Monday night's Washington Capitals' loss to the Los Angeles Kings was the midpoint in the 2011-12 season for the NHL.
Although not every team has played 41 games, there's enough of a sample size to pass out some awards and hand out some superlatives for the season.
Please hand out some awards of your own in the comments.
The Awards That Actually Exist
Hart: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers. He wouldn't win the Art Ross, as Henrik Sedin leads the NHL with 49 points. But he has 48 in seven fewer games than Sedin and has been the most impressive offensive player in the NHL this season — revitalizing Jaromir Jagr in the process. Jonathan Toews and Phil Kessel are also in the conversation.
Vezina: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings. The Red Wings' Jimmy Howard saw his GAA inflate recently, leaving Quick as the goalie that's both a workhorse (35 starts) and a winner (18-11-6) and has the glamour stats (1.93 GAA, 6 shutouts). It's a race with Howard, Henrik Lundqvist and Tim Thomas, but Quick's winning it for now.
Norris: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins. Our buddy Corey Masisak of NHL.com nailed this one: Shea Weber was cruising to this award earlier in the year, but the concussion and the slip in dominance for he and Ryan Suter has opened the door for Chara, who has 25 points and is a plus-27. And that must be an awfully big door.
Calder: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers. Now out with an injury, the Nuge may very well be passed soon in the rookie scoring race by Adam Henrique of the Devil. Henrique and Matt Read of the Flyers are the only two rookies that can match Nugent-Hopkins' impact on their respective teams, but until proven otherwise it's RNH's trophy.
Jack Adams: Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues. Extraordinarily competitive field, with rookie coaches and veteran coaches vying for the prize. We'd give it to Hitchcock, who has gone 18-5-5 since taking over the St. Louis Blues and transforming them into the playoff team they should have been. Kevin Dineen is right there with him, but there's probably a little too much made of him transforming last year's team into a division leader when last year's team doesn't play in Florida anymore. John Tortorella will be right there as well.
Selke: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks. Killing it with a 61.3 faceoff winning percentage and the best two-way player in the NHL right now. Patrice Bergeron's right there with him for this.
Lady Byng: Who cares.
• • •
Best Surprise (Team)
Due respect to the Florida Panthers, but the Ottawa Senators were picked by many to battle the Winnipeg Jets and New York Islanders for last in the East. Instead, they're in a playoff spot despite giving up more goals than they've scored. Kudos to Paul MacLean.
Worst Surprise (Team)
The Washington Capitals played poorly enough to get Bruce Boudreau fired and Dale Hunter hired, and still can't seem to find the consistency and fire they lack. They trail the Panthers by six points, and are a point behind Winnipeg in the Southeast.
Sure, it does require a "but it was against the Blue Jackets" caveat, but Jamie Benn's undressing of their defense en route to a nice snipe at the end was a dynamic tally.
Biggest Surprise Player
Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues. He was already playing good hockey before Ken Hitchcock took over. But through 21 games, he has a 1.62 GAA and a .940 save percentage, which are Tim Thomas numbers.
Worst Surprise Player
With 10 points in 30 games and one goal in his first 14 games with the Buffalo Sabres, Ville Leino went from Pegulaville to Bustburgh.
The Green Jacket
Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes, for posting the most impressive golf score of the first half of the season: 23-under par! Good show, ole chap — we're pretentiously clapping for you.
Most Underrated Player
Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers played outstanding hockey without partner Marc Staal. He's a shutdown guy, he blocks shots, he gives you a little offense. And he'll likely finish 700 votes behind Erik Karlsson for the Norris.
Most Easily Predicted But No Less Impressive Stat
The Winnipeg Jets using their rabid fans and travel advantage to produce a 14-6-1 home record, which has them near the playoff bubble.
Best Winter Classic Moment
Sadly for the actual game, nothing could match the excitement of the alumni game with Eric Lindros's return to Philly and Bernie Parent getting between the pipes.
Best HBO 24/7 Moment
Gee, that's a tough one.
Mark Letestu to the Blue Jackets for a fourth-round pick. A spare part for the Pittsburgh Penguins at the time, Letestu scored 10 points in 25 games for the Jackets. Lord knows the Pens could use him again with their injuries.
Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs going from last-picked in a fantasy draft and watching his former team win the Stanley Cup to being a Hart contender and energizing Joffrey Lupul's career.
Best Redemption Part Deux
Matt Cooke of the Penguins going from public enemy No. 1 to a Lady Byng candidate.
Best Coaching Change
Ken Hitchcock for Davis Payne with the St. Louis Blues, as was stated in the Jack Adams entry.
Worst Coaching Change
While Bruce Boudreau nearly won this award for going 5-9-2 since replacing Randy Carlyle, a late entry stole the prize: Scott Arniel getting canned by the Columbus Blue Jackets in favor of interim coach Todd Richards, simply because it's completely pointless this deep in the season and with Columbus so far out of the playoff picture.
Eight games for Andy Sutton, after he hit Alexei Ponikarovsky from behind. The epitome of "doesn't get it," Sutton was suspended twice in the first half of the season for a total of 13 games. Take heed, Brad Marchand.
The errant stick on Matt Calvert that somehow earned Pierre-Marc Bouchard, a boy scout of a player for the Minnesota Wild, a two-game suspension.
Sorry, we know we're supposed to crucify Arron Asham for his "go to sleep" celebration given that Jay Beagle suffered a concussion and Asham himself called it classless … but we marked out. Better than Artem Anisimov's forced rifle shot on a meaningless goal against Tampa, any day of the week.
Krys Barch's "slip on a banana peel" line comes close, but Wayne Simmonds getting caught on video calling Sean Avery a, uh, "fat head" (or so the Flyers claimed to the NHL) was embarrassing.
Dumbest All-Star Vote
All due respect to the Ottawa Senators fans flooding the ballot box so the locals appear in the All-Star Game, but we don't want to live in a world where Sergei Gonchar garners 603,628 votes and ranks above both Nicklas Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara in the fan voting.
This punch-fest by Jay Rosehill of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Brian McGrattan of the Nashville Predators on Nov. 17 still hasn't been matched — and neither has McGrattan's "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!" motion at the end.
Tyler Seguin of the Boston Bruins missing a team breakfast and earning a one-game scratching in Winnipeg, claiming that his alarm clock didn't go off because it was set to "Boston time." In which case, you know, he would have been awake hours earlier.
Milan Lucic decides to run over Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres, and talks about his own wellbeing: "If you look at the video I was cringing after the play because I was winded because it was such a hard collision. He got a good piece of me as well."
Randy Cunneyworth, Montreal Canadiens, whose greatest sin was being hired on an interim basis to replace Jacques Martin and being a mono-linguistic Anglophone. But that didn't stop fans and politically motivated crap-disturbers to protest his hiring.
Brian Burke's THE RATS ARE RUNNING THIS LEAGUE speech.
Biggest Fall From Grace
Has another NHL player seen his stock fall more than Ryan Miller this season, both in performance and respect?
The Vancouver Canucks at the Boston Bruins on Jan. 7, 2012. Nasty, fun, entertaining and let's have seven more like it in June, shall we boys?
The Philadelphia Flyers at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 9, 2011. Look, the stall to battle the 1-3-1 was a clever tactic that made for squirm-inducing television. But it also made for garbage hockey between two teams on national television.
Biggest Bummer (Currently)
That Sidney Crosby returned from months of concussion rehab, lit up the hockey world with a 4-point night and looking very much like a star again … until concussion-like symptoms returned and Crosby went out again after Dec. 5. Flat out depressing for a hockey fan.
Biggest Bummer (Harbinger of Doom Division)
That the NHLPA's refusal to consent to realignment could mean we're back in labor war hell later this year.
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