NHL Award Races: Hart turning into runaway for Sidney Crosby

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Welcome back to Award Races. We will take a look at how the battles for the individual awards are shaping up periodically from now through the end of the season.

With the end of this week approaching, most people are focusing on the Olympic break as well as the player movement that might be affected by it and rightfully so, but it almost obscures the fact that the NHL season is now right about 3/4 of the way through. Truly, the stretch run begins when the players are back from Sochi (or wherever they spend their breaks).

With that, of course, also come the individual races for the awards. And as it stands now, the MVP is pretty much a one-man race. Sidney Crosby is well on his way to the scoring title and like the Hart, being listed recently by Bovada as a 2-13 -- yes, 2-13 -- favorite to win the Hart. He's well on his way to the trophy; but how do the others stack up right now? Glad you asked.

Award watch
Hart Vezina
Sidney Crosby At this point it's getting really hard to envision anybody else even getting close to Crosby in the end-of-season voting. He holds a double-digit lead on the rest of the league in points and he's done it with so many teammates injured. With the Pittsburgh Penguins on cruise control to the East's top seed, it should be a formality with Crosby winning only his second Hart. Ben Bishop Big Ben continues to look like a clear favorite for the Vezina as he has maintained his excellent level from start until now this season, helping the Tampa Bay Lightning to what has been a somewhat surprising season, especially without Steven Stamkos. His .933 save percentage is tops among goalies with 25 games and his 1.98 goals against average is phenomenal.
Ryan Getzlaf If there's any competition for Crosby it's likely to be Getzlaf, who has been at his best all season long for a Anaheim Ducks team that is still atop the NHL standings even with some struggles of late. He and Corey Perry do the heavy lifting for Anaheim and it shows with Getzlaf second in the NHL in points with 64. If Anaheim can win the Presidents' Trophy then he could get a longer look. Tuukka Rask What more can the Boston Bruins ask from Rask other than to be the steady netminder that he is? Rask wasn't at his best in the month of January and that still only resulted in a save percentage of .912, bringing his season mark to .929. Definitely he benefits from a great defensive team in front of him but don't think it doesn't go the other way too; he makes the team in front of him look like a better defensive group.
Jonathan Toews A big issue facing Toews and any other member of the Chicago Blackhawks that could be in the conversation such as Patrick Kane is the simple fact that they others exist and having a few potential candidates on one team can hurt everybody's chances. Toews is just third on the team in points with 55 but he plays more minutes than any forward on the Blackhawks, and tough minutes to boot. His Selke candidacy helps him here, too. Semyon Varlamov Varlamov doesn't have the best numbers in the NHL but his 28-10-5 record with a .924 save percentage and 2.49 GAA hardly qualify as shabby. The Colorado Avalanche give up their fair share of shots and ask Varlamov to stand tall and he very often has this season. To put it into better perspective, the Avs are 25th in the NHL in shots against per game but 13th in goals against per. Credit Varlamov.
Ben Bishop Yes, we're going to put a goalie in the conversation right now (it really isn't much of a race though to be fair) because Bishop has been that important to the Lightning. They have transformed into a strong defensive team and he is a part of that, a very big part. For years in Tampa it was a situation of if they get adequate goaltending they'd be a playoff team. With stellar goaltending they are a Stanley Cup contender. Jonathan Bernier Just like Varlamov, the Toronto Maple Leafs rely a lot on Bernier, except much more. Bernier sees more rubber than just about any goalie, definitely seeing more on most nights as the Leafs are last in the league in shots against and by a fair margin. Without his goaltending, it's hard to imagine their leaky defense would be good enough to be in playoff position right now. Considering the action he gets, his 2.63 GAA is pretty outstanding.
Phil Kessel For many, the league's leading goal scorer Alex Ovechkin will appear in the top five but with the Washington Capitals ' struggles and the Maple Leafs' recent surge, why not Kessel? He was a major catalyst in their recent 9-1-1 run with nine goals and 12 assists in that time. His 30 goals are second, 61 points are fifth and he the Leafs are in somewhat comfortable playoff position. He's not an amazing all-around player but neither is Ovechkin. Josh Harding Harding has become a forgotten man in this conversation as he has been out for a while as he undergoes changes to his MS treatment but he should be back for the post-Olympic rush for the Minnesota Wild and if he picks up where he left up, he could sneak back into the conversation. His .933 save percentage is equal to Bishop's mark for goalies with more than 25 appearances. If Harding isn't the same, Carey Price isn't far off the radar.
Award watch
Norris Calder
Duncan Keith Keith is having quite the season for the Blackhawks, playing more than 24 1/2 minutes per game this season and coming out on the positive side of possession rather clearly. Not to mention his offensive abilities have been on full display as he sits second in the league for defensemen points with 48 in 58 games thanks to 45 assists. Nathan MacKinnon While the Calder isn't a complete runaway like the Hart and Vezina are shaping up to be, it might not be that far behind. The No. 1 overall pick in this last draft, MacKinnon has been showing people why the Avalanche went with him as he leads rookies in goals (20), assists (22) and thus points (42). Half of his points have come on the power play. One knock if you wanted to find it could be he plays somewhat sheltered minutes but that's getting picky.
Ryan Suter If Suter is still able to stand by the end of the season, it will be miraculous. He is averaging a mind-blowing 29:44 of ice time per game. On Tuesday night he played a whopping 34:31 and the game didn't even go to overtime. As you'd probably guess at that rate, he's the defenseman who gets the bulk of the top competition as well and evidenced by the Wild are 10th in goals against, he's been pretty effective. Tyler Johnson The Lightning's little secret isn't so secret anymore. Johnson is second in rookie scoring with 17 goals and 18 assists this season and part of what makes that so impressive is how the Lightning have relied upon it. Without Stamkos they needed help filling the scoring void and Johnson has done that. At 18:59 per game, he leads all rookie forwards in time on ice by almost two minutes.
Alex Pietrangelo The best defenseman on one of the league's best defensive teams, Pietrangelo is one of those players who frequently gets the "he'll win a Norris someday" label. Why not now? He plays the most minutes on the team against the best opponents (with Jay Bouwmeester ), is a positive possession player and is six back of the team lead in points with his St. Louis Blues -best 33 assists to go with six goals. Jacob Trouba There are a handful of defensemen who could make their way into the race such as Seth Jones or Hampus Lindholm but Trouba has been very good for the Winnipeg Jets since returning from injury. He is playing more than any rookie at 21:47 per game, and has produced 22 points in just 41 games for a Winnipeg team that is surging. The longer their run goes, the more consideration he'll get.
Zdeno Chara At times it's to the point where voters want to recognize somebody else for the award and kind of choose to forget about Chara but the fact remains, there are few defensemen if any that impact and alter a game that way Chara does. Teams try to gameplan around him more than anybody but he still manages to face the best competition of anybody on the Bruins by a fairly substantial margin, plays in all situations and is simply a force. Torey Krug Another defenseman, Krug has been putting up points to the point that he can't be dismissed considering it's the easiest way to quantify a player's ability and sometimes a lot of voters will go for ease. He has been great for a power play that hasn't been so great in recent years, picking up 22 of his 30 points on the man advantage. He plays very protected minutes but when you're doing exactly what you're asked to do, it shouldn't matter, same with MacKinnon.
Erik Karlsson It will be interesting to see what voters will do with Karlsson, he's putting up points like they're going out of style. He leads the Ottawa Senators in points by 10 with his 14 goals and 39 assists in 57 games and he's one of only three defensemen to average more than 27 minutes per game (27:22 to be exact). The defensive knocks against him persist but voters overlooked that before. P.K. Subban and Drew Doughty are right here, too. Mark Scheifele A second Jet, the days of people scratching their heads about the Jets selecting Scheifele in the draft are gone. He has been one of the players that have seemed to benefit from the coaching change with four goals and five assists in the last 11 games for a hot Winnipeg team. In total he has 11 goals and 21 assists, most all of that at even strength.
Award watch
Adams Selke
Jon Cooper It could be the Bolts show when it comes to the awards this season with Cooper a strong candidate for the Jack Adams. What's going to go a long way and help him against Patrick Roy is the team's success without their star player for much of the season and that he has overseen a change to a team that is finally defensively sound while remaining potent on offense. Unless they fall down the stretch, which doesn't seem likely, Cooper will be a finalist. Jonathan Toews Toews won the Selke last season and there's little reason why he shouldn't win the trophy again. According to Extra Skater, Toews plays the toughest competition in the NHL, he has 45 takeaways, is stout on faceoffs at 55.8 percent and is a possession monster while also scoring 55 points in 59 games and we all know Selke winners have to be two-way players anymore.
Patrick Roy Roy has quite the compelling arguments in his favor, too, turning a team that picked No. 1 overall last season into a team that's closer to the West's top seed than the West's last playoff spot. The fact that he's a first-time NHL head coach only adds to the cred in this case. He could certainly surpass Cooper if the Avs continue their winning ways down the stretch. Patrice Bergeron Bergeron is another who has cemented himself in this conversation as a regular. What's so impressive about Bergeron is that he starts the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone vs. top players. Still, he is the player on the Bruins that has the best percentage of shot attempts for, more than the guys who predominantly start in the offensive zone. And he remains the premier faceoff guy in the league, winning 60 percent. His 35 points won't hurt either.
Bruce Boudreau Right now, Boudreau is facing his first bit of adversity this season as the Ducks have finally hit a slump. Fortunately for them, it is coming right before the break. But before this, the Ducks were running over the NHL with their high-flying ways and Gabby has them excelling with depth that before the season looked somewhat thin. Not so much anymore. David Backes Arguments could be made for any one of the Blues' trio of Backes, Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie as they are hardly ever separated and play equally brutal minutes, though Backes does have a slightly higher percentage of defensive zone starts. All three also get a good dose of PK time but in the end we'll admit some positional bias and take the center in Backes who has improved in the dot this season and is slightly above 50 percent.
Dan Bylsma What Bylsma has working for him is one of the same things working for Crosby; their team thrived while going through some big injuries to key players. We've seen many times before how that factors in on coaching awards in any sport. He does have an enviable position with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way but he's kept the ship afloat and has juggled responsibilities with Team USA where he'll be the head coach. Anze Kopitar Kopitar does it all for the Los Angeles Kings ; he is their go-to player among forwards in any situation, is their leading scorer 46 points in 56 games and like most of his teammates, generates play in one direction; the positive direction. He also is the forward who plays the most, getting nearly two minutes more per game of ice time than Jeff Carter . Maybe this is the season he becomes a finalist.
Paul Maurice What's going to ultimately hinder Maurice is the very short sample size he's going to put together but if the Jets can finish strong enough that they make the playoffs, you better believe that Maurice will get a lot of votes. Since Claude Noel was fired, the Jets have gone 9-2-0. Voters love a good turnaround and Maurice, at least so far, has turned the Jets around in a huge way. Henrik Zetterberg Similar to the Blues trio, there are arguments you can make for either Zetterberg or teammate Pavel Datsyuk but we'll take the captain. He might not excel in the takeaway department like Datsyuk but at this point, Zetterberg is much more likely to be the center Mike Babcock turns to in the defensive zone and he faces the same level of competition that Toews does, which is to say the best.
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