Scott Cullen hands out awards for the first half of the 2015-2016 NHL season.
There's been some shake-up since the first quarter awards. Remember those early days, when Henrik Lundqvist seemed invincible? Many of the other names have remained the same, but Lundqvist has ceded his first quarter Vezina and Hart honours.
There’s more to hockey life than simply putting up points, but Kane is on pace for 115 points and the Blackhawks are controlling 53.6% of shot attempts at even strength with him on the ice. He has benefitted from a high (11.7%) on-ice shooting percentage, but Kane has also generated a career-high 3.66 shots on goal per game, up 20% from last season. The challenge for the runners-up is that, at this point, the linemates are likely to split votes because it’s hard to choose between them. Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson may have a case for the Hart if he continues in the top five of the league-wide scoring race.
If Erik Karlsson continues putting up better than a point per game, he’s going to be in rare territory, which will probably be good enough to earn his third Norris Trophy. Say what you like about how Karlsson doesn’t play a punishing physical game and will make defensive gaffes, then look at how much better his team his with him on the ice. While Karlsson is having a phenomenal season, so too is Burns, who is currently on pace for 37 goals. It’s been 30 years since a defenceman scored that many goals in a season, and 20 years since a defenceman put more shots on goal per game than Burns (4.38). Doughty continues to play a solid two-way game, though without the gaudy numbers of Karlsson and Burns. Other challengers include John Klingberg, Justin Faulk and Ryan Suter.
All three have an overall save percentage of .930 or better, with Holtby slightly ahead at .932, and Mrazek (.946) is ahead of Holtby (.938) and Luongo (.937) in War-on-Ice’s (5-on-5) adjusted save percentage, which attempts to account for quality of shots faced. Holtby and Luongo have handled a heavier workload, which gives them an edge, but all three are very close. It should also be noted these are three different goaltenders than were included in the first quarter awards, so they are subject to change over time.
Unseating Bergeron, who has won this award in three of the past four years (and finished second in the year that he didn’t win), is a tall task. He plays top opposition on a nightly basis and controls play consistently, like for years. But, if we’re looking for some young blood to inject into the discussion, consider Couturier, the 23-year-old who has improved his offensive output recently, but is really making his mark by similarly excelling with tough assignments. Staal isn’t quite as dominant territorially as he was last season, but he’s close and does it with difficult matchups. Others to consider include Anze Kopitar, Nicklas Backstrom, Ryan Kesler, Mikko Koivu, Frans Nielsen and Joe Thornton.
The biggest obstalces for Panarin to overcome will be perception that he’s a 24-year-old with plenty of pro (KHL) experience and he’s had his production – 39 points in 44 games -- inflated by playing opposite the league’s leading scorer. For more traditional options, Larkin is a 19-year-old who looks like a future star, stepping into a top-six role for the Wings and not looking remotely out of place. The second pick in last summer’s draft, Eichel started slowly, and still gets caved in when it comes to possession stats, but he’s elevated his play in the past month. There are a number of worthy candidates that aren’t far from Larkin and Eichel. Max Domi, defencemen Colton Parayko and Shayne Gostisbehere, as well as goaltenders John Gibson and Connor Hellebuyck could also be heard from before the season is done.
Winner: Barry Trotz, Washington
Runners-Up: Mike Babcock, Toronto; Joel Quenneville, Chicago
As always, there are many good candidates, and Barry Trotz was given a stellar roster, but he’s guided them to the league’s best record and goal differential. Despite modest offseason roster additions, the Maple Leafs have notably improved their play from last seaon which is reason enough to earn Babcock consideration, and Quenneville keeps the Blackhawks rolling along no matter a cap crunch or off-ice troubles for a marquee player. Others to consider: Ken Hitchcock, who has steered the Blues through an injury-marred first half and, in what may be an unpopular opinion, I think Bruce Boudreau ought to be a contender (even if he won't be). The Ducks haven’t been able to score (the coach should really tell them to do that!), so their results have been massively disappointing, but in the face of their offensive struggles, they have become a stifling defensive team which can, in part, be attributed to the coach’s deployment of players.
Midseason fantasy all-stars, the players who were mid-to-late-round selections (or waiver pickups) that have provided the most value:
Exceeding expectations equals fantasy value and some of these players (Klingberg, Panarin and Palmieri) have held their spots from the first quarter fantasy all-stars.
In goal, Mrazek seems to have won Detroit’s goaltending competition and is now, as noted above, a Vezina candidate.
Coming off a two-goal season, Ryan Suter wasn’t a very attractive option coming into the season, but he’s bounced back with a career-best rate in goals-per-game (0.12) while tying his career-high in points-per-game (0.67).
There certainly would have been hopes, entering the season, that 23-year-old Kuznetsov could experience a breakout season, but he’s been pushing a point-per-game and is currently tied for 16th in scoring. Not bad for a second-line centre.
Scott Cullen can be reached at email@example.com