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Jonathan Toews, Josh Harding NHL award favorites at 20-game mark

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Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks

Enjoy the season that Jonathan Toews is having. You’re watching a Hall of Famer. (Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

By Allan Muir

It was right around the 20-game mark last season that Sergei Bobrovsky began asserting himself as a dark horse candidate for the Vezina Trophy. The Flyers’ cast-off, newly installed as the No. 1 in Columbus, put together an impressive run that saw him allow just two goals over a four-game stretch, hinting at the fantastic finish to come.

And Bobrovsky wasn’t alone in establishing himself early. Eventual MVP Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick in Game 17 to emerge from his early season drought. Jonathan Huberdeau earned Rookie of the Month honors on his way to capturing the Calder. P.K. Subban overcame a late start by scoring six points in his first six games to pave a path to the Norris Trophy.

No, NHL awards aren’t won in the first quarter of the season, but players who are hitting their marks at the quarter pole create a narrative that lingers with the voters.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the some of the players who have made a strong impression through the first 20 or so games of 2013-14, setting themselves up as the early favorites to take home the hardware next June.

Hart Trophy

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: Night in, night out, Toews is playing better two-way hockey than anyone in the league. You can see the incremental improvements in so many areas of his game–his skating, his ability to protect the puck, his strength along the boards and down low–and you can sense in all of it how driven he is to carry the Blackhawks to another Stanley Cup. This is a Hall of Fame-caliber player entering his prime, and he’s been a treat to watch.

Also in the mix:

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: It looked like he’d run away with it early on until he was dragged down by a seven-game goal drought. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him pull away from the pack at any moment.

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks: The best player on the league’s best team. He has that hunger in his eyes every time he hits the ice–motivated by Sochi, perhaps?

Alex Steen, St. Louis Blues: Tough award for a dark horse to win, but there’s no denying his impact in the early going. His dogged puck pursuit and strong defense are creating the opportunities that have him seen him outscore every player in the league.

Vezina Trophy


Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild: An injury to starter Niklas Backstrom set the stage for the best story of the season. Lost in the gaudy numbers (1.25 GAA, .946 save percentage) is the fact that he’s made 17 appearances and has yet to post a single stinker. That consistency and the ability to make the timely save exactly when the Wild need it make him the best of the early going.

Also in the mix: 

Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars: Forget the numbers–he consistently performs at a level few can match, and he does it playing behind one of the worst defensive corps in the league.

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins: First in save percentage, second in GAA. Rask gives his team a chance to win every night, allowing two goals or fewer in 12 of his 16 starts.

Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning: The voters love goalies who key a team’s turnaround, and that’s exactly what Big Ben is doing. He leads the league in wins despite playing behind a suspect blue line corps.

Norris Trophy


Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
This guy is such a horse that they could probably pay him in sugar cubes and old straw hats. Just look at Suter’s ice time over a three-game stretch last week: 36:51; 35:28; and 36:00. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that combined 108:19 is the most by any player since time on ice was first tracked in 2000-01. That’s just one metric, of course, but the eye test tells the rest of the story. Suter was robbed of the award last year. At this rate, that won’t happen again.

Also in the mix:

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes: If you’re not watching the Coyotes–and I’m guessing this applies to 99 percent of you–you’re missing out on a beastly season from OEL.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks: He’s played his way into consideration for Team Canada while assuming the No. 1 role for the Sharks.
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: He still doesn’t look quite like himself, but there’s no denying his ability to take control of a game at either end of the ice.

 

Calder Trophy

Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks: Now that the controversy surrounding his four-goal game has cooled, it’s easier to appreciate what this kid is accomplishing. He’s strong, quick and creative and, amazingly, is scoring more frequently at this level than he did while coming up the ranks. More impressive, though, is his three-zone game, which is why coach Todd McLellan is comfortable giving him first-line minutes even when Hertl’s goals dried up.

Also in the mix:


Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks:
He thinks the game like a vet and rarely makes a poor decision with the puck or his positioning.
Seth Jones, Nashville Predators: Poised, versatile and leads all rookies in ice time by a good stretch. He’s everything the scouts said he’d be.
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers: He’s only played in 13 contests, but he’s been in beast mode since his latest recall from the minors. This edgy game is exactly what the Rangers have been waiting for.

 

Jack Adams Award

Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
Who had the Lightning to be first in the East on Nov. 18? Anybody? It’s a remarkable story unfolding in Tampa, where Cooper has coerced an odd blend of veterans and kids into a sleek, relentless machine that’s decidedly better than the sum of its parts. Most shocking: its utter domination of the West (7-1). Reliable goaltending plays a big part in the team’s success, but Cooper’s calm, teaching style can’t be overlooked.

Also in the mix:


Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche:
The opening night glass rattling with Anaheim counterpart Bruce Boudreau was an eye-grabbing parlor trick, but what Roy has done for this team’s confidence–especially on the back end–is magical.
Adam Oates, Washington Capitals: Some carryover love based on his resurrection of Ovi, combined with deep admiration for having both his power play and penalty kill in the top-two.
Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks: He has this team at the top of the NHL standings while battling injuries and relying heavily on a third-string goaltender.

  • Published On Nov 18, 2013
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