Monday, December 31, 2007

Midseason awards

With half the 2007-08 NHL season over, it's time to hand out first-half awards. In terms of statistical distinctions, Vincent Lecavalier is the first-half Art Ross Trophy champion, Ilya Kovalchuk is our half-year Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winner and Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek share the William Jennings Trophy through half the season. Now, my picks for the more interesting trophies:

Hart Trophy -- Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit. This season more than ever, the Hart Trophy is a decidedly difficult pick. Players that have been some of the brighter lights this season (Vincent Lecavalier, Ilya Kovalchuk) are tearing it up for teams out of playoff position, while the likes of Sidney Crosby and Jarome Iginla are playing well, albeit for clubs struggling to claw their way to eighth place. In such a scenario, the primary option is to choose the best player on the best team, and that's Lidstrom. The ageless wonder for the dominant, first-place Red Wings proved on a recent road stretch more than ever why he's so invaluable: despite injuries to key forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom, the Wings continued to run up the score against solid opposition, largely thanks to Lidstrom. With a gorgeous +29 that leads all defensemen in the NHL, Lidstrom is on pace for an impressive 75 points along with his usual share of rock-solid defense. On a mesmerizing team loaded with stars, Lidstrom, at least through the first half of the season, has been the standout. Runners-up: Dany Heatley, Ottawa; Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit.

Vezina Trophy -- Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose. It's been 38 games, 38 starts for the Russian netminder. On a grossly underachieving Sharks team, Nabokov has, many nights, been the lone bright spot, bailing the team out with key saves and being an integral cog in the Sharks' second-ranked penalty kill. And with a fairly nondescript defense corps, it's Nabokov who deserves most of the credit for San Jose's 87 goals against, second least in the NHL. After a few years of sharing his crease with Vesa Toskala, Nabokov has thrived in the Finn's absence with play reminiscent of ex-Shark netminder Miikka Kiprusoff's Vezina season with the Flames two years ago. Runners-up: Henrik Lundqvist, NY Rangers; Roberto Luongo, Vancouver; Pascal Leclaire, Columbus.

Norris Trophy -- Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit. After picking Lidstrom for the Hart Trophy, it's hard to justify giving the Norris to anyone else. For many of the same reasons I believe Nick to be the league MVP through the first half, he has also been the most outstanding defenseman, but not without competition. Sergei Zubov is enjoying a career rejuvenation with the overachieving Stars, while Chris Phillips has quietly been a big reason why Ottawa leads the Eastern Conference. Runners-up: Sergei Zubov, Dallas; Chris Phillips, Ottawa.

Lester B. Pearson Award -- Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta. While the Pearson tends to be misinterpreted as league MVP as voted on by the players, the actual criteria is the league's most outstanding player. And noone has been more outstanding than Ilya Kovalchuk. With 32 goals in 39 games, Kovalchuk is on pace to become the league's first 60-goal scorer since Mario Lemieux pulled it off eleven years ago. Runners-up: Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay; Jarome Iginla, Calgary.

Selke Trophy -- Sami Pahlsson, Anaheim. As difficult as it is to quantify a good defensive forward, Pahlsson is easily the best in the game. He was robbed of a Selke (and arguably a Conn Smythe) last year, and after getting a close-up look at his play during the Sharks' recent three-game mini-series against the Ducks in which he kept Thornton completely off the scoresheet, I'm confident, at least through the season's first half, Pahlsson deserves the Selke this year. Runners-up: Patrick Sharp, Chicago; Mike Fisher, Ottawa.

Lady Byng Trophy -- Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit. With just 18 penalty minutes on the season as a defenseman along with his usual role as ambassador for the game, Lidstrom, through one-half of the season, is the frontrunner for what has unfortunately come to be known as hockey's least desirable award. Runners-up: Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa; Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit.

Calder Trophy -- Patrick Kane, Chicago. It's quite likely that the influx of rookie talent in the NHL the last few years is unparalleled by any such advent of talent in league history. This year's rookie class is just as distinguished, headline by the deadly duo of rookies leading the resurgence in Chicago. Although Toews will likely be more of an impact player in the future, Kane has torn it up this season, scoring 36 points in 37 games, tops among rookies. While Kane has been the top rookie through the first half of the season, Toews, Atlanta's Tobias Enstrom, Washington's Nicklas Backstrom and Montreal's Carey Price have all staked their claims to the Calder Trophy as well, which sould make for an intriguing race down the stretch. Runners-up: Jonathan Toews, Chicago; Tobias Enstrom, Atlanta.

Jack Adams Award -- Mike Babcock, Detroit. After losing their entire second line along with defenseman Mathieu Schneider to free agency and beginning the season with an injury to goaltender Dominik Hasek, not many in the hockey world could have predicted that the Red Wings, halfway through the season, would have a stranglehold on the top spot in the West. While Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk certainly have been big parts of that, Mike Babcock is most deserving of the Jack Adams at this point of the season for his terrific work behind the bench in Detroit. Runners-up: Andy Murray, St. Louis; Claude Julien, Boston.

1 comment:

GregSJ said...

A little harsh on Carle but hilarious none the less. Any thoughts on Wilson's latest move: