NHL: First Quarter Awards
On Tuesday night, the New York Rangers played their 21st game of the season. The last team to do so, the Rangers held off the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 at home.
Now that each team has played 20 or more games, we are one quarter of the way through the hockey season. There have been some pleasant surprises among usual underachievers (St. Louis, Ottawa), and some breakout players so far (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tyler Seguin).
Then there are guys like Phil Kessel. Kessel is off to a great start, and leads the All-Star ballot. It was just last season Kessel was "Mr. Irrelevant" in the new All-Star "fantasy draft."
Nikolai Khabibulin is another one we can chuckle at. Who would have thought the veteran would have the success he's having in net with Edmonton? His .936 save percentage is no fluke.
So, let's get to the individual awards. Is Kessel deserving of the Hart Trophy? Does Khabibulin's reemergence command the Vezina? Pierre LeBrun recently posted ESPN's picks. However, some of them are arguable.
I know there will be disagreements, and some might call me words that would make a nun cry, but here's my take on who is deserving of the Hart, Vezina, Calder, Selke, Norris and Jack Adams trophies.
Jack Adams Trophy
1. Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues: This is no homer pick. Since taking over the coaching job at Scottrade, Hitchcock has the Blues 8-1-2 under his wing. His new defensive style has their penalty kill among the best and has them tops in shots against and goals against. If St. Louis is a playoff team, credit Hitch with the turn around.
3. Kevin Dineen, Florida Panthers: In his first year coaching Florida, the Panthers are sitting only behind Pittsburgh in the East. GM Dale Tallon has put together a good crop of players there and Dineen has handled them well.
Honorable Mention: Bruce Boudreau....I kid, I kid.
1. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings: When it comes to defensive forwards, Detroit has it made with Datsyuk. Leading the league in takeaways, Datsyuk is as scary backskating as he is charging the net. His play has helped Detroit in a big way, particularly netminder Jimmy Howard.
2. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: Maybe it's a Central Division thing. Either way, the Blackhawks captain is among the leaders in takeaways and is the best in faceoffs in his own zone and the opponent's. This warrants him contention with Datsyuk.
3. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: A large part of Boston's recent success goes to Bergeron. The center has just six penalty minutes and is among the best in faceoffs. I think in no more than two years, Bergeron could be regarded as the best two-way player.
1. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins: While Crosby recovered, Letang held down the fort for Pittsburgh. His 19 points is good for third among D-men right now. Without him, it is hard to see Pittsburgh anywhere near the level they're at now. His +5 rating could be better and it should as the season progresses.
2. Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs: Coming into 2011, a lot of Leafs fans weren't too hot on the former Flame. The trade has paid off. Like Letang, his plus/minus could be better, but Phaneuf's play on both ends has Toronto in unfamiliar territory: second in the East.
3. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators/ Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins: This is a toss-up. Weber and Chara are having identical seasons almost all the way around. Both have 16 points, a +13 rating, and average nearly 26 minutes in ice time.
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers: RNH leads all rookies in points. Therefore, Edmonton is grinning ear to ear about the first overall pick in June. He's already got a hat-trick to his name and has been a great asset to this young, progressing Oiler squad.
2. Marc-Andre Gragnani, Buffalo Sabres: The 2005 draft pick has taken awhile to come around, but Gragnani is showing he was worth the wait. With eight points, a +7 rating, and just two minor penalties, he is giving Buffalo a reason to be excited.
3. Adam Larsson, New Jersey Devils: Larsson has been one of two young impressive players for the Devils, the other being Adam Henrique. Larsson has a point in five straight games going into Wednesday night's contest against Colorado. The Swedish youngster also leads all rookies in ice time.
1. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins: Many believed Thomas wouldn't maintain the success he had in 2010-2011. They were wrong. Thomas has been nasty for the Stanley Cup champs. His 1.86 GAA is among the best in the league and his .937 save percentage is league-leading. The Bruins would be significantly worse with Rask in net right now.
2. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings: It's a shame Howard isn't even on the All-Star ballot. Howard's 13 wins is tops in the league and his 1.87 GAA speaks for itself. Howard finally coming into his own will help the Wings a lot moving forward.
3. Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues: I would have laughed if someone told me Brian Elliott would be a top five goalie so far this season. Right now, he has at least made a case. In 11 starts, he has revamped the Blues and has a jaw-dropping 1.31 GAA. This could be the best signing of the off-season.
1. Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs: Kessel is laughing right now. He should be. Last year's Mr. Irrelevant is the best scorer this year and is the biggest reason Toronto has has success in the first quarter of the year. 31 points is enough to award him the MVP award.
2. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: I don't think there is too much space between Kessel and Giroux. For now, the Flyer is just behind. He is among the best in scoring and will likely end the year with this award. His all-around game is phenomenal and the Flyers have a better chance of succeeding than Toronto.
3. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are underachieving. Now picture them without Kopitar. Okay, stop. It's horrendous right? Kopitar IS the team right now, excluding their net-minder Quick.
Steven Conklin is a contributing writer for the Bleacher Report and a student at the University of Central Missouri. He joined B/R in October 2011 and will be a B/R intern starting in January. Any comments, questions or suggestions are more than welcome.
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