January 27, 2009 at 1:00 am

Dave Dye: NHL

NHL masters of the midway (point)

Left wing Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals leads the NHL with 31 goals, and his swagger -- no, sunglasses are not part of the uniform -- might lead Washington to the Stanley Cup. (Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

The All-Star break isn't the true midway point in the NHL season, but play along. Here's my vote for the midseason awards:


Nobody has more fun playing the game than Alex Ovechkin . And nobody plays it any better these days.

He might not win the points title, but he leads in goals (31) and he means more to his team than any player in the league. His swagger has turned the Washington Capitals into a Stanley Cup contender.

Top coach

How can you not take a first-year coach -- San Jose's Todd McLellan -- whose team is tied for the most points in the league?

McLellan deserves the honor, but he also inherited a talented group that has been at, or near, the top in the regular season before. His test will come in the playoffs.

Boston's Claude Julien , meanwhile, took over a team last season that hadn't made the playoffs the previous two years. Boston sneaked into the playoffs and gave the No. 1 seed, the Montreal Canadiens, a seven-game scare.

Now, he's lifting the Bruins to another level with a 10-point lead in the East.

Top rookie

Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos got all the hype entering this season, but he's not even in contention.

Columbus goalie Steve Mason , a third-round pick in 2006, is a shoo-in. He leads the league in goals-against average (2.05) and shutouts (six).

Mason, 20, covers a good portion of the net with his 6-foot-4 body. He has shown the poise of a veteran. He's the type of goalie a previously mediocre franchise can build a contender around.

Best comeback

Nashville left wing Steve Sullivan made an emotional return a couple weeks ago following two back surgeries. He hadn't played since February 2007.

In five games, Sullivan has two assists but is minus-4. Just being on the ice again is a victory for him.

Best additions

With all due respect to Detroit's Marian Hossa , the most valuable offseason signing has been Rob Blake in San Jose.

Blake and Dan Boyle , the best acquisition via trade, have transformed the Sharks' defense and are a big reason they lead the Western Conference.

Boyle was acquired with another defenseman, Brad Lukowich , last summer for defensemen Matt Carle and Ty Wishart , a first-round pick in 2009 and a fourth-round pick in 2010.

Looks like a steal, at least short-term.

Surprise team

Martin Brodeur played only 10 games because of injury, but New Jersey still has the fifth-most points in the league.

So much for the theory this team wouldn't even make the playoffs without its star goalie.

Biggest disappointment

Pittsburgh, the defending Eastern Conference champion, wouldn't make the playoffs if the season ended at the break.

Key defensive injuries and offseason roster turnover have turned this into a two-man team, and not a very good one at that.

Hardest team to figure

One week it looks like the Edmonton Oilers could be a contender in the West. The next week they revert to pretenders.

Their road record (13-11) suggests they have the potential to be a threat. The Oilers are one of eight teams that have won more road games than they've lost.

Then they go back home and fall apart. Will the real Oilers please stand up?

NHL You can reach Dave Dye at dave.dye@detnews.com">dave.dye@detnews.com.

In mourning

 Jean-Sebastien Giguere was voted the starting goalie for the Western Conference All-Stars, but it has been a tough stretch for him. Giguere is 1-5-2 since his father, Claude, died in mid-December. His goals-against average ballooned from 2.86 to 3.68., and his saves percentage fell from .913 to .876. He ranks 38th in the league in goals-against average (3.08) and 31st in the save percentage (.904).
 "It's been a mentally challenging season, and emotionally, too," Giguere told the Orange County Register. "It's been exhausting in that sense. People go through stuff in their lives, and everybody reacts differently. I have to figure out how I can come out of it a better person and a better player. I know it will happen. It's just a question of time."

Dave's top five

1. San Jose: Allowing fewest shots per game (26.8)
2. Detroit: Leads league with 3.7 goals per game
3. Boston: Allowing fewest goals per game (2.2)
4. Washington: Alexander Semin leads team in plus-minus (plus-23 in 30 games)
5. Calgary: Despite impressive record, 13 players have minus ratings

Dave's bottom five

26. Tampa Bay: No. 1 pick Steven Stamkos has six goals, 18 points and is minus-8
27. St. Louis: Leading scorer Brad Boyes has 37 points but is minus-22
28. Ottawa: Defenseman Chris Phillips is minus-20
29. Atlanta: Former Wing Vyacheslav Kozlov has 16 goals and 42 points
30. N.Y. Islanders: Ten players are minus-10 or worse

Early returns

How teams stand in the race for playoff spots at the All-Star break (all haven't played same number of games):
1. San Jose, 73 points
2. Detroit, 68
3. Calgary, 60
4. Chicago, 58
5. Phoenix, 53
6. Edmonton, 51
7. Vancouver, 51
8. Anaheim, 51
Just outside: Minnesota and Columbus, 49
1. Boston, 73 points
2. Washington, 63
3. New Jersey, 61
4. Montreal, 60
5. N.Y. Rangers, 60
6. Philadelphia, 59
7. Buffalo, 53
8. Carolina, 51
Just outside: Florida and Pittsburgh, 50

Ducks goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere lost his father last month. (Debora Robinson/Getty Images)
Montreal's Mike Komisarek (Michigan) (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)