By Allan Muir
Too soon to talk trophies?
Maybe in a normal year. But with half of the NHL’s teams already having a quarter-season’s worth of play under their belts during this abbreviated session, we’re starting to see players (and others) assert themselves as hardware hopefuls.
Here’s a look at how the fields are shaping up in the battle for the NHL’s major awards.
Got a better idea? Leave your picks in the comments section below.
Hart Trophy (MVP)
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks
There are no passengers on the 10-0-2 Hawks, but Kane has clearly emerged as the go-to guy on the NHL’s best team. He’s keeping his legs moving — something he did only in spurts during his disappointing 2011-12 season — and the puck magic has followed. That he ranks second in the league in scoring is amazing. That he’s done it while playing eight of 10 on the road — where opposing coaches have the last change and the chance to defend him as they wish — illustrates why he’s easily the league’s most dominant performer.
In the mix: Thomas Vanek, Sabres; Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings; David Clarkson, Devils
Norris Trophy (Best defenseman)
Erik Karlsson, Senators
Look, I was as stunned as anyone when a player whose best work was conducted 70 feet away from his own zone was named the game’s top defender for 2011-12. But I have to hand it to Karlsson in the early going. He’s killing penalties (something he rarely did last year), he’s plus-2 in turnovers, and his man-to-man play has noticeably improved. And here’s the number that knocks me out: 53. That’s how many shots Karlsson already has taken — 21 more than runner-up Justin Schultz of the Oilers. That means Karlsson is keeping the puck in the other end more than any other blueliner…and there’s no more effective defense than that.
In the mix: Zdeno Chara, Bruins; Alex Pietrangelo, Blues; Andrei Markov, Canadiens
Vezina Trophy (Best goalie)
Craig Anderson, Senators
Anderson has picked up right where he left off last season, starting 6-2-2 with a 1.49 GAA and .950 save percentage. He’s allowed two goals or fewer in eight of those appearances and just three total goals in his two regulation losses. The pressure has fallen squarely on him to shut the door as Ottawa’s Jason Spezza-less offense sputters. Anderson has responded magnificently to the challenge.
In the mix: Kari Lehtonen, Stars; Tuukka Rask, Bruins; Pekka Rinne, Predators
Calder Trophy (Best rookie)
Justin Schultz, Oilers
Defensemen are routinely overlooked when it comes to the Calder (only three blueliners –Tyler Myers of the Sabres, Barret Jackman of the Blues, and Bryan Berard of the Islanders — have taken the hardware in the last 15 seasons), but Schultz is playing at a level that’s impossible to ignore. He’s averaging 23:02 of ice time per game and has four power play goals, both tops among rookies. He has a zero plus-minus on a team that is minus-8 at even strength and has taken just one minor penalty through his first 12 games. Remarkable.
In the mix: Cory Conacher, Lightning; Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues; Dougie Hamilton, Bruins
Jack Adams Award (Best coach)
Randy Carlyle, Maple Leafs
Hope Brian Burke hasn’t missed too many Leafs games on TV since he was fired because Carlyle has the team he built embracing the style he envisioned. Toronto isn’t just tougher or playing with a higher competitive drive. They’re a much more controlled team in their half of the ice–gone is the constant stream of odd-man rushes against–and that’s given James Reimer a chance to emerge as a legitimate No. 1 stopper. The ingredients were there, but it took Carlyle to make dinner.
In the mix: Pete DeBoer, Devils; Bruce Boudreau, Ducks; Mike Babcock, Red Wings
GM of the Year Award
Bob Murray, Ducks
Free agent signee Sheldon Souray is playing at an All-Star level, his plus-10 rating tops among all defenders. Daniel Winnik has brought size, grit and surprising scoring touch to the top-six. And Viktor Fasth is unbeaten through five starts, giving Bruce Boudreau two solid options between the pipes. Murray’s only mistake over the summer might have been giving Fasth just a single year on his deal.
In the mix: Ken Holland, Red Wings; Marc Bergevin, Canadiens; Steve Yzerman, Tampa Bay