The halfway point of the 2013-14 NHL season has passed and before we know it we’ll be at the Olympic break and then the stretch run of the season. By that point, some of the selections I’ve made below for NHL awards could change, but what these players and coaches have done to this point should be recognized. So without further ado, here are my first half winners and runner-ups for the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Calder and Jack Adams trophies:
*Note: Stats used were heading into NHL action January 13.
- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins – Crosby has already accomplished so much in his career and he is having another banner season, leading the NHL in points with 67. But that he’s doing that with all the injuries to key players for the Penguins and is basically the main reason that the Penguins sit a top the Eastern Conference standings—despite leading the league in man-games lost with 278—is good enough for first half MVP. This could go down as his best season yet because of how much his value to the team has been proven night in and night out.
- Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning – He may not be leading the NHL in points as he did last season and he may not be headed to Sochi for the Olympics like Crosby is, but it’s hard to argue how much the Lightning captain means to his team. Yes, Ben Bishop has been a factor in the surprising success of the Lightning this season but St. Louis is the main reason that Tampa Bay was third in the Eastern Conference standings as of Sunday. Since superstar Steven Stamkos was injured on November 11, St. Louis has 26 points in 28 games. He has once again put the team on his shoulders and seems to be getting younger rather than headed for his 39th birthday in June.
- Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens – Yes I realize that goalies have their own award (Vezina) and, much like baseball pitchers, it is viewed as taboo to even include them in MVP consideration let alone give them the award. But as former Habs goalie Jose Theodore did in 2002, Price (21-11-4, 2.19 GAA, .928 save percentage) is single-handedly keeping the Canadiens in playoff contention. True, they have P.K. Subban in front of him and I give him Norris Trophy consideration below. But without Subban, the Canadiens could still make the playoffs. Without Price stealing as many games as he has this season, the Canadiens would be thinking about a lottery pick right now.
- Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning – OK. Anyone out there who had Ben Bishop even in the top ten voting for the Vezina, please email me and if we ever meet, your first Guinness is on me. After never being given a legit chance to seize a No.1 goalie spot with the Blues and the Senators, Bishop has emerged as an elite goalie helping the Lightning to their surprising first half performance. He is 22-5-3 with a 1.86 GAA, .935 save percentage and four shutouts. While he has been nursing a wrist injury over the last week, he should be OK and is showing no signs that this first half was a fluke.
- Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins — After signing an eight-year, $56 million contract extension over the summer, Rask has wasted no time in earning his money this season. He is 22-11-2 with a 2.06 GAA, .930 save percentage and a league-leading five shutouts. Rask has shown some signs of fatigue lately, letting in some softies at inopportune times but he should be just fine and will be in this discussion at the end of the season as well.
- Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens – As mentioned above, Price is having an MVP caliber season and with some minor tweaks to his style while maintaining his calm demeanor, he is one of the top three goalies in the NHL at the halfway mark.
- Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks – The Blackhawks looked poised to become the first team to repeat as the Stanley Cup champions since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings. One of the main reasons for that is that they have one of the best blue lines in the NHL and leading the way on defense for the Blackhawks is Duncan Keith. Keith has three goals and 41 assists and has been not just a stalwart defensively but is one of the best in the NHL at starting a play up ice and creating offense as witnessed by his plus-18 rating.
- P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens – While Price is the primary reason the Canadiens have hovered around the top three spots in the Eastern Conference, Subban has played a major role as well. Following up his Norris Trophy season in 2012-13, Subban seems to be getting only better and brings a combination of skill, grit and excitement every time he steps on the ice. He has seven goals and 26 assists with a plus-12 rating and could very well become the first defenseman to win this trophy back-to-back since Nicklas Lidstrom won three straight (2005-06 to 2007-08).
- Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues – Like Keith, Pietrangelo is part of another excellent blue line group in St. Louis. So to stand out amongst such a group is an accomplishment. That’s what Pietrangelo tends to do every game. He has six goals and 26 assists and looks poised to get his first Norris Trophy.
- Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche – Drafted first overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft last June, MacKinnon has lived up to his billing and has been a major factor in the resurgence in Colorado with 15 goals and 14 assists thus far.
- Chris Kreider, New York Rangers – After a coming out party in the playoffs in 2012, Kreider toiled in the AHL with the Hartford Wolfpack. But this season under new head coach Alain Vigneault, he has been given a real chance to stay in the NHL and he hasn’t disappointed with 12 goals and 15 assists thus far.
- Torey Krug, Boston Bruins – Krug also had a coming out party in the playoffs when he helped a depleted Bruins blue line beat the Rangers in the second round of the Bruins’ 2013 Stanley Cup finals run. He finished the playoffs with six points in 15 games and this season the puck-moving defenseman is looking a lot like the Krug from the Rangers-Bruins series with 23 points in 45 games.
- Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning – Thanks to the MVP caliber play of St. Louis and the goaltending of Bishop, the Lightning have had a tremendous turnaround. But let’s not discount the coaching of Cooper who has helped change the culture of the team, helped the team maintain their confidence, and stay within their system while Stamkos is out. With a relatively young squad, Cooper has gotten the best out of his players and in the eyes of this scribe has done the best coaching job.
- Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks – Yes, the Ducks are a highly skilled club that have probably the best stable of goalies in the NHL—but they’re also second in man-games lost and a major reason they’ve overcome their injuries is the coaching of Boudreau. Scape-goated in Washington only two years ago, Boudreau is showing it wasn’t his fault the still inconsistent Capitals couldn’t get over the hump and has the Ducks competing for the President’s Trophy.
- Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins/Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche – Roy probably would’ve held this spot by himself since he along with MacKinnon have helped the Av’s turn things around and have shown their amazing start was no fluke. But with the Penguins leading the NHL in man-games lost, Bylsma gets consideration here as he still has his team atop the Eastern Conference and has helped them bounce back from the embarrassing sweep loss to the Bruins in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals.