The West is best. Seven of the top 10 teams in the NHL standings are from the West, and naturally some of the NHL’s best individuals are, too – Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews and Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and Alex Pietrangelo and Joe Thornton and so on.
But for whatever reason – and it isn’t East Coast bias – all but one of our midseason award winners happen to be from the East. Digest. Discuss. Disagree?
HART TROPHY (most valuable player): Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Crosby has continued to prove he is the best player in the world, carrying his injury-depleted team to the top record in the East. He leads the NHL in scoring with 63 points – nine more than anyone else, 15 more than anyone else not named Patrick Kane. He leads NHL forwards in average ice time at 22:07. He leads the league in faceoffs taken with 1,064 – 131 more than anyone else – and has won 51.4 percent.
And he has done all that playing against top competition and starting just 29.6 percent of his 5-on-5 shifts in the offensive zone, according to ExtraSkater.com. Kane, the only one close to Crosby in the scoring race, has started 42.8 percent of his 5-on-5 shifts in the offensive zone.
Crosby has won the Hart once, in 2007. He was the runaway favorite at the midpoint in 2010-11, then missed the second half with a concussion. After playing only 22 games in 2011-12, he was the clear favorite through 36 games last season, then missed the last quarter of the lockout-shortened schedule with a broken jaw. He has not missed a game yet this season, but his biggest challenge is still staying healthy.
— Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks: Getzlaf does it all for the Ducks, who aren’t as deep as the defending Stanley Cup champions but are tied with the Chicago Blackhawks atop the NHL standings. He leads the NHL in points per 60 minutes at even strength at 3.24.
— Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: Yes, he is one-dimensional. But it is so hard to score in this league, and the reigning Hart winner has 31 goals – six more than anyone else. Where would the Caps be without him?
Honorable mentions: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks; Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning.
NORRIS TROPHY (best all-around defenseman): Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
Remember: The Norris Trophy is not supposed to go to the NHL’s best defenseman – offensive or defensive. It is supposed to go to the defenseman who “demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position.”
Keith, who won the Norris in 2010, leads NHL defensemen in scoring with 42 points. He ranks third among defensemen in power-play points with 15, quarterbacking the league’s third-ranked unit. He also ranks fifth in 5-on-5 Corsi at 57.1. percent. That means when he has been on the ice in 5-on-5 situations, 57.1 percent of the shot attempts have been at the opponents’ net. That means the Blackhawks have had the bulk of the possession.
And that means the Blackhawks’ plan has been working. They are built to have their defensemen move the puck to their speedy, skilled forwards – and with Keith and company, the defending champs once again are a top team in terms of possession numbers, offensive numbers and record.
Two caveats: Though Keith plays on the top pair, his burden is eased by the depth of Chicago’s defense. The Blackhawks aren’t a top defensive team (13th), either, and they are atrocious on the penalty kill (28th). But a lot of the goals-against problem has to do with goaltending. They rank third in the league in shots against (27.1 per game) but are 24th in save percentage in all situations (.903), 28th shorthanded (.834).
— Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues: Like teammate Kevin Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo ranks in the top 10 in scoring among NHL defenseman and boasts strong possession numbers for one of the league’s best defensive teams. The big difference: Pietrangelo kills penalties, averaging 3:21, 10th-most in the league.
— P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens: He ranks third among NHL defensemen in scoring with 33 points, and advanced stats say the Habs are a far better possession team when he is on the ice. Knocks: He makes risky plays and doesn’t kill penalties.
Honorable mentions: Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild; Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings.
VEZINA TROPHY (best goaltender): Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
How can you be the best goaltender in the NHL when you’re 11-18-1 with a 2.64 goals-against average? Play for the Sabres. You see a lot of rubber, and you stop about as much as humanly possible.
The Sabres are dead last in the NHL standings. Poor Miller has faced 1,076 shots, second-most in the league, behind Mike Smith (1,100) and ahead of Carey Price (1,038). But he has played 30 games, five fewer than Smith, four fewer than Price. And yet he has a .927 save percentage, tied for eighth in the league, same as Price, well ahead of Smith (.911). Miller has faced 35.9 shots per game played, at least 7.0 more than each of the goaltenders in the top five in save percentage.
Three goaltenders compare closely to Miller: Jonathan Bernier has seen an average of 32.9 shots in 30 games, and he has a .928 save percentage. Semyon Varlamov has seen an average of 31.2 shots in 32 games, and he has a .927 save percentage. Price’s numbers: 30.5 shots per game, 34 games, .927 save percentage. But Miller has still seen at least three more shots per game than each of those three, and all of those three are playing for teams currently in playoff position. Miller has kept stopping pucks at an elite level for a team that is not close to competitive. That’s performance under adverse circumstances – and mental toughness.
— Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning: He has put up a .935 save percentage, best in the league among goalies with at least 15 games played, and has helped the Bolts stay in playoff position despite the loss of scorer Steven Stamkos.
— Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins: He is right behind at .934, having played one more game than Bishop and four more than Josh Harding, who is next in line at .933.
Honorable mentions: Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild; Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs.
SELKE TROPHY (best defensive forward): Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Bergeron matches up against top players night after night. He starts almost three-quarters of his shifts in the neutral and defensive zones. He is part of the NHL’s fifth-ranked penalty kill. He has taken 905 faceoffs, fourth-most in the NHL, and he has won 62.1 percent, best in the league. And he has a 5-on-5 Corsi of 60.6, fifth-best in the league.
In short, Bergeron takes on tough assignments and drives possession. Even though he plays in a solid system and has teammates like Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask, he is a main reason the Bruins rank second in the NHL in goals-against average (2.07).
— Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: The Kings rank first in the NHL in GAA (2.02) and are the league’s top possession team according to advanced stats. Kopitar wins 54.8 percent of his faceoffs. His 5-on-5 Corsi is 61.5 percent, second-best in the NHL, and you can check the boxes for quality of competition and penalty killing.
— Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks are right up there with the Kings in terms of possession, and again, their goals against and PK would look better with better goaltending. Toews is another do-it-all leader – faces top opponents, wins faceoffs, drives possession, kills penalties, et cetera.
Honorable mentions: Craig Adams, Pittsburgh Penguins; Travis Zajac, New Jersey Devils.
CALDER TROPHY (rookie of the year): Torey Krug, Boston Bruins
Krug has 10 goals and 23 points. He would be in contention if he were a forward, but he’s a defenseman – a 5-foot-9, 181-pound defenseman who wasn’t drafted. That’s pretty impressive, even if he plays for a veteran, structured team, even if his coaches have put him in positions to succeed.
Consider that Krug has only five fewer goals than the rookie goal-scoring leader, Tomas Hertl, a centerman taken in the first round of the 2012 NHL draft – who scored six of his goals in his first three games. And consider that Krug has only three fewer points than the rookie scoring leader, Nathan MacKinnon, a centerman taken first overall in the 2013 NHL draft.
— Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: The 18-year-old is living up to his billing with 12 goals and 26 points, and he’s getting stronger. He has six goals and eight points in his past 10 games.
— Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning: When Steven Stamkos went down, the Bolts needed help offensively. Who thought Johnson, a 23-year-old who wasn’t drafted, would rise to the first line and produce 11 goals and 23 points?
Honorable mentions: Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks; Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars.
JACK ADAMS AWARD (coach of the year): Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
When Steven Stamkos suffered a broken right tibia Nov. 11, he led the NHL in goals (14) and points (23). The Lightning averaged 3.25 goals per game and led the East at 12-4-0, after finishing second-to-last in the conference last season. The Bolts have averaged 2.38 goals per game without Stamkos – a huge drop. Still, they have gone 13-8-4 and have held onto second place in the Atlantic Division.
The reason has been their improved goals against – 2.33 per game, fifth in the NHL, down from 3.06 last season, 27th in the NHL. A reason for that has been the play of Bishop, which is why he is listed as an honorable mention for the Hart Trophy in this column. But another reason is Cooper, who preached improved defense and possession before Stamkos went down and has helped the Lightning survive because of it. The Bolts are 10-4-4 in one-goal games and 16-1-1 when they score first.
— Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche: The Avs finished last in the West last season. They hired their old fiery goalie, and now they are in a playoff spot, third in the ultra-competitive Pacific Division. They have come back to earth, though, after starting 12-1-0 and 14-2-0. They are 12-9-4 in their past 25.
— Craig Berube, Philadelphia Flyers: Berube took over for Peter Laviolette after an 0-3-0 start. The team looked hopeless, and he seemed to be a fill-in for the rest of the season. Well, now look: The Flyers are 17-7-3 in their past 27 games and second in the Metropolitan Division.
Honorable mentions: Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins; Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks.