The NHL has reached the halfway mark of the season, and as is usually the case, there have been numerous surprises and disappointments.
If the playoffs were to start tomorrow, you might like the Nashville Predators, the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers, as favourites to advance through their conferences.
As for a Stanley Cup final, it’s hard to say, since Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne just suffered an injury. But in terms of hardware, Nashville gets mention as a Cup fave, as well as for coach of the year, rookie of the year and team of the year so far.
Here’s a look at some halfway awards and players and how they’ve fared:
Best team: Nashville Predators
Look unstoppable under new coach Peter Laviolette. But if you like analytics as a method of predicting things to come, then Chicago and Detroit factor highly (Fenwick and Corsi team percentages). Keep an eye on the Bruins, too, who have won four straight now and look to be hitting their expected stride. Kudos to the Islanders, Rangers, Canucks, Lightning, and Panthers.
Best player: Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning forward has been building towards elite status for the better part of two years now, and he has arrived. He has the best points production over 60 minutes, five-on-five, in the league. The best possession guys are Alex Ovechkin and Tyler Seguin; watch out for Steven Stamkos, though. And you can’t forget a great first half from Jakub Voracek in Philadelphia, and Vladimir Tarasenko in St. Louis. Tarasenko may be the most exciting, game breaker in the league right now.
Best defenceman: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Pretty much a no-brainer with the Los Angeles Kings D-man; he does everything well and arguably controls more aspects of the game than just about any player on the ice, forward or defence. And you have to love the season Oliver Ekman-Larsson is putting together in Arizona, too.
Best goalie: Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders
The Islanders are for real, at least through the first half, and Halak has been a good news story for them. He doesn’t have the best stats — those belong to Rinne and St. Louis’ Brian Elliott. But Halak has been brilliant for the up-and-coming Islanders. Some new names also to merit consideration include Braden Holtby for Washington, Michael Hutchinson in Winnipeg and Calvin Pickard in Colorado. And tip our hat to veterans Roberto Luongo and Cam Ward, who just keep getting the job done. Oh, and for sure, Montreal’s Carey Price, on any given night, has been as good as anyone in the league.
Milestone to cheer: Jarome Iginla, Colorado Avalanche
The classy Colorado Avalanche veteran is within one goal of legendary Islanders sniper Mike Bossy for 20th on the NHL’s all-time list.
The Edmonton Oilers, but you already knew that . . . Lack of goals from some big names in Los Angeles (Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams,) but that should change . . . Mike Smith has not been himself in goal this season for the Coyotes . . . It’s getting weird in Minnesota, on several fronts (Ryan Suter on D, and free agent Thomas Vanek on pace for the worst season of his career) . . . Alexander Semin is having a Thomas Vanek kind of season so far for Carolina . . . The mumps outbreak was scary but thankfully, it seems to be under control for now.
Toronto Maple Leafs
It’s not Randy Carlyle’s fault — the only thing he’s guilty of is taking things too seriously for his players liking, hardly a fault. Team president Brendan Shanahan is the man of the hour right now, and will be the man in the spotlight for the rest of the season. The Leafs should make the playoffs, and they should also go find some help on the blue line for captain Dion Phaneuf. They would be wise to ride goalie Jonathan Bernier a ton, and reunite the top line once Peter Holland and Joffrey Lupul return from injury, if not before.
Coach Paul Maurice has the Winnipeg Jets playing playoff hockey, and they’re big, nasty and capable of doing some damage. Their opposition of late has raved about how tough they are to play against. This is all sweet music to playoff hungry fans in Winnipeg.
Hart: Rick Nash, New York Rangers
Not in the conversation a lot right now, but watch out for the Rangers and Nash. They are on fire and getting better.
Norris: Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
Lots of choices for sure, but can’t argue with this one
Vezina: Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
He’s injured at the moment, but he’s been the best overall in the first half. Price is in the mix and may yet be at the top of it.
Calder: Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators
No arguments here for first half, and Johnny Gaudreau is very solid in Calgary as well.
Selke: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Patrice Bergeron in Boston and Pavel Datsyuk in Detroit, as usual, are battling Toews here.
Jack Adams: Peter Laviolette, Nashville Predators
Best team in the league right now, and Laviolette has done a tremendous job in taking over from Barry Trotz (who, by the way, is also doing a great job in Washington with the Capitals). Jack Capuano with the Islanders deserves some consideration here and doesn’t seem to get much.