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Cullen: First half NHL awards

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Scott Cullen
1/6/2014 1:20:40 PM
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Just past the midway portion of the 2013-2014 NHL schedule, Scott Cullen has his picks for first half award winners.

There are surprises among the Vezina candidates, but most of the others are standard top-tier performers, even if the two Hart Trophy runners-ups have never been quite as good as they have been through the first half of the season.

While there is much room for movement over the second half of the year, the Calder Trophy race might be the most volatile because no one has run away from the pack and when there are so many candidates close together, it gets easy to see big changes.

Anyway, here are my picks for awards through first first half of this season:

HART TROPHY
Winner: Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh
Runners-up: Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim; Patrick Kane, Chicago
Comment: After what counted as a slump for him knocked Crosby to runner-up status through the first quarter, he's pulled away from the pack, leading the scoring race by nine points over Kane and 15 points ahead of Getzlaf who fit second and third, respectively.

Scoring isn't everything, but all three have been on a roll through the first half of the season. Getzlaf's shooting percentage (17.9%) and on-ice shooting percentage (12.0%) are a tad higher than his norm, but he's also shooting more than he has in the past and the results are there -- his 20 goals already counts as his most since 2008-2009 and has him in easy range of surpassing his career-best of 25 goals.

Kane has a strong supporting cast, of course, but he's on pace for a career-high in points and shots per game. He's slumped in his last four games, but Kane has done enough to deserve consideration.

If not Kane, Capitals RW Alex Ovechkin is worthy of consideration. His 31 goals is six more than anyone else, and while Ovechkin has an unsightly minus-17, his possession stats are solid and basically has bad puck luck when it comes to percentages.

NORRIS TROPHY
Winner: Duncan Keith, Chicago
Runners-up: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa; P.K. Subban, Montreal
Comment: Keith is having a season very similar to his 2009-2010 season, when he won the Norris Trophy, putting up dominant possession stats, but also contributing more offensively -- his 42 points in 45 games (0.93 per game) represents the best per-game scoring rate of his career.

Karlsson continues to be a game-changer offensively, and his possession numbers are more favourable than his minus-12 rating would suggest, but the percentages have not been playing in his favour through the first half of the season.

Subban had a fantastic start to the year, but his play dipped some in December. Not enough to knock him from contention, but enough that he's closer to other contenders, like Nashville's Shea Weber and St. Louis' Alex Pietrangelo, than he is to Keith at this point.

VEZINA TROPHY
Winner: Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay
Runners-up: Josh Harding, Minnesota; Tuukka Rask, Boston
Comment: The 32 games that Bishop has played this season already counts as a career-high, so who knows where this is going (especially considering his injury on the weekend), but he leads in even-strength save percentage (.945) and has been an anchor for a team that has been playing without their top offensive threat for more than a quarter of the season.

Harding was the early front-runner, but has only played two games in the past three weeks as he took time to adjust MS medication. That he's usurped Niklas Backstrom in net for the Wild is a story in itself, but Harding's numbers still have him right there with Bishop through the first half of the year.

Rask is the more predictable option, the one goaltender that would have been considered a contender in the preseason because Rask is always turning in excellent work -- his worst save percentage in the last five seasons was .918 and this year's .934 currently ranks as a career-high.

There is plenty of time for other goaltenders to make their move. Montreal's Carey Price, Toronto's Jonathan Bernier and Colorado's Semyon Varlamov are among those closest to the contenders.

CALDER TROPHY
Winner: Torey Krug, D, Boston
Runners-up: Tomas Hertl, LW, San Jose; Seth Jones, D, Nashville
Comment: With 23 points in 42 games, defenceman Krug is only three points behind Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon, who leads the rookie scoring race. More than half of Krug's points have come on the power play, where he's running the point on the Bruins' number one unit, but without any breakout forwards, Krug is the pick at the midpoint of the season.

Hertl was the leading candidate, even if he slowed down from his tremendous start, but he's already missed more than two weeks since taking a knee-on-knee hit from the Kings' Dustin Brown and he's still going to be on the shelf for the forseeable future.

Jones had a strong case early in the year, then his game fell off and his ice time was reduced dramatically. He's working his way back up lately, enough to get a runner-up nod, though not far ahead of the competition.

MacKinnon is starting to pick up offensively, and injuries in Colorado are opening up more opportunities. Others of note include Rangers LW Chris Kreider, Jets D Jacob Trouba, Kings RW Tyler Toffoli, Panthers C Aleksander Barkov and Stars RW Valeri Nichushkin, who could be in the best position of all if he can stick on the wing with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the Stars' number one line.

SELKE AWARD
Winner: Jonathan Toews, Chicago
Runners-up: Patrice Bergeron, Boston; David Backes, St. Louis
Comment: It's a familiar group, with Toews and Bergeron the last two winners. They simply excel as two-way players, typically dominating possession even when they face elite competition.

Backes isn't far behind, either. He's a beast to play against, handles tough assignments like Bergeron and Backes is probably getting a little more notice this season because he's been running alongside Alexander Steen for most of the year.

Steen would be a candidate too, but that's because he's always a sound two-way player, not because of his goal-scoring explosion, and Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog has such a strong two-way game that he has a chance to work his way into consideration, which isn't easy for a winger.

JACK ADAMS AWARD
Winner: Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim
Runners-up: Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis; Todd McLellan, San Jose
Comment: It's always difficult to narrow down the best coaching jobs, but the Ducks have been so good that some credit should go to Boudreau, who is not only getting the most out of his superstars, but also the supporting cast.

The St. Louis Blues play such a grind-it-out style of game that it's a testament to the coaching of Ken Hitchcock that they stick with it, and they have one of the league's best records despite what has been merely decent goaltending.

Same goes for San Jose and coach Todd McLellan, who is succeeding without great numbers from his 'tenders and has done some line juggling to incorporate younger options.

A couple of other viable candidates -- Colorado's Patrick Roy and Tampa Bay's Jon Cooper -- have had such strong goaltending that I have a hard time separating that from the team success. They're worthy, but would they be worthy if their goalies weren't great?

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.

Sidney Crosby (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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