Cullen: A look at midseason NHL awards races

Scott Cullen
1/10/2012 3:12:14 PM
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As we have reached the official midway points of the NHL season, wth 615 of 1230 games in the books, it's time to re-visit the award races and perhaps compare to my entries after the first quarter of the season.

In my first quarter awards, there was nothing so controversial as picking Matt Read over Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for my first quarter Calder Trophy, but that is in the past and we're moving forward, with quite a few changes as we hit the midpoint of the NHL season. Hold your fire, Edmonton!

Winner: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia
Runners-up: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh; Marian Hossa, Chicago
Comment: This still seems like a fairly open race, so while Giroux and Malkin are top candidates right now, Jonathan Toews, Pavel Datsyuk, Phil Kessel and Daniel Sedin are well within range. Hossa may be a bit of a surprise, but his two-way game has been top-drawer all year, no matter which linemates he has played with in Chicago and he's the only player in the league with at least 40 points and a plus-20 rating.

Winner: Shea Weber, Nashville
Runners-up: Zdeno Chara, Boston; Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit
Comment: While Ottawa's Erik Karlsson is my top-ranked blueliner thus far, he doesn't face the opposition's best lines on a nightly basis like these three stalwarts. Weber faces additional pressure to produce offensively for a Predators team lacking the kind of supporting cast that Chara and Lidstrom have at their disposal in Boston and Detroit, respectively. Duncan Keith and Dion Phaneuf have also played well enough, against top competition, to warrant consideration.

Winner: Henrik Lundqvist, N.Y. Rangers
Runners-up: Tim Thomas, Boston; Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles
Comment: It's been a career season thus far for King Henrik, and his exceptional numbers (1.89 goals against average, .939 save percentage) for a team that ranks 22nd in shot differential, move him to the head of the class. Thomas has been outstandingl again, with his goals against average (1.99) and save percentage (.938) equal to or slightly better than his totals last season. A recent surge, allowing three goals over his last five starts, pushes Jonathan Quick into the discussion. He's won only 18 of 35 decisions, but that's a reflection on the Kings' inability to score and not the first-rate goaltending that Quick has provided. St. Louis' Brian Elliott has the numbers to contend, as well, but it doesn't seem appropriate to value a goaltender splitting starts the same as those who are handling a full starter's workload.

Winner: Adam Henrique, C, New Jersey
Runners-up: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton; Matt Read, C, Philadelphia
Comment: Just as I was prepared to hand RNH the midseason award, he went into a bit of a slump (0 G, 3 A, minus-5 in 9 GP) before injuring his shoulder. It doesn't detract from what has been an impressive showing for an 18-year-old with 35 points in 38 games, but he's been overtaken by the Devils' Henrique. While Henrique has 32 points in 38 games, he's managed more points while shorthanded (six) than on the power play (five). He's in a plum spot, to be sure, playing with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, but Henrique has really earned his keep after starting the season as a fringe player.

Winner: Mikko Koivu, Minnesota
Runners-up: Patrice Bergeron, Boston; Loui Eriksson, Dallas
Comment: For reasons I can't explain, there were no first quarter Selke winners, so we have all new contenders at the midway point. Using www.behindthenet.ca for some additional information on quality of competition and zone starts, Minnesota's Mikko Koivu gets the nod. I would have no argument with Patrice Bergeron either, as he's an ace in the faceoff circle and anchors what may be the league's most effective line (with Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin) at even strength. Stars winger Loui Eriksson is such a sound two-way performer and is a scorer despite starting in the offensive zone less than half of the time. Others that warrant consideration: Chicago's Dave Bolland, who is minus-6, but is unmatched when it comes to defensive zone starts and quality of competition; Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly is having a breakthrough season and ranks second to Pavel Datsyuk in takeaways; as usual, Datsyuk would be a worthy candidate too, since his two-way play remains at an elite level.

Winner: Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis
Runners-up: Peter Laviolette, Philadelphia; Paul MacLean, Ottawa
Comment: The new coach bump hasn't worked in a lot of places this year, but it's been a resounding success in St. Louis, where Ken Hitchcock has the Blues playing like the contenders they've been expected to become for several years now. Laviolette remains in the mix, getting strong results from a Flyers team that underwent major personnel changes in the offseason. The Senators have been a major surprise, though their negative goal differential could be concern, and that overachievement warrants MacLean's inclusion. The first-year coach has not only brought out the best in his best players, but he's getting production from the supporting cast when it would be have been fair enough to not count on much at all.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Jagr, Giroux and Simmonds (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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