Now that each and every team in the National Hockey League has reached the official mid-point of the season---having played at least 41 games of their 82 game schedule---it is time to hand out the Rink Rap Halfway Home Awards.
I will submit my three finalists, in 1-2-3 order, for the major awards halfway through the season as follows:
1-Sidney Crosby (Penguins)
As I have said, and written, often this is a two-man race for the league's MVP so far this season---Crosby and Steven Stamkos. I give the slight edge to Crosby because---even though he's missed several games due to a concussion---he still leads the league in goals (32) by one over Stamkos and points (66) by nine over Stamkos. He also had the amazing point-scoring streak at a time when Pittsburgh's other superstar---Evgeni Malkin---was either hurt or not playing to superstar form. Through 41 games, Crosby is the best the league has seen so far this year.
2-Steven Stamkos (Lightning)
He has been dynamic offensively, and is a major reason why Tampa Bay finds itself in first place at the midpoint in the Sortheast Division. He has gotten a lot more help from star teammate Martin St. Louis than Crosby has from Malkin, but Stamkos is breathing down Sid the Kid's neck for this award.
3-Brad Richards (Stars)
Third place in this race is really third place, since it's a two-horse race, but there are many qualified candidates to consider including the Sedin twins, whose combined great play has helped Vancouver to the top of the league standings. But I like Richards here because he is having a terrific season (50 points) while not being bothered at all by constant trade rumors and speculation about his impending unrestricted free agency. Richards has also helped turn Dallas into one of the biggest suprises in the NHL, sitting in first place in the Pacific Division at the midway point of the season.
1-Nicklas Lidstrom (Red Wings)
Funny how just a year ago all the talk was about the new guard of NHL defensemen and that Lidstrom's time as the pre-eminent D-Man in the league was coming to an end. Well an injury to Drew Doughty, fall off in play by Duncan Keith and Mike Green, and the re-emegence of one of the greatest defensemen ever to play the position has put Lidstrom right back at the top of Norris talk again. He is logging 24 minutes of ice time a night, been terrific defensively, and is tied for the league-lead in point production by defensemen with 41 points---just eight fewer than he had all last season. At age 40, Lidstrom could be on his way to a 7th Norris Trophy.
2-Kris Letang (Penguins)
Letange has taken a major step forward in his development this year, recording a career-high 40 points already, while also posting a whopping plus 20 plus/minus mark. At age 23 Letang is making the dramatic move up among the league's elite defensemen just as Keith did with Chicago a year ago, though at age 26. Love his physical play, too.
3-Dustin Byfuglien (Thrashers)
Byfuglien emerged last year as a key contributor on the Blackhawks Cup-winning team---but did so as a forward. Traded to Atlanta, and switched to defense, Byfuglien has responded with his best year as a pro---not only producing a career-best 41 points, but playing a rugged, physical style in his own end. His is one of the NHL's best stories in the season's first half.
1-Tim Thomas (Bruins)
A Vezina winner two years ago---and replaced as the team's No. 1 goalie by Tuukka Rask last season---Thomas has been nothing short of sensational for the Bruins this season. Thomas leads the league with a phenomenal .946 save percentage, 1.77 goals against average, and six shutouts. He has stopped 922 of the 975 shots he has faced in 30 games. Surreal. His perseverence is commendable to return to top form this year at the age of 36.
2-Jonathan Quick (Kings)
Many people, myself included, thought before the season that rookie Jonathan Bernier would be the Kings No. 1 goalie by now. But Quick has squashed those thoughts with a fairly remarkable first half of play. Though he played often---and well---a year ago, Quick has been a much sharper goalie this season, posting a 2.18 goals against average and .920 save percentage in 32 appearances. Quick is a major reason why the Kings---who disappointed in so many areas of play in the first half---have not fallen out of playoff contention in the West.
3-Jonas Hiller (Ducks)
With J.S. Giguere long since traded, Hiller is The Man in Anaheim, and his league-high 40 appearances attest to that fact. He has posted a respectable 2.43 goals against---and an excellent .927 save percentage---for an average Ducks squad, which gives him a slight edge over other Vezina contenders like Marc-Andre Fleury, Ondrej Pavelec, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist, and Carey Price.
1-Corey Crawford (Blackhawks)
While this year's rookie crop is not like last year's---which was the year of the rookie goaltender---Crawford (pictured) is my pick as top rookie, so far, for having solidified the defending Cup champs netminding. Veteran Marty Turco was supposed to be the No. 1 in Chicago after Anttii Niemi was allowed to head to San Jose as a free agent, but Crawford clearly has supplanted him by winning 7 of his last 9 starts, including back-to-back shutouts in his last two games. Crawford is 15-8-1 with a 2.14 goals against average and .920 save percentage playing under the intense pressure which comes with being the defending champ. That is more than impressive.
2-Logan Couture (Sharks)
Though he did play in 25 regular season---and 15 post-season---games a year ago for the Sharks, Couture is still eligible for the Calder, and his league rookie-high 19 goals are too hard to ignore. Even recently when the puck has not been going in for him, Couture keeps driving for goals---firing shots on goal with abandon. A bit dinged up now, Couture has become an important player for the Sharks as they seek to secure a playoff spot in the season's second half.
3-Jeff Skinner (Hurricanes)
Boy, this is quite the toss up because there are many deserving candidates to fit into this top 3 of what is a terrific rookie class. Derek Stepan, Taylor Hall, Kevin Shattenkirk, John Carlson, and Brad Marchand are just some that deserve mention here. But Skinner is the most dynamic rookie I have seen all year, and the precocious 18 year-old does lead all NHL rookies in scoring with 33 points, so he gets the slight nod over the others.
Jack Adams Trophy
1-Alain Vignault (Canucks)
Vignault has his club atop the entire league with 62 points, and has recorded at least one point in its last 17 games (14-0-3). That is tremendous consistency, which is also proven by the fact that the Canucks have lost only 8 times in regulation over 42 games. They also have a +43 goal differential, scoring 145 goals and allowing just 102. This is a very talented team, but credit Vignault with pushing them to the top of the entire league halfway through the season, playing the majority of their games in the extremely tough Western Conference.
2-John Tortorella (Rangers)
I'm sorry, no one I know believed that the Rangers would be this good halfway through the season. Tortorella deserves much credit for easing up on his uber-intense personality just a bit and getting the entire team to buy into his system, which requires termendous work ethic and effort. That he has his club in a solid playoff position---after not reaching the post-season a year ago---despite a dizzying array of injuries to key players also puts Tortorella in solid contention for this award, I believe.
3-Guy Boucher (Lightning)
I give Boucher a slight edge here over Peter Laviolette, Marc Crawford, and Craig Ramsay. Steve Yzerman recognized that Boucher was one of the brightest young coaching talents down in the AHL and hired him in Tampa Bay to great results, so far. A terrific communicator and solid bench coach, Boucher has the Lightning in first place in their division, despite a weakness in goal that may have only recently been addressed. He's going to be a good one for quite some time, I think.
So what are your thoughts? Leave your comments here or reach out to me on Twitter.
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