Midseason review: Awards picks
Drum roll please ESPN.com's midseason NHL award winners, a task I took on proudly. Let's take a look:
1. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: A concussion briefly threatened his magical season, but he missed only a week. He plays in all key situations for the Flyers and is the engine that makes that team run. He's made Jaromir Jagr look 10 years younger and Scott Hartnell look like he has hands. That's MVP work, if you ask me.
2. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: When I actually fill out the official Hart ballot every spring as a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, I rarely put a goalie high on my Hart list. I've always felt that the Vezina Trophy is like a Cy Young Award for goalies. But in this case, you can't ignore what King Henrik has meant to the Rangers' surprising contending season. He's worthy of MVP talk.
3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: Mr. Clutch is just getting warmed up. The postseason is when he truly shines. But he's been a consistent force all season long for the Hawks, playing key minutes on special teams, winning key faceoffs and playing against the other team's top line. Night in, night out, he's the main reason they win games.
5. Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs: What has hurt his MVP case, ironically, is that his own linemate, Joffrey Lupul, is finally garnering recognition for his amazing comeback season. Like the Sedin twins in Vancouver, it's hard to pick one over the other in Toronto. They're a lethal one-two punch and they feed off each other.
1. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: Look no further than Lundqvist if you're looking for the No. 1 reason the Blueshirts have surprisingly challenged for the Presidents' Trophy at the midway mark. He's always been among the league's top netminders, but he seems to have taken his game to yet another level this season. His .939 save percentage and 1.85 GAA at midseason are sparkling numbers.
2. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins: The reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner has not slipped one bit this season. His only knock is that goalie-mate Tuukka Rask is playing just as well and keeping Thomas' start total lower than that of most starters (he's 23rd in starts). That's the luxury the Cup champs have. Will it cost Thomas when the 30 GMs vote for the Vezina in April? Hard to say at this point.
3. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings: He leads the NHL at the midway point with 24 wins and he's full value for it, because earlier in the season, he was keeping the Wings in games as they struggled to find their form. He's been a workhorse and is putting up a career season.
4. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: Just where would the goal-starved Kings be without their standout netminder right now? Certainly not challenging for a playoff spot as they are. It's time Quick gets the national recognition he deserves.
5. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: It hasn't been quite the same season, so far, as a year ago when he finished runner-up to Thomas for the Vezina. But he remains one of the world's top netminders and a major reason why the Preds can steal games on any given night.
Honorable mentions: Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues (sharing a job, so won't get many Vezina votes even though he's been sensational); Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks; Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins; Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes; Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens.
1a. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators: Luckily a concussion scare was short-lived and the Preds' captain is back to doing what he does best: doing it all. He's got a great shot at winning his first Norris Trophy this season -- barring another injury setback -- after finishing runner-up last season to Nicklas Lidstrom. Although he's got some serious competition from the man we touch on next.
1b. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins: OK, so his plus-27 is a little misleading since he plays on the best team in the league. But he's very much one of the reasons the defending Cup champs are rolling like the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers. Chara does it all in all areas of the ice and continues to be the ultimate leader. He's matched up every night against the other team's most dangerous offensive player and more often than not shuts him down.
3. Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers: With Chris Pronger out for the season, there's even more pressure on the soft-spoken Finn to be the rock on the Flyers' blue line. At the Winter Classic, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told me Timonen was the team's "anchor." He's having another understated, All-Star season.
4. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings: The seven-time Norris Trophy winner isn't putting up points like he did last season (23 points as of Wednesday morning; he had 62 in the 2010-11 season) but his stellar defensive play and vision on the ice, keying the transition game, remain as all-world as ever.
5. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: Well, you can't totally ignore the dude who's running away with the defenseman scoring lead, right? OK, so his defensive play still needs work, but he's been dynamite offensively.
1. Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils: With six points in his past three games, Henrique is on the verge of overtaking the injured Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the NHL rookie scoring lead. Not bad for a third-round pick. The 21-year-old center is also plus-9 on the season. Impressive.
2. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers: It's really a pity the 18-year-old went down with a shoulder injury Jan. 2. The first overall pick in last June's draft was having a thrilling rookie season. Hopefully when he returns he'll quickly find his touch again. He's a franchise center in the making and was likely Calder-bound if not for the injury.
3. Jared Cowen, Ottawa Senators: The 20-year-old's ice time continues to grow -- more than 22 minutes a game in January -- as head coach Paul MacLean gains more and more trust in him. Cowen's play as a top-four blueliner in Ottawa is one of the many surprising reasons his team has overachieved so far this season.
4. Adam Larsson, New Jersey Devils: The 19-year-old Swede is second among NHL rookies in ice time at 21:40 per game. He's developing, as expected, into a marvelous two-way blueliner.
5. Matt Read, Philadelphia Flyers: At 25, he's certainly among the older rookies in the league this season, but that doesn't take away from his impressive season. Head coach Peter Laviolette trusts Read at both ends of the ice, the ultimate sign of respect for a rookie.
Honorable mentions: Marc-Andre Gragnani, Buffalo Sabres (leads all rookies with plus-12 rating); Cody Hodgson, Vancouver Canucks; Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers; Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche; Craig Smith, Nashville Predators.
Jack Adams Award
1. Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues: You want to talk impact? Try 19-5-5, the Blues' record since Hitchcock took over. Mercy. The Blues' young core is finally playing up to its potential under Hitchcock and of course -- in true Hitchcock style -- the club is stingy defensively, ranked second in the NHL in goals against behind only Boston at the midway mark.
2. John Tortorella, New York Rangers: The Rangers have surprised this season and the coach is a big reason why. His gutsy decision to split up Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik early in the season has paid dividends. His team is committed defensively, which is always a sign of players buying what their coach is selling.
3. Paul MacLean, Ottawa Senators: After eight NHL seasons as an assistant coach to Mike Babcock in Anaheim and Detroit, MacLean finally got his shot at a head-coaching job in the NHL, and hasn't disappointed. Under MacLean's tutelage, a young and rebuilding Senators squad is sitting in a playoff spot at midseason, stunning everyone around the league and certainly surprising even the Senators' front office.
4. Alain Vigneault, Vancouver Canucks: It took some massaging of his team's psyche to get his players off the mat after last June's debacle and get them going again this season. Vigneault has done a brilliant job of getting his team back on track as a Cup contender, while also handling the ongoing goaltending situation with dexterity.
5. Claude Julien, Boston Bruins: What's that about the Cup hangover? After a slow start in October, Julien has pushed the right buttons to get the Bruins playing even better hockey than last spring. He's got his team playing like it's hungry for another title.
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: Second in the NHL with a plus-27, Bergeron continues to shine as one of the league's most polished two-way players. Time to finally give him a Selke Trophy.
2. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: The NHL's faceoff leader is on the ice for most key situations. He takes on the other team's top line every night and excels at both ends of the ice. Also, he is tied for second in the NHL as of Wednesday morning with 58 takeaways.
3. Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks: After a slow start following offseason hip surgery, the reigning Selke Trophy winner is back to his old self.
4. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings: As usual, Datsyuk is leading the NHL in takeaways with 59 as of Wednesday morning, although a slimmer lead than usual.
5. Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado Avalanche: Tied for second in the NHL with Toews at 58 takeaways, O'Reilly continues to improve his two-way game. One day he will win a Selke.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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