We’re now firmly into the second half of the season, which makes this a good time for us to look back and recognize some of the league’s top players so far. Five members of Rotoworld’s hockey staff were asked to pick their midseason winners for some of the NHL’s most popular trophies. We also threw in some custom categories to keep things interesting.
So who do we think is having the best fantasy season so far? Who is our pick for the Vezina?
Let’s take a look…
Best Fantasy Enforcer
Ryan Dadoun – Chris Stewart
Kevin Brown – Antoine Roussel
Michael Finewax – Antoine Roussel
Corey Abbott – Antoine Roussel
Brian Rosenbaum – Antoine Roussel
It’s pretty rare to find a guy that can both lead the league in penalty minutes and contribute offensively. Not including the shortened campaign, only two of the last five PIM leaders reached the 20-point mark and you would need to go back to Sean Avery in 2005-06 to find the last guy to record at least 30 points while still being charged with the most penalty minutes in the NHL. So the fact that Roussel is both leading the league in that category and has 15 points in 42 games is pretty special.
I broke from the pack to go with Stewart and consequently sacrificed some time in the sin bin for superior offensive numbers and a better plus/minus rating.
Dadoun – Tomas Hertl
Brown – Nathan MacKinnon
Finewax – Chris Kreider
Abbott – Nathan MacKinnon
Rosenbaum – Nathan MacKinnon
Hertl’s knee injury took some of the intrigue out of this year’s Calder Trophy race, but to me, he was the standout in the first half of the season. His four-goal game on Oct. 8 introduced himself to the fans outside of San Jose and while he obviously never replicated that success, he didn’t fizzle out either.
That being said, MacKinnon and Kreider are excellent choices as well. Not every first overall pick can step into the league without enduring significant growing pains, but MacKinnon has more than just held his own with 14 goals and a rookie-leading 28 points in 42 games. Kreider has been a step behind MacKinnon offensively, but he brings a physical edge that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Dadoun - Devan Dubnyk
Brown – Rick Nash
Finewax – David Clarkson
Abbott – Jimmy Howard
Rosenbaum – Henrik Lundqvist
Plenty of people to pick from here unfortunately, so naturally there was no consensus. It’s a sad statement on the Rangers though that arguably their two biggest stars were both worthy of mention. When this season began, we regarded them as a potential contender for the Stanley Cup, but they might not even make the playoffs.
For me, I had hopes that Edmonton would take another step forward this season and Dubnyk would be a part of that. Instead, Dubnyk went from mediocre to just awful. The 2004 first round pick is only 27, but his NHL career might already been edging towards its conclusion.
Dadoun – Duncan Keith
Brown – Duncan Keith
Finewax – Duncan Keith
Abbott – Duncan Keith
Rosenbaum – Duncan Keith
If Keith continues down his current path, he should win the Norris Trophy for the second time in five years. He leads all defensemen in points with 42 in 45 games to go along with his plus-18 rating. He’s also averaging 24:26 minutes per contest while being used heavily in both power play and shorthanded situations. Quite simply, he’s one of the big reasons the Chicago Blackhawks have been dominant this season.
Before settling on Keith, I gave serious consideration to Minnesota’s Ryan Suter. He has 29 points on an offensively crippled team while logging an unreal 29:41 minutes per contest. He’s also second on the team with 66 blocked shots.
Most Pleasant Surprise (excluding rookies)
Dadoun – Josh Harding
Brown – Ben Bishop
Finewax – Dustin Penner
Abbott – Steve Mason
Finewax – Jiri Hudler
As with the biggest disappointment, there were plenty of guys to choose from, so it’s no surprise that there was again no consensus. All of the players named have struggled, in one form or another, over the years only to break out or bounce back in 2013-14.
I went with Harding because of what he’s had to overcome. Since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he’s not only managed to stay in the NHL, but he’s established himself as one of the league’s top goaltenders with a 1.66 GAA and .933 save percentage in 29 games.
I think Jets goaltender Al Montoya put it best to the Winnipeg Sun back in November, “In Harding's case, I can't even imagine what he's going through. It's such a mental game, as we all know. To have that on the back of your mind, speaks volumes about the individual.”
Dadoun – Ben Bishop
Brown – Tuukka Rask
Finewax – Josh Harding
Abbott – Ben Bishop
Rosenbaum – Ben Bishop
Bishop might not be on the United States’ Olympic team, but if the season were to end today, he’d be our pick for the Vezina Trophy. He ranks second among eligible goaltenders with a 1.86 GAA and leads the pack with his .935 save percentage. He also has a 22-5-3 record on a Tampa Bay team that’s had to get by without star forward Steve Stamkos.
Harding is another big contender. He hasn’t played as much as Bishop and consequently has four less wins, but Harding’s 1.65 GAA is the mark to beat in the NHL. Meanwhile, Rask has edged out Harding and even Bishop with his 34 starts. The Boston Bruins netminder also has a 2.05 GAA and .930 save percentage to go along with his 21-10-2 record.
Dadoun – Sidney Crosby
Brown – Sidney Crosby
Finewax – Sidney Crosby
Abbott – Sidney Crosby
Rosenbaum – Sidney Crosby
For me, this was the easiest category to pick and that comes through with the fact that Crosby was our unanimous pick. There’s just been no one better so far. He has an 11-point lead in the NHL’s scoring race and is on pace for 118 points. The Pittsburgh Penguins have also dealt with quite a few injuries to their star players this season, but Crosby’s consistently superb play has kept them going through it all.
Best Fantasy Player
Dadoun – Sidney Crosby
Brown – Sidney Crosby
Finewax – Corey Perry
Abbott – Sidney Crosby
Rosenbaum – Chris Kunitz
Why is Crosby our clear cut pick when it comes to the Hart Trophy, but not when it comes to this category? Well, it depends on how you value players.
Clearly, there is no greater offensive contributor than Crosby, but Perry is both a better source of penalty minutes and has a superior plus/minus rating. On top of that, Perry is a right winger and those tend to be a bit harder to come by than centers. It’s even harder to find a great left winger, which is part of Chris Kunitz’s charm. Kunitz is a step behind his linemate with 23 goals and 48 points in 45 games, but Kunitz has a superior plus/minus rating (23 to 12), has spent a bit more time in the sin bin, and has nearly doubled Crosby in power-play goals.