clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Who are the strongest NHL awards contenders at the midseason mark?

New, comments

Handing out accolades as the first half comes to a close.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015-16 NHL season is officially halfway over.

That felt strange to write. Didn't we just start this thing? It's odd how quickly the seasons fly by, and how quickly the awards races can change.

Since we examined the awards races at the quarter mark of the season, names and teams have dropped in and out of the running. The Montreal Canadiens fell off a cliff and left the Florida Panthers alone at the top of the Atlantic. Patrick Kane went streaking for 26 games and Sidney Crosby's scoring still remained AWOL. John Scott got named to the All-Star Game. Alex Ovechkin bought a Powerball ticket. Just crazy stuff.

Taking a look at the races again at the midpoint felt odd. On one hand, some of the awards seem like foregone conclusions at this point. On the other, there are still three months left in the season! Everything could change. Why am I even doing this I am so confident in my predictions!

Without further ado, here's how the NHL trophy races stack up with half a season under our belt:

Hart Trophy (most valuable player)

1. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

2. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

So this got tougher. If you thought Kane's case would get clearer when he separated himself from Jamie Benn, you haven't been paying attention to King Henrik's work in New York. The Rangers have struggled at times this season defensively, and Lundqvist's brilliance has bailed them out time and again. He's faced the third-most shots in the league and still put up a .920 save percentage and a 2.49 goals against average. He's almost single-handedly kept the Rangers competitive for the Metropolitan Division crown.

And yet, he still won't win the Vezina at this rate. So I can't give him the Hart just yet.

That leaves Kane, who is on pace for a mind-boggling 126 points. That 26-game point streak becomes even more remarkable now that he still hasn't slowed down. Barring a huge collapse in the second half, the Hart might already be locked up.

3. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

The best player in 2015, by far. One of the best players this season. He can make the Hart Trophy race interesting if he continues to linger behind Kane in the points race, but the Stars captain likely won't get his deserved recognition until his team wins a playoff series.

Apologies to: Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators), Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals), your favorite player

Vezina Trophy (best goalie)

1. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

Nov. 10. That was the last time (as of this writing) that Holtby lost a game in regulation. His 20-0-2 stretch catapulted the Capitals to the best record in the NHL and cemented him as the first half's Vezina frontrunner. Holtby leads the league in save percentage (.932) and goals against average (1.93) while facing the seventh-most shots in the league. The Capitals netminder has been elite for a while now, but this year he's making Carey Price's stellar 2014-15 campaign look pedestrian.

2. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

3. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Bolts can't score, yet they're still in the thick of the wild card hunt. Bishop's 2.00 goals against average is why.

Apologies to: Roberto Luongo (Panthers), Cory Schneider (New Jersey Devils)

Norris Trophy (best defenseman)

1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

I struggled with this at the quarter mark of the season. Karlsson and John Klingberg were neck-and-neck in points at that juncture and I couldn't separate the two.

That problem doesn't exist anymore. Klingberg's 38 points are still excellent, but Karlsson has jumped light years ahead of the field. He's on pace for 86 points, which is just an absurd number for a defenseman. His team relative Corsi (8.3) and Fenwick (8.4) are easily the best in the league. And he's doing it with partners like Patrick Wiercoch and Marc Methot. He's the best defenseman in the NHL so far and it's not close anymore.

2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

The Kings are quietly putting together one of the best records in the league this year, and as usual it's Doughty at the helm logging the third-most minutes in the league. If Karlsson wasn't having the year of his life, the Norris would fall to Doughty. Alas, at this rate he'll have to wait another year for his turn.

3. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks

I could tell you how great he's been this year, or I could just sum it up with this video:

Apologies to: Klingberg (Stars), Duncan Keith (Blackhawks), Andrew MacDonald

Calder Trophy (best rookie)

1. Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks

At the quarter pole, I gave Dylan Larkin the edge over Panarin by a nose hair. That hair has been growing unchecked ever since, except now Panarin is at the tip of it. (You're welcome for that visual.) You could argue that Kane's point streak was the reason for Panarin's gaudy numbers. You could also argue the streak wouldn't have happened without Panarin on his wing. Chicken or the egg.

It's extremely rare for a rookie to actually elevate the play of an elite teammate. That's exactly what Panarin did during the first half, and that's why he gets the nod over his peers here.

2. Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings

3. Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes

Larkin is still my favorite rookie to watch. Even if you hate the plus-minus stat, it's remarkable that Larkin's plus-22 is better than guys like Kane, Ovechkin and Benn. Rookies aren't supposed to even get positive numbers in that stat. Larkin also leads all rookies in game-winning goals.

He's a game breaker. And so is Domi. Any other season, and Larkin and Domi would be head and shoulders above the rest of the class. But this season is loaded with rookie talent, and Panarin edges them out.

Apologies to: Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Anthony Duclair, Oscar Lindberg, Colton Parayko, Shayne Gostisbehere (I could legitimately go on for days)

Jack Adams Trophy (best coach)

1. Gerard Gallant, Florida Panthers

Funny how a 12-game win streak can launch you to the top of an award race. But the Panthers' ascension to the Atlantic Division lead has been a long time coming. The Panthers erased a 16-point gap between them and the Canadiens dating back to mid-November and look like legitimate playoff contenders for the first time in years. Gallant has gotten the most out of a balanced squad of veterans and highly skilled young guns. Keeping it up for the next three months is the next challenge.

2. John Hynes, New Jersey Devils

Still waiting for the Devils to crash-land back to Earth. But it's getting futile. Maybe it's time to admit Hynes has something with this squad many expected to finish dead-last in the league before the season. Injuries haven't even slowed the Devils down, as they're still within reach of a playoff spot.

3. Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals/Lindy Ruff, Dallas Stars

If I chose one or the other I'd be admitting that coach's team is the best in the NHL. And I'm not quite ready to do that. Both coaches have led their teams to the league's best records, but playoff performances will be the main thing to separate them in the Jack Adams race.

Apologies to: Mike Babcock (Toronto Maple Leafs), Dave Tippett (Coyotes)