We've officially hit the midway point of the NHL season, which means it's time to kickstart those discussions and arguments over which players (and coaches) are leading the races for end-of-year awards. Let's take a look at three midseason finalists for each major award to highlight who is leading the pack. We also list midseason picks for each award from our trio of NHL writers.
Kucherov has been the most dangerous offensive weapon in the league's most dangerous offense, and his numbers through the first half have been insane. His 69 points (20-49) in 42 games lead the league and give him the highest points per game average among all players. He also has a league-leading 26 power play points this season.
Both MacKinnon and his linemate, Mikko Rantanen, are worthy of being in the discussion, but MacKinnon plays down the middle and is the engine for the league's most lethal line so he'll get the edge here. The 23-year-old has 63 points (25-38) in 42 games and has directly factored into 44 percent of his team's scoring.
McDavid is the best player in the league -- and by a good margin -- but he's stuck on a lousy team and he'll only get serious Hart consideration if he manages to single-handedly drag the Oilers to the postseason this year. It's not out of the question yet, so you have to take his candidacy seriously. He has 24 goals and 38 assists through 41 games, factoring into an astonishing 53 percent of Edmonton's scoring this year. He also leads the league with seven game-winning goals.
Pete Blackburn's pick: McDavid
I'm really not a fan of the "you gotta get in to win" line of thinking that usually applies to the Hart race. It should be pretty clear to anyone that McDavid is more valuable (both to his team and in general) than any other player in the league, regardless of whether or not he's able to shoulder the bag of corpses that Peter Chiarelli has given him all the way to the postseason. I realize that's how it works and that McDavid will likely get snubbed for a second straight year if Edmonton misses, but as long as the Oilers are still mathematically in the playoff hunt I'm not picking anyone else.
Cody Benjamin's pick: McDavid
Nikita Kucherov probably fits the bill best considering his team is also the best in the league -- and by a country mile. And I want MacKinnon to be the pick, because aside from Rantanen, there's no other reason to watch Colorado. But it'd be a disservice not to pick McDavid, who (again) is chiefly responsible for the Oilers' fight.
Kevin Skiver's pick: MacKinnon
The Avalanche are pretty much a one-line team, but what a line it is. MacKinnon and Rantanen are both having outstanding years, but the nod has to go to the engine that makes that line go. MacKinnon seems like he's entering a very, very long prime. The Avalanche made the playoffs last season, and the first line's production is almost entirely why they find themselves just on the outside looking in of the top teams in the Central Division this season.
Rielly is having a very strong two-way season in Toronto and, while he's not quite an elite shutdown defenseman, his offensive numbers are worth appreciating. He leads all defensemen with 13 goals on the year and his 45 points are second only to Brent Burns. He's on pace to break the Leafs' single-season points record by a defenseman (79, by Ian Turnbull in 1976-77).
Letang has bounced back in a big way and is playing some of the best hockey of his career this season. He's tied for the third-most goals (10) by a defenseman, is sixth among D-men in points (37) and logs the fourth-most ice time per game at over 26 minutes a night. He's also fifth among all qualified defensemen in 5-on-5 goal differential (63.4 percent).
The 35-year-old Giordano has never finished a Norris vote higher than sixth, but he's rightfully getting plenty of love in the discussion at the halfway point of this season. He's third among defensemen in points with 40 (6-34) and is tops among all blue liners with a plus-30 rating. He's eighth in 5-on-5 goal differential (63 percent) and 10th in 5-on-5 shot attempt differential (55.5 percent).
Giordano has been great and, in my mind, it's essentially a toss-up between him and Letang at this point -- though Rielly and John Carlson in Washington make pretty good cases as well. The edge goes to Letang based on his workload and his role as a key spark plug for the Pens, and the narrative of his bounce-back campaign doesn't hurt either.
Letang deserves all the recognition in the world for rebounding at such an elite level, but let's not overthink this. The Calgary Flames are relevant again, making a legitimate playoff push, and without the veteran Giordano, that doesn't happen. Name any aspect of blue-line play, and he's excelled at it this year.
It's tough to stand out on this Maple Leafs team. There's an insane amount of talent there, but Rielly has managed just fine. He's third on the team in points (although Auston Matthews would be ahead of him if he hadn't missed 14 games), and the Leafs are rolling. Sometimes, the ability to generate offense from the blue line is an effective replacement for being an elite defender, and these are the kinds of things that voters notice.
Andersen has been great for Toronto in the first half and his .923 save percentage is tied for tops among goaltenders with at least 1500 minutes TOI through the first half. His goals saved above average (around plus 14) is also second-best in the league and he's first among starters with an impressive .700 quality start percentage.
Gibson faced more shots than anyone in the first half and he was outstanding between the pipes for Anaheim. He's tied with Andersen with a .923 save percentage and his GSAA (plus 15.7) is the best in the league. His high-danger save percentage (.864) is second-best among goalies with 1500 minutes TOI.
The reigning Vezina winner is having another strong season in Nashville. His .921 save percentage isn't far behind Andersen and Gibson, and he has the league's best even strength save percentage (.936) among goalies who have played at least 1200 minutes at ES. His GSAA (plus 10) is good for third among goalies with 1500 minutes TOI.
Gibson has essentially faced a firing squad on a nightly basis for the Ducks and has remained incredible to this point, so it's a pretty easy call here. He's essentially the only reason why the Ducks are in the hunt right now, so maybe he should be getting some Hart consideration as well.
If this isn't a lock already, then what is? Marc-Andre Fleury is turning it on these days, and big names like Pekka Rinne are always worthy of discussion. But the Ducks would be absolutely dead in the water (no pun intended) if it weren't for this man. Seriously, if ever MVP consideration were to be given to a goalie, it might be here, because he's been that important in Anaheim.
This vote is actually close between Pekka Rinne and Gibson -- Rinne has a .921 save percentage to Gibson's .923 and a 16-10-2 record in his games (Gibson is 15-13-6). However, those numbers only start to tell the story. Gibson has 22 quality starts so far this year to Rinne's 17, and his goals saved above average is the best in hockey. Gibson has been outstanding for Anaheim, and it looks like Rinne would have to go supernova to repeat.
The 20-year-old Swede holds a large lead in goals (22) and points (42) in the rookie race. He's also been a major human highlight reel in his first season and is tied for the league-lead in game-winning goals with seven. He's been so much better than other rookies, we're not listing any other potential Calder finalists here.
You really need an explanation? He's single-handedly making the Canucks worth watching.
OK, maybe this is the biggest lock. The Canucks should be absolutely enthralled with this young man and the scoring touch he's brought to Vancouver, where even a lackluster supporting cast has failed to dampen his impact. Look out if this guy gets some help down the road.
I mean, come on.
Stone is first among all forwards in takeaways (70) and sixth in blocked shots (41). He has a plus-13 goal differential at 5-on-5, which is impressive considering he plays for a Senators team that has given up more goals than any other club through the first half. He has a league-leading 13.6 percent Corsi relative to the rest of his team when he's not on the ice.
Barkov has been a workhorse for the Panthers through the first half. He leads all forwards with 23:09 average TOI and, amazingly, has only taken one penalty. He's second among forwards in takeaways (58).
O'Reilly has been one of the Blues' lone bright spots in his first season in St. Louis. He's got a stellar 58.3 face-off win percentage and is ninth in takeaways with 45. He's a plus-seven in goal differential at 5-on-5.
A winger hasn't won the award since 2003 and it seems wild to give the Selke to a player on the league's worst defensive team, but Stone is as deserving as anyone else this year. He plays a suffocating two-way game and this might be the year he's finally recognized for it. Maybe a midseason trade from Ottawa will help bolster his case.
Brayden Point has the benefit of playing for the NHL's powerhouse. Mark Stone is every bit as deserving. But Barkov has all the defensive success you could ask for without even the slightest hint of penalty trouble.
Skiver's pick: Barkov
See your Lady Byng stat.
Jon Cooper, Lightning
Tampa hit the official halfway point with a record of 32-7-2, putting them on pace for 64 wins and 132 points. If they keep up that pace, they'd break the NHL's single-season win record of 62 (1995–96 Detroit Red Wings) and tie the single-season points mark of 132 (1976-77 Montreal Canadiens).
Phil Housley, Sabres
The Sabres finished last season as the league's worst team by a good margin. But they have made a major jump this year in their second season under Housley. Buffalo is fourth in a tough Atlantic division and in the playoff picture at the halfway point.
Barry Trotz, Islanders
It looked like the Islanders may have been doomed after losing their best player in free agency this summer, but they're in the midseason playoff picture thanks in large part to Trotz taking over the bench. In his first season on the Island, Trotz has transformed the Isles into one of the best defensive squads in the league.
There are probably half a dozen serious Jack Adams candidates this year (Bill Peters and Claude Julien are couple more not listed above) and Trotz would probably get my vote right now if the Lightning weren't on a historic pace. Yes, Cooper has a ton of talent to work with, but it still takes great coaching to make all that talent work as effectively as it has in Tampa so far. It'd be impossible to deny Cooper his due if the Lightning finish with the best regular season in league history.
I really think Calgary's Bill Peters deserves a nod here, because it's no small feat to be leading the Pacific entering the new year. Yet Cooper, even with a stacked Lightning roster, has somehow managed to blow past the mighty expectations of this Tampa team. No one even comes close to matching his club's production.
It is not easy to win with a young team, but Housley has 50 points with the sixth-youngest team in hockey. The turnaround we've seen from the cellar-dweller Sabres has been impressive to say the least, and that starts with the coach. The Sabres are possibly contending for a playoff spot in a loaded Eastern Conference (and an even more loaded division), so Housley's work should be noticed.