By Allan Muir
With every team but one — the Boston Bruins — having hit the halfway point of the abbreviated schedule, it’s time to update our handicapping of the postseason hardware races. Here are my first-quarter choices, so you can compare.
Not surprisingly, many of the names have changed since our first look revealed some surprise favorites. Injuries have played a part, but in most cases it’s been a matter of players reasserting themselves among the elite once they had a chance to get their legs under them.
Here’s how we see the fields shaping up. Got a bone to pick with these choices? Make your case in the comments section below.
Hart Trophy (MVP)
Sidney Crosby, Penguins
The players listed below as being in the mix? Totally a courtesy nod. The way Sid is playing now, everyone else is just vying for a free trip to wherever the awards ceremony is held this year so they can smile politely on camera when Crosby’s name is announced as the winner. The Pens’ captain is scoring at a clip we haven’t seen in a full generation. He’d be on pace for more than 140 points in a full 82-game season. With Pittsburgh’s defense leaking oil, the ability to run up the score has kept this team in contention. And don’t forget the impact he’s had on Chris Kunitz, the industrious winger who inexplicably stands third in the NHL scoring race through 26 games. That’s some serious mojo there.
In the mix: Patrick Kane, Blackhawks; Steven Stamkos, Lightning; Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks
Norris Trophy (Best defenseman)
Zdeno Chara, Bruins
Erik Karlsson’s season-ending injury opened the Norris up to a sizable field of compelling contenders. There’s no consensus favorite at this point, but for my money, Chara remains the most dominant player at the position. No defender is tougher to beat one-on-one and his ability to set the tone with his physical play is unmatched. With his offensive game coming around after a slow start — his ballerina goal ranks among the season’s highlights — he looks to me like the game’s most complete blueliner.
In the mix: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes; Kris Letang, Penguins; Niklas Kronwall, Red Wings
Vezina Trophy (Best goalie)
Craig Anderson, Senators
Anderson has been sidelined since Feb. 21 and while that’s not quite out-of-sight, out-of-mind, we’re getting close to the point of putting his face on the side of a milk carton. His spectacular (and still league-leading) GAA and save percentage will be easy to asterisk if he’s not back soon, but he gets the nod for now. Keep an eye on Tuukka Rask if Anderson’s convalescence takes much longer. Rask has been a model of consistency and he’s lost just twice in regulation over 18 starts.
In the mix: Tuukka Rask, Bruins; Kari Lehtonen, Stars; Antti Niemi, Sharks
Calder Trophy (Best rookie)
Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers
You’ll see a lot of nods to Cory Conacher in this category, but I think he’s benefited significantly from playing with superior talent. Huberdeau hasn’t had that luxury with the Panthers, where injuries have forced the weight of Florida’s offense onto his shoulders for several weeks now. He’s responded by leading all rookies with 12 goals (11 at even strength) and by popping up routinely on the highlight shows thanks to his flair for the dramatic. Add in that he’s just a minus-3 on a team that has a league-worst minus-34 goal differential, and it’s clear that he’s making an unmatched contribution as a freshman.
In the mix: Cory Conacher, Lightning; Brendan Gallagher, Canadiens; Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues
Jack Adams Award (Best coach)
Paul MacLean, Senators
Tough not to give the nod to the guy in Chicago who hadn’t lost a game in regulation until this week, but what MacLean has done in Ottawa with his top forward, defender and goaltender on the shelf for an extended period and a patchwork lineup of veterans and not-yet-ripe minor leaguers is nothing short of miraculous. It would have been easy for the Senators to fold up their tents and start looking forward to the draft, but he’s maintained a level of cohesion and discipline that defies explanation. MacLean really deserves this one.
In the mix: Joel Quenneville, Blackhawks; Michel Therrien, Canadiens; Bruce Boudreau, Ducks
Selke Trophy (Best defensive forward)
Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks
The captain’s commitment to two-way play set the tone for Chicago’s spectacular start. He competes as ferociously as any player, ranks among the league leaders in the face-off circle (a ridiculous 59.5 percent), and has scored nine of his 11 goals on the road. He does all the hard things that make the game easier for the rest of his team. As with Crosby in the Hart race, this one isn’t close.
In the mix: Patrice Bergeron, Bruins; Eric Staal, Hurricanes; Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings