NHL Hat Trick: What Should You Watch for in the Second Half of the Season?

Matt SitkoffCorrespondent IJanuary 31, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 05:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates during warmups prior to taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 5, 2011 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The unofficial second half of hockey begins on Tuesday night with 13 games. First before we look ahead in this week’s Pucking Awesome Hat Trick, let’s look back at the first half and hand out some hardware. In the ever tight race for first half MVP it came down to three players in my opinion.The sharp shooting Steve Stamkos, all-around superstar Sidney Crosby and goaltender Tim Thomas.

First, I ruled out the Bruins goaltender, mostly because he is my pick for goalie of the first half, and wanted to spread out my awards.

Then I ruled out Stamkos only for the fact that his season can also be pointed to the fact that his line mate Martin St. Louis is also having a superb season thus taking some of my personal votes away for the player currently leading the league in both goals (38) and points (67). So my first half MVP is none other than Sidney Crosby. Let’s not forget that before Sid the Kid missed the last nine games due to a concussion he had a  25-game point streak, the longest in the NHL in 18 years. The center still sits second to Stamkos in both goals (32) and points (66) and his second in command Evgeni Malkin is having a down year statistically.

I have already named my goalie of the first half. Tim Thomas, the player responsible for the Bruins lead in the Northeast Division and current leader in both save percentage (.945) and goals against average (1.81), was an easy choice.

My defense-man of the first half was probable the hardest decision as not one candidate has been outstanding in every category that determines what makes a defense-man above the rest. I went with the former forward/defenseman/forward/back to defense-man in Dustin Byfuglien. Big Buff leads defenders in goals (16) and more importantly already has six game winning goals, as the Thrashers have put themselves into playoff contention. 

Now that we took two steps back, let’s take one step forward and this week’s Pucking Awesome Hat Trick, or the top three story lines I am watching for in the second half.


Trade Deadline Sweapstakes

In none of the other four major sports does the trade deadline matter so much than in the NHL. We sit four weeks away from the day that can decide the fates of so many franchises. In those four weeks teams will have to decide what piece they are away from winning the Cup and how much they are willing to give up to get that piece. 

The tightness of the race in the Western Conference has been well documented but do not be surprised if a good amount of those team’s show their real identity in the weeks to come. As we grow closer and closer to that date check those twitter feeds and TSN trade center as teams step up or punk out. Sometimes it is those deals that are not made in a panic mode at the deadline are what are best for the organizations. February 28th will be an interesting day for hockey writers, fans and general managers.


I am Feeling Dizzy

As the games arguable best player had to sit out the leagues weekend to showcase their talents, the commissioner dropped the knowledge that concussions are up this season. This after an off-season that showed them implement rule 48 to eliminate blind side hits to the head. The commissioner also informed us that blind side hits are down this season and that more of the concussions are happening due to area of accidental or inadvertent situations. I will be watching to see if the number continues to grow and to whom it could cost a run at the Stanley Cup.

I am almost certain that hockey fans will be forced fed some more information pertaining concussions when all 30 GM meet in Boca Raton for their meetings March 14th through the 16th. Concussions are a hot topic among the sporting world as more and more cases are showing their ugly head of how it affects the athlete after their playing days are done. The tricky job of the GM’s will be how you protect the player while protecting the natural physical nature of the game.


Award Season

In the spirit of the movie industry having their award season and how I documented earlier, the race for some of the top awards in the NHL are up for grabs. It will be an intriguing fight for the Art Ross and Hart Trophies. Henrik Sedin put an emphatic stamp on his candidacy for the Hart last season with 32 points in the last 21 games last season. How will Sidney Crosby come back from the concussion? Can Tim Thomas really keep up the pace he is on right now? Will any goalie stop Steve Stamkos from scoring goals? What will the Sedin twins have to say when it is all over? Will anyone please step up and win the Norris?

Those are some of the questions that need to be answer and will have an impact on which player takes home the hardware and more importantly lead their team to a good position to win the hardware that matters the most.