One quarter of the way through the NHL season, it's time for an early look at the awards races, along with some advanced stats leaders and trailers.
At this early point in the season, there are many more players in contention for the awards than just the three that I've named, and a good or bad week can easily alter the landscape, but through the first 20 or so games of the NHL season, this is how the awards races look to me.
Winner: Phil Kessel, RW, Toronto
Runners-up: Tyler Seguin, C, Boston; Kris Versteeg, RW, Florida
Comment: Leading the league in goals and points, with a shooting percentage about twice that of his career average, Kessel has been outstanding for the Leafs, helping to ease the sting of the breakthrough performance by Seguin. Drafted with a pick acquired as part of a deal for Kessel(perhaps you've heard about this), Seguin is scoring better than a point-per-game and has a league-leading plus-18. Versteeg's strong plus-minus gets him on the ballot, just ahead of Claude Giroux and others.
Winner: Shea Weber, Nashville
Runners-up: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit; Zdeno Chara, Boston
Comment: All three log the tough minutes and contribute at both ends and there isn't a strong point to make against any of them, but as the only defenceman with at least 15 points and a plus-15 rating, not to mention that he plays more than 26 minutes per game, Weber is certainly deserving.
Winner: Tim Thomas, Boston
Runners-up: Nikolai Khabibulin, Edmonton; Mike Smith, Phoenix
Comment: What else is new? After last year's spectacular season, Thomas is only slightly behind last year's record-setting .938 save percentage, sitting at .936 (with a 1.85 goals against average) this season. Khabibulin has resurrected his career, after a summer that included jail time, with numbers very similar to Thomas. There are many contenders for the final spot, including Niklas Backstrom and Henrik Lundqvist, but Smith has been a standout for the Coyotes. Considering his last few seasons in Tampa Bay, it's been a remarkable turnaround.
Winner: Matt Read, C, Philadelphia
Runners-up: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Edmonton; Craig Smith, C, Nashville
Comment: Read wasn't a hugely-heralded free agent when he signed out of Bemidji State last spring, but did offer a glimpse of things to come when he scored 13 points in 11 AHL games at the end of the year. He's stepped right into the Flyers' lineup and leads all rookies in goals and plus-minus. Even with those attributes, Read is facing a challenge from number one draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who leads all rookies with 22 points in 21 games. Smith left the University of Wisconsin after his sophomore season and after his performance at the World Championships for Team USA, it's not a surprise that he's been able to move seamlessly into the Predators' lineup. New Jersey's Adam Henrique and Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog might be the next two contenders.
JACK ADAMS AWARD
Winner: Kevin Dineen, Florida
Runners-up: Peter Laviolette, Philadelphia; Dave Tippett, Phoenix
Comment: New coaches frequently get early results, but the Panthers have done so with a roster that underwent serious overhaul in the offseason. In a similar vein, Peter Laviolette has the Flyers playing at a high level after significant summer trades that saw the Flyers ship out Jeff Carter and Mike Richards and bring in half a dozen forwards, most of whom are playing significant roles. Dave Tippett and Barry Trotz could be included virtually every year, but Tippett gets the edge right now, while Tom Renney (Edmonton), Glen Gulutzan (Dallas) and Mike Yeo (Minnesota) are among others that might be faring better than expected.
For those that have been reading my work for a while, it's no secret that I like digging into the advanced stats site www.behindthenet.ca, so here are just a couple of interesting stats leaders/trailers at this point in the season (minimum 10 games played).
First up, penalty differential. It's obviously more advantageous for players to draw penalties rather than take them so, all other factors being equal, it would be nice to get an extra power play every couple of games because Michael Cammalleri, Jeff Skinner or Rick Nash are challenging opposing defenders and draw penalties as a result.
|5.||Joe Thornton||San Jose||C||12||3||0.47|
|8.||Dustin Brown||Los Angeles||RW||15||6||0.41|
|554.||Steve Staios||N.Y. Islanders||D||2||10||-0.42|
Next, a look at shot differential per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. Naturally, it's much better for your team to have more shots at the opponent's goal than on your own. Some familiar names among the leaders and, hey, look at Matt Ellis!
|7.||Alexander Steen||St. Louis||LW||12.6|
|559.||Ruslan Fedotenko||N.Y. Rangers||LW||-17.8|
|560.||Erik Christensen||N.Y. Rangers||C||-19.3|