights the urge to be different and take Jonas Hiller, Pekka Rinne, Carey Price or Ondrej Pavelec, but you just can't argue with Thomas' ridiculous numbers up to this point. Where would the Bruins be without his standout first half? Not in a playoff spot. He told ESPN.com earlier this season that offseason hip surgery and a mental reset were two reasons for his turnaround from last season.
Burnside's pick: Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Why: Yes, the sentimental choice is Detroit's Hall of Famer-in-waiting Nicklas Lidstrom, and no doubt Lidstrom is having a terrific season, especially for a 40-year-old. But let's not allow sentiment to get in the way of reality: Letang has emerged as the NHL's best all-around defenseman.
He logs big minutes (23:39 a night) against opposing teams' top players. He has filled the offensive void created by Sergei Gonchar's defection to Ottawa with 37 points, fourth among defensemen and just four points off the league lead for all blueliners. (Lidstrom was tied with Atlanta's Dustin Byfuglien for the lead with 41 points heading into Wednesday's action.) Letang is also plus-20, while Lidstrom is even. Perhaps most impressive for us, though, is Letang has become a key part of a Penguins defense that ranks fourth in the NHL. For the record, Lidstrom and the Wings rank 18th in goals allowed per game.
LeBrun's pick: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
Why: I mean, c'mon folks, you don't even need to think about this one. Burnside is on crack. Lidstrom is once again the best of the best on the blue line, and anyone in the Professional Hockey Writers' Association who doesn't give him a first-place ballot come April should have his voting privilege taken away. Of course, the "Perfect Human" has to continue his torrid pace into the second half, and we predict he will.
Burnside's pick: Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks
Why: This may be the toughest rookie race in recent years because so many first-year players are making significant contributions to their teams, whether it's Jeff Skinner in Carolina or Logan Couture in San Jose or Derek Stepan for the New York Rangers. But right now, we give the nod to Anaheim's stellar young defenseman Cam Fowler. The 19-year-old has made the jump to the NHL after just one year of major junior hockey and ranks seventh among all rookies in scoring (21 points). He leads all rookies in average ice time per night and has played a significant role in the Ducks' surprising bid for a playoff spot. Remember when everyone predicted the Ducks' shaky blue line would lead to a long season defensively? The Ducks rank an impressive 12th in goals allowed per game, and Fowler's impressive maturity is a key part of that improvement.
LeBrun's pick: Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks
Why: We have a feeling Taylor Hall will end up winning this in June with a monster second half, but I'll take leading rookie goal scorer Couture at the midpoint. Hopefully, the injury he suffered Tuesday night from a knee-on-knee hit by Toronto tough guy Colton Orr doesn't knock him out too long. On a disappointing Sharks team, Couture has been the club's most consistent performer this season.
Burnside's pick: Marc Crawford, Dallas Stars
Why: Perhaps the most difficult of the major awards to pick given the number of worthy candidates. I love the work John Tortorella has done in New York with the Rangers. Mike Babcock continues to get top-level results regardless of the injuries that befall the Detroit Red Wings. Barry Trotz is again working magic in Nashville. But, for me, the coach of the year right now is Crawford, who has kept a surprising young Dallas team at the top of the Pacific Division when many predicted the Stars wouldn't challenge for a playoff berth at all.
LeBrun's pick: John Tortorella, New York Rangers
Why: There are so many good choices for this award every year. Other good candidates include Guy Boucher, Marc Crawford, Alain Vigneault, Mike Babcock, Bruce Boudreau, Peter Laviolette, Barry Trotz et al. But for my money, the Rangers have overachieved so far, and Torts is the reason.
Burnside's pick: Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks
Why: This race isn't as dynamic as it should have been with defending champ Pavel Datsyuk out with a foot injury, but Kesler is enjoying a seminal season, adding a dynamic offensive presence to his already world-class defensive abilities. Kesler has 24 goals, including five game winners, and is plus-17. Mike Richards will get some attention, and when Datsyuk comes back in a couple of weeks, he'll push the Vancouver center; but this is, in my mind, another runaway.
LeBrun's pick: Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers
Why: He draws the tough matchups all the time and gets it done. Ask opposing top centers which player they most hate to play against in the NHL, and Richards' name invariably will come up. Ryan Kesler is a great pick, too, but he's become more of an offensive force this season, while Manny Malhotra has emerged as the shutdown man in Vancouver. So, with usual champ Pavel Datsyuk out with a long-term injury, I like Richards for this award at the halfway point.
Burnside's pick: David Poile, Nashville Predators
Why: Every season, Poile and the Predators work within their own budget that rarely approaches the NHL's salary cap, and every season, they ice a team that never fails to surprise with its performance. This season is no exception. Nashville has received surprising production from under-the-radar acquisitions like Sergei Kostitsyn, who is second on the team in point production, and unheralded homegrown talent like netminder Anders Lindback, who delivered yeoman service when starter Pekka Rinne was injured. At the time of this writing, the Preds had won six in a row and were comfortably ensconced in a playoff spot in the ultra competitive Western Conference.
LeBrun's pick: Steve Yzerman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Why: Fresh off handing Canada an Olympic gold medal under incredible pressure, Yzerman jumps into the Tampa Bay job and retools the Bolts into contenders. Impressive. He's shown the willingness to act when he sees deficiencies, adding veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson and blueliner Marc-Andre Bergeron. His biggest test will be re-signing Steven Stamkos.