NHL Midseason Awards: Recognizing the Best and the Worst from the First 41 Games
With the NHL season at its halfway point, I've decided why not have a little fun and reflect on some of the big stories from the year so far by handing out some phony "awards."
Unless you've been living buried in ice for this entire season, you no doubt know this has been an extremely interesting year with a whole host of surprises and things almost nobody could have predicted.
With some players and teams succeeding beyond even the wildest predictions and others have found ways to flounder, there's no shortage of trends to reflect upon.
So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to the first ever Kyle Nicolas's NHL Midseason Awards Show.
Who will take home the many various honors and dishonors? Read on and find out...
The Lemonade Award
One of the biggest themes of this season has been a large number of changing in the head coaching position around the NHL.
In total, seven coaches have been replaced behind the bench while several more were new at the start of this season.
Thus, I give this award to the coach who has made the most when life gave him lemons: he turned them into a sweet, refreshing lemonade.
After four seasons behind the bench for the Columbus Blue Jackets, including guiding the team to its first (and still only) playoff berth in franchise history, Ken Hitchcock was fired on February 3, 2010.
He would have to wait until last November when he took over the St. Louis Blues, who parted ways with Davis Payne after a disappointing start to the season.
Since taking over, Hitchcock's Blues have gone 19-5-6 and now sit fourth in the Western Conference.
Congratulations, Mr. Hitchcock for rebounding so well after a dismissal that in hindsight you really didn't deserve.
Claude Noel - Winnipeg Jets
Paul MacLean - Ottawa Senators
The Surprise Party Award
The Surprise Party Award goes to the team that has been the biggest shock so far this season... in a good way.
While there are a number of teams that have performed well beyond the expectations of many at the outset of the season, there is one in particular that has stood out to me.
With that being said: congratulations to the Ottawa Senators.
In what many thought would for sure be the first year of a long and painful rebuild, new head coach Paul MacLean has the Ottawa Senators playing strong, consistent hockey that's winning games.
They're now sitting comfortably at fifth in the East and are only trending up. Erik Karlsson is having a phenomenal year with a league-second-best 38 assists, and Jason Spezza looks like he actually came to play this season with 47 points through 46 games.
Craig Anderson is back to playing solid in goal as well, with a 23-12-4 record.
New York Rangers
The Pie-to-the-Face Award
While a surprise party is pretty awesome surprise, taking a massive pie to the face is not.
Thus, the Pie-to-the-Face Award goes to the team that has been the most surprising in a bad way.
And this one is almost a no-brainer: come on up and prepare your face, Anaheim Ducks.
Just one year removed from an impressive run that saw the Ducks tear their way to a fourth-place finish in the West, Anaheim is on pace for its worst year in franchise history.
The run of form through the first half has been so poor, Anaheim dismissed Stanley Cup-winning coach Randy Carlyle and even had Bob Murray threatening to trade away core players.
They currently sit in 14th place in the Western Conference, and perhaps even more depressing, they're nine points behind 13th place Edmonton.
While they struggle to find answers, time is ticking down fast, and it's becoming more and more apparent that there most likely won't be playoff hockey in Orange County this season.
Los Angeles Kings
The Back Massage Award
Back massages feel pretty good, so thus I give one as a figurative award to the feel-good story of the year thus far.
Get comfy, Winnipeg Jets.
While I was sad to see the Atlanta Thrashers go (and yes, I realize I'm in a very vast minority there), I definitely got a few chills when I heard the roar coming from the MTS Center when the Jets took to the ice for the first time... during the preseason.
It's nearly impossible to tell that the MTS Center is the smallest building in the NHL with the volume levels the crowd reaches every time the Jets take to the ice within its walls.
Since that first glorious night, that building has become possibly the scariest in the NHL, and the team has responded with a very good home record of 14-8-1.
As a result, the Jets appear to have a shot at a playoff spot in their first season of life, quite the impressive feat considering they used to be the Atlanta Thrashers.
The Hulk Trophy
The Hulk Trophy goes to the team that has been the gargantuan giant of the NHL so far this season.
And while it has certainly been tough to say any team has dominated the NHL this year with several different teams making a strong case, the award must be given.
Come on up and flex your muscles for us, Chicago Blackhawks.
I'll admit, at the outset of this season, I really didn't think they were going to be as good as they have been this year.
Currently they sit tied atop the NHL with the New York Rangers on 60 points. But I give them the edge coming out of the extremely competitive Central Division, which is most likely the strongest in the league at the moment with four teams in playoff positions in the West.
Their summer activity saw them bring in some depth veterans which I questioned and even doubted. But they've given Chicago some extremely consistent play, and the Blackhawks have surged up the standings by playing some stellar hockey.
So thus, congrats Chicago, you currently stand as my choice for the humongous power of the NHL.
Now let's just see how long you can keep it.
New York Rangers
The Brown Paper Bag Award
On the other end, I award a Brown Paper Bag to the team that would most like to hide their faces out of pure shame from their first-half performance.
You can go ahead and remain in your seat, Montreal Canadiens, we'll spare you the shame and just have the ushers bring your award to you.
I knew the Habs had been hit hard by free agency, particularly defensively when they lost stalwarts Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Halpern (incidentally, both to the Washington Capitals. But the team has just completely fallen apart this year in a way very few ever imagined they would.
The power play been a nightmare, currently tied for dead-last in the league.
Chemistry has been hard to come by as well, with the Habs currently boasting the 19th ranked offense.
While they've been steadily improving as of late, a stretch of one win in eight games in December did not do the Habs any favors, as they now have a pretty large hill to climb in the second half of the year.
Los Angeles Kings
The Bob Vila Award
The Bob Vila Award goes to the team whose offseason work has so far shown them the most significant dividends and best serves as a model for ideal NHL home improvement.
Come on up and tell us your secrets of the trade, Florida Panthers.
Though admittedly, I don't think there are any secrets with how the Panthers pulled it off.
GM Dale Tallon made a huge name for himself this summer by making a handful of trades on the draft floor to get the Panthers a total of seven picks in the first three rounds of the 2011 Entry Draft.
He then continued his rampage by dealing away the underachievers in his lineup and filled them by going on a shopping spree.
The addition of names like Marcel Goc, Jose Theodore, Tomas Fleischmann, Ed Jovanovski and Sean Bergenheim have made the Panthers into a much more formidable force in the East.
For the first time in many years, the Cats look poised to actually hold on to their spot and make the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
St. Louis Blues
New York Rangers
The Homer Simpson Award
The Homer Simpson Award goes to the trend/phenomenon that has most made me say "D'oh!" while following up with an enormous facepalm this season, and believe me this season has been far from short on controversies and other problems that I hope the league finds a way to work out within the next year or so.
However, unlike any other award, I couldn't pick a winner for this one, so guess what... we have a three-way tie! So congratulations, or I guess a lack thereof, to the following:
Realignment: This is more of a boo on the Players union for failing to approve the realignment plan that would have radically changed the NHL's structure, and double-boo on them because it was for in all honesty a pretty stupid reason.
While I'll admit I hated the new playoff format and increased reliance on divisions (or what would have been known as "Conferences" in the new structure), I loved the idea of going to every building in the league every year and also seeing every team in ours as well. Now that plan is more or less scrapped and the NHL gets to deal with another year of haphazard travel and awkward divisional structure.
Winter Classic: I know that everyone loves to make a big deal out of it, but to me it feels like the annual outdoor game has lost its appeal. For one thing, it only features a select few teams, dubbed "big market" squads and leaves out about half the NHL (who would love to get in on one of the biggest league-wide events of the year, no question).
Or maybe it's the fact that its just lost a little bit of its allure as a spectacle. To me, it just doesn't seem all that special when its just one regular season game and there's going to be another one next season. It's getting repetitive.
I know it's popular among fans, but with it consistently competing with college football bowl games for viewership, I honestly wonder how long the idea will last.
All-Star Fan Balloting: Okay, seriously... if this isn't living proof that fan-voting is nothing but ballot-stuffing by fans of the hosting organization, I really don't know what is.
Out of the top-six vote-getters for the NHL All-Star game, four were Ottawa Senators, all of which I would also argue don't deserve to be labeled a starter.
I'll admit I do actually kind of like the fantasy-draft idea they implemented last season. It changes the game up and honestly until the day of the fantasy draft you really have no idea what to expect going into the weekend. It makes it fun.
But the league desperately needs to find a new and more fair way of selecting starters. Fan balloting clearly doesn't work.
The Pile of Turds Award
I have decided to award a Pile of Turds to the player who individually has been the biggest disappointment so far this season, and this one had a lot of possibilities. You can see that by my list of nominees.
But overall the winner of the biggest underachiever of the year thus far goes to....
The Capitals have been struggling to find their identity, but they appear to be digging themselves out of their funk and should be a playoff team come spring.
It won't be thanks to Alexander Semin, however.
The extremely gifted offensive talent appears to just be extremely lazy this season, having only 24 points through 39 games and a -1 rating.
Two years ago, Semin finished with 84 points and was a +36.
Everyone knows he's capable of producing but so far this season, Semin has failed to reward the Caps, who gave him a one-year, $6.7 million dollar contract for this year.
I'd hardly say he's been worth the money thus far, so don't be surprised if the Capitals trade him away at the deadline just to get something for him before they lose him.
The Bucket of Tulips Award
And now to end on a slightly more positive note: My Bucket of Tulips award, given to who I think has been the most outstanding player in the league through the first half of the season.
This was a tricky selection as well but only one guy really stood out as the front-runner for who should be league MVP so far this season.
Come on up and take a bow, Evgeni Malkin.
Despite the Pittsburgh Penguins being cursed by the injury bug of the hockey gods, the man they call "Geno" in the Steel City has refused to let his team slip into oblivion.
Despite already being injured once himself this season, Malkin has managed to battle his way to second in the NHL's scoring race with 51 points in 37 games.
And get this, Henrik Sedin, who leads the league in scoring with 52 points, has played nine more games than Malkin.
His 20 points in 13 games in December earned him the honor of "First Star of the Month" for the entire NHL.
The hat trick on January 15 against Tampa Bay pretty much is just another accolade on top of an already phenomenal season.
If he can keep it up, expect to see Malkin in the conversations for the Hart Trophy at the end of this season as well.
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