Mid-season award predictions

So it’s the official midpoint of the season even though many teams are around the 50-game mark, well past the official midway point that is 41 games. But anyway, here’s a look at who might, will, and/or should win the respective NHL awards that are handed out following the season.

Hart Trophy: Brent Burns, San Jose- This award will probably go to Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby but Burns is why the Sharks lead the Pacific Division and are in the running to repeat as Western Conference champions. He’s been on the ice for 36 percent of San Jose’s goals, according to puckalytics, which compares to 28 percent for McDavid and 22 percent for Crosby. His 51 points in 50 games leads the team.

Vezina Trophy: Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota- What a story this will be. The once forgotten about, cast away to the AHL only to get another chance and thrive goaltender in Dubnyk finally getting his due. He’s statistically been right up there with Carey Price among the game’s best netminder over the past few seasons and he’s been unconscious once again this season. He leads the league in save percentage (.936) and GAA (1.88), and is second in wins (27). The only thing that separates him from the goaltending Triple Crown at the moment in Sergei Bobrovsky, who has one more win than Dubnyk.

Norris Trophy: Brent Burns, San Jose- For all the reasons mentioned above, and then some. He’s having an historic season for a defenseman, and is making a serious push at the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading point-getter. Should Burns win the scoring title – he’s eight points off the current perch held down by McDavid – he’d be just the second blueliner in NHL history to lead the league in scoring. The other is Bobby Orr.

Selke Trophy: Ryan Kesler, Anaheim- Kesler has been Anaheim’s best player this season. He has 39 points in 51 games while his 21:48 of ice time per game is a second behind Patrick Kane for the league-high among forwards. Kesler has taken a league-high 1,119 faceoffs, his 57.6 success rate on the draw third in the league behind Patrice Bergeron and Ryan O’Reilly among players that have taken greater than 900 faceoffs. Watch out for a late surge from Bergeron, whose offensive numbers aren’t there but numbers on defense, faceoffs, and possession remain through the roof.

Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews, Toronto- In what has been the Year of the Rookie in 2016-17, Matthews stands alone in the race for the Calder. That’s how good he is, and that’s how much higher a level he’s on than everybody else. Forget rookies, Matthews has been one of the top five players in the league this season. He looks like he’s been in the NHL for 10 years. He’s tied with Alex Ovechkin for fourth in the NHL with 23 goals.

Jack Adams Award: John Tortorella, Columbus- The Blue Jackets have broken out this season, emerging as one of the league’s best teams, highlighted by a 16-game winning streak that stretched from November to January. It’s another feather in the cap for Tortorella, whose best known for going into young clubs and getting guys to realize their potential, as he did in Tampa Bay and New York.

General Manager of the Year: Peter Chiarelli, Edmonton- Chiarelli has done a fine job reconstructing the roster in Edmonton, and the Oilers are on track to erase an 11-year playoff drought as a result. Of course, it all starts with Connor McDavid, but a Chiarelli bringing in a number of players over the past two years, such as Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Andrej Sekera, Mark Letestu, and Kris Russell has changed the identity of the team. While he traded an elite talent in Taylor Hall, it’s looked like the shake up the Oilers needed.

Lady Byng Trophy: Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis- He’s having his best season yet, with 47 points in 49 games while carrying a Blues team that isn’t as good as years past. He’s done so by staying out of the box, with just eight penalty minutes.

Masterton Trophy: Craig Anderson, Ottawa- Anderson hasn’t played since December 5th, away from the Senators to be by his wife’s side as she undergoes treatment for cancer. However, he’s nearing a return as his wife has completed treatment.

Art Ross Trophy: Brent Burns, San Jose- He’s a long shot but what the heck, let’s have some fun here. I’ll be rooting for the story.

Richard Trophy: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh- Crosby has slowed off the pace when it comes to putting the puck in the net after a torrid start to the year, but nobody has really caught up.

Cam Atkinson added to All-Star roster he should’ve been on all along

Cam Atkinson has been a good NHL player for quite some time now. He’s emerged as one of the league’s breakout stars this season.

Amidst what has been a breakout season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Atkinson has been the club’s best player with 24 goals and 46 points in 47 games, the point total tying him for eighth with Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele. He was the catalyst behind the Jackets league-high 16-game winning streak this season, with 10 goals and 18 points over that stretch from November 29th to January 3rd.

It was for the reason why it was a little bit of a shock that Atkinson wasn’t added to the Metropolitan Division team for the NHL All-Star Game, not that the group of forwards was any slouch with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, John Tavares, Alex Ovechkin, Wayne Simmonds, and Taylor Hall. The Blue Jackets roster spot among skaters (all 30 teams must have at least one player) went to defenseman Seth Jones. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was named an all-star as well.

But with Malkin pulling out of the game due to a lower-body injury, a spot opened up for Atkinson, who was the obvious replacement. So with Malkin out, it was Atkinson in, and he’ll suit up on Sunday in Los Angeles, as should have been the case all along.

It wasn’t unreasonable to feel a third spot for Columbus was necessary given the season it was having, but squeezing in another Blue Jacket was easier said than done given how strong the Metro is as opposed the Central Division; which included four Blackhawks or the Pacific; where three San Jose Sharks made the team. There’s no doubt the idea of having a team for every division creates a flaw, in that some divisions have a lot more talent than others (the Atkinson case being Exhibit ‘A’) but this current format of the four divisions coming together for a four-team short tournament has created a buzz around the event like never before.

The John Tortorella Effect Taking Shape in Columbus

If you’re a general manager of a young, talented, up-and-coming team seeking a coach to get the right message across, John Tortorella should be atop your wish list.

There’s no better proof of that than Tampa Bay, where he took over a fledgling team representing a fledgling franchise in a fledgling hockey market and made it into a Stanley Cup champion. In the process, he kickstarted the careers of longtime stars Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Pavel Kubina, and Dan Boyle.

Should you have a coach in your back pocket should the best laid plans go awry? For sure. The message might wear on the guys in the room as the years go on, as happened later in Tortorella’s Tampa years – which, in fairness, happens to most coaches. It was rinse and repeat, after all, in New York when despite not winning a Cup molded the careers of Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Brandon Dubinsky, Chris Kreider, Henrik Lundqvist, Michael Del Zotto, and Carl Hagelin, among others. The Rangers didn’t reach the Stanley Cup in his tenure, but did qualify the year after his 2013 Broadway dismissal.

Now he’s doing it again with the Blue Jackets.

After Tortorella’s reputation was torn to shreds in a disastrous 2013-14 season in Vancouver, in which he was a bad fit in a bad situation, he landed in Columbus in October 2015. Taking over a club that was out to an 0-7 start under Todd Richards, the Jackets went 34-33-8 the rest of the way. While Columbus missed the playoffs, things were at least stabilized following the coaching change.

The Blue Jackets have taken off in season two, a full offseason under the lead of the 58-year-old coach (save for a hiatus in September to coach Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey, in which Tortorella didn’t come out looking good, to put it nicely).

Out to a 20-5-4 record, the Jackets’ 44 points are good enough for third place in the Metropolitan Division, a standing that is no indicator of just how strong this team has through one-third of the season. Columbus is the hottest team in hockey with nine straight wins, and sits a point behind Pittsburgh and three behind the Rangers in the Metro. The Jackets have three games in hand on the Penguins, five on New York.

Columbus is a franchise that has seen no success since setting up shop in 2000, with just a pair of playoff appearances scattered among a bevy of disappointing seasons. It’s a situation not dissimilar to what Tortorella walked into in Tampa Bay when he took over the 2001. Only thing is Tortorella finds himself on a bench closer to contention this time.

Few goaltenders have been as good as Sergei Bobrovsky since he was traded to Ohio from Philadelphia in 2012. Among goalies to play 180 games since the start of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season (in which Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy), Bobrovsky is tied with Cory Schneider and Henrik Lundqvist with a .922 save percentage. Only Carey Price (.927), Tuukka Rask (.924), and Corey Crawford (.923) have stopped pucks at a higher rate over that span. The 28-year-old is playing his best hockey yet, with a .932 save percentage and 1.94 GAA in 26 games.

Columbus is good in front of Bobrovsky as well, much better than in recent years. The Blue Jackets are a combination of quick, strong, and skilled on the back end while being heavy and creative up front. Zach Werenski has been one of the league’s best rookies, while Seth Jones joins him as a budding star on the blue line. Jack Johnson and David Savard are reliable defenseman that aren’t too old but have experience and can play big minutes. Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Sam Gagner, Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad, and Alex Wennberg have brought the blend of brawn and skill to the forward position.

This team has been among the more talented, young squads in the NHL for some time. The Jackets have been no stranger to the trendy ‘breakout pick’ in recent falls.

That breakout appears to be happening, and it’s all coming together under Tortorella. Just as it did in Tampa Bay. Just as it did in New York.

When Tortorella won his 500th game by way of the Jackets 4-3 overtime win at Vancouver on Sunday night, he entered unchartered territory among American-born coaches. He joined a fraternity that includes just 24 of the 362 coaches (per hockey-reference.com) to command an NHL bench. He joins a group of 10 active coaches in Joel Quenneville (823), Ken Hitchcock (774), Lindy Ruff (715), Barry Trotz (677), Darryl Sutter (611), Alain Vigneault (589), Paul Maurice (571), Mike Babcock (568), Dave Tippett (534), and Claude Julien (529). Not bad company. And it comes as no fluke.

Bruins Face Canadiens for First Time, Scott Stevens Returns to New Jersey, Brian Elliot Faces Blues

Quite a bit to watch on Saturday night as 12 NHL games are being played, including the first game between Boston and Montreal, Flames goaltender Brian Elliot facing the Blues, who traded him over the offseason. Zach Parise and Scott Stevens will make their returns to New Jersey as the Wild face the Devils; Parise, of course, as a player, and Stevens as an assistant coach to Bruce Boudreau.

Here’s the games being played: Toronto at Chicago, 7; N.Y. Rangers at Washington, 7; Montreal at Boston, 7; Carolina at Philadelphia, 7; Tampa Bay at Ottawa, 7; Colorado at Florida, 7; San Jose at Detroit, 7; Minnesota at New Jersey, 7; Pittsburgh at Nashville, 8; Columbus at Dallas, 8; Vancouver at Los Angeles, 10; St. Louis at Calgary, 10.

Players to Watch

Chicago: Richard Panik; Don’t look now but Panik is leading the Hawks with five goals in five games. Patrick who?

Toronto: James van Reimsdyk; Will not be playing against his brother, Trevor, as its being reported the younger van Reimsdyk will miss 5-6 weeks with an upper-body injury, as it’s being reported by Scott Powers of The Athletic. The two have played each other just once.

N.Y. Rangers: Mike Zibanejad; Off to a nice start with five points in four games.

Washington: Zach Sanford; The rookie expected to play Saturday after being out of the lineup on Thursday. Will face fellow ex-BC big forward Chris Kreider for the first time.

Montreal: Tomas Plekanec; The 33-year-old center seems to like playing the Bruins, his 46 points against the archrival is the most he’s scored against any NHL opponent.

Boston: David Backes; First game in the rivalry. In 11 games against Montreal, he has four goals and eight points.

Carolina: Victor Rask; The Swedish center leads the Hurricanes with five goals in four games. He had 48 last season, up from 33 his rookie season.

Philadelphia: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare; The French centerman is leading the Flyers with a 54 percent faceoff percentage. He’s won 24 of 44 draws.

Tampa Bay: Ben Bishop; The Lightning netminder played 23 games in Ottawa from 2011-13 before being traded to Tampa, where his career has since blossomed. He is 117-53-17 since that deal, with a .921 save percentage and 2.26 GAA. Bishop has twice finished in the top three of the Vezina Trophy voting in a Lightning uniform.

Ottawa: Guy Boucher; Yeah, yeah, I know. He’s a coach. But the Senators first-year bench boss spent three seasons as the head man in Tampa Bay, going 97-79-20. He led the Bolts to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final in 2011, his first season behind the bench.

Colorado: Patrick Wiercioch; The defenseman has four points in four games.

Florida: Jaromir Jagr; Jagr coming off his 750th goal of the season.

San Jose: Brent Burns; The defenseman has points in five consecutive games to begin the season.

Detroit: Thomas Vanek; Still second on the team with six points.

Minnesota: Zach Parise; Still hanging on 299. How fitting would it be to get 300 in New Jersey, where he spent the first seven years of his career?

New Jersey: Cory Schneider; Has a .938 save percentage and 2.00 GAA in four games. Going to need to keep it up; the Devils have six goals in four games.

Pittsburgh: Patric Hornqvist; He has four points in five games, second on the team behind Evgeni Malkin, who has five.

Nashville: James Neal; Played in Pittsburgh from 2011-14, had 89 goals and 184 points in 199 games.

Columbus: Zach Werenski; The rookie leads the Jackets in scoring.

Dallas: Devin Shore; The 22-year-old tied with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for the team lead with four goals.

Vancouver: Jacob Markstrom; He’s stopped 68 of 73 shots that have come his way in three games.

Los Angeles: Jeff Carter; His 58.8 faceoff percentage ninth in the league.

St. Louis: Jay Bouwmeester; The defenseman played four seasons in Calgary. His 25:52 average time on ice was the highest among the three teams he played for (Florida 2002-09, St. Louis 2013-present).

Calgary: Brian Elliot; Played five seasons in St. Louis, had a 2.01 GAA and .925 save percentage in 181 games.

#HatTrickChallenge

James Neal: Hasn’t found the net in four games. Breaks out against his former team.

Game of the Night

Montreal at Boston: It’s never a dull one when these two teams face each other.

Lock to Win

Minnesota: Zach Parise gets his 300th goal against the team that drafted him and the Wild continue to roll.

 

 

Quiet Friday Night Across the NHL

Fridays are never big night in the NHL, but theres still some games. Here’s what is being played: Chicago at Columbus, 7; Arizona at N.Y. Islanders, 7; Nashville at Detroit, 7:30.

Players to Watch

Chicago: Patrick Kane; The defending Hart Trophy winner has six points in his last two games. He has 15 goals and 42 points in 38 games against the Jackets.

Columbus: Brandon Saad; Helped the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups in his three full seasons in Chicago from 2012-13 to ’14-15. He had 15 goals and 33 points in 67 games he played in the Stanley Cup playoffs over that span. Chicago won 10 of 11 playoff series in those three tournaments.

Arizona: Dylan Strome; Strome’s third career game will be his first against older brother, Ryan, who is a forward for the Islanders.

N.Y. Islanders: Ryan Pulock; The promising young defenseman will make his NHL debut.

Nashville: Pekka Rinne; Expected to start against once-division rival Detroit, Rinne is out to a nice start. In two games, the 34-year-old netminder has stopped 57 of 61 shots.

Detroit: Petr Mrazek; Now-backup Jimmy Howard was phenomenal in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Rangers. Meanwhile, Mrazek hasn’t looked sharp in three games.

#HatTrickChallenge

Patrick Kane: Kane has six points in four games but has just one goal, which he got in Tuesday’s 7-4 win over Philadelphia. His 16 shots lead the Blackhawks and is tied for 14th in the NHL.

Game of the Night

Nashville at Detroit: The Predators visit Joe Louis Arena for one final time. They have won just 13 of 46 games Nashville has played there.

Lock to Win

Nashville: The Predators get the important road win and avoid the 1-3 start.

Links

Friday is never a slow night in the college hockey circuit. Here’s a good read on Maine’s fast start to the season.

Scoring is up in the NHL. Here’s a look at what it means and what we should expect.

Lucas Sedlak will make his NHL debut for the Blue Jackets on Friday night.

Brothers Ryan and Dylan Strome set to faceoff against each other for the first time.

Preseason Power Rankings: Lightning the Class of the NHL

Here’s how the last two seasons have ended for the Tampa Bay Lightning; 2014-15, two wins shy of winning its first Stanley Cup since 2004; 2015-16, one win shy of becoming the first team in seven years to win back-to-back Prince of Wale Trophies.

And here’s the thing – the Bolts are only getting better.

The talk in the East has been about Washington, whether or not its the year the Capitals finally break through and put Alex Ovechkin’s name on the Stanley Cup. Of course, that’s been the dialogue for quite some time now. Then there’s also those who bring up the yearly ‘is this the year a Stanley Cup winner defends its title?’ That’s the conversation around Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, down in the central Florida resides the best team the NHL has to offer.

The Lightning are a team built for the modern NHL. A team the plays at a pace that emulates its name, Tampa goes four lines deep of skill players who use their legs as their greatest weapons in creating pressure and forcing teams to make mistakes. The defense corps is among the elite fluent-skating blue lines, led by behemoth Victor Hedman.

Steven Stamkos leads the charge as he kicks off an eight-year pact to remain in Tampa Bay. He’s complimented by rising superstar Nikita Kucherov up front, along with Tyler Johnson, who comes in poised for a breakout campaign.

Goaltender Ben Bishop is one of the world’s premier puck stoppers, while Andrei Vasilevskiy is as good a second option you’ll find.

Health is the big x-factor going into the season, which kind of goes without saying. But when you consider injuries that have befallen key players on the club over the past couple seasons, including Stamkos, Johnson, Bishop, and Anton Stralman, it becomes a little more magnified.

Regardless, this looks like the team to beat at the early goings.

2- Washington: Some might say 1-A. The Capitals have never been built so well for the playoffs during the Ovechkin era.

3- Anaheim: The window is closing. Expect Bob Murray to deal Cam Fowler or one of his blue-chip defensive prospects to provide help up front.

4- Pittsburgh: No team has repeated since the 1997-98 Red Wings. Reports out of Pittsburgh is that the Penguins really want to be that team to do it.

5- Chicago: 30 goals and 77 points as a rookie, yet Artemi Panarin remains grossly underrated.

6- Montreal: Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw add a lot of what was missing in the Canadiens room last season.

7- Dallas: Jim Nill needs to find a goaltender. But you knew that.

8- San Jose: The young guys on the Sharks were flying under the radar this time last year.

9- Nashville: The most exciting team in the NHL. Mike Fisher caps first year as captain by posing for a picture alongside Gary Bettman.

10- St. Louis: If Jake Allen performs to expectations, this team won’t miss a beat.

11- Florida: The Cats have a rebuilt blue line that emulates its in-state rival.

12- Calgary: The Flames won’t finish 30th in defense this season.

13- N.Y. Rangers: Sleeper Stanley Cup pick.

14- Detroit: A defensively suspect team, but the Red Wings should score at a pretty reasonable clip.

15- Minnesota: Bruce Boudreau wins. I could make a cheesy Donald Trump pun, but I’m not going to.

16- N.Y. Islanders: John Tavares wins the Hart Trophy.

17- Philadelphia: Steve Mason is solid, but the goaltending is still feast-or-famine. Everybody is falling in the Michael Leighton trap with Michal Neuvirth.

18- Boston: They’ll be in the thick of the wildcard race again, but the Bruins remain a good year or two away.

19- Los Angeles: The Kings are an Anze Kopitar away from being Team USA-bad.

20- Winnipeg: Newly-christened as the Jets captain, Blake Wheeler finally gets his due among the NHL’s best.

21- Buffalo: Don’t be surprised if this team makes the playoffs.

22- Edmonton: Connor McDavid leads the league in points.

23- Arizona: Oliver Ekman-Larsson makes a push for the Norris.

24- Carolina: Justin Faulk is a finalist for the Norris.

25- Ottawa: Erik Karlsson wins the Norris (again).

26- New Jersey: Cory Schneider can only do so much.

27- Toronto: Still 2-3 years away.

28- Columbus: Potential surprise team. Blue Jackets dispel the ‘John Tortorella only plays guys who trap and block shots’ theory. Zach Werenski wins Calder Trophy.

29- Colorado: MacKinnon and Duchene the bright spots in Denver.

30- Vancouver: It was clear Alain Vigneault was the problem.

Metro Division: Facts, Figures, Predictions

*The Flyers are one of just seven teams to not have a Calder Trophy winner.

*The Hurricanes haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. Only Edmonton, who lost to Carolina in the 2006 Stanley Cup final, its most recent postseason appearance, has a longer drought.

*The Capitals are one of just four franchises that were in business prior to the 1979 WHA merger that have no Stanley Cup to its name. The others: Buffalo, St. Louis, Vancouver.

*Philadelphia has the second-highest all-time point percentage (.577) trailing only Montreal (.589). Columbus is the lowest, at .467. The Flyers have the second-most playoff appearances (38) among non-Original Six franchises. The Blues take the cake in that category, with 40.

*The Islanders recorded back-to-back 100-point campaigns the last two seasons, the first time that’s happened since 1980-81, 1981-82; the meat of the Al Arbour era in which the halls (or the LIE) were decked with Stanley Cups.

*John Tavares sits in just 12th place on the Isles all-time scoring list at 471 points, but he can do some serious damage over the next couple seasons. If he matches the 156-point output over the last two seasons (which he should do easily), Tavares will move into the top five on the Islanders scoring list. He’s within 200 of fourth place, a perch held by Clark Gilles, who put up 663 from 1975-86.

*Top three active players in points per game: Sidney Crosby (1.327), Evgeni Malkin (1.18), and Alex Ovechkin (1.151). Nicklas Backstrom is seventh, scoring at a rate of 0.985 in 652 career games going back to 2007.

*Crosby ranks fifth on the all-time list; behind Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, and Bobby Orr.

*Assists per game: Crosby (0.849), Backstrom (0.732), and Malkin (0.722).

*At an average age of 27.2, the Capitals were tied with the 2006-07 Sabres for the third-youngest team to win the Presidents’ Trophy.

*Taylor Hall has posted more than 65 points just once (80, 2014), has played more than 65 games just twice. Thirty goals remains on the bucket list. Peter Chiarelli didn’t trade Jari Kurri.

*Ovechkin’s 525 goals since 2005-06 lead the NHL. But you knew that. The next closest? That would be Jarome Iginla, with 361. 361!!

*Here’s something you didn’t expect: Of the ten 52-goal seasons assembled in that time, Ovechkin accounts for just four. Remember that time Jonathan Cheechoo scored 56 goals? Yeah didn’t think so.

Predictions

1- Washington: Best team in the Eastern Conference, from top to bottom.

2- Pittsburgh: No team has repeated since the 1998 Red Wings. Hearing the Penguins really, really want to be that first team to defend a title since then.

3- Rangers: Jeff Gorton acquires Kevin Shattenkirk in a trade deadline deal.

4- Philadelphia: Warning to college campuses – NHL executives are going to begin raiding your hockey programs.

5- Islanders: Lots of questions marks on the Island.

6- Carolina: Don’t be surprised if the Hurricanes make the playoffs.

7- Columbus: Ditto the Jackets. Zach Werenski wins the Calder Trophy.

8- New Jersey: Not a bad team, just victims of a killer division.