The 2018 NHL Allstar break has just concluded and the playoff push is about to start at the unofficial midway point of the season. The first half of the regular season is usually characterized by overachievers and surprises, which throws the name of unheard of players into the races for the biggest individual trophies. The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association released their midseason award winners last week and much to everyone’s expectation, the Tampa Bay Lightning players and Vegas Golden Knights management won big.
Nothing is set in stone but it is always fun to observe the landscape of ‘if the playoffs started today’. Around 33 games remain in the regular season but here are the LWOS individual award winners at the ‘midpoint’ of the NHL season.
2018 NHL Midseason Award Winners
Hart Trophy – Winner: Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The Season that Kucherov is having got off to a flaming start when the right-winger potted 19 goals in his first 26 games. The pairing of him and Steven Stamkos have been the hardest duo in the league to contain and have skyrocketed the Lightning to the best record in the NHL. Kucherov currently leads the league in point with 64 and is spreading around the wealth with 19 powerplay assists and 37 in total on the year. The biggest advantage Kucherov has over the rest of his competitors is that his team is actually in a playoff spot. Both Tavares and Mackinnon appear to have the two best cases for runner-up but both sit out of the playoffs with tough hills to climb.
In the same way that Stamkos was not awarded the Hart Trophy in 2012 when he had a strong case to be named league MVP but the Lightning missed the playoffs, the other two won’t get a shot unless their teams find a way into the spring tournament.
Art Ross Trophy – Winner: Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Runners Up: Nathan Mackinnon, Phil Kessel
Kucherov may be leading the current points race, but there is no guarantee that he finishes on top of the standings. 64 points in 50 games are good but he also had a significant jump on the rest of his competition — specifically Mackinnon. Through the first month of the season, Mackinnon only had 10 points in his 12 games and sat 11 points back of Kucherov’s 21. Kessel – not as far back – had 15 points through his first 15. The two have both been on fire over the last month, Kessel with 17 points in January and Mackinnon with 15. Kucherov, on the other hand, has sputtered with only seven last month and three in his last seven games.
The Art Ross race is wide open as of now but look for Kessel to potentially make a run with the Penguins looking they’re about to role — going 8-2-0 in their last 10 games.
Jack Adams Award – Winner: Gerard Gallant (Vegas Golden Knights)
What Gallant has done with the Golden Knights in the first half of the 2017-18 season is truly remarkable. Many (like myself) had the expansion Vegas Golden Knights projected to finish at the bottom, or close to, the bottom of league standings. With the magic of Gallant, Vegas has done the impossible and has owned the western conference in their first year as an NHL franchise. The roster might not have looked dreadful to start the season, but Gallant has transformed players like David Perron, William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault into elite competitors in their first year playing together. Not to mention, he has had to start four different starting goalies, two of which had never started an NHL game before.
Gallant has turned water into wine this season. He has taken a squad that was thrown together in early June and has turned them into large cup threats after starting the year as 200-1 favourites. Baring a complete collapse, there is no reason that Gallant does not win coach of the year.
Calder Memorial Trophy: Winner – Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks)
The Calder Trophy race is a statement on how October is still part of the preseason. Keller jumped out to an early lead winning the first Rookie of the month award but has since been forced down the latter by Barzal and Boeser. Despite Boeser’s huge all-star weekend, the race is a lot closer than advertised. Barzal became only the fourth player in the last 20 years to record 50 points in his first 50 games and has a seven-point advantage over Boeser in the rookie scoring race. What pulls Boeser away from the pack, however, is that he might be the best player on his team right now. Keller has all but fallen out of the race with a horrible January and Barzal is playing on the same powerplay unit as a Hart candidate.
Boeser has the most goals of the three, is averaging 0.94 per game and leads the Canucks in scoring. Rookies can be streaky so it looks like the Calder will come down to the wire but for the time being Boeser holds the advantage.
Norris Trophy: Winner – John Klingberg (Dallas Stars)
First off, Brent Burns is a -23 and does not deserve this award given the way he started the year. The Norris trophy is often scrutinized for just being handed to the best scoring defender, but Klingberg has been great on offence while improving his defence. The 25-year-old has helped the Stars change their normal goal eating ways and flipped their team goals-against average from 29th in 2017 to 9th in 2018. The change may not 100% fall on Klingberg but his game has definitely matured from a season ago and is helping his team whenever he is on the ice. He leads all defensemen in scoring with 48 points and has only accumulated 14 penalty minutes all season.
The Norris will be the hardest of the major trophies to award at season’s end because of the way a defenseman’s value in 2018 changes every time you ask someone new, but for the time being, Klingberg has the upper hand.
Vezina Trophy: Winner – Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning)
In a year that has really seen a lot of established goalies take a step back, Vasilevskiy has thrust himself forward into the spotlight. The two-goalie system did not work for either him or Ben Bishop last year but now in his first year as a full-time starter, the former 19th-overall draft pick is a star and the front-runner for his first Vezina. Of the four major goaltending categories, he leads all of them for starting netminders. In team stature: he is on the best team in the league. Now all he has to do is remain composed and close out the season the way he has begun it.
There is no case against Vasilevskiy for this award at the moment.
Frank J. Selke Trophy: Winner – Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins)
Bergeron as of now has a solid hold of the award for best defensive forward but both his competitors have been great as well. Kopitar has rebounded in a huge way, already improving his point total and faceoff percentage from last year and Couturier is having an offensive breakout campaign after being dubbed maybe the leagues best defensive forward over the last couple of seasons. However, what separates Bergeron from the two is his dominance at the dot (57.2%) and his recent scoring streak (18 points in 12 games). Tack that on to his small 22 PIMs, his plus 23 rating and 57.9 Corsi for at 5-on-5 and you remember why he has already claimed the award four times before.
Considering the dominance of Bergeron’s line of Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, the 32-year-old really is making contributions whenever he’s on the ice. It will be a close finish but Bergeron has been great and is fully deserving of this award.
Comeback Player of the Year: Winner – Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning)
In the midst of a terrific 2018 season, people seem to forget that Stamkos was playing incredible to start his 2016-17 campaign. That hot start, however, was nullified by a knee injury that forced him to end his season 17 games in. Now in 2018, Stamkos is back to looking like himself. Tampa Bay’s number-one centre currently finds himself fourth in league scoring with 58 points and tied for first in powerplay goals. He is also just six assists back of his best career single-season total. That playmaking ability is something new for Stamkos and has helped his linemate Vladislav Namestnikov top his career bests in goals, and points just 50 games into the season.
Stamkos’ game in 2018 has evolved from when he was younger and was only looking to find the back of the net, but still has one of the deadliest shots in the NHL. His story, point total and team dominance will land him the Comeback Player of the Year award.
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