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.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks at Blues

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This week’s edition of NBCSN’s Rivalry Night will feature a central division clash between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.

It’s still early days, but the two sides are battling atop the Central, with the Blackhawks powered by great starts from a number of players including Brandon Saad and Ryan Hartman. The Blues, meanwhile, are looking to halt a two-game skid after winning their first four games of the season. The game also features the return of NHL on NBC analyst Ed Olczyk to the booth.

You can check out tonight’s game on NBCSN (8 p.m. ET) or online via the live stream.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Blues get Alexander Steen back against Blackhawks

Return to the booth is Eddie Olczyk’s ‘best medicine’

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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.

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Former NHL agent Stacey McAlpine charged in fraud case

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) Former NHL agent Stacey McAlpine has been charged with fraud in a case involving former Ottawa Senators players Dany Heatley and Chris Phillips.

Winnipeg police said Wednesday that the 54-year-old McAlpine bilked Heatley and Phillips out of $12 million between January 2004 and June 2011. McAlpine is charged with two counts of fraud over $5,000, two counts of theft over $5,000 and laundering proceeds of crime.

Heatley and Phillips sued McAlpine and McAlpine’s parents, claiming money was being invested in unapproved real estate deals, including an Ottawa condominium. CTV Calgary has reported that Heatley was awarded more than $6 million by an Alberta court.

Rask hurt in Bruins practice; Spooner out 4-6 weeks

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Well, the good news regarding injuries and the Boston Bruins didn’t last very long.

Earlier this week, PHT noted that forwards Patrice Bergeron and David Backes are expected to return in the near future, possibly as soon as Thursday. That’s great, but Wednesday turned out to be lousy thanks to one injury scare and one sure-thing that’s a negative.

The biggest concern is that of Tuukka Rask, and it’s something that might not clear up for a while. Rask was helped off the ice during practice today after being “bowled over” by young forward Anders Bjork.

The Bruins might dodge a bullet there, which would be huge if their backup work in anyway resembles the woes of 2016-17.

While we don’t know the severity of Rask’s issues just yet, there’s flat-out bad news for Ryan Spooner.

The Bruins estimate Spooner’s window of recovery at four-to-six weeks for a (cringe) “right groin adductor tear,” which he suffered on Oct. 15. Adam McQuaid suffered an injury in that same contest, so that could go down as a costly date for a Bruins team that has been fairly described as top-heavy.

Spooner, 25, was off to a slow start so far this season. He didn’t score a goal and managed one assist in five games, averaging 13:17 TOI per game. Even during that time, he was deployed in a very protected way, so the B’s can’t really claim that this is more than a body blow.

Even so, the Bruins might sport a patchwork lineup if Bergeron and/or Backes can’t play on Thursday. They’ll likely chalk it up as a win if Rask avoids anything significant, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Grim times for Canadiens: Price struggles, surgery for Schlemko

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Forgive the Montreal Canadiens if they feel beleaguered heading into Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings (which is part of NBCSN’s doubleheader).

After another captivating-but-polarizing summer of changes thanks to GM Marc Bergevin, the spotlight shone a little brighter on the Habs to start. Such magnification made it tough to hide the blemishes of what’s now a 1-4-1 start, even if abysmal luck takes the ugliness to an unrealistic extreme.

If getting beaten down in the local papers and in conventional wisdom didn’t leave them staggering, the Habs are also closing off a back-to-back set after dropping a fifth game in a row via last night’s loss to San Jose.

The hits keep on coming, too, with news that an already-shaky defense corps will lack savvy free agent addition David Schlemko for an estimated three-to-four weeks following hand surgery.

You know things are dreary when one of the more positive bits revolves around starting Al Montoya instead of Carey Price.

It’s true, though, that Montoya’s the right choice here. Most obviously, Price played last night, and you don’t want to lean too hard on any goalie, even one who will begin to cost $10M per season in 2018-19.

Price check

Price’s struggles feel like a microcosm of what this team is going through, as a whole, right now.

In the short term, it’s difficult to imagine things remaining this abhorrent both for the star goalie and his struggling team.

Price’s save percentage stands at .885 so far this season; he’s never been below .905 for a campaign. A 3.56 GAA won’t persist for a netminder who’s never averaged anything above 2.83 (and that was almost a decade ago).

The Canadiens are still easily the worst team in the NHL in both shooting percentage and save percentage perspectives at even-strength. They’re doing so despite grading well by Natural Stat Trick’s various metrics, including getting a friendly percentage of high-danger scoring chances (their fellow dour would-be contenders, the Oilers, feel their pain).

So, a lot of those patterns will just sort of work themselves out naturally.

Still, there are some nagging concerns.

Price already turned 30, and his new, massive cap hit hasn’t even kicked in yet. While goalies have a decent track record of aging more gracefully than, say, snipers, Price’s history of knee issues provides some worry.

Even if he continues to be Carey Price in italics, there really isn’t a great comparable for his contract (Henrik Lundqvist‘s is the closest, according to Cap Friendly). Montreal could serve as a guinea pig for other NHL teams pondering building around an expensive goalie.

Growing pains or signs of a fall?

There are also unsettling questions about Bergevin’s vision, and the way Julien uses players.

Bergevin’s win-now mentality is the source of plenty of debate, but it’s objectively clear that many of his moves have made the Habs older. Shea Weber‘s considerably older than P.K. Subban, and even very young Jonathan Drouin is a grizzled veteran compared to Mikhail Sergachev.

Re-signing Alex Galchenyuk hasn’t ended that saga, and the Habs can’t just blame the media, either.

At the moment, Galchenyuk ranks ninth in even-strength ice time average among Canadiens forwards. He’s currently slated for fourth-line duty alongside Torrey Mitchell and Ales Hemsky.

If the goal is to eventually trade him, this is a backwards way of doing so. If the goal is to “send him a message,” there seems to be a better time than when your team isn’t exactly setting nets on fire like “NBA Jam.”

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When you break things down issue by issue, it’s reasonable to expect better times. Still, it’s tough to shake the worrying signs overall, whether you’re just looking at 2017-18 or beyond.

Things could at least look a little sunnier if Montreal can dig deep and come out of this California trip with a win or two.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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