It’s never too early to talk NHL awards

Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News

Detroit — It seems almost incredible, but the NHL is reaching its quarter-mark in the schedule.

For some teams, the race to 20 games has been an enjoyable journey — Canadiens.

For others, it’s been a downright struggle — Islanders.

But again, parity has been a dominant theme, with 18 teams between 19 and 25 points.

Races to the playoffs likely will come down to the final day(s) of the season. And injuries, as they always do, will be a huge factor.

Key players such as Steven Stamkos (Lightning), Jack Eichel (Sabres), Jonathan Huberdeau (Panthers) and Johnny Gaudreau (Flames), already have missed extensive time — or will in the coming weeks or months.

But at the quarter-pole, let’s take a look at some of the winners and losers of the first 20 games:

Hart Trophy (MVP)

Contenders: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay; Carey Price, Montreal; Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg.

Winner: Price.

Kucherov is turning into a genuine star in Tampa, and appears capable of leading the Lightning in Stamko’s absence, and Scheifele — although few have heard of him outside Winnipeg — is the cornerstone of a terrific young Jets core.

But, Price has been unbelievable. Entering Wednesday’s game, Price hadn’t lost in regulation time (11-0-1) and his 1.58 goals-against average and .950 save percentage are video-game like.

Montreal showed last season it’s not the same team without Price. The same holds true this season.

Norris Trophy (defenseman)

Contenders: Brent Burns, San Jose; Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis, Shea Weber, Montreal.

Winner: Weber.

He probably already should have won this award once, maybe twice, but Weber lost narrow decisions in past years.

So far, Weber would win it in a landslide. Folks who thought Nashville got the best of the straight-up trade for P.K. Subban have been wrong.

Calder Trophy (rookie)

Contenders: Patrik Laine, Winnipeg; Zach Werenski, Columbus; Jimmy Vesey, N.Y. Rangers.

Winner: Laine.

The surprising thing is, Toronto’s Auston Matthews has been fine but not as impressive as these other (and maybe several others) rookies. Werenski (Grosse Pointe Woods/Michigan) has been a revelation and Vesey has been one of the pleasant surprises on the Rangers.

But Laine, who played second fiddle to Matthews leading up to the Entry Draft, has 12 goals and looks like a prolific goal-scorer for many years.

Vezina Trophy (goaltender)

Contenders: Tuukka Rask, Boston; Carey Price, Montreal; Devan Dubynk, Minnesota.

Winner: Price.

Obviously Price would win this award, given his MVP status.

But give a special nod here to Rask here, too, who was 11-2-0 heading into Tuesday’s game with a .946 save percentage.

Surprise player

Contenders: Jonathan Marchessault, Florida; Michael Grabner, N.Y. Rangers; Patrick Eaves, Dallas.

Winner: Grabner.

Marchessault was often a healthy scratch in Tampa Bay but has flourished given a regular role with Florida. Eaves, one of the genuine NHL good guys, may have been dangerously close to being out of the league a couple years ago. Both have nine goals, among the league leaders.

But, Grabner is tied for the league lead with 12 goals and nobody saw that coming. A late signing by the Rangers, Grabner is having a career year to this point.

Can he keep it up? Probably not, but Grabner is been sensational so far.

Biggest disappointment

Contenders: Andrew Ladd, N.Y. Islanders, Loui Eriksson, Vancouver; Mikkel Boedker, San Jose.

Winner (or loser): Ladd.

Boedker has two goals (with minus-7 rating) and Eriksson has seven points (and minus-7) and there are several other disappointments.

But, Ladd, signed to a seven-year contract worth $38.5 million on July 1, is pressing, may have lost a step, and this contract signing looks awful scary if you’re an Islanders fan.


twitter.com: @tkulfan