After the Islanders, Panthers and Blues all hit the ice Tuesday night for game No. 41 of their respective schedules, every team in the NHL has now officially reached the halfway point of the regular season.
Scoring is soaring and parity is prevalent both in the standings and statistical columns, but certain individuals are beginning to separate themselves from the pack in various ways.
There have been some remarkable performances during the first half of the season and many more to come as the playoff races begin to tighten.
So, with that in mind let’s hand out some half-season hardware.
Hart Memorial Trophy
Winner: Nikita Kucherov
Finalists: John Gibson, Connor McDavid
Kucherov became the first player to reach 70 points this season and the first since Jaromir Jagr during the 1999-00 campaign to do so within the first 43 games of a season. Jagr didn’t win the Hart that year – Chris Pronger did when he was a rising star on the Blues – but the Czech legend did win his fourth of five career scoring titles thanks to 96 points in 63 games. Kucherov is on track to win his first Art Ross, but he earns the half-season Hart more so because he has been clearly the most dominant player on clearly the most dominant team in the league.
One season ago, Taylor Hall was named NHL MVP in large part due to the fact he was head and shoulders better than any of his teammates, scoring 41 more points than the next closest Devils player. Gibson is singlehandedly carrying the dismal Ducks this year and had his team not recently fallen out of a playoff spot, there’s a strong chance you’d see Gibson’s name where Kucherov’s is. By definition he has been most valuable yet after registering two more points Tuesday night, Kucherov has all the momentum and a whopping 53 points in his past 25 games.
Honourable mentions: Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Sidney Crosby, Johnny Gaudreau, Alex Ovechkin
Winner: John Gibson
Finalists: Frederik Andersen, Marc-Andre Fleury
You know the old adage of a duck gliding across a pond. Little ducky moves effortlessly across the water all peaceful and whatnot, all the while under the surface those tiny legs are paddling like crazy and doing all the work. It’s a fitting metaphor to use to describe this season’s edition of the Anaheim Ducks.
As mentioned in the Hart section, no individual has contributed more to his team’s position in the standings than Gibson. The sad part is his teammates aren’t giving him the needed support and they’ve lost eight straight dating back to mid-December when they were second in the Pacific and a healthy 19-11-5.
No one has faced more shots, no one has made more saves, no one has been left hung out to dry more frequently, and overall no goaltender has been better than the 25-year-old American. With all the rubber he has seen in the first half of the season, one has to wonder if he’ll be too worn down during the back half of the schedule to carry his team to the post-season.
Honourable mentions: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Pekka Rinne, Ben Bishop
James Norris Memorial Trophy
Winner: Mark Giordano
Finalists: Morgan Rielly, Kris Letang
We’ve got a bit of a logjam at the top of the Norris race, but Giordano gets the slight edge over Rielly here. Giordano is fifth in points per game among defencemen, but of all the players currently vying for the blue line scoring title, Giordano has been the best defensively and that’s what sets him apart from the other contenders. Giordano, who leads the league with a plus-30 rating, also gets it done on the penalty kill as he averages 2:45 of short-handed ice-time per game.
Honourable mentions: Seth Jones, John Carlson, Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson
Calder Memorial Trophy
Winner: Elias Pettersson
Finalists: Rasmus Dahlin, Miro Heiskanen
This one’s pretty straight forward. Pettersson has been the best rookie this season and it’s not even close. The young Swede is currently out with an MCL sprain but even with him sidelined no rookie is going to catch him in the scoring race before he’s ready to return. With 42 points in 38 games and a jaw-dropping highlight reel, Pettersson has taken the league by storm and injected more enthusiasm into the Canucks fan base. If Pettersson returns from injury with no issues he’ll run away with the award, even though his compatriot Rasmus Dahlin is impressing in Buffalo and Miro Heiskanen has stood out in Dallas.
Pettersson winning would be a form of redemption for the Canucks as Brock Boeser would’ve challenged Mathew Barzal for the award one year ago before his back injury cut his season short.
Honourable mentions: Brady Tkachuk, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Colin White
Frank J. Selke Trophy
Winner: Aleksander Barkov
Finalists: Ryan O’Reilly, Mark Stone
Anyone that was a huge fan of Pavel Datsyuk must simply love watching Barkov play hockey. That’s because Barkov’s 200-foot game is the closest thing we’ve seen to Datsyuk’s style since the Russian legend left the NHL a few seasons ago. Datsyuk was always a contender for both the Selke and Lady Byng and Barkov is cut from the same cloth. The Finnish centre is second in the NHL in takeaways to Stone, is one of two players to have taken more than 1,000 draws already this season (winning 52.9 per cent of them), and leads all forwards in ice-time. He does everything that is required from him yet is still relatively unheralded compared to his elite peers.
Honourable mentions: Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Brayden Point
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
Winner: Aleksander Barkov
Finalists: Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau
Barkov has been a finalist for this award twice, finishing second in 2016 and third in 2018 and he’s among the frontrunners yet again. Two penalty minutes through 41 games while also posting 17 goals and 43 points is fantastic. What makes his disciplined play all the more impressive is that he leads all forwards in average ice-time, logging 23:07 per night.
Honourable mentions: Sean Monahan, Elias Pettersson, Artemi Panarin, Evgenii Dadonov
Jack Adams Award
Winner: Barry Trotz
Finalists: Jon Cooper, Phil Housley
The New York Islanders are in a position to make the playoffs and without Barry Trotz’s influence that might not be the case. The Isles were supposed to be a mess this season. On paper, the roster did not improve. In fact, after losing John Tavares in free agency, few gave the Islanders a fair shot to be anything more than a basement-dweller. However, Trotz has turned them into a competitive unit. Saying they’ve made huge strides defensively would be an understatement. The Islanders allowed a league-worst 3.57 goals per game in 2017-18. This year only three teams have allowed fewer than New York’s 2.63 goals against per game.
Four of the past five Jack Adams recipients coached teams that hit the 50-win plateau. The Islanders are not on pace to do that but they are tracking to hit 100 points, which would likely get them into the playoffs. If they do get there, Trotz could be looking at his second Jack Adams in four seasons.
Honourable mentions: Bill Peters, Bruce Cassidy, Todd Reirden