After struggling with head injuries for two years, Sidney Crosby is back atop the NHL scoring race with 40 points in 25 games. (Getty Images)
It’s about the halfway mark of the NHL season and awards races are taking shape.
THN staffers Ken Campbell, Adam Proteau, Edward Fraser, Brian Costello, Matt Larkin, Ted Cooper, Jason Kay, Ronnie Shuker and yours truly voted our top three picks for each of the following awards. First place votes received three points, second two and third one.
1. Sidney Crosby (24)
2. Steven Stamkos (10)
3. Ryan Getzlaf/Jonathan Toews (6)
Winston Churchill once famously quipped: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." I can see why, as my colleagues favored a non-playoff player in Stamkos over impactful, successful performances from the likes of Getzlaf, Toews, Patrick Kane and Craig Anderson.
Granted, a case can be made that, without the league’s premier goal scorer, Tampa would have even less to make up for its awful defense and be worse off. It’s all about how you define “most valuable player” and that’s an old debate that will pop up every year.
Crosby was clear and away the top choice and it’s hard to argue against him - though many will try. Crosby’s astounding 77-point pace in this shortened season cannot be downplayed after what he’s been through the past two years. He’s healthy. He’s lethal. He’s our first-half MVP.
Other votes: Patrick Kane (3), Craig Anderson (2), Thomas Vanek/Corey Crawford/Eric Staal (1)
1. Jonathan Huberdeau (22)
2. Cory Conacher (21)
3. Justin Schultz (7)
It’s a two-horse race between the 2011 Memorial Cup MVP Huberdeau and the 2012 AHL MVP Conacher. The little Lightning winger was out of the gate fast and an early favorite with St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko, but both have leveled off: Conacher has eight points in his past 17 games and Tarasenko had two points in nine games prior to suffering a concussion that still has him on IR. Conacher also has the benefit of playing with Stamkos.
Huberdeau, meanwhile, has had to be a leader in his rookie season on a wretched Panthers team. One glance at his minus-2 rating will throw some off his scent, but when you consider Florida is minus-30 as a team, it all gets put into focus. He also has a sturdy goal lead among rookies and averages more ice time than other forward contenders. It’s a close and contentious race that will go to whichever freshman has the best second half. And that may not be either Conacher or Huberdeau.
Other votes: Alex Galchenyuk/Brendan Gallagher/Dougie Hamilton (1)
1. Corey Crawford (19)
2. Craig Anderson (15)
3. Tuukka Rask (14)
This was one of the closest races and easily the most difficult to determine. Crawford has been outstanding in Chicago’s run and with numbers like his he cannot be ignored (1.53 goals-against average, .940 save percentage). But how much of his performance has been aided by the strong team in front of him? Conversely, Anderson was the backbone of the Senators until he was brought down by a sprained ankle, but with a 1.49 GAA and .952 SP he has to be considered.
The problem in deciding here is that most worthy of consideration have played so few games. While Crawford has been lights-out, backup Ray Emery is also 10-0 with impressive numbers. And while Anderson was incredible for the Senators, his injury affected the voting process. (Remember, this isn’t goalie MVP, but best goalie performance. Big difference.)
As the season goes on, games played or lack thereof will play more into this race. The honorable mentions in this category are still very much in the hunt.
Other votes: Viktor Fasth/Antti Niemi (3)
1. Kris Letang (23)
2. Oliver Ekman-Larsson (8)
3. Niklas Kronwall (7)
This category had the most nominations: a total of 10. And while Letang, the leader in defensemen scoring, is the clear-cut leader at this point, you have to wonder what the race would have looked like if Erik Karlsson didn’t get hurt.
Letang has a healthy points lead and his fifth-ranked 26:05 of ice time defines his steadying importance to Pittsburgh’s blueline. After that it gets tight. A year after Keith Yandle was considered for this honor, teammate Ekman-Larsson has usurped the role of No. 1 defenseman in Phoenix. At 21 years old, it’s OEL’s second “full” NHL season.
Kronwall has been his usual bruising self, but he’s upped his game while bridging the gap created by Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement. Second among all defensemen in points, Kronwall’s PPG is currently a career high. The knock on him is his minus-2 rating.
Other votes: Duncan Keith (5), Erik Karlsson (4), Shea Weber/Zdeno Chara (2), P.K. Subban/Andrei Markov/Alex Pietrangelo (1).
1. Joel Quenneville (16)
2. Michel Therrien (13)
3. Bruce Boudreau/Paul MacLean (11)
Quenneville’s team had just one regulation loss (now two), so how can anyone else possibly challenge him?
Much like the MVP debate, the coach of the year honor is clouded by philosophical preference. Is Quenneville - whose Blackhawks are an elite team with a good track record and plenty of depth - more worthy than Therrien or Boudreau, two coaches who have taken non-playoff teams back to the top of the standings? And how much extra credit does MacLean deserve for guiding a team that has been decimated by injuries?
For now, Quenneville’s performance gets the nod, but the luster will wear off with even a few losses. If Ottawa slips out of the top eight, MacLean will drop off the map.
Other votes: Randy Carlyle (3)
2. Stan Bowman (14)
3. Jim Rutherford (8)
Bergevin inherited a mess of a team, but is off to a good start in establishing team culture of his own vision.
MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays went back and re-hired manager John Gibbons, who they initially fired in 2008. Regardless of his past with the club - and the fact he had been working in the low minors - they were confident his was the right voice to lead the team at this time.
A similar move was made by Bergevin when they brought back Therrien. Bergevin believed Therrien was the leader the Habs needed now, just as he was for the Penguins in the years before they were crowned champions. Therrien may not still be around when/if Montreal steps into the ranks of the consistent contenders, but he is clearly the right man to take a step in that direction. It was a bold hire that has paid off.
Bergevin’s hardball game with P.K. Subban was also a move where he the GM held firm on his convictions. Rather than give in to demands simply to improve the present, Bergevin had a long-term vision for the club and stuck with it. In the end, he got what he was after.
Bowman deserves credit for not succumbing to pressure to change his team and mess with its depth. Again, it will be interesting to see how long he can stay in this conversation after the Hawks lose a few more games.
And Rutherford went full steam ahead in the summer, bringing in Jordan Staal and Alex Semin with an eye towards taking over the weak Southeast. So far it’s working. The line of Jiri Tlusty, Eric Staal and Semin has been among, if not the best in the NHL this season.
Other votes: Bob Murray (4), Bryan Murray (3), Don Maloney/Ray Shero (1)