Cullen: Many new winners in NHL three-quarter awards

Scott Cullen

2/29/2012 5:06:16 PM

Three quarters of the way through the NHL season, Scott Cullen hands out his NHL awards, with new winners, including Evgeni Malkin and Erik Karlsson, virtually across the board.

Winner: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh
Runners-up: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia; Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay
Comment: As the season goes along, it often becomes evident which player is most deserving of the Hart Trophy and that's certainly been the case this year. Evgeni Malkin was good early in the year, before hitting great for a long stretch that allowed him to pull away from the other challengers, including Claude Giroux, the midseason pick for the honour. While some might prefer to include a goaltender, like Henrik Lundqvist, Steven Stamkos' production (44 goals, 76 points) is deserving of recognition.

Winner: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa
Runners-up: Shea Weber, Nashville; Zdeno Chara, Boston
Comment: When Erik Karlsson wasn't included among the midseason nominees, it was largely because he didn't face the same calibre of competition that workhorses like Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara and Nicklas Lidstrom faced on a nightly basis. While that level of competition hasn't changed dramatically, Karlsson's production (15 goals, 66 points in 64 games) has been so exceptional that it can't be overlooked any longer.

Winner: Henrik Lundqvist, N.Y. Rangers
Runners-up: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles; Tim Thomas, Boston
Comment: If Brian Elliott or Jaroslav Halak played more frequently, they could work their way into the discussion, but the award appears headed for Lundqvist, barring a late charge by Quick, who has been terrific, yet criminally neglected by the Kings' offence. There could be any number of viable alternatives to Thomas, who has been good, but not lights-out like last season. One of the Blues, Mike Smith or Pekka Rinne seem like viable candidates.

Winner: Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado
Runners-up: Adam Henrique, New Jersey; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton
Comment: At every stage of the season, there has been a different winner for this award, and a surging Gabriel Landeskog gets the edge over Adam Henrique now. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may not be able to overcome missing 20 games with shoulder injuries, but if he goes on a scoring tear for the last 20 games, it's not inconceivable that he could force his way back into the mix.

Winner: Patrice Bergeron, Boston
Runners-up: Dave Bolland, Chicago; Mike Fisher, Nashville
Comment: As always there are many worthy candidates, including those who aren't necessarily big-time scorers, like Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews -- two that will likely garner more widespread consideration -- but Patrice Bergeron is a worthy winner, winning draws and playing a strong two-way game. Dave Bolland starts so many shifts in the defensive zone ( and takes on the toughest assignments night after night, so he warrants inclusion, even with his minus-8 rating. Fisher is having a tremendous all-around season and, like Bolland, takes on tough checking assignments while starting more in the defensive zone. Brandon Sutter, Joe Pavelski, Jordan Staal, David Backes and Ryan Callahan, among others, could all warrant recognition too.

Winner: Paul MacLean, Ottawa
Runners-up: Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis; Dave Tippett, Phoenix
Comment: Given the Senators' expectations this season, it would be hard to vote against MacLean, who has brought out the best in his players, both young and old. There shouldn't be any question whether or not he's made the most of the talent he has at his disposal. Ken Hitchcock brought an immediate turnaround to the Blues and Bruce Boudreau might work his way into the discussion if the Anaheim Ducks make it into the postseason. Perennial contenders Dave Tippett and Barry Trotz always seem to get better results than the sum of the parts on their roster -- and both Phoenix and Nashville are having strong seasons again -- so at least one needs to be considered.

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