Who Is The Mid-Season Blackhawks' MVP?
Tuesday night's game against the San Jose Sharks is only the 35th of the season for the Blackhawks, but Christmas is usually a good time to look back at the first half of the season to pick out the team's mid-season awards.
On a "veteran" team like the Hawks, this will be the first time in a couple years that they don't have someone pushing for the Calder Trophy, but the youth is still performing well enough to be at the top of the Western Conference.
After a first half of the season that saw a lot of dialogue, both in joy and frustration, let's look back at the best players on the Blackhawks' roster and try to pick the best.
I know it's hard to put a guy that missed 22 games into the running for the team's Most Valuable Player, but since Hossa joined the team he's been everything the team paid for this summer.
In only 12 games, Hossa already has 10 points (5 G, 5 A) and is plus-three on the season. His presence has also allowed Joel Quenneville to move the lines around, and the Hawks have rewarded their coach by spreading out the scoring incredibly well.
Much like Madden, Sharp's role changed a lot when Bolland went down. A player who came up as a center, Sharp and Kris Versteeg both spent a little time in the circle until Quenneville appears to have settled on Sharp being the second-line center for the next few months.
With the wings by his side changing almost every night, Sharp has been a consistent performer for the Hawks and has been effective in faceoffs as well. He is currently tied for the team lead with 10 goals, is third on the team with 26 points, and is winning over 56 percent of his faceoffs.
If you're not a follower of the Hawks, you're probably wondering who the heck Troy Brouwer is right now.
Brouwer was supposed to be a complimentary third or fourth line forward heading into this season, but has surprised most fans by being a pretty good offensive weapon.
Good enough that he's now "the guy" playing next to Toews and Kane on the Hawks first line.
He's scored eight goals already this year, is second on the team with four power play strikes, and is third on the team with 86 credited hits. He's been a strong, physical player who has made contributions all over the ice in the first half of the season.
WHAT? Huet the team MVP?
I know, I must be crazy to put a guy in the list of candidates for the team's Most VALUABLE Player that was on the top of the Get-Out-Of-Chicago-List in the middle of October.
But give all the credit in the world to Huet for working hard, making the necessary adjustments, and getting better as the season progressed.
As we stand today (before the San Jose game), Huet ranks near the top of the NHL in many categories for goalies, with 2.01 goals against being the most important. He's improved his save percentage to .916 and is coming off consecutive shutouts and being named the NHL's Top Star of last week.
One of the best defensive centers of the past decade, Madden took a pay cut to sign a one-year deal with the Hawks over the summer and has been possibly the best addition for the cost in the entire NHL this year.
The Blackhawks didn't bring Madden in to score (he had 23 points last year), but to be a rock on the third or fourth line. He's here to win faceoffs and help the young Hawks see, from a veteran with a ring, what it takes to be a champion.
But when Dave Bolland was lost to back surgery, suddenly Madden's minutes increased and he was, while not as a primary option still, looked to for a little more scoring.
After scoring only seven goals all of last year, Madden has already scored five this year and has been spectacular in the role the Hawks have asked him to play. Even though he's minus-two on the season, he is generally matched up with the top line of the Hawks' opponents. He's winning nearly 55 percent of his faceoffs this year and has played great while coach Joel Quenneville has shuffled the line to create offense.
The 21-year-old captain of the team missed a couple weeks after a nasty concussion, but has been one of the best centers in the game this year. He's currently winning almost 61 percent of his faceoffs, and leads the team with a plus-16 rating.
Despite missing six games, he's still tied for the team lead with 10 goals, but his clutch shooting has come after the overtime just as often as it has shown up during regulation. Already this year, Toews has been an elite shootout performer as well.
Where do I begin with Kane? He's the team's leading scorer (well, one of five players at 10 goals); he leads the team in assists; he's stepped up his minutes per game to nearly 19 a night; and he's been able to legally drink for a couple weeks now.
Beyond his birth certificate and the stat sheet, what you see on the ice from Kane this year is a stronger, more confident player. There were times the last couple of years, despite his Calder Trophy season and ending last year second on the team in points, that he was physically over-matched on a regular basis. By the end of last year, he was shy in the corners and looked over his shoulder whenever he crossed the circle.
This year, Kane is winning more pucks in traffic, holding the puck better, and his passing has gone to another level. It will be interesting to see how he is used by Team USA in the Olympics because he is truly a special forward.
In locking up Toews and Kane for the next five years, GM Stan Bowman has shown the rest of the NHL that Chicago will continue to be a force on offense.
And the Blackhawks MVP is...
No, it's not the Ice Crew (but you're welcome anyway).
So far, we've looked at a number of strong candidates for the first half MVP of the Blackhawks. Each has brought their own talents to the ice and made the team better while they're on the ice. To review, the candidates we've noted so far have been:
However, there is one player on the Blackhawks that has been the Most Valuable Player this season...
Some trendy fans that have only recently jumped on the Blackhawks' Bandwagon raised an eyebrow when they head Kane and Toews were getting five-year contracts, but Keith was getting 13 seasons. But when you watch what he does on the ice, there's no question that he has become one of the best blue line players in the entire NHL.
Keith ranks second on the team in points (28), second in assists (22), and plays the most minutes of any player on the roster every night (26:44). In fact, Keith ranks third in the entire NHL in average ice time, and his rating of plus-nine is the best among the Top 10 ice time leaders in the league.
Paired with Brent Seabrook (who could easily be a co-MVP), the duo is the front line of the best defensive team in the NHL. In spite of the organization having a recent history of letting strong defensemen go or trading them away (cough, Chris Chelios, cough), Keith's new contract assures Chicago fans that this time the team is doing things right.
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