PHT’s midseason trophy picks (James O’Brien’s choices)

Most teams are approaching, at or beyond the 41-games played mark, so the PHT gang will make its choices for the NHL’s trophies at this point in the season. Feel free to call us evil/wrong in the comments. We might get into dark horse candidates later on, too.

Hart Trophy – Sidney Crosby

No need to over-think this one, as you’d have to be a true devil’s advocate to argue against the idea that Crosby was the league’s best player at this point. When you consider the enormous gulf between Crosby’s 66 points and the Penguins’ second leading scorer (Evgeni Malkin, with 34), it’s clear that he’s been indispensable to Pittsburgh.

Vezina Trophy – Tim Thomas

Remember when the Boston Bruins were desperately trying to get rid of the aging veteran’s $5 million salary cap hit? That seems like a distant memory, although let’s be honest: Boston’s defense could make Tuukka Rask look like an all-star again.

Even if you discount Thomas a bit for playing in Claude Julien’s defensively stout system, his 94.5 save percentage puts him far ahead of second place goalie Ondrej Pavelec’s 93.2 mark. He’s also the only regular starter with a sub-2.00 GAA and owns 18 wins, making him the obvious Vezina Trophy choice at the midway point.

Norris – Dustin Byfuglien

OK, I imagine I might get raked over the coals a bit for this one, but let me explain. I wanted to pick Nicklas Lidstrom because he’s almost certainly a better shutdown guy than big Byfuglien, but there was one number that jumped out from the Atlanta Thrashers blueliner’s stats:

6 game winning goals.

That’s the highest number of GWGs for any defenseman in the NHL, with Alex Goligoski surprisingly being the No. 2 guy with four. In fact, Byfuglien is tied with Steven Stamkos for the most game-winners in the entire NHL. Even if you discount everything else Byfuglien achieved in Atlanta, he earned them 12 standings points from those timely goals alone. Wow.

He also has a better plus/minus that Lidstrom (+8 to Lidstrom’s +3), although I admittedly don’t put much stock in that. It’s true that Lidstrom’s game is about positioning rather than hitting, but Byfuglien leads the all-time great in hits by a wide margin too (72 to 24).

Jack AdamsGuy Boucher

There have been some great coaching performances through the first half of the 2010-11 season, but Boucher stands out because of his team’s higher level of success. Tampa Bay currently leads the Southeast Division (thus earning the East’s second spot) despite the fact that they share a division with the Capitals and Thrashers.

Despite talents such as Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, Boucher needed to roll with some punches to being this season. The team played in 24 road games versus only 17 home games so far and dealt with injuries to key players such as Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne.

Even with some occasionally atrocious goaltending, Boucher’s bunch looks primed for a return to the playoffs. That’s coach of the year material in my mind.

Calder – Logan Couture

My guess is that Taylor Hall will give him a run for his money while Sergei Bobrovsky and rookie points leader Jeff Skinner have a chance too, but if I had a vote, it would go to Couture so far.

  • He’s second in points with 27 and first in goals (18) and game winning goals (5).
  • He slightly trails Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle for the time on ice lead among forwards, but considering the fact that he’s fighting for minutes on a playoff caliber roster instead of bottom feeder, I think that means more.
  • Despite being a rookie, Couture is already a good at draws, with a well above average 52.8 winning percent (second among rookies behind Pittsburgh’s Mark Letestu.)
  • Again, I’m not too fond of plus/minus, but he’s second in the NHL among rookie forwards with a +8 (Chicago’s Jake Dowell is the top forward with a +10).

In other words, Couture is the most complete rookie so far this season.

Selke – Manny Malhotra

Let me be honest here: it’s tough to figure out which players are the best two-way forwards. It’s easy to just name Pavel Datsyuk and call it a day, but I settled on Manny Malhotra and Sammy Pahlsson but chose the Vancouver center for these reasons:

  • He’s an elite face-off winner: Malhotra is second in the league in shorthanded FO wins (87), trailing only Pahlsson.
  • He gets a good amount of ice time: he receives about 25.6 shifts per game and 2:45 shorthanded time on ice per game.
  • Vancouver is an elite PK unit: their 85.7 percent kill rate is good for third in the NHL. Pahlsson and the Blue Jackets rank 24th with a 79.3 success rate.

Sure, playing on a great team helps and having Roberto Luongo stopping pucks doesn’t hurt either, but Malhotra is my choice right now.

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Surely the next 41 (or so) games will affect these choices, but if the season ended today, those would be my winners. Who would you hand NHL awards to? Let us know in the comments.

Brian Gionta goes from U.S. Olympic team to Boston Bruins

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Brian Gionta was hoping to use the 2018 Winter Olympics as an opportunity to showcase his game to NHL teams after not being re-signed by the Buffalo Sabres last season.

On Sunday, the Boston Bruins felt he could help them down the stretch and signed the 39-year-old forward to a contract for the remainder of the season. Gionta will earn a pro-rated $700,000 salary.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has been busy. He’s traded for Nick Holden to bolster his blue line, acquired Rick Nash to strengthen his forward group and now added Gionta for some depth up front. “If there is an area we can continue to supplement our group, we will do that,” he said on Saturday.

[Rick Nash addition shows Bruins loading up for Stanley Cup run]

In order to play in the postseason, Gionta, who’s no stranger to Boston having helped deliver a national title to Boston College in 2001, needed to sign a contract by Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.

Despite spending all summer as an unrestricted free agent, Gionta still hadn’t shut the door on the NHL. “If the right situation came across, I’d have to think long and hard about it, for sure,” he told me in November.

Gionta went pointless in five games in PyeongChang while captaining the Americans, who were bounced in the quarterfinals by the Czech Republic. He looked very much his 39 years on the big ice, but maybe a return to the NHL could rejuvenate him? He did score 15 goals and recorded 35 points in 82 games with the Buffalo Sabres in 2016-17.

It’s a low-risk move for the Bruins. If it doesn’t work out, Gionta’s not an anchor on their salary cap and they can part ways. If he can contribute, it was worth the lottery ticket for Sweeney.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Trade: Blue Jackets welcome back a familiar face in Mark Letestu in three-way deal

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Trade deadline day could be a snoozefest at this rate.

The trade: Predators acquire Mark Letestu from the Edmonton Oilers for Pontus Aberg. Predators then trade Letestu to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Why the Predators are making this trade: Picks are nice. Teams like draft picks. Aberg also hadn’t played in 10 days and his future in the Music City was in doubt. Perhaps the deal is part of a bigger plan for general manager David Poile, who apparently are in the running for Erik Karlsson. (Wouldn’t that be something.)

Or maybe another conspiracy?

Why the Oilers are making this trade: Two words: Fire. Sale. The Oilers need to dump pending unrestricted free agents and get something in return. Aberg is the return. He wasn’t a fit on a very strong Predators team but perhaps could offer something to the Oilers going forward. He has one year left on a two-year, $1.3 million deal.

Or maybe not:

Why the Blue Jackets are making this trade: The Blue Jackets needed help in their bottom six and get some with veteran center Letestu, who will likely be hungry to perform as he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Letestu knows the area well, having played parts of four season with the Blue Jackets. He has eight goals and 19 points in 60 games this season.

Perhaps some further context as well:

Who won this trade: Another one of these even deals, for the most part. Blue Jackets get depth, Predators grab a pick. But what do the Oilers gain in Aberg? He’s a cheap player going forward, but his metrics aren’t great. Maybe a change of scenery will help. Edmonton got something for a pending UFA, so that’s something.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Trade: Maple Leafs add depth, acquire veteran center Tomas Plekanec

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Trade deadline day could be a snoozefest at this rate.

The trade: The Toronto Maple Leafs acquire Tomas Plekanec and Kyle Baun from the Montreal Canadiens for Rinat Valiev, Kerby Rychel and Toronto’s second-round draft pick in 2018. The Canadiens will retain 50 percent of Plekanec’s salary in the deal.

Why the Maple Leafs are making this trade: Plekanec slides right into a fourth line center role with the Leafs as an upgrade over Dominic Moore. The 35-year-old’s production might be waning, but he’s still a solid two-way center that can be counted on to be responsible in the defensive zone. He could also move right into the mix on Toronto’s top penalty kill unit. Immediately, he could also help fill the gaps with Auston Matthews out of the lineup due to injury.

With the Canadiens retaining 50 percent of Plekanec’s salary in his final season of a two-year, $12 million contract, the Leafs can still stay busy in the trade market without immediate worry about cap woes.

According to CapFriendly, the Leafs still have $3,423,334 worth of cap room to play with.

Why the Canadiens are making this trade: Well, for starters, getting a return for Plekanec, a pending unrestricted free agent, was a must. And they certainly got a nice haul for him. The Canadiens, who look to be entering a time of rebuilding, now have four second-round picks — and nine total — in the 2018 draft after Sunday’s trade. That pick is the primary factor in this trade.

Rychel led the Toronto Marlies in scoring last season, but hasn’t been able to crack the Leafs after being acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Rychel was taken 19th overall in the 2013 draft and has 37 NHL games under his belt.

Valiev has 10 NHL games. He’s shown some promise as a depth, safe defenseman.

Who won the trade? It’s a trade that benefits both sides. The playoff-bound Maple Leafs add depth to the spine of the forward contingent. Also, they get a guy who has quite a bit of playoff experience. Plekanec has played in 87 postseason games, amassing 16 goals and 49 points, including 11 points in 19 games during the 2009-10 season. The Canadiens add another pick to their stable, and get two prospects that will likely get looks before the end of the season.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

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WATCH LIVE on NBC – 12 PM ET

PROJECTED LINES

St. Louis Blues

Forwards

Ivan BarbashevPaul StastnyVladimir Tarasenko

Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennVladimir Sobotka

Alexander SteenPatrik BerglundNikita Soshnikov

Scottie UpshallKyle BrodziakDmitrij Jaskin

Defenseman

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo

Jay BouwmeesterColton Parayko

Vince DunnJordan Schmaltz

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

Nashville Predators

Forwards

Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson

Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith

Scott HartnellNick BoninoCalle Jarnkrok

Miikka SalomakiColton SissonsAustin Watson

Defenseman

Roman JosiRyan Ellis

Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban

Alexei EmelinYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck