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Interesting race shaping up for the NHL scoring title, as Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos are going toe to toe, while Stamkos also is setting the pace in his pursuit of another Rocket Richard Trophy as the leader in goals scored. But Crosby's Penguins are a threat to win the Cup and they have been without Evgeni Malkin, at least for a short while, which means Crosby has once again shouldered a significant offensive burden for a team that ranks second in the league in goals per game and third on the power play. Meanwhile, Stamkos' Lightning have been in a weekslong slide and don't bear much of a resemblance to a playoff squad. Patrick Kane warrants serious Hart Trophy consideration, too, with his renaissance with the streaking Blackhawks. Ottawa netminder Craig Anderson's injury has hampered his Hart stock, and Pekka Rinne lurks on the outskirts of the MVP discussion, but it's hard to give this award to anyone but the Penguins' captain right now.
To me, it came down to Kane, Crosby and Stamkos, and the latter is hurt in this voting by his team struggling. Flip a coin between Kane and Crosby. It's awfully nice to see No. 87 healthy and back to the top of his game in Pittsburgh after what he went through. And my guess is he will win the Hart Trophy once the real voting begins at the end of the season. But for my midseason pick, I'll go with Kane. A tip of the hat to the Blackhawks star who has refocused himself on his craft and has been spectacular, night in and night out, in leading the NHL's best team to first place.
Honorable mention: Steven Stamkos, Tampa; Craig Anderson, Ottawa; Eric Staal, Carolina; Thomas Vanek, Buffalo; John Tavares, N.Y. Islanders; Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit; Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit; Jonathan Toews, Chicago; Pekka Rinne, Nashville.
Definite changing of the guard at least at the midpoint of the season when it comes to evaluating the game's best defenseman. Kris Letang has emerged as a workhorse along a Penguins blue line that has its fair share of up-and-down moments. Still, Letang is a plus player who logs more ice time than any other defenseman in the Eastern Conference outside of Dion Phaneuf of Toronto (we don't count the injured Erik Karlsson). Letang also leads all defensemen in point production. Letang, who observers believe hasn't hit his full stride yet, plays a much different game than Niklas Kronwall of Detroit, who might be Letang's main competition for the Norris at this point of the season given the evolution of Kronwall's offensive game. Not to be forgotten is the underappreciated Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Phoenix Coyotes, who might be one of the game's smartest defenders. Slowly but surely, Ryan Suter is rounding into form in Minnesota, and the Wild have crept up the standings to challenge for the Northwest Division lead as he has played better (he leads the NHL in average ice time per game). Still, at the halfway point, Letang would edge out his competition in our books.
Kind of amazing when you have a list that doesn't include Shea Weber or Drew Doughty, but I think it's only a matter of time over the last half of the season that those guys will find their way into the conversation. Both players are playing much better since early-season struggles. For me, it came down to Kronwall and Letang for the midseason award. I chose the Red Wings veteran because, on a blue line that lost Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart and is trying to survive committee-style, Kronwall has had to do even more and has elevated his game in doing so. He is playing 24 minutes a game and is among the defenseman scoring leaders, and everyone knows about his physical play. I think he deserves the nod right now.
Honorable mention: Zdeno Chara, Boston; Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix; Ryan Suter, Minnesota; Andrei Markov, Montreal; Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis; Duncan Keith, Chicago; Marc Staal, N.Y. Rangers; Francois Beauchemin, Anaheim; Victor Hedman, Tampa; Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis.
Lots of factors to consider with this one, most notably the injury to Craig Anderson, who still leads the NHL with a .952 save percentage and is second with a 1.49 goals-against average but hasn't played since Feb. 21 with an ankle injury. Corey Crawford, likewise, has battled injury and split time with Ray Emery for the league's best team, the Chicago Blackhawks. While his numbers are sparkling, the shared workload likely will hurt him in terms of Vezina consideration. Pekka Rinne, a Vezina Trophy finalist the previous two seasons, has been the main reason the goal-starved Predators are still in the playoff mix. But for me, the Vezina buck stops with San Jose's Antti Niemi. Niemi has been the catalyst to a Sharks resurgence after a horrible stretch of play. His 10 wins are one off the league lead, and his 1.83 GAA and .935 save percentage are impressive while he ranks seventh in the league in ice time. And in 13 of his 18 games this season, Niemi has allowed two or fewer goals.
I know Anderson has been hurt the past few weeks, but at least for a midseason nod, how can you not reward the guy with a league-leading 1.49 GAA and .952 save percentage? I mean, come on. I think Tuukka Rask and Niemi also deserve strong consideration. Not too many people have noticed what Niemi is doing this season, but, as Sharks center Logan Couture said to me recently, "He's been our MVP." Rask has been rock solid, taking over as No. 1 from Tim Thomas and not blinking once.
Honorable mention: Corey Crawford, Chicago; Carey Price, Montreal; Tuukka Rask, Boston; Viktor Fasth, Anaheim; Pekka Rinne, Nashville; Kari Lehtonen, Dallas; Henrik Lundqvist, N.Y. Rangers; Jimmy Howard, Detroit.
This is a tough one because the range of candidates covers forward and defense, good teams and bad, those who started fast and faded, and those who have come on as the season has progressed. At the midpoint, there are two defensemen, Justin Schultz in Edmonton and Dougie Hamilton in Boston, who are on the Calder radar. The forwards short list includes Jonathan Huberdeau, who leads all rookies in goals; Cory Conacher, who leads in points; and Brendan Gallagher, who has of late been the most dynamic of first-year players for the red-hot Montreal Canadiens. But I'm going to go with perhaps the best player on the worst team in the NHL, and that means Huberdeau gets the nod. With the Panthers ravaged by injury and sinking in the standings, his play has been a beacon of light in an otherwise dark void.
Huberdeau is so much fun to watch. He's electric. A scout told me he can't believe the kid's awareness all around him, that most rookie forwards need more time to develop that kind of vision. I think his biggest challenge will come from Hamilton, who has impressed in Boston in his first NHL season, and everyone knows how much harder it is to crack this league as a blueliner.
Honorable mention: Cory Conacher, Tampa; Brendan Gallagher, Montreal; Justin Schultz, Edmonton; Nail Yakupov, Edmonton; Dougie Hamilton, Boston; Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal.
Tough, tough category. It's hard not to examine the work Joel Quenneville has done with the peerless Blackhawks and just give him the award right now, especially given the rumblings that perhaps Quenneville's position in Chicago wasn't all that secure at the start of the season. And of course there's Paul MacLean, a finalist last season who has done yeoman's work in Ottawa where the Sens are without Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Craig Anderson. But the Ducks are off to a franchise-best start after a tumultuous 2011-12 season that saw Randy Carlyle dispatched. Boudreau has shown a deft hand in integrating Swedish sensation Viktor Fasth in goal, and has gotten maximum production from guys such as Kyle Palmieri, Nick Bonino, Daniel Winnik and Andrew Cogliano. He also has managed to keep his big guns firing in spite of the potential distraction Corey Perry's and Ryan Getzlaf's contract situations continue to represent.
Not sure the Senators can keep hanging in there all the way through, but it's amazing what they accomplished in the first half given the injury losses headlined by Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza. Truly an incredible coaching job by MacLean. There are a number of others who truly deserve the nod. Mike Babcock has had to coach his butt off through all the injuries in Detroit, especially given his blue line. Michel Therrien and Carlyle have similarly changed the culture in their respective Original Six towns, both the Habs and Leafs surprising stories in their own right. Boudreau's work in Anaheim is sensational; the Ducks were 13th in the West last season and now are second in the conference. Alain Vigneault has had to deal with his well-documented goalie drama in Vancouver. And what of Quenneville? The guy hasn't lost a game in regulation in the first half of the season! All worthy of a midseason Jack Adams.
Honorable mention: Michel Therrien, Montreal; Claude Julien, Boston; Joel Quenneville, Chicago; Randy Carlyle, Toronto; Alain Vigneault, Vancouver; Mike Babcock, Detroit.
Hard trophy to assign a winner to because the nature of the job is to keep one eye on the present and one eye on the future. But Stan Bowman has done a masterful job of retooling the Blackhawks after a couple of turbulent seasons following their 2010 Stanley Cup win. The acquisition of defensemen Nick Leddy and Johnny Oduya has given the Blackhawks unprecedented depth along the blue line, and taken some of the pressure off Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. The team stood behind star Patrick Kane when there were rumors it had had enough of his partying ways, and he responded with an inspired season. Then there are the contributions of youngsters such as Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw, who have helped replenish the depth that was lost in the wake of the Cup win. And let's not forget the team's decision not to throw out the goaltending tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery after last spring's disappointing turn against the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the playoffs. While Peter Chiarelli and Marc Bergevin in the East and Bob Murray in the West have shown to be astute judges of talent and the needs of their teams, I have to give the nod to Bowman.
It just impresses me how Chiarelli has always managed his salary cap. The Bruins won the Cup in 2011 and have not lost any player of significance since. The core is mostly signed for years to come. And by moving Tim Thomas' cap hit to the Islanders, Chiarelli freed up $5 million more in cap space, pretty amazing. He's my pick at the midseason for GM of the year.
Honorable mention: Marc Bergevin, Montreal; Ray Shero, Pittsburgh; Jim Rutherford, Carolina; Ken Holland, Detroit; Dean Lombardi, L.A.; Bob Murray, Anaheim.