Detroit Red Wings: Ranking the Top 5 Most Valuable Players so Far This Season
While it's true we're not mathematically at the midway point of the season, the time period between Christmas and New Year's always felt like the middle to me.
Though we've still got more than half of the season to go, it's safe to start making some solid predictions about how the NHL season will shake out.
Looking at the Red Wings specifically, I think we've got enough evidence now to start opining on which players could legitimately lay claim to team MVP honors at the end of the season.
Some of these names could have been penciled in at the start of the year, while others will be pleasant surprises.
Regardless, there are five men who have proven worthy of MVP consideration and while only one will emerge with that honor, all five deserve the recognition for being invaluable members of the 2011-12 Detroit Red Wings.
5. Ian White
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It's not that Ian White is on pace for a career year in his first season as a Red Wing, though he is.
It's not even the fact that he leads the team in plus/minus at a gaudy plus-25, though he does.
What makes Ian White an MVP candidate in Detroit is the fact he's more or less put to rest any fears that the Red Wings would be hurt by the departure of former No. 2 defender, Brian Rafalski.
While Rafalski certainly had more offensive skill than White, his defensive game was compromised his last two seasons in Detroit by the nagging injuries that eventually convinced him to retire last summer.
Getting offensive contributions from White was certainly a need. However, it was gaining a bit of a defensive upgrade that was genuinely hoped for.
So far, so good.
White has been solid as a rock in his own zone this season and habitually makes the simple, yet smart plays to get his team out of trouble.
Though he brings a more physical component to the game than did Rafalski, White isn't careless with his aggression—he has just 10 penalty minutes through 32 games played.
All of this combined with the fact that, on the offensive side, he's on pace to score only two fewer points than did Rafalski in 2010-11, means White is delivering in spades on the promise the Wings saw in him when they signed him back in July.
4. Valtteri Filppula
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It's been a long time coming, but Valtteri Filppula has finally arrived in Detroit.
Long thought to be a player not too dissimilar to Henrik Zetterberg, Filppula has indeed emerged as a dangerous two-way threat.
While his defensive game has always been sound, his offense always lagged behind what many, including himself, saw as his potential.
A move from center to wing was tried last season with some success. However, his permanent flanking alongside Zetterberg has proved the key to unlocking Filppula's offensive firepower.
Well on pace to break the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career, Filppula should finish north of 60 points this year while continuing to be a first-option defensive forward for coach Mike Babcock.
Like his centerman Zetterberg, Filppula is now a player to be feared in all three zones and boasts a higher point total to boot.
If that doesn't get you into the MVP conversation, I'm not sure what would.
3. Nicklas Lidstrom
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Putting a "3" next to Nicklas Lidstrom's name on a top-five list feels really strange as he's nothing but a No. 1 player for the Detroit Red Wings.
At 41, he's still the very best all-around defender in the league and continues to pump in goals from the blueline.
Lidstrom is on pace for 18 goals, his highest total in that department in 10 years.
Additionally, his defensive game is as strong as it was 10 years ago, lending even further evidence to my theory that Lidstrom is not human, but a Swedish-made cyborg with a 100-year half-life.
2. Pavel Datsyuk
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Pavel Datsyuk came out to a somewhat slow start to this season, at least by his standards.
Though he scored 10 points in his first 10 games, they didn't come as consistently as he or the team was accustomed to and his minus-five rating over that same span was most certainly out of place for the three-time Selke winner.
Since then, Datsyuk has fallen right back into his role as on-ice magician.
Nine seasons into his NHL career, Datsyuk continues to dazzle fans and opponents alike with his mind-boggling puck-handling skills, but his hands aren't the only reason he's routinely at the center of hockey highlight shows.
His hockey IQ, physical play, face-off skills and defensive acumen are all reasons why Datsyuk isn't only squarely in the running for team MVP, but could well be considered the best pound-for-pound hockey player on the planet.
1. Jimmy Howard
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If the season ended today, not only am I convinced that Jimmy Howard would be the Red Wings' MVP, he would also be the only logical choice for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top netminder.
Leading the league with 22 wins is one thing, but combined with his individual stats, only a fool would consider Howard anything but a top-five goalie.
Now, there are still those among us who will likely always discount the success of a Detroit goalie with the well-worn, "Yeah, but he plays for the Red Wings" argument. But, in Howard's case, this argument simply does not hold water.
Howard boasts a sparkling 1.95 goals-against average and a solid .927 save percentage, hardly indicative of a goalie whose wins are just indicative of playing behind a strong team.
Indeed, many of Howard's 22 wins came about only because he was in net.
As good a team as the Red Wings continue to be, they still suffer from the occasional slow start which, as late as last season, would routinely lead to losses.
With Howard in goal, the Red Wings can afford to get their legs going through the first period if need be as he more often than not is shutting the door on the opposition early.
Despite Howard's sterling numbers, statistics aren't really what makes him a great goalie.
His aggressive yet sound positioning, athleticism and blossoming swagger can't be measured in numbers, but are well evident when watching him play.
A goalie alone cannot win a team a Stanley Cup, but there is little doubt that Howard now has the ability to backstop a championship team.
Until further notice, Jimmy Howard is the Red Wings' most valuable player this season.
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