NHL Award Races: How the battles stand as second half begins

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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.

The second half of the season is underway, the time when outdoor games, the trade deadline and Olympic break will all co-exist with the push for the playoffs in the NHL. And with the push for the playoffs comes the push for the individual hardware as well. So to get this season's Award Races started, we're going to look at each of the big six trophies and how they're shaping up after the first half has been completed.

Award watch
Hart Vezina
Sidney Crosby It still remains amazing that Crosby only has one Hart Trophy on his resume but he's well on his way to a second. He's starting to run away with the points race and just as important, he was a major reason the Penguins didn't suffer through the plethora of first-half injuries at all. It's not hard to justify the world's best player being named the MVP. Ben Bishop Even before Steven Stamkos went down with his injury, Bishop was having a really strong start to the season, Stamkos' injury just made it more evident. It's not just about leading the team through that but he has the stats as well. His .935 save percentage is tops among goalies with more than 12 starts and his 1.86 GAA tied for second with the same qualifications. He's having a phenomenal season.
Ryan Getzlaf The Ducks are tearing through the Western Conference this season and Getzlaf is at the fore. He has been terrific all season for the Ducks, leading a high-powered line with Corey Perry , both players already into the 20s in terms of goals. Getzlaf himself has 20 goals with 29 assists already and has been a monster for Anaheim. Tuukka Rask Rask seems to have cemented his position in the Vezina race for every season for years to come, he's that good and has been that consistent. His .930 save percentage is near the league lead and his 2.05 GAA isn't shabby either. The Bruins rely on defense first and Rask is where that all begins.
Patrick Kane One thing that hurts Kane's chances is that many will argue he's not the best or most important player on his team and that's fair. Jonathan Toews , Duncan Keith , Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are all excellent players. But Kane has really taken another step forward and is one of the game's most exciting and productive players, evidenced by his 54 points in 45 games. Josh Harding Up until a couple of weeks ago, Harding was the front-runner in just about everybody's mind but some time on the shelf (understandable) and some struggles by the Wild haven't helped. Still he leads the league in goals against average for those who have played more than 11 games and has taken the No. 1 role over in Minnesota.
Alex Ovechkin Last year's Hart Trophy winner is making his case again by what else? Scoring lots and lots of goals. Ovechkin has tapered off lately with just one goal in six games but he still comfortably leads the league with 31 in just 40 games. He's going to need to help the Capitals to get back on track because missing the playoffs, especially in the East, would really hurt his candidacy. Carey Price Few goaltenders are being asked to carry as heavy of a load as Price is with the Canadiens, his 35 starts are third most. Maybe it's because he has performed very well with a .928 save percentage this season. The Habs are fourth in the league in goals against per game despite being 18th in shots against per game. They can thank Price for that.
Joe Thornton There's a lot of skill to go around in San Jose and a lot of praise but through it all, Thornton remains the straw that stirs the drink. There is no better set-up man in the NHL as evidenced by Thornton's 43 assists already. One knock against him is he doesn't absorb massive minutes like many other Hart candidates with 18:05 per game. Ryan Miller Ignore the fact that Miller has an 11-18-1 record this season, what he has done has been nothing short of exceptional for a bad Buffalo team that has given him little support both offensively and defensively. The Sabres yield 34.2 shots per game which means Miller sees a lot of pucks and the fact that he has a .927 save percentage this deep into the season is very impressive.
Award watch
Norris Calder
Duncan Keith This really is starting to look like a runaway for Keith at this point, trying to add a second Norris Trophy to his resume. Not only does he have the requisite points that Norris voters love with 42 in 45 games, but he plays in all zones, logs more than 24 minutes per game and has excellent possession indicators. There is little to knock about his game this season. Nathan MacKinnon With the injury to Hertl, the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft has overtaken the rookie scoring lead with 28 points on 14 goals and 14 assists. MacKinnon has been strong on the power play where half of his goals have come and has fired a lot more shots than any other rookie. It's always good to see a guy creating offensive chances.
Ryan Suter At this point it's almost amazing that Suter's legs haven't fallen off. In 45 games already this season, Suter is averaging 29:41 of ice time per game which is indeed a massive amount, almost two whole minutes more than Brian Campbell and it's not like he plays easy minutes either. You play half of every game you're bound to come across top six players often and Suter has handled it well. Plus he has five goals and 24 points, a true all-around defenseman. Chris Kreider Perhaps it's coming a little later for Kreider than anticipated (he was my preseason Calder pick before last season) but he's showing the form so many expected. He has been one of the Rangers' best players, helping them get going after a very slow start and despite playing in just 38 games, is third in rookie scoring on the strength of 11 goals and 13 assists. When he's on the ice this season, you definitely notice.
P.K. Subban People notice the points first with Subban as he has seven goals, 26 assists this season in 45 games but he doesn't get enough credit for his all-around ability still. He starts more shifts in the defensive zone than the O Zone, faces tough competition and on a team that is 26th in the league in Corsi Close (measuring the percentage of shots directed on the opposing net vs. your own, serving as a proxy for possession), Subban is one of only a couple Habs on the plus side. Torey Krug Krug broke onto the stage last season during the playoffs and he has continued his contributions in the form of an offensive defenseman. He hasn't been asked to play the toughest minutes around, starting 43 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone compared to just 25.6 percent in the defensive zone but that's a testament to Bruins coach Claude Julien for putting Krug in a position to succeed. 10 goals and 13 assists say he's doing just that.
Alex Pietrangelo Pietrangelo continues to creep his way into this conversation every season and for good reason. He is St. Louis' best all-around defenseman and is tasked with playing the toughest competition on the team with partner Jay Bouwmeester . He starts in each zone almost equally and still produces offense (five goals, 25 assists) while logging the most minutes on the team with 25:29. Tomas Hertl Hertl is not going to win the Calder this season with his injury that likely ended his campaign but it feels wrong not to have Hertl on the list at the midpoint since he was on course to run away with the trophy. Even still, having missed a few weeks and only playing 35 games, he is the rookie leader in goals with 15 and his 25 points remain second in the league. The Sharks have a good one on their hands.
Drew Doughty Doughty only continues to improve and if there were any doubt before he has taken the mantle as LA's top defenseman on a very strong defensive team. Among their Dmen, Doughty faces the stiffest competetion and starts more defensize zone shifts than anybody but Robyn Regehr (it's worth noting the Kings start a lot more shifts in the O Zone than D). Not to mention Doughty had six goals and 17 assists, with 12 of this assists being primaries. Aleksander Barkov There are many ways you could go in this spot with Valeri Nichushkin , Tyler Johnson and Hampus Lindholm being very viable candidates but for now we'll go with Barkov. It's not a stretch to say he has been the Panthers' best player this season as he has been very strong on the puck and it has been turning into points (22 to be exact). He has also been strong on the draw for a rookie and he has been producing without the amazing support cast some of the other options have.
Award watch
Adams Selke
Jon Cooper Even if the Lightning had their star player healthy for this whole season, Cooper would undoubtedly be in this talk because Tampa Bay has transformed itself and it shows in the standings. For years this was an organization that couldn't stop the puck from going in their net, even when they were winning it was a problem. This season? Cooper has the Lightning fifth in goals against per game. Bishop gets a lot of praise for that but so should Cooper as they have cut down the shots against. Jonathan Toews Captain Serious finally earned the Selke last season, something that was well deserved. Nobody in Chicago faces stiffer competition than Toews and he still thrives in that role. He is one of the best faceoff men in the league, winning 56.8 percent, he kills penalties, is 15th in takeaways and he has the offensive production that seems to have beem required for this award. There's no reason he can't repeat.
Patrick Roy Before this season there were very few who expected anything of the Avalanche this season, especially with a first-year head coach. It's also fair to say there were plenty dubious of a Patrick Roy era. Not anymore. The Avs have gone from having the second fewest points in the league last season to the sixth most this campaign and his team continues to comfortably hold down playoff position in the brutal Western Conference. Pretty simple: big turnarounds win coaches awards. Anze Kopitar Kings coach Darryl Sutter has more or less begged for Kopitar to get attention for the Selke and this year it's about time it comes. Like Toews, Kopitar playing tougher minutes than any King and like Toews, he exceeds against said top competition. He is the Kings' leader in points with 35, averages more than 21 minutes per game, is strong on the draw at nearly 55 percent and kills penalties more often than Toews. It's a strong field but Kopitar deserves to be in the picture.
Bruce Boudreau Last season the Ducks started hot but faded some as it looked like the team was regressing from some unsustainable numbers. They lost in the first round of the playoffs, all leading to some lowered expectations. Well it doesn't look like it was smoke and mirrors as the Ducks lead the NHL in points and have gone a stunning 18-0-2 on home ice. Gabby continues to get all out of the Ducks and more, plus they have turned some of their possession numbers to the positive side. They're looking strong and stronger by the day. Patrice Bergeron It took Bergeron some time to make his name a staple in this conversation but he's earned it. While it's definitely not something that's required for the Selke, there are few better faceoff men in the NHL than Bergeron, who wins 61.7 of draws. With his sample size, that's dominance. He doesn't necessarily play tougher competition than his teammates but you could say he plays tougher minutes, the center that Julien turns to in the defensive zone most often.
Dan Bylsma Injuries are part of the equation for every single coach in any sport but it certainly feels as though Disco Dan has dealt with more than his fair share already. The Penguins at one point were running out a lineup with almost a full AHL defense and still they were winning games and gaining ground on the Eastern Conference foes. He shouldn't be punished for having some elite players to coach, he should be acknowledged for getting them to play to their abilities and in some cases beyond. Pavel Datsyuk Another guy who is continually in the Selke talk, Datsyuk does his with a little more flash because, well, he's Datsyuk. He is second in the NHL with 50 takeaways this season in only 35 games and he remains strong (though not overwhelmingly so) in the faceoff circle. Two things that don't help: 1) He starts a lot more shifts in the offensive end when the team is on the attack and 2) There is certainly a fair question if he's the best candidate on his team (Hi, Henrik Zetterberg).
Craig Berube Berube took over in Philadelphia after only three games and it took a little longer to get going but eventually Berube's team turned the ship around. Since the Flyers began 1-4-0 under Berube (and 1-7-0 overall to start the season), they have gone 22-10-4 to soar up the Metropolitan Division standings and into second place. How much of that credit goes to Berube, I'm not entirely sure, but you can't ignore that this team floundered last season under Peter Laviolette and has it turned around with Berube. Alexander Steen It's tough to pick one Blue between Steen and David Backes because they, along with T.J. Oshie , are close to inseparable as they see pretty much the same competition and same O/D Zone starts (much more in D). But Steen plays about a minute more per game, has played more on the PK and has more takeaways, a fair tradeoff for Backes' faceoff work. Plus, Steen has a noticeably higher Corsi Close, more than two percentage points higher than Backes. The Blues have 57.3 percent of shot attempts when Steen plays. That's impressive.
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