Commentary

Room for debate in NHL awards races

MVP and Norris races no-brainers, but plenty of candidates for other trophies

Updated: January 2, 2014, 3:33 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

There are some tough choices when it comes to doling out the hardware at the halfway point of the NHL season.

There are some fantastic debates to be had, but here are our picks for the biggest NHL awards at the midway point of the season:

HART TROPHY

There are some compelling choices besides the obvious choice.

[+] EnlargeSidney Crosby
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteSidney Crosby's work carrying an injury-riddled team makes him a slam-dunk MVP choice.
Chicago's Patrick Kane deserves a long look, although I would argue Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith deserves just as much MVP talk after his monster first half. And what of Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews? That's what makes it so hard to single out just one MVP candidate on the reigning Stanley Cup champ.

Another candidate I really like is Ryan Getzlaf, who has been lights-out at both ends of the ice for the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks. I'm not sure Getzlaf has ever played this well. If people on the East Coast actually stayed up and watched more Ducks games, maybe more folks would be noticing.

I could also make Hart cases for the Islanders' John Tavares (carrying that team by himself) and goal-scoring machine Washington's Alex Ovechkin, of course.

But it's a no-brainer at the halfway point, just as I suspect it will be after the season when the real voting happens: Sidney Crosby is ESPN.com's halfway-point MVP. Crosby is incredibly deserving, not only because of his all-world play but especially because he's done it during a season in which the Penguins have been so dramatically decimated by injuries.

No. 87 is carrying that team on his back with some of the best hockey he's ever played in his stellar career.

Winner: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh

VEZINA TROPHY

I'd argue this is as wide-open and competitive as the Vezina race has been in years in a full-length NHL season. There's no obvious candidate running away with it, and Antti Niemi, Tuukka Rask, Carey Price, Ben Bishop, Josh Harding, Marc-Andre Fleury, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Miller, Kari Lehtonen and Jonathan Bernier -- who is beginning to pull away from James Reimer in the Toronto net, although both were stellar in the first half -- all deserve consideration.

I could make the case for all the goalies above, but when push comes to shove it's a coin-flip battle between Rask and Price. Each had a sensational first half, but I'm going to give ESPN.com's halfway Vezina to Price, because he's carried a less talented team in the first half, giving Montreal a chance every night with his Olympic-worthy play.

Winner: Carey Price, Montreal.

NORRIS TROPHY

[+] EnlargeKeith
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltAn impressive all-around first half means Duncan Keith is a Norris no-brainer.
About as easy a choice as there is at the halfway point of the season. Duncan Keith has been sensational at both ends of the ice for the defending champion Blackhawks, putting up huge offensive numbers and putting himself on pace to eclipse his career high of 69 points set in 2009-10. He'll be a pillar for Team Canada in Sochi, as well.

Other candidates worth mentioning include Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Pietrangelo, Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban, Erik Karlsson, Ryan Suter and Niklas Kronwall. But it's not close at this point for the Norris.

Winner: Duncan Keith, Chicago

CALDER TROPHY

My pick would have been Tomas Hertl before the Sharks' impressive rookie forward suffered a knee injury. Hertl had a healthy lead in the rookie points race at the time, but his Calder chances evaporated once Dustin Brown went knee to knee on Hertl and wrecked his season. So where does it leave our Calder race?

Worthy candidates include Nathan MacKinnon, Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones, Danny DeKeyser, Chris Kreider, Torey Krug, Sean Monahan and Valeri Nichushkin. But I'm going to surprise a few people here and give ESPN.com's halfway Calder Trophy to Hampus Lindholm.

First of all, I dig the name Hampus. So there's that. But the 19-year-old Swede, Anaheim's first-round pick in 2012 (No. 6 overall) has been awfully impressive at both ends of the ice, and a plus-20 as of Thursday morning really stands out.

Winner: Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim

JACK ADAMS AWARD

For my money, this is the toughest choice every year. There are always a dozen or so great choices.

You have to start with Chicago's Joel Quenneville and Boston's Claude Julien this season, both of whom have avoided the usual pitfalls Cup finalists face the next season in terms of mental and physical fatigue. The Blackhawks and Bruins are vying for their respective conference leads. Pretty impressive work by both coaches.

Other candidates that deserve consideration include Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis, Darryl Sutter in Los Angeles, Dan Bylsma with his injury-riddled Penguins, Todd McLellan (who deserves an Adams one of these years) in San Jose, first-year man Patrick Roy in Colorado, and the reborn and refreshed John Tortorella in Vancouver.

But for me, the man who deserves it at the halfway point is Bruce Boudreau, whose Anaheim Ducks have surprised most people while leading the NHL's toughest division, the Pacific, at the midway point. The Ducks were seen by many as pretenders last season when they were knocked out in the first round by Detroit after winning their division, but Boudreau used that as motivation to fuel his team's focus to prove people wrong this season.

Winner: Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim

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