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PHT’s midseason trophy picks (Joe Yerdon’s choices)

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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. If you missed James’ picks yesterday, fear not, we’ve got your hookup right here.

Hart Trophy – Sidney Crosby

Yeah, really going out on a limb here but Crosby has been, by far, the best player in the NHL . Crosby’s season has been so good to this point he’s made the other Hart candidate, Steve Stamkos, seem average by comparison and that takes serious effort. Crosby’s absence from the Penguins lineup of late and the Penguins lack of success only shows how important he is to them.

Suffice to say, when you’ve got 32 goals and 34 assists through 41 games you’re doing pretty damn well and worthy of the platitudes that are given to you. Love him or hate him, Sid is the real deal and he’s proved it this year. Now if only he can keep his melon safe the rest of the way.

Vezina Trophy – Ondrej Pavelec

Contrary choice I know but let’s discuss things here. Tim Thomas has been great this year and would likely be the #1 choice on anyone’s ballot and rightfully so. That said, whether it’s through pity or looking to reward a guy for putting in “harder” work, I’ve always been more on the side of guys that don’t play behind stifling defensive systems. I was never a Brodeur guy, I was always a Hasek guy.

In this case, Ondrej Pavelec is playing the role of Dominik Hasek while Tim Thomas is Martin Brodeur (save the fat jokes for now). Pavelec doesn’t play behind a team that makes defense their first priority and his numbers are astounding in leading the Thrashers. His .932 save percentage is incredible while his 2.27 goals against average is equally stunning. Before you ask, no, I’m not being swayed by what a great story this would make after how Pavelec’s season began with him passing out on the ice before the start of their first game. Pavelec has simply been the rock-solid starter Atlanta desperately needed and he’s proved himself.

That said, if the award were to be handed out today I have absolutely zero doubts that Tim Thomas would be a runaway winner and rightfully so. I’m sticking with Ondrej.

Norris Trophy – Nick Lidstrom

How do you not pick Nick Lidstrom? It’s a virtual no-brainer this year. After struggling last season being one of the only Red Wings to not suffer an injury, Lidstrom has bounced back in a huge way this year with 11 goals and 28 assists all while being the Wings’ most dependable guy going the other way. He’s 40 years-old and leads all Red Wings skaters in time on ice playing an average of 23:44 per game.

He plays as much time on the power play as he does shorthanded and he’s the straw that stirs the drink in Detroit. There’s a reason they call him “The Perfect Human” there and it’s always steady play on the blue line that does it. His main competitors this year in Dustin Byfuglien and Chris Pronger are great at what they do and are/were having great seasons by anyone’s standards, Byfuglien in particular, but Lidstrom’s work is on another level. It’s tough being perfect.

Jack Adams Trophy – Craig Ramsay

By far this is going to be the toughest choice this season if things hold up. James and I had an Internet arm wrestling match over who to pick on this one and you can decide on who you think the winner was, but my choice was made easy getting to pick Atlanta’s Craig Ramsay. Ramsay compares well with Tampa’s Guy Boucher, and while both teams were bad last year, with the Thrashers dumping Ilya Kovalchuk confidence was very low in what Ramsay would be able to do there.

Instead, Ramsay has turned the Thrashers into a hard-nosed team with Andrew Ladd leading the way with the forwards with Evander Kane emerging as a star. Ramsay’s noted work with defensemen is paying off in big ways with Dustin Byfuglien as he leads the team in scoring, but also with Tobias Enstrom who is no longer a strictly offensive blue liner and has become the team’s ice time horse averaging over 24 minutes a game. Add in those factors along with Ondrej Pavelec’s great season and you’ve got yourself a guy in Craig Ramsay who’s made something out of nothing overnight with no superstars to speak of.

Calder Trophy – Logan Couture

This one is a tighter race than just about any of them and we’re sure people are going to complain about the prior work Couture got to do last season and in the playoffs but frankly that doesn’t sway me. He’s got 19 goals already this year and has emerged as one of the most reliable Sharks scorers on a team loaded with star power.

Other Calder candidates are still looking very good and some might not get more consideration because of their position. Guys like Carolina’s Jeff Skinner, Colorado’s Kevin Shattenkirk, Philly’s Sergei Bobrovsky, Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle, and Nashville’s Anders Lindback are all seriously in the hunt here but it’s Couture who’s shown the most grace under pressure, something which his superstar teammates should take note of to improve their games.

Selke Trophy – Ryan Kesler

You can put Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit down here as 1B to Kesler’s 1A in the race for this award. You could choose either of these players and not have to hear anything from fans of the other team because both guys are equally as great as defending forwards. Kesler’s game has evolved greatly over the past few seasons to the point where Kesler is getting the call consistently against top forwards. Kesler’s game is also improving in ways that help him finally catch up to the heights Datsyuk has reached over the years in that he’s added the ability to make opponents pay for their mistakes with goals.

If we told you that Kesler had 23 goals already this year, you’d likely think we’re nuts but that’s how it is right now. He’s the forward that averages the most time on ice on the Canucks roster and considering that includes the incredible Sedin twins that’s saying something. Much like with the Vezina race, we’d expect that Datsyuk gets the call to win this award but Kesler is making the decision a lot harder and I’d expect some votes to change this year if Kesler keeps potting goals while shutting down opponents.

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Patrick Kane, Erik Karlsson, P.K. Subban to make preseason debuts on Saturday

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 15:  Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates after scoring a goal in the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning during Game Six of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center  on June 15, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The deeper we get into the preseason, the more we’ll see star players being integrated into their team’s lineups.

On Saturday, three big names will make their 2016-17 debuts with their respective teams.

After a stint at the World Cup with Team USA, Patrick Kane will be in Chicago’s lineup for their game against the St. Louis Blues.

Kane and the Americans had a disappointing tournament, as he failed to score a goal and the team failed to win a round-robin game.

Erik Karlsson, who was at the World Cup with Team Sweden, will also play his first exhibition of the season, as the Senators take on the Canadiens this afternoon.

Sens head coach Guy Boucher wasn’t planning on playing his captain this early, but Karlsson changed his mind.

“I was thinking of maybe giving him a break and then taking him on the trip (to Winnipeg and Saskatoon) next week,” Boucher told the Ottawa Citizen. “He had two hard practices. I was impressed by his leadership. He wanted to be playing in front of our fans.”

Finally, P.K. Subban will make his Preds debut against the Lightning.

Subban was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens for Shea Weber this off-season, but he was held out of games because of general soreness.

It sounds like Subban will play on a pairing with Mattias Ekholm.

“It’s great having a partner like that,” Subban said, per the Tennessean. “I’ve had some great partners in the past, but he’s definitely right up there with the best that I’ve played with. I’m not sure exactly what the partners are going to be come the regular season. Those things can switch, but I’m happy to be playing with him.”

Blackhawks’ Rozsival doesn’t know ‘what my role is’ this season

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 20: Michal Rozsival #32 of the Chicago Blackhawks passes against the San Jose Sharks at the United Center on December 20, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Sharks 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival has overcome a lot in his NHL career, but even he isn’t sure where he fits in Chicago’s plans this season.

After suffering a serious ankle injury in the 2015 playoffs, Rozsival returned to the ice last season where he skated in 51 games with the ‘Hawks.

The 38-year-old dressed for the first four games of his team’s opening round playoff series against St. Louis before being a healthy scratch in the final three games.

During the off-season, he signed a one-year, $600,000 contract to remain with the club.

“After last season I had no indications or expectations that I would be back or not,” Rozsival said, per the Chicago Tribune. “So I’m happy to be back.

“Right now, I still don’t know what my role is. It might be determined by the way I play. The last four years I’ve played 20 games, I’ve played 30 games and I’ve played 50 games. I’m ready for anything and for any kind of role. Obviously, I would love to be playing. I’m always trying to fight for my ice time.”

Getting into the lineup won’t be easy. The ‘Hawks already have standouts Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson and they added free agent Brian Campbell during the summer. Add Trevor van Riemsdyk (he’s on a one-way deal) and European free agent Michal Kempny and it looks like finding minutes for Rozsival won’t be easy.

They also have younger options like Erik Gustafsson and Viktor Svedberg looking to make an impact at the NHL level.

“I think Michal played great hockey last year,” GM Stan Bowman said. “If anything, we probably played him too much. Michal is at the top of his game when we can give him some time to re-cooperate between games. He still has a lot of hockey left in him.”

Penguins face a difficult road in their quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champs

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates by hoisting the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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After the Penguins paraded the Stanley Cup through the streets of Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby took it to his hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, Evgeni Malkin to Moscow and Phil Kessel to a children’s hospital in Toronto as part of the summer-long celebration.

If there’s one thing champions in the NHL have learned, it is to savor those moments because history says they won’t happen back-to-back. No team has repeated as Cup champion since the salary-cap era began in 2005, and the last back-to-back winners were the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

Sorry, Penguins. And sorry to the San Jose Sharks, as no team in the past eight seasons has lost in the final and gotten back the next year.

The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are rested from an unusually short spring, the Tampa Bay Lightning boast the deepest team in the league and the Washington Capitals are virtually unchanged after dominating the regular season. All those things, plus playing into June, stack the odds against the Penguins raising the Cup again in 2017.

“You’re coming off such a high, it’s going to be tough to get to that (level) right away,” Pittsburg defenseman Trevor Daley said. “How you become a great team in this league is you have the hunger every night. Teams that are proven winners are usually the great teams, the L.A.s and Chicagos. Pittsburgh is right up there now in that conversation. We’re hungry to do it again.”

Because they have two top goalies in Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins are perhaps the best positioned team to repeat in recent history. That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy.

Online sportsbook Bovada set the Penguins and Blackhawks as co-Cup favorites with the Capitals, Lightning, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues and Sharks not far behind. It wouldn’t be a surprise if any of those teams make it through a World Cup of Hockey-condensed regular season and a grueling division playoff format and get to celebrate in June.

“The parity in the league allows for a lot of teams to have the same goal and actually legitimately have a chance at it,” said Washington winger Justin Williams, who won the Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014. “There’s a handful of teams that have those aspirations and they’re real.”

Rather than parity, commissioner Gary Bettman prefers the term “competitive balance,” which speaks not only to the lack of repeat champions and the death of NHL dynasties but the variance in playoff teams. Of the 30 teams, 24 have made the playoffs at least once over the past three seasons.

“Unless you’re (cheering for) the team in the dynasty market, you could care less,” Bettman said. “All you care about is that your team is competitive.”

Competition isn’t the problem. It’s so high that playoff teams can’t miss a beat or fear they’ll drop out. The Florida Panthers look like a team just beginning a run of playoff appearances with young stars like Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov, but president of hockey operations Dale Tallon knows it’ll come down to breaks and injuries because “it’s going to be a battle to return to the playoffs.”

It’s a battle because the top teams haven’t lost much.

The Penguins made a few tweaks and will be without Cup-winner Murray to start the season, but they can turn to 2009 winner Fleury and still lean heavily on Crosby, Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang. Elsewhere in the East, the Lightning re-signed Steven Stamkos, the Capitals are primed for another run with Alex Ovechkin and Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby, and the Montreal Canadiens should be back in contention with all-world goalie Carey Price healthy after missing most of last season with a knee injury.

Chicago has cycled pieces in and out while winning the Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015, but the core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith is as strong as ever. The Blackhawks would have liked to go deeper in last year’s playoffs, but not doing so could pay dividends this season as it has in the past.

“It might be good for the guys to have a longer offseason and come back hungry for the start of the season,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said.

Trading off years with the Boston Bruins’ 2011 championship mixed in, the Blackhawks and Kings know all too well about the Cup hangover that the Penguins will try to avoid. Peaking at playoff time and maintaining that level amid injuries and bounces takes a lot, plus the system is skewed against back-to-back champions.

“It’s more hard than before when teams were really dominating and could spend so much on salaries and they can buy different players,” said Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa, who lost in the final in 2008 with Pittsburgh and 2009 with Detroit before winning three times with Chicago. “In this modern day, it’s extremely hard. … It’s really, really hard to repeat.”

Brennan, Granberg among list of players put on waivers

VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 14:  T.J. Brennan #25 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck in NHL action against the Vancouver Canucks on March 14, 2015 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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Veteran defenseman T.J. Brennan lit up the American Hockey League last season, with 25 goals and 68 points in 69 games to earn a two-way deal from the Philadelphia Flyers in July.

That deal came only three months after he received the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s top defenseman.

But on Friday, he was placed on waivers by the Flyers, as per Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports, and is available to be claimed by another NHL team within a 24-hour span.If not, he can be reassigned to the minors.

Still, for Brennan, he chose this summer to remain in North America for a chance at the NHL. It was reported in June that he had received a “lucrative” offer from a KHL team, leading to talk he could take his talents to that league for the 2016-17 season.

That was before his deal with Philadelphia.

Petter Granberg of the Nashville Predators was also waived Friday.

Granberg, a 24-year-old depth defenseman, and the Predators were able to avoid arbitration this summer when the two sides agreed to a two-year, two-way, $1.225 million contract. It was suggested that he could take on more responsibility with the Predators this upcoming season.

In total, 25 players were placed on waivers Friday (check out the list here, here, here and here). Also on that list is former first-round pick Jordan Caron, who was waived by the St. Louis Blues.