With players of the National Hockey League breaking for the All-Star Game, now is a better time than any to hand out some utterly meaningless mid-season awards.
Although there are still some 30+ games remaining in the season, the break allows us to look at who some of the leading candidates are for the hardware that will be handed out at the conclusion of the season.
Here is who I peg as the major trophy winners at the half-way point, and remember, take these choices with a grain of salt as it is just one writer’s opinion and things will obviously change as the season progresses:
Runner-Up: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: If Lundqvist is the most valuable player to his team then Malkin is certainly right up there with him. The NHL’s leading scorer has taken over as the league’s most dominant offensive force and is keeping Pittsburgh afloat in the East despite the injuries to Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang.
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: Ahead of his closest competition in defencemen scoring by 12 points, Karlsson’s march to the Norris Trophy has been on cruise control for most of the season. The 21-year-old Swedish blueliner remarkably ranks in the top 15 in NHL scoring among all players and while his defensive play isn’t in the same league as other candidates like Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara, his production from the backend simply cannot be ignored.
Runner-Up: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators: Weber has become a player who you might as well just pencil in as a nominee for the award and this year will be no different. The Nashville captain ranks third in scoring among defencemen with 34 points, is fifth in average icetime per game and has been his usual dominant self at both ends of the rink for the once again surprising Preds.
Runners-Up: Pekka Rinne and Jimmy Howard: Given the fact that I gave the Hart to Lundqvist, you would think that his selection for the Vezina as well would be a given, but its not. Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators and Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings could also both lay claim to being the best goalie in the NHL league and both have the numbers to back it up.
While Howard often tends to be overlooked because the Wings are such a consistently great team, he is having a stellar season and leads the league with 30 wins. In Rinne’s case, he too could be considered a Hart Trophy contender as his importance to his team is right up there Lundqvist and Malkin.
Adam Henrique, New jersey Devils: Starting the season in the AHL, Henrique came out of nowhere to become the Devils first-line center. Playing on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, the 21-year-old Henrique has thrust himself into contention for rookie of the year with 34 points in 43 games and is also tied for the league lead with four shorthanded tallies.
Runner-Up: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers: Had he not suffered a shoulder injury, Nugent-Hopkins would likely be a runaway for the award as the 2011 first-overall pick was averaging close to a point-per-game for the young Oilers. Even though he hasn’t played since January 2, the “Nuge” remains the NHL’s top rookie scorer with 35 points.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: In what was the hardest award to call, Jonathan Toews gets the nod as the league’s best defensive forward. A runner-up for the award last year, Toews leads the NHL with 68 takeaways and is second in the league with a 61% faceoff percentage. Even though he is having his best offensive season, The Blackhawks captain remains a very responsible player in all three zones and is one of the more hard-working and tenacious forecheckers in the league.
Runner-Up: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings: A three-time winner of the award, Datsyuk continues to be equally as potent defensively as he is offensively. One of the game’s most respected players, Datsyuk’s play without the puck is one of the main reasons why he is so highly regarded by his peers.