Ted Kulfan looks at the NHL at the All-Star break
Detroit — The NHL has talked about its parity for many years, touting the ability of many teams to break through and win the Stanley Cup.
Each year, really, it has seemed more teams are capable of winning. This year, though, it’s been crazy.
Six teams were tied at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with 49 points on Thursday morning. The Red Wings were statistically ranked at the bottom of those six. In the West, seven teams were between 48 and 54 points. So, yes, parity has arrived full force, more than ever, in this version of the NHL.
The pre-All Star break portion of the schedule has also been a showcase for wonderful young talent like Auston Matthews (Toronto), Patrik Laine (Winnipeg) and Grosse Pointe native Zach Werenski (Columbus). Here are my award winners along with the best and the worst from the first half of the season.
HART TROPHY (most valuable player)
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh: By a slim margin we’ll go with Crosby over Edmonton’s super sophomore Connor McDavid. This could change, for sure, if McDavid continues his own torrid pace and carries the Oilers into the playoffs. McDavid has proven to be worth all the hype from a year ago. But Crosby has been a force nearly every game, never mind the numbing workload from a short summer after winning the Stanley Cup, to the World Cup, to this compressed, tiring regular season schedule.
Connor McDavid: You watch McDavid on the ice and it’s almost impossible not to gasp at the speed he plays at.
Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota: How has Dubynk become such an elite goaltender, and where in the world would Minnesota be without him?
Also considered: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh; Shea Weber, Montreal.
NORRIS (best defenseman)
Shea Weber, Montreal: Again, this is a fluid contest that could go all the way to the end of the schedule. But the impact Weber has had in Montreal has been impressive. Wonder what those folks who believed Nashville won the trade, when it sent Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban are saying now? Because right now, they aren’t. Weber’s intangibles gives him the edge over Brent Burns.
Brent Burns, San Jose: Admittedly, if you switch Burns and Weber, it would be difficult to argue. Burns is superior offensively with 21 goals and 30 assists (Weber has 11-19), and has become a force defensively for the Sharks. By the end of the season, Burns could easily surpass Weber.
Ryan Suter, Minnesota: The scary thing is, remember when Suter and Weber were a defensive pair in Nashville? Suter is having one of his best seasons for the surging Wild, with a league-leading plus-27 rating, and he continues to log huge minutes.
Also considered: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa; Duncan Keith, Chicago.
CALDER (best rookie)
Auston Matthews, Toronto: Another category where you could make an argument for several candidates. But we’ll give it to Matthews, June’s No. 1 overall pick, who will surely one day carry the Maple Leafs to a Stanley Cup. He has 23 goals right now, plays with the poise of an established veteran, and carries himself like a true pro off the ice.
Patrik Laine, Winnipeg: The No. 2 overall pick in June doesn’t take a back seat to Matthews, at all. Laine has 21 goals, has one of the most electric shots to enter the NHL in ages, and is already a cornerstone of the Jets’ organization.
Zach Werenski, Columbus: The Grosse Pointe native has been one of the big reasons the Blue Jackets have been a first-half surprise. With 27 points (20 assists) and a plus-9 rating, Werenski’s ability with the puck stands out.
Also considered: Mitch Marner, Toronto; Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary.
JACK ADAMS (coach of the year)
John Tortorella, Columbus: Most analysts expected the Blue Jackets to improve on an unexpectedly poor season, but to see Columbus among the NHL’s best teams – they’ve had a 15-game win streak – Tortorella deserves credit for pushing this team near the top of the standings.
Bruce Boudreau, Minnesota: Boudreau only took the Anaheim Ducks so far, and never to a Stanley Cup championship. Maybe it’ll be different with the Wild. He has them playing much more exciting hockey and Minnesota appears capable of a long run this spring.
Guy Boucher, Ottawa: The Senators always had the talent but never really appeared to have a commitment to defense or grit. However, Boucher has Ottawa playing structured, winning hockey along with a good set of assistants under him,
Also considered: Joel Quenneville, Chicago; Michel Therrien, Montreal.
VEZINA (best goaltender)
Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota: The league leader with a 1.91 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, Dubynk also has 26 victories and has been a prime reason the Wild are among the top teams in the West. He’s had a career rebirth since joining the Wild.
Carey Price, Montreal: The statistics are a shade off where they usually are, but there have been few goaltenders better this season than Price, who allows Montreal to play with so much confidence in front of him.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus: Similar to Price, the Blue Jackets are able to attack with freedom because they know Bobrovsky is in net to save most shots he sees. Has stolen more than a few games for Columbus this season.
Also considered: Braden Holtby, Washington; Martin Jones, San Jose.
SELKE (best defensive forward)
Ryan Kesler, Anaheim: The Livonia native has won this award once before and could be in position to win it again. He’s sixth in face-off percentage (57.6 percent), been a force on the penalty kill, and has had a rebirth offensively with 18 goals and 38 points.
Jordan Staal, Carolina: Some analysts wondered whether Staal’s performance would dip without brother Eric, who left in free agency. But Staal has become a leader on this young team, ranking 5th in faceoff percentage (58.3 percent) and leading one of the NHL’s best penalty killing units.
Patrice Bergeron, Boston: Bergeron isn’t having one of this finest seasons, but he ranks 4th in faceoff percentage (58.5 percent) and his Corsi numbers are always among the finest, for the analytics crew.
Also considered: Mikko Koivu, Minnesota; Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles.
LADY BYNG (sportsmanship, gentlemanly play)
Tanner Pearson, Los Angeles: Only seven penalty minutes and has 15 goals this season. Pearson has developed into one of the Kings’ most important pieces.
Jordan Staal, Carolina: Staal plays over 18 minutes per game, and yet only has 15 penalty minutes and has 24 points.
Morgan Rielly, Toronto: A young defenseman averaging over 22 minutes of ice time and only 13 penalty minutes, Rielly is thriving among a great group of young Leafs players.
Michael Grabner, N.Y. Rangers: Grabner has had moments in his career but nobody, absolutely nobody, expected Grabner to have 21 goals for the Rangers at this point of the season. This is mind blowing.
Sam Gagner, Columbus: Gagner appeared to be washed up and out of the league. Instead, Columbus signed him off the scrap heap and he has 14 goals and 33 points.
Zach Werenski, Columbus: Many scouts felt Werenski (Grosse Pointe/U-Michigan) would be a good pro over time. But the way Werenski has stepped in and been an impact player for Columbus is beyond impressive.
Columbus: The Blue Jackets have been a major surprise. Not a roster of stars, by any means, but a group of determined, tough-to-play against players who want to atone for a dismal last season.
Minnesota: The Wild were likely considered to be a playoff team, but many probably didn’t think this group would be this good.
Vancouver: Instead of being among the league’s worst, the Canucks are fighting for a playoff spot.
Ben Bishop, Tampa: The Lightning goalie has been hurt, but when healthy, hasn’t played to his usual elite level, contributing to Tampa’s overall slump.
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles: The Kings’ captain signed a big-money contract before the season and has five goals and 21 assists. Not nearly good enough, and the Kings aren’t a lock to make the playoffs.
P.K. Subban, Nashville: Subban has had back issues, which haven’t helped, but 17 points and a minus-10 rating isn’t what Nashville was expecting while trading away Shea Weber.
Tampa Bay: Steven Stamkos (knee) has been injured most of the first half, and several other impact players have been hurt or had bad seasons. But it’s still surprising to see this group on the outside of the playoff picture.
Nashville: P.K. Subban hasn’t been the impact defenseman many felt he’d be here, and several of their young players haven’t progressed.
Florida Panthers: A slew of bizarre moves and decisions have left the Panthers on the outside of the playoff picture.
MOST LIKELY TRADED
Matt Duchene, Colorado: Everyone knew the Avalanche could struggle this season, but not to this ugly extent. The Avalanche will clean house, and trading away one of their best young forwards will be a start.
Martin Hanzal, Arizona: The Coyotes are about in the same position as the Avalanche, and Hanzal is a prospective free agent who interests Montreal from many reports.
Shane Doan, Arizona: The elder statesman of the Coyotes’ organization, Doan could be in his final season. He may finally be open to the idea of being a rental for a Stanley Cup contender.
KEEP AN EYE ON DURING SECOND HALF
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay: If the Lightning are close in the playoff chase – and despite a ragged first half, they likely will be – can the return of Stamkos ignite this disappointing team into a long playoff run?
Washington Capitals: The Capitals have been nearly unbeatable in recent weeks, just overpowering in every facet on the ice. They’ve been a long time disappointment. Is this the year the Capitals finally break through?
The Red Wings: They’ve been in the playoffs for 25 consecutive seasons. Making a 26th consecutive time will take a lot of work.