With every team having played at least 41 games, we are now at the halfway point of the 2013-14 NHL season. That means it's time to hand out awards to those who have been the league's best, along with tipping our caps to the season's best goals and saves and dirtiest hits.
Who is the first half's most valuable player? Best goaltender? Top defenseman? Who had the most memorable save through the first three-plus months of the season?
All this and more are answered here. Have your own opinion as to who should win these awards? Feel free to fire away in the comments.
Note: The Art Ross Trophy would go to Sidney Crosby (63 points) at this point, and the Maurice Richard Trophy would go to Alex Ovechkin (31 goals). Those awards aren't subjective, so they don't require discussion here.
All statistics via NHL.com.
Why he's the winner: The only reason Tomas Hertl gets this award is because it's for the first half of the season. If a report is true and he is done for the rest of the season with a knee injury, then his Calder hopes are gone. If he is only out until after the Olympics, then there will be time to catch up.
But for now, he still led all rookies at the official halfway mark with 15 goals and 25 points in 35 games. No rookie has had a finer first half than Hertl.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: The first pick in the 2013 draft could be the biggest beneficiary of Hertl's injury, as he sits one point ahead of Hertl in the rookie scoring race with 26 in 41 games. The big question facing MacKinnon is how the 18-year-old handles the rigors of his first NHL season, and that will be answered in the second half of the season.
Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars: The 18-year-old could be the favorite to win the trophy at season's end. He has immense size for a teenager (6'4", 205) that could benefit him over the rest of the season, and he has been coming on strong of late. He has eight goals and 21 points in 40 games after posting zero goals and two assists in his first 12 games.
Also worthy of consideration: Torey Krug, Boston Bruins; Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning; Martin Jones, Los Angeles Kings
Why he's the winner: Ryan Suter is arguably the best defensive defenseman in the league, and he's also pretty good offensively. He faces stiff competition every night, and his Corsi numbers show he's managing to come out on the positive side of the puck possession game. Via ExtraSkater.com, his Corsi For percentage is 49.8, which is excellent considering his quality-of-competition number is at 29.3 percent.
He also leads the league in ice time at 29:40 per game. Combine that with the fact that he's seventh among defenseman in scoring with 29 points in 44 games, and he's currently the NHL's best blueliner.
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks: It's tough to keep the league leader in points among defenseman off the list, especially when that player is as defensively sound as Keith. He has three goals and 42 points in 44 games while serving as Chicago's No. 1 defenseman.
When Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators won this award in 2012, he did so on the strength of 78 points in 81 games. If Keith finishes close to that mark, the award could be his.
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues: The 23-year-old is tied for ninth among blueliners in points (26) and ranks 10th in ice time (25:34), and he's done it all against stiff competition. His quality-of-competition mark of 29.5 percent ranks him 20th among defenseman, and his Corsi relative of plus-2.3 percent on a dominant puck possession team is very impressive.
Also worthy of consideration: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes; P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens; Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
Why he's the winner: Jonathan Toews is every coach's dream center: He is talented offensively and has great size but also is so good defensively that he can be trusted to match up against the opposition's best forwards. He faces some of the stiffest competition in the NHL yet has been a possession beast on one of the best possession teams in the NHL. He also ranks 11th in the NHL in face-off percentage at 56.8.
Toews is the best defensive forward in the NHL and will likely win the award for a second straight season.
David Backes, St. Louis Blues: Much like Toews, Backes is defensively responsible while providing offensive punch from the center position. Backes kills penalties, hits and has won 52.9 percent of his faceoffs. Should Team Canada and Team USA meet at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, it's very likely Backes and Toews will be seeing a lot of each other in that contest.
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: He is the NHL's leader in faceoffs, winning an incredible 62.1 percent of his draws. He narrowly missed winning the award last year, finishing second to Toews, and he could be headed in that direction again. But as is the case with Toews and Backes, Bergeron can shut down any top line in the league while still contributing offensively.
Also worthy of consideration: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings; Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks; Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks
Why he's the winner: No coach has had more success facing more adversity this season than Dan Bylsma. Consider that before the season even started, he lost Tomas Vokoun for potentially the season because of a blood-clotting issue. Vokoun would have served in an even time share with Marc-Andre Fleury, who entered the season with more question marks around him than The Riddler.
Since then, Bylsma has lost his top-four defensemen, James Neal, Evgeni Malkin and Pascal Dupuis for various lengthy stretches. According to mangameslost.com, the Penguins lead the league in man games lost. Despite all that, Bylsma has his team atop the East at the season's midpoint.
Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings: Babcock has dealt with his fair share of injuries as well, going long periods of time without Jimmy Howard, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and a slew of other key contributors. Despite all the major losses, the Red Wings are still in playoff position in the East.
Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks: Boudreau's club is fighting for the top spot in the NHL standings with a young team that is coming into its own. Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm have been revelations on defense this season with Sheldon Souray having yet to play in a game this season due to injury. The Ducks have risen to the top in a loaded Western Conference with Boudreau leading the way.
Also worthy of consideration: Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks; Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning, Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche
Why he's the winner: Simply put, Ben Bishop has been the most complete goaltender during the first half of the season. Through 31 starts, he is first in wins (22) and save percentage (.936), tied for first in shutouts (4) and second in goals-agaist average (1.83) among regular starters.
The question for Bishop is how he will hold up over the second half, as he entered the season with 45 career appearances. But right now, no one has been better in net this season.
Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild: Harding has been a wonderful story, dominating in net one year after learning he had multiple sclerosis. He ranks third in the NHL in save percentage (.933) and first in GAA (1.65) and has done it all in place of incumbent starter Niklas Backstrom, who lost his job because of Harding's great play. He's not far behind Bishop in the Vezina race.
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins: Rask may be behind the leaders now, but he has more experience than Harding and Bishop, something that could pay off in the second half. He is 21-9-2 with a 1.96/.934 split this season, keeping the Bruins on top of the Atlantic Division.
Also worthy of consideration: Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins; Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens; Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
Why he's the winner: Sidney Crosby leads the NHL in points, something that usually leads to a player winning the Hart. But in Crosby's case, it's a complete no-brainer.
He's by far the best player in the NHL and, now that he's finally healthy, is thoroughly dominating. The Penguins are the top team in the East, despite a rash of injuries that have hit almost everyone, thanks largely to Crosby's outstanding play.
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks: In any other year, Kane would be a runaway favorite for the award. He has 54 points, second-most in the NHL and seven more than the next-closest competitor. He has 23 goals, putting him on pace for a career high in that category, and his 31 assists are evidence of his ability as a playmaker. If anyone can unseat Crosby in the Hart race, it's Kane.
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks: The 6'4", 221-pound mountain of a man has 20 goals and 47 points for the Ducks, who are in a race with the Blackhawks for the NHL's best record. He has the ability to take over games with his size and skill and has done just that on numerous occasions this season. Despite his outstanding play, he's a notch or two below Crosby in the MVP race.
Also worthy of consideration: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals; Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks; Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals
Why it's the winner: You know a goal is deflating when it all but ends the career of the goaltender that allowed it. Tomas Hertl's goal was the type of display usually only seen at an All-Star Game skills competition, yet the rookie had the courage and skill to pull it off in an NHL game.
The goal upset some who believed it was disrespectful to pull that move in a blowout, but it's easily the most memorable goal of the 2013-14 season.
Kyle Turris from Clarke MacArthur vs. Josh Harding: This goal is all about the pass. MacArthur tracks down a loose puck in the neutral zone and finds himself on a 2-on-1 break. As a left-hander on the right side, his angle for passing the puck to Turris is taken away by a defenseman. So instinctively, MacArthur puts his stick through his legs to find a lane to get the puck to Turris, who buries it.
Claude Giroux vs. Curtis McElhinney: The degree of difficulty and the timing of it make it a strong finalist. It's a no-look backhander while falling to the ice, which is enough for any goal to make a list like this. But it capped a five-goal third period against the Blue Jackets and stunning comeback victory.
Also worthy of consideration: Corey Perry vs. Anders Nilsson; Patrick Kane from Brandon Saad vs. Niklas Backstrom; Nick Foligno vs. Ben Bishop
Why it's the winner: Sometimes highlight-reel saves are all luck. A goalie is down, out, desperate and just sticks out a body part in the hopes the puck hits it.
That's not the case with this save, as Jonas Gustavsson is scrambling for sure, but he tracks the puck the entire way and extends his stick to meet the shot of Dion Phaneuf. Everything that happens afterward makes it enjoyable too: Phaneuf raising his arm, the spotlight at Air Canada Centre turning on and Phil Kessel chuckling on the bench.
Kari Lehtonen on John Mitchell: Lehtonen said earlier this season that the NHL's new shallower nets have created more problems on wraparounds. He looked to be in trouble on this chance by Mitchell, but he swung his entire body to the post in order to deny what looked like a sure goal.
Reto Berra on Jack Johnson: The Flames goaltender invoked the spirit of Dominik Hasek on this save, swinging his legs over his head to get across to rob Johnson. For a goaltender who has struggled to keep his save percentage above .900, it's a great moment in a forgettable season.
Why it's the winner: It has all the elements of the type of play no one wants in the NHL. It starts with a slew foot by Shawn Thornton, who sneaks up behind Brooks Orpik and takes him to the ice while he's not looking. That alone is a dirty play, but Thornton adds to it by punching a defenseless Orpik to unconsciousness. Thornton was suspended 15 games, and Orpik missed eight games with a concussion.
James Neal knees Brad Marchand: This act of cowardice occurred mere seconds before Thornton's attack. Neal glides up the ice and sees Marchand on all fours. Neal changes his path and drives his knee right into the side of Marchand's head. Marchand escaped without injury, but Neal was suspended five games by the NHL and was lucky it wasn't more.
Cody McLeod boards Niklas Kronwall: In the non-Bruins/Penguins category, McLeod destroying Kronwall from behind is the dirtiest hit of the first half. It's particularly hard to watch as the Avalanche announcers cackle in joy while Kronwall lays on the ice, completely out of it. McLeod received a five-game suspension for the hit.
Why they're the winner: After years of failure and stockpiling No. 1 draft picks, this was supposed to be the year the Oilers returned to the postseason. They brought in a new coach in Dallas Eakins, bolstered their defense by adding Andrew Ference and improved up front by acquiring David Perron.
None of it has mattered. The Oilers are dead last in the West and already thinking ahead toward next season. It's not so much that the Oilers aren't a playoff team, but that they're not even an improved one.
David Clarkson, Toronto Maple Leafs: He signed the biggest free-agent contract this summer—seven years, $36.75 million—and has been a letdown from the get-go. He was suspended for the first 10 regular-season games for leaving the bench to fight in a preseason game. In the 30 games he has played, he has three goals and eight points.
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: The goaltender has been disastrous and battling injury all season. He is 12-16-2 with a 2.75/.908 split, by far the worst numbers of his career. The five-time Vezina finalist and one-time winner inked a seven-year, $59.5 million extension that begins next season, but he's looking anything like a big-money goaltender this season.
Also worthy of consideration: HBO's "24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs: Road to the NHL Winter Classic" series; Bobby Ryan being left off Team USA; the Buffalo Sabres' third jersey
Why they're the winner: The Avalanche entered the season coming off three straight years of missing the playoffs and with a rookie head coach in Patrick Roy. But everything came together during the first half for the Avs, who are entrenched in a playoff spot right now.
2013's No. 1 pick Nathan MacKinnon has lived up to his billing, Matt Duchene has played like a superstar, and goaltender Semyon Varlamov has been splendid. Yes, the Avs have cooled after a 14-2-0 start, but they're still a great story from the first half.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The team's success is surprising on its own. What makes it that much more surprising is the Lightning have done it without Steven Stamkos for nearly two months. But rookie coach Jon Cooper and goaltender Ben Bishop—a monstrous surprise of his own—have propelled the Lightning near the top the of the East.
Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues: His career best in goals was 24, which were scored over 68 games during the 2009-10 season. Steen has matched that total this season in 35 games this season. The injury-prone Steen has been out with a concussion since Dec. 21, but no matter what he does over the rest of the season, he has had the most shocking season of any individual in 2013-14.
Also worthy of consideration: Phoenix Coyotes; Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders; the success of hybrid icing
Why it's the winner: It was two days before Christmas when two of of the NHL's better teams got together in San Jose, and they did not disappoint. The Sharks were 1:51 away from a 3-2 victory, but the Avalanche received two goals in 12 seconds from Erik Johnson and Jamie McGinn to take a 4-3 lead.
Things looked gloomy for the Sharks, but Joe Pavelski knotted the score with less than 20 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime. The Sharks would win in a shootout on goals from Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau.
Penguins 6, Maple Leafs 5, SO (Nov. 27): The Leafs took a 5-3 lead into the third period in Pittsburgh and looked to be on their way to a big road victory. But James Neal and Evgeni Malkin sent the wild game to overtime with third-period goals. Malkin and Sidney Crosby scored in the shootout, capping a crazy game with 72 combined shots on goal.
Canadiens 4, Devils 3, SO (Dec. 4): It was looking like your routine game through two periods. The Canadiens led 1-0 in the tightly played game, but things unraveled over the final 20 minutes.
Andrei Loktionov and Michael Ryder scored early to put the Devils ahead 2-1, but it wasn't enough. Lars Eller pulled the Habs into a 2-2 tie with 3:50 remaining. But a P.K. Subban stumble led to a Patrik Elias goal with 1:06 left, seemingly sealing the Canadiens' fate.
But David Desharnais scored with goalie Peter Budaj on the bench for an extra attacker to tie the score at 3-3 with 37 seconds left. Desharnais went on to score the deciding goal in the shootout.
Also worthy of consideration: Blackhawks 6, Senators 5 (Oct. 29); Flyers 5, Blue Jackets 4 (Dec. 19); Maple Leafs 6, Oilers 5, OT (Oct. 12)