We have pretty much reached the halfway mark for most teams in the 2011-2012 NHL season, which means it is time to hand out the hardware and foreshadow who the eventual winners may be.
Let's start with the Hart trophy. Phil Kessel and Steven Stamkos have scored at will this year for their respective teams, but it is Claude Giroux who gets the nod. When the Flyers made the decision to trade Richards and Carter, they knew they had a jewel in Giroux. The kid has taken the challenge and has become a league star. He sits one point behind Henrik Sedin, an impressive feat after missing seven games with a concussion. His 18 goals don't match Kessel and Stamkos, but his overall play bests theirs.
In my mind the Rocket Richard award is a three horse race. Stamkos looks to be the guy to beat with 28 thus far, but Kessel and Marion Gaborik (if he remains healthy) may give him a run. Remember it's not just a great start, but you have to have a healthy finish.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is out with a shoulder injury right now or he would have been the Calder winner for best newcomer by a landslide. At the halfway point he is my winner, but keep an eye out for Adam Henrique of the NJ Devils. Other strong notables are Adam Larrson of the Devils and Jared Cowen of the Senators.
Goaltending is still the most important position on the ice and this year there have been a few surprises. Tuukka Rask's numbers are great, but he has only played 14 games. Brian Elliot is a great comeback story of perseverance and he ranks second in all goaltending categories, but he has split the duties with Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis. Henrik Lundqvist has quietly and consistently put up tremendous numbers forever and the NY Rangers are doing some serious damage this season.
In spite of all of this, my vote at the halfway point goes to Jonathon Quick of the LA Kings. He has played in 35 of LA's 43 games and has them in sixth place in the West. His numbers are great and he has faced over 1000 shots already. I'm not saying he wins it at the end, but if he can keep this up, why not?
The Norris trophy for the best defender looked liked it belonged to Kris Letang of the Penguins until that nasty hit by Max Pacioretty sidelined him. The guy who has stepped up is Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. He leads all defencemen in scoring and carries a healthy amount of ice time (25:33) for the surprising Sens. He still takes some risks that hurt, but the reward has paid off with a starting position in this season's NHL All-Star game in Ottawa. He is my halfway choice for the Norris, but keep your eyes in the rearview for Shea Weber. He is solid with nine goals and 30 points, is a +12 and plays a mean physical game. He has been a bridesmaid for the Norris a few times already.
It has been a tough year for coaches as seven have been replaced already. I do agree with a lot of people that Kevin Dineen and Mike Yeo have done a tremendous job in Florida and Minnesota. These two teams looked to be falling hard and they have the lug nuts back on the wheels. Claude Julien's Boston Bruins caught the Stanley Cup winner's flu early and looked to be part of another statistic of winning the Cup but missing the playoffs the following year. Julien has turned the big mean rig around and would be more than deserving if not for John Tortorella. He is the coach of the year at the halfway mark. He has the Blueshirts in first place overall and that's without the services of Marc Staal. Yes, he can sometimes let his emotions get the best of him, but that's what his team draws on.
Last, but not least, is the Stanley Cup winner. The Rangers, Canucks, Flyers, Detroit and Chicago are impressive but I still believe in a seven game series there is not a team that can match the size, skill, grit and goaltending of the Boston Bruins.
Enjoy the back stretch.
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?