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NHL Awards: PHT hands out some midseason hardware

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Almost every team has hit the 41-game mark of the season, which means it’s time to look back at the first half and hand out some hardware. There’s plenty of change since we did our quarter-point awards post and these will most certainly change by the end of the regular season.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at who we think is deserving of the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Adams, Calder and Selke Trophies, along with some first-half surprises and disappointments.

SEAN LEAHY

HART TROPHY
1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

No player has more points since Nov. 1 than MacKinnon. He’s taken his game to another level and is a big reason why the Avalanche are threatening for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. While Nikita Kucherov was the MVP favorite early on, MacKinnon’s play, the goaltending of Vasilevskiy has caused the Lightning forward to be leap-frogged. You also can’t forget the scoring exploits of Steven Stamkos, who could draw some votes away from Kucherov.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators / John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

Doughty has the points (7 goals, 30 points), the ice time (27:10), the possession stats (53.4 Corsi, 6.38 Corsi-relative) to make his case for another one of these. Hedman is right there behind him and a strong second half could see the tide move his way. Just waiting on the outside is Karlsson, who should put up a strong argument after a “weird” first half, and Klingberg, who’s made big strides this season and leads all defensemen in scoring (6-33—39). He’s also plus-118 in shot attempts, which is a monster upgrade from his negative-25 last season.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Hopefully Crawford comes back soon from his upper-body injury because he was having a wonderful. Vasilevskiy has not only been the Lightning MVP, he’s also been the best netminder in the league. He leads the NHL in shutouts (6) and even strength save percentage (.941).

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. John Hynes, New Jersey Devils

Whoever ends up being a finalist with Gallant for the Adams should just skip the awards show and hit up a craps table because we all know who’s going to win this.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins
3. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders

Remember the days when Clayton Keller was the big-time favorite? He’s slowed down a bit with only three goals since Nov. 6. During that time Boeser and Barzal have been on scoring tears, while McAvoy continues to be a rock on the Boston blue line averaging 22:53 a night alongside Zdeno Chara

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
3. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

This is going to be Bergeron’s award to lose every season until he retires or his game finally falls off a cliff. This season he’ll have some very stiff competition from Couturier and Kopitar, who is having a fantastic bounce-back season. Bergeron is once again a possession monster (58.28 Corsi, 7.39 Corsi-relative) while continuing to produce (16 goals, 32 points). Couturier has the possession numbers (54.25 Corsi, 1.28 Corsi-relative) and has already set career highs in goals (23) and points (42)

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights
Biggest Surprise (Player): William Karlsson
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Edmonton Oilers
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Scott Darling

Second half storyline to watch: Can the surprise teams — Vegas, New Jersey, Winnipeg — maintain their success to earn playoff berths?

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SCOTT BILLECK

HART TROPHY
1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

Stamkos has been splendid in his return to form. Kucherov is simply the best goal scorer in the NHL and Wheeler might be the most important player to any team in the NHL with his versatility and his point production.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

Hedman’s the best defenseman in the NHL thus far this season, and it’s a runaway at this point. Doughty would probably be leading this in any other year. Karlsson is still Karlsson, and that’s had Norris written all over it before.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

Vasilevskiy has been sensational, and while Bob has done Bob things all season, he’s just not there this year. Hellebuyck deserves recognition as one of top goalies, especially if you compare him to himself last year.

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets

What Gallant has gotten out of his troops in Vegas is outstanding, and barring a complete flop, he’s the clear-cut winner here. Cooper leads the best team in the NHL, but also has some remarkable talent (likely four all-stars). Maurice has turned an underachieving Jets team into one of the best in the west.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
3. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes

Boeser and Barzal are going to go back and forth for the title until the end of the season. This is really a 1 a. and 1 b. scenario. Keller has done well in a terrible situation on a very bad team.

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
3. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Two perennial contenders and then there’s Scheifele, who before his injury, was on a different level, both in terms of points and how he plays the game defensively.

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights
Biggest Surprise (Player): Brayden Schenn
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Edmonton Oilers
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Matt Duchene

Second half storyline to watch: Will the Golden Knights stay the course and sell, even with their high position in the standings, or will they be buyers at the trade deadline?

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ADAM GRETZ

HART TROPHY
1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
3. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

It’s hard to ignore the guy that is running away with the scoring title, that is on pace to finish with more points than any player has had in about seven or eight years, and is doing so for the best team in the league. So Kucherov gets my mid-season pick. Anze Kopitar isn’t far behind given the minutes he is playing and how dominant he has been all over the ice, and the fact the Colorado Avalanche are even in playoff contention at this point is largely due to MacKinnon having such a breakout year.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lighting
3. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

Subban isn’t just an exciting offensive player, he has become one of the best shutdown defenders in the league. Hedman is right there with him and John Klingberg is very quietly having a stellar season in Dallas. Tough race at this point with all three being very worthy.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Vasilevskiy has been amazing and doesn’t seem to get a ton of attention. His save percentage at this point would be one of the best single season performances in league history. Lundqvist is once again masking a ton of flaws for the Rangers and deserves to be in the discussion. Crawford has been sidelined (and still is) but when he has been healthy has been outstanding. If he misses too much time he might be out of the discussion toward the end of the season, but we are talking about first half at this point, and for the first half he has been one of the best goalies in the league.

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. John Stevens, Los Angeles Kings
3. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lighting

How can it be anybody other than Gallant at this point? An expansion team with the second best record in the league? Yeah, it is his award at this point. The Kings look like a completely different team with largely the same roster as last season.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Mathew Barzal, New York Islander
3. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes

Boeser looks like the type of core player the Canucks need to be the centerpiece of their rebuild, while Barzal could be an excellent complement to John Tavares in New York for the next eight years (assuming, of course, the Islanders can re-sign Tavares).

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
3. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Bergeron is the centerpiece of the NHL’s most dominant line. They don’t get scored on, he has the best possession numbers of any forward in the league. He is simply a force and the best two-way player in the league right now. Couturier has always been an outstanding defensive player and now he has the offensive numbers that will get him noticed.

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights
Biggest Surprise (Player): Nathan MacKinnon
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Edmonton Oilers
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Matt Murray

Second half storyline to watch: Will the Penguins and Blackhawks, two of the most dominant teams in the NHL over the past decade, make the playoffs?

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JAMES O’BRIEN

HART TROPHY
1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
3. John Tavares, New York Islanders

When it comes to the Hart Trophy, I think it’s better to take the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) approach. You can tie yourself in knots trying to argue “best player” versus “most valuable” and overly penalize someone like Kucherov for (gasp) having good teammates. Kucherov is head-and-shoulders above everyone else right now, and if you ask me, his 27 goals seal the deal.

It was tough to leave Connor McDavid off this list, but hey, he won’t suffer from such a snub during many healthy seasons. Honestly, he’ll almost certainly finish as a finalist through 82, anyway.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

I can feel the tomatoes coming my way from Hockey Twitter right now, but this has been a rough season for Karlsson, who may still be a Martian sent to our planet to play hockey at a maximum level of efficiency.

Anyway, Doughty’s really flourishing and is an enormous part of the Kings’ transition to a modern style. He’s generating the points you’d want, is a two-way dynamo from a possession standpoint, and is checking all the boxes. That said, the field is very competitive, with John Klingberg, P.K. Subban, and Mark Giordano just a few of the guys who also deserve consideration. With Karlsson slipping – by his standards – it makes for a perplexingly deep field.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs
3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

My goodness, a .935 save percentage is approaching golden age Tim Thomas territory (without the bunker, which seems like less of a silly investment in 2018). Vasilevskiy probably benefits from a great Lightning team, but he’s reminding the hockey world why TB opted for him instead of Ben Bishop.

The rest of the pack is really close, with Connor Hellebuyck, Pekka Rinne, and Corey Crawford all deserving consideration. One thing that stands out with Andersen is degree of difficulty; he leads the league in saves with 1,133, which is 101 more than the nearest contender (Lundqvist at 1,032). When records and save percentages are that close, I’ll go with the difficulty of an assignment.

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins

I’m not a huge fan of making the Jack Adams the “overachiever of the year” award, but how could you not name Gallant here, at least halfway through the season? The Golden Knights aren’t just an expansion team; they’re an expansion team that plays a modern style and, while the goaltending’s often been strong, they’ve dealt with a ton of injuries at that key position.

While he has his quirks like just about any coach, this is the year where Cooper deserves some credit for ranking among the NHL’s best. Meanwhile, Cassidy and the Bruins are (darn it) overachieving.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
3. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins

Who would have guessed that this rookie crop would follow up 2016-17 so well? Boeser’s a terrifying sniper making the Canucks less depressing, Barzal is an absolute sensation in Brooklyn, and McAvoy is playing the role of a veteran defenseman at age 20.

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
3. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

Bergeron is basically a mutant at this point. Casual hockey fans still probably don’t understand how great he is. Kopitar’s resurgence has been a delight to observe. Meanwhile, Couturier’s proven that he can be a first-line center in a thunderous way.

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights
Biggest Surprise (Player): Dustin Brown
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Edmonton Oilers
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Second half storyline to watch: Will the Oilers and/or Canadiens make the trade deadline more interesting or remain in denial?

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JOEY ALFIERI

HART TROPHY
1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. John Tavares, New York Islanders
3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Kucherov has been one of the most dominant forwards in the league dating back to last year.  The Lightning forward has built up a nice lead at the top of the scoring leader’s board this season and he should continue to roll in the second half of the season. Tavares, who is a pending UFA, and Giroux have both had terrific season, but their teams need to make the playoffs to be in the conversation.

NORRIS TROPHY
1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
3. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

Hedman continues to be the key cog for the Bolts on the blue line. He has less points than Klingberg and less goals than Doughty, but his all-around game has been nothing short of terrific. Hedman plays almost 26 minutes and, like other top defenders, he sees the opposition’s top players on a nightly basis. It’s his Norris trophy to lose right now.

VEZINA TROPHY
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

Yeah, I’m giving the league’s three major awards to Lightning players. Vasilevskiy’s first full season as a starting goaltender has gone incredibly well. He’s been dominant between the pipes and he’s clearly been the best goalie in the league. Hellebuyck has been a pleasant surprise and Crawford has kept the Blackhawks afloat, but they still aren’t at Vasilevskiy’s level.

JACK ADAMS AWARD
1. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
2. John Hynes, New Jersey Devils
3. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning

Prior to the start of the season, nobody in the hockey world had any kind of positive expectations for Golden Knights. Not only are they in the playoff conversation, they currently lead the Pacific Division. That alone gets Gallant the award. The work Hynes has done in New Jersey is also very impressive. Cooper deserves plenty of credit for everything the Bolts have accomplished in the first half of the season. But nothing tops an expansion team leading their division at the midway point of the season.

CALDER TROPHY
1. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
2. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
3. Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning

Boeser is rolling at a point-per-game pace, which is impressive considering he’s a rookie and he’s playing on a mediocre Canucks team. Barzal and Sergachev have both been impressive during their first full seasons in the NHL, but Boeser is clearly the leader in the clubhouse as of right now.

SELKE TROPHY
1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
3. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

Anyone who follows hockey knows that Bergeron is the top two-way forward in the game right now. Up until last week, Bergeron’s line hadn’t given up an even-strength goal all season. Kopitar and Couturier are both in the running, too. The Kings forward is having a terrific bounce-back year, while Couturier, who has always been a strong two-way player, has come into his own offensively.

Biggest Surprise (Team): Vegas Golden Knights (too easy). Honorable mention: New Jersey Devils.
Biggest Surprise (Player): Josh Bailey
Biggest Disappointment (Team): Ottawa Senators were a goal away from going to the Stanley Cup Final last year. They’re near the bottom of the East now.
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Jonathan Drouin

Second half storyline to watch: Can the Golden Knights make a long playoff run?

***

Who are your favorites for the major awards at the midpoint of the 2017-18 NHL season?

Predators place forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators have placed forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and recalled forward Frederick Gaudreau from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

The Predators made the move Tuesday afternoon.

Arvidsson was helped off the ice Monday during practice, and The Tennessean reports he tested himself during Tuesday morning’s skate.

The forward ranks third on the Predators with 13 goals and fourth with 27 points. The Predators already have Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

Gaudreau has played 18 games with the Predators with three assists. He had 14 points in 21 games with the Admirals this season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Tuesday night, as the New York Rangers host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:00 p.m. ET.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Rangers

Rick NashMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Mats ZuccarelloJ.T. Miller – Vinni Lettieri
Jimmy VeseyDavid DesharnaisPaul Carey
Michael Grabner – Peter Holland – Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonaghNick Holden
Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalSteven Kampfer

Startling goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

[Flyers look to push winning streak to five games against Rangers]

Flyers

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Michael RafflValtteri FilppulaJakub Voracek
Jordan WealNolan PatrickWayne Simmonds
Taylor LeierScott LaughtonJori Lehtera

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Startling goalie: Brian Elliott

 

Golden Knights’ defense coming into focus with signings

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As the Vegas Golden Knights’ success gradually goes from shocking to accepted, there’s still the question of what this team might look like next season and beyond. Such questions are only natural when you consider all the key players who still need contract extensions.

Golden Knights management is chipping away at those questions regarding their defense in 2018-19, particularly this week.

On Monday, the Golden Knights signed local favorite and rugged defenseman Deryk Engelland to a one-year extension worth $1.5 million. (That deal includes $1M in potential performance bonuses, according to Cap Friendly.)

One day later, the team announced a two-year extension for Jon Merrill (pictured). The deal is for $2.75M overall, so it will make for a $1.375M cap hit in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The Golden Knights now have five defensemen on their current roster who are signed through 2018-19, if not longer: Engelland, Merrill, Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, and Brad Hunt. McNabb is locked up the longest, with a $2.5M cap hit kicking in next season and expiring after 2020-21.

The most interesting remaining defensemen to sort out are Colin Miller and Shea Theodore, both pending RFAs. The Golden Knights have been buying up blueliners at bargain rates, but Theodore and Miller could be tougher nuts to crack contracts-wise. (Two UFA defensemen Luca Sbisa and Clayton Stoner on IR.)

Quick look at Engelland and Merrill

Engelland, 35, has been one of the Golden Knights’ ice time leaders with 19:39 per night, collecting 13 points while limiting his time in the penalty box (16 PIM in 41 games) compared to his usual numbers. He’s not perfect, but it’s conceivable that he’ll be worth that minimal cost to Vegas, especially since he’s an ambassador for the still-new franchise.

While Vegas hopes Engelland can bring that veteran presence for another year, they’re likely banking on Merrill to be more effective at a cheap rate.

The 25-year-old has been dealing with injuries and other issues, limiting him to 14 games played.

***

These defensive signings aren’t as important as locking up Jonathan Marchessault, nor is it as crucial as making the right call with the likes of James Neal and David Perron. With Malcolm Subban and Marc-Andre Fleury seeing their deals expire after 2018-19, management will need to make some goaltending decisions not that long from now.

A little bit of greed can inspire players to go that extra mile and stay that much hungrier, yet it’s also comforting to sometimes have some answers. After this week, there’s some clarity on the blueline, even if some decisions still need to be made.

And, hey, the Golden Knights haven’t really locked themselves into bad contracts yet. Old teams could probably learn a thing or two from these new kids.

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.

Johnny Gaudreau is playing best hockey of NHL career

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Maybe it’s because Johnny Gaudreau has been a productive scorer since day one. Almost literally.

Gaudreau scored a goal in his first NHL game with the Calgary Flames, his only appearance in 2013-14. The slick, undersized forward then generated 24 goals and 64 points as a rookie in 2014-15, and really hasn’t missed a beat.

While there were plenty of questions heading into 2017-18 for Calgary – goaltending, Jaromir Jagr, depth on defense and offense – everyone just assumed Gaudreau would keep scoring. So perhaps that explains why people aren’t making much of a deal about Gaudreau scoring even more than usual.

As of Tuesday, Gaudreau is in a four-way tie for second in NHL scoring with 54 points.

After scoring two goals and six assists for eight points in four games, the Flames forward was named NHL’s first star of the week, ahead of teammate Mike Smith (also red-hot). His point streak actually extends into 2017, a stretch of seven games, five of which were multi-point (two goals, 11 assists for 13 points).

Gaudreau set career-highs in goals (30) and points (78) in 79 games back in 2015-16. While he’s at a solid goal-scoring clip of 15 so far this season, his playmaking is what might make this his best work. Gaudreau is averaging 1.2 points-per game, a pace of about 98 points during an 82-game season.

Upon hearing about Gaudreau’s All-Star nod about a week ago, Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan did a great job summarizing what makes him so effective.

“I think he gets the best looks in the National Hockey League,” Gulutzan said, via the Calgary Sun. “He puts himself into position every game to create and shoot. Just the way he navigates himself on the ice and can handle the puck, it’s pretty amazing. For not a big guy, he can strip guys of pucks and get those kind of opportunities, too. It’s a combination of speed, agility and high hockey I.Q. that allows him to do it. He’s our engine for generating offense.”

This goal Gaudreau scored against the Stars on Nov. 24 is a great example of his ability to “strip guys of pucks,” and why he’s such a nightmare to defend.

Gaudreau and the Flames are currently resting up on a bye week, and hopefully not getting too rusty, as Calgary owns the longest active winning streak in the NHL at seven games. Beginning on Saturday, the Flames will play six of their next seven games at home, so there’s a solid chance that they’ll keep their strong play going.

If so, the Flames – and Gaudreau – will be difficult to ignore.

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.