Brodeur tops list of award recipients at season's halfway point
The NHL plays 1,230 regular-season games, making Thursday's Avalanche at Predators contest the precise midway point of the season, since it is listed as game No. 615 on the 2003-04 NHL schedule.
And with the halfway point comes a natural time to begin our debates about awards candidates.
As one would assume, the races remain wide open and hard to peg at this point, quite a change from a few decades ago when it was often a foregone conclusion who was going to win the major awards.
The Hart Trophy has been won by six different players in the past six seasons, a big change from when Wayne Gretzky claimed it eight consecutive times from 1980-87.
Five of the seven major awards are voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, of which I am a nonvoting member. Sixty media members (two in each of the 30 NHL cities) have votes, and they cast five votes for each of the following trophies: Hart, Norris, Calder, Selke and Lady Byng. Each of the five awards that the PHWA votes on receives points in a 10-7-5-3-1 format.
The Vezina is voted on by the league's general manager, who each submit three names with five points given for each first-place vote, three for second place and one for third place. And the Jack Adams is determined by the NHL broadcasters, with its voting also in a 5-3-1 format.
I correctly pegged three of the seven eventual winners in last year's halfway hardware column and then hit six of seven in my end-of-the-season version. My lone miss at the end of the regular season was the Lady Byng, which many view as the least significant of the seven major awards.
Here is a list of the NHL Postseason Awards, with links to the history and list of winners. Also, feel free to peek at last year's voting results and check out our 2003-04 NHL Expert Picks to see how much has changed since we gazed into our crystal balls in early October.
Here are my picks for the seven major postseason awards at the halfway point of the 2003-04 regular season. I have ranked my top 10 choices for each award.
1. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey
Even though he's struggled since the Christmas break, the whole of Brodeur's season has been sensational. Datsyuk has exploded as the Wings' go-to guy, which is impressive considering the numerous Hall of Famers in their locker room. Sakic carried the Avs while Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya were out with injuries, and the 2001 Hart winner is in contention again. Sundin has scored clutch goals all season long for the Leafs, leading Toronto to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. The Thrashers' bid for the Southeast Division is alive and well mostly because of Kovalchuk's maturation as an all-around player in Dany Heatley's absence. Naslund and linemate Todd Bertuzzi both finished in the top five in last year's Hart voting, but their numbers are off slightly, though they remain impressive. Tkachuk is having his best season since 1995-96, when he scored 98 points for the Winnipeg Jets. Iginla is back at his 2001-02 level, when he won the Lester Pearson Award and lost a tiebreaker with Jose Theodore for the Hart. Hossa continues to be the Senators' top threat and has carried them back from a sluggish start to a current 10-game unbeaten streak. Palffy has been the Kings' saving grace in keeping them in contention in the Pacific Division while Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh continue to watch from the press box.
Other players who could merit MVP consideration are Daniel Alfredsson, Adrian Aucoin, Shane Doan, Robert Lang, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Marc Savard and Theodore.
Brodeur's combination of career-best numbers and playing on a winning team make him a pretty safe bet unless he collapses in the second half. Aebischer has stepped in and outperformed everyone's expectations of how he'd do replacing Patrick Roy. Luongo keeps the Panthers in games that they have no business being in, and it would be frightening to see how good he might be if he had a solid defense in front of him. Theodore's numbers are comparable to his magical season of two years ago, so a second Vezina isn't out of the question if he can pour it on to close the season. Osgood's play is a big reason why the Blues have one of the top winning percentages in the league despite playing without Al MacInnis for most of the season and without Barret Jackman for 23 games. Belfour helped the Leafs to their club-record 16-game unbeaten streak and remains a top-flight netminder at age 38. Roloson ended the Wild's platoon by outplaying Manny Fernandez, and Rolie has put up monster numbers, even for a trapping team. Kiprusoff was pried from the Sharks by Darryl Sutter, whom Kiprusoff rewarded with an awesome six-week run before getting hurt last week. Vokoun has the Predators contending for a playoffs spot in the West, one year after he posted great stats on a losing team in his first extended shot as a No. 1. Khabibulin put his offseason feud with head coach John Tortorella behind him, and The Bulin Wall has been superb while fending off a nice challenge for more playing time from John Grahame.
1. Rob Blake, Colorado
Blake is the leading candidate to end Lidstrom's three-year run as the reigning Norris winner. Niedermayer has been a force in both ends. Pronger bounced back from his spate of injuries last season and is close to his 2000 Norris form once again. Lidstrom hasn't slipped much, but teammate Schneider has outplayed him thus far. Aucoin has carried the Islanders from the back end, playing a ton of minutes and contributing every night in every facet of the game. Jovanovski continues to grow his all-around game and looks like a future Norris winner, though teammate Mattias Ohlund could garner some support, too, and take votes from Jovo this season. Gonchar leads all blueliners in points with 39, but his minus-22 rating is atrocious and playing on a terrible team won't help him. Souray's unexpected offensive outburst is garnering notice and has the Habs thinking playoffs. Stevens remains a rock in the Devils' zone, clearing bodies from in front of Brodeur with his fearsome checks.
1. Michael Ryder, Montreal
In our preseason Expert Picks, we mentioned Peter Sejna, Jiri Hudler and Tuomo Ruutu, none of whom are likely to get any votes. Only Stephen Cannella's choice of Pitkanen looks good at this point.
Ryder has impressed Habs head coach Claude Julien enough that he has spent a great deal of time on the top line with Saku Koivu. Pitkanen has shown uncommon poise for a 19-year-old defenseman, and he could be helped by the fact that a defenseman won the Calder last year (Jackman). Hunter was named the NHL's rookie of the month for December and tops all Calder candidates in goals (15), plus-minus (plus-9) and is second in points (25). King got off to a terrific start playing on the Canucks' second line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, but he has cooled off a bit and has even been an occasional healthy scratch of late. Bergeron came out of nowhere to make the Bruins and has developed into a key contributor for Boston despite being the youngest player in the NHL. It's hard to judge Fleury because he plays for a bad team and has been gone for three weeks with the Canadian team at the World Juniors, but his poise and athleticism are stunning for a 19-year-old goalie. Lombardi has played valuable minutes for the Flames and is the lone rookie with a hat trick. Staal fought off early struggles and is now a key member of the Hurricanes' power play unit. Stajan is only playing 10:39 per game, but he's chipped in with some timely goals for the Leafs. Pittsburgh native Malone has been a bright spot for his Penguins, with his 18 points ranking him third on the team in scoring.
Niko Dimitrakos and Brett McLean are among the other first-year players who could end up with Calder votes.
Jack Adams Award
1. Andy Murray, Los Angeles
Murray has kept the Kings afloat despite suffering through a second straight season of injuries to key players. Hartley has kept the Thrashers focused and intense after dealing with Dan Snyder's tragic death just before the start of the season. Sutter has turned around the attitude in Calgary and has the Flames competing harder than they ever have, especially in the defensive zone. Wilson is getting incredible efforts out of his role players, with guys like Nils Ekman and Jonathan Cheechoo playing their hearts out for him. The Predators' patience with Trotz is being rewarded as the longest-serving expansion coach is league history is still around to see the fruits of his early labor in Nashville. Hitchcock has the Flyers all buying into his defensive system, even if it took some frustrating times with key players like Jeremy Roenick to get there. Quenneville has expertly woven role players in with his big guns, and the exceptional performances from players like Eric Nickulas and Marc Rycroft has made him look good. Martin kept the Senators focused after a disappointing start led to rumblings about his job security. Burns has the Devils playing better defensively than they did last season, which as you may remember, ended with the hoisting of the Stanley Cup. Stirling has helped the Islanders fight off the bitter taste of a seven-game losing streak to go 10-4-1-1 since.
1. John Madden, New Jersey
Madden is the ultimate hard-working defensive center and is the favorite to win his second Selke. Holik has bounced back after an off year in his first season in the Big Apple, and his overall game is back where it was when he was with the Devils. Rolston uses his exceptional speed to be a scoring threat even when killing penalties. Draper has graduated from the Grind Line (at least temporarily) to become a valuable offensive contributor for the Wings. Maltby remains more true to his third-line roots and continues to backcheck and intercept passes with the best of them. Donovan was long regarded as a top defensive player due to his blazing speed, but his increased offense has resulted in his quality defense gaining more notoriety. Rucchin remains an ace penalty killer and has been a bright spot in the Ducks' disappointing season. Drake has given the Blues more offense than they planned on from him, but his defense hasn't suffered in the least. Adams is one of the most consistent players on the 'Canes, and is the prototype lower-line forward who loves doing the dirty work and doesn't care about getting the glory.
Usual contenders Jere Lehtinen and Michael Peca might not make the list of three finalists this year, as Lehtinen has battled injuries and Peca has had an off year. Other defensive stalwarts who deserve notice including Martin St. Louis (NHL-best four short-handed goals), Ted Donato, Todd Marchant and Keith Primeau.
Lady Byng Trophy
There's not really much to say about Byng candidates other than that they play the game in a classy manner and don't spend a lot of time in the box. Last year's winner, Alexander Mogilny, thought so much about receiving the honor that he skipped the NHL Award Ceremony completely. Former winner Paul Kariya has called it embarrassing to be considered for the Byng.
Other players who could merit consideration include Palffy, Jason Spezza, Sami Kapanen, Ron Francis and Radoslav Suchy.
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for SI.com.