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Examining the NHL award races at the season's halfway mark

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Many iconic photos have been taken at the NHL Awards — all of which tend to follow the same sort of stock thematic script.

Black curtains and maybe some NHL and sponsor signage as a backdrop, and a delighted legend of the game surrounded by trophies that are so cartoonishly large that some can sit on the floor, while others rest on a folding table, but each remain within an arm's reach.

Wayne Gretzky has taken this photo. Mario Lemieux has taken this photo. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have it, too.

Is it possible that the stars are aligning this season for a legendary before and after?

Ovechkin is neither the MVP betting favourite or the NHL leader in goals at the time of this writing, but it seems exceedingly possible that the 36-year-old can engineer a version of this photo with the grey hair and other dad characteristics he's rocking these days.

Ovechkin has helped pace the NHL goal-scoring race through to the midway mark on the season, and would probably be named the Hart Trophy winner if the season ended today.

There's more work to do and other variables that likely have to come through for Ovechkin to dominate the NHL Awards, but if anyone is stepping through the black curtains to take that legendary photo this June, it seems it's him.

With that, let's take a look at races for the major awards at the halfway(ish) mark on a season that is suddenly moving full speed ahead.

Hart Trophy

Current leader: Alex Ovechkin

Current runners-up: Connor McDavid, Jonathan Huberdeau

This is shaping up to be an incredible race toward the league's MVP.

Should the Edmonton Oilers miss the postseason, therefore presumably taking the last two winners — Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — out of the race, the door swings wide open for so many others to break into the conversation.

Ovechkin and Huberdeau have built the best cases through the halfway mark of the season, each owning a co-lead in NHL scoring. But let's watch out for Auston Matthews, Igor Shesterkin, and Cale Makar, who have set the groundwork for some potentially historic individual performances.

Matthews has flirted with a 60-goal pace, while Makar is projected to have one of the greatest goal-scoring seasons by a defenseman of all-time. Shesterkin, meanwhile, has won 20 games in 25 starts, and leads the league in most meaningful goaltending statistics with dominant numbers at the halfway mark.

Alex Ovechkin isn't showing any signs of slowing down. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Alex Ovechkin isn't showing any signs of slowing down. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Rocket Richard

Current leader: Leon Draisaitl

Current runners-up: Chris Kreider, Auston Matthews

You have to Score the Goals, so Kreider, the NHL goals leader, is technically the current leader in the Rocket Richard race. But if we're using pace and runway left on the season, Draisaitl has a clear advantage in a crowded field that also very much includes Ovechkin.

Here are the current projections:

Draisaitl: 62

Kreider: 57

Matthews: 56

Ovechkin: 55

Norris Trophy

Current leader: Cale Makar

Current runners-up: Adam Fox, Victor Hedman

When it comes to the betting odds, Makar is as strong of a favourite there is in terms of major awards. Yet, there are a number of award-worthy campaigns being built on the blue lines across the league.

Makar checks all the boxes for a Norris candidate as a defender who can satisfy anyone's ideal. He has the numbers with 16 goals and 1.08 points per game. He makes up half of one of the most dominant defensive pairings in the league, driving results for the NHL's best team. He has historical benchmarks within reach as a player comfortably on pace to surpass 30 goals. He is as enjoyable to watch as any player currently lacing them up. Voters will be eager to vote for him as a player that's "due."

That last consideration likely helps him break a potential tie with Adam Fox, who is on the same points trajectory for an elite team, but won the award last season. Meanwhile, Victor Hedman and Roman Josi have been everything (aside from goaltending) for the Lightning and Predators, respectively.

Cale Makar has cemented himself as one of the NHL's best defensemen this season. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Avalanche star Cale Makar has cemented himself as one of the NHL's best defensemen this season. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

Vezina Trophy

Current leader: Igor Shesterkin

Current runners-up: Juuse Saros, Andrei Vasilevskiy

Shesterkin is on a clear path toward winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top performing netminder this season. He wins four of five starts on average and leads all NHL starters by wide margins in save percentage and goals saved above average. The one thing holding him back from being a distant favourite is usage, having only appeared in 26 games to this point.

Closest in comparison numbers-wise, Saros has been the strongest single influence for the Predators, who are exceeding expectations at a level no other team can match. Saros has the workload, leading the league in minutes and saves.

Vasilevskiy edges Tristan Jarry and Frederik Andersen on the basis that he should be considered the best bet to maintain his form through until the end of the season.

Calder Trophy

Current leader: Lucas Raymond

Current runners-up: Trevor Zegras, Moritz Seider

There's a strong argument that Seider's rookie performance has been the most impressive so far, but this does seem like a two-horse race between Raymond and Zegras.

Raymond has a slight advantage over Zegras in goals and points, but the two are deadlocked in terms of per-game production. Seider's overall influence and role as a top-four defenseman would be more meaningful, or at least capture the attention of voters, if he was having the same impact for a more competitive team.

Jack Adams Award

Current leader: Gerard Gallant

Current runners-up: John Hynes, Mike Sullivan

The narrative is built-in for Gallant. Kicked to the curb on several occasions (once literally), Gallant has unlocked the potential of an upstart team in a major NHL market. It's hard to deny his impact for a Rangers team that leads the Metropolitan Division after missing the playoffs last year and willingly surrendering talent in the offseason.

Hynes has arguably had a stronger influence, using less to achieve a high level of competitiveness in the Central Division, but the Rangers' success has been more meaningful than Nashville's. Sullivan deserves a ton of credit for keeping the Penguins playing at a high level through the absences of both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Rod Brind'Amour, meanwhile, is in my eyes far and away the best coach in the NHL and has the Carolina Hurricanes in the President's Trophy race again, but winning the award last season will inherently damage his chances.

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