In 5 ½ months, the top players in the game will gather in Toronto to hand out the hardware at the NHL Awards ceremony. As we hit the midpoint on the season, we’ll have to settle for a hearty round of applause to the players who have topped their respective categories in the season's first three months.
MVP: Patrick Roy, Colorado. St. Patrick has never won a Hart Trophy, finishing second to Mark Messier 10 years ago. I generally subscribe to the same policy for the Hart as I do to the MVP in Major League Baseball. Goalies have the Vezina and pitchers have the Cy Young, so unless they far outdistance the competition, it’s hard to name them as the overall MVP. Well, Roy is doing just that. No player has meant more to his team’s success -- and he's 36. Roy’s record is only 16-11-5 due to the Avs’ early-season struggles, but his 1.83 GAA is 0.77 goals per game less than his career average of 2.60 coming into this season. That, folks, is the definition of a most valuable player.
Best goalie: Roy. Patty wins again, though many other performances in nets have been notable. Tampa Bay’s Nikolai Khabibulin has been carrying his team all season, with a 2.08 GAA and .933 save percentage despite only a 13-16-3 record. That just shows he’s not getting a lot of help, but the Bulin Wall can still dominate a game on his own, as evidenced by his six shutouts for second-most behind Roy.
Best defenseman: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit. The numbers for the Wings’ quiet superstar have fallen off a bit, but chalk that up to having more talent around. Lidstrom still has four goals, 24 assists and a plus-9 rating to go along with his heady play, superior vision, gorgeous skating and team leadership.
Best defensive forward: Michael Peca, N.Y. Islanders. The judging for the Selke Trophy is a lot like trying to pick the best apple pie at the county fair -- you know there are a lot of good ones out there, but it’s pretty hard to tell them apart. More than the other NHL awards, this one is based largely on prior reputation. That said, some of the usual suspects are having splendid seasons on the backcheck. Islanders captain Michael Peca has brought a toughness and willingness to work hard in the offensive zone without the puck that has been contagious for his teammates.
Best coach: Peter Laviolette, N.Y. Islanders. Things on Long Island were pretty grim in recent years, but a combination of Laviolette’s feisty leadership and general manager Mike Milbury’s shrewd offseason moves have the Isles back in playoff contention.
Others to watch: Craig MacTavish (Oilers), Greg Gilbert (Flames), Brian Sutter (Blackhawks) and Robbie Ftorek (Bruins).
Best rookie: Dany Heatley, Atlanta. The Calder Trophy may as well be shipped to Atlanta right now, as Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk are going to continue to wrestle back and forth for it. The two have battled for the rookie scoring lead all season and they are screaming for a nickname -- Wonder Twins, anyone?
For whom the Liberty Bell tolls The fans in Philadelphia will be able to give Eric Lindros their unique brand of a welcome home Saturday. Lindros and the Rangers face the Flyers in a game that has meaning not just in the hearts of the Lindros clan, but also in the Eastern Conference standings. Philly and New York are currently tied with 50 points and are both likely to be in the top half in the East come playoff time. Imagine a Rangers-Flyers Game 7 at the First Union Center in the Eastern Conference semis with Lindros scoring an overtime game-winner. Bobby Clarke would probably swallow his dentures.
Sweet Swede Peter Forsberg is expected to announce his return within the next week or so. Forsberg reportedly underwent another surgery on his ankle after taking a leave of absence from the Avalanche in September while they were in his home country to play an exhibition in Stockholm. Colorado has won just once in the past five games after winning 15 of 21 and could use its No. 2 center back to help boost the offensive production. Forsberg likely will return to the Avs for a few weeks before the Olympics to tune up for his appearance with Sweden in the Salt Lake Games. Forsberg is hoping that his surgically repaired ankle holds up well enough for him to play his grueling, physical two-way game.
Chicago @ Colorado -- Wednesday, 9 p.m. EST This battle between two of the top four teams in the West will be meaningful in the standings for sure, but also for Jon Klemm’s jewelry collection. The former Avs defenseman makes his first trip back to Denver since winning the Stanley Cup with the Avs last June, so expect Colorado to offer up a nice presentation to one of the blueliners who helped Ray Bourque win his first and only Cup.
N.Y. Rangers @ Philadelphia -- Saturday, 1 p.m. EST The stands in the First Union Center may receive an NC-17 rating for this contest, as the fans in the City of Brotherly Love will show absolutely no love to former Lindros, who is making his first trip back to Philadelphia with the Rangers.
Colorado @ Edmonton -- Saturday, 10 p.m. EST Skyreach Center hosts its second huge game of the week, as Northwest Division rival Colorado comes calling Saturday, perhaps with first place on the line. The Oilers are 2-1 against the Avs this season and handed Colorado its most embarrassing playoff loss since moving to Denver in 1998, when Curtis Joseph shut out the Avs in Games 6 and 7 of their first-round series.
Plus: Ryan Smyth
Seven weeks after sliding into the boards and breaking his ankle against Chicago on Nov. 16, Smyth made one of the most miraculous comebacks from injury in recent NHL history. A 10-12 week absence was anticipated, so everyone was shocked and delighted when Smyth stepped back onto the ice last Wednesday to face the Rangers after missing only 21 games.
Minus: Theo Fleury
Mighty Mouse has enjoyed a career revival after missing the end of last season for substance abuse. But Fluery looks to be wound a bit too tight right now and his team is suffering as a result of his mental lapses. Fleury says he will tone down his on-ice antics, which could be stemming from personal problems unrelated to his substance-abuse troubles.
Plus: Joe Thornton
Perhaps in a silent nose-thumbing to the Canadian Olympic team brass, Thornton has been smoking since he was left off Team Canada’s 23-man roster. Thornton scored seven points in four games last week, including a hat trick in Saturday’s rout of the Caps. Boston is 13-0-1 when Thornton gets a goal, but only 10-12-2 when he doesn't.
Minus: Joe Sakic
It doesn’t appear as if Colorado’s captain will go Hart-to-Hart. Sakic is 43 points off his pace from last season and hasn’t scored a goal in nine games, making a return trip to Toronto to pick up some shiny silver unlikely at this point. Of course, the return of a healthy Peter Forsberg would help all of the Avs and open things up for Sakic, Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay on the top line.
Plus: Jocelyn Thibault
Though his numbers aren’t Patrick Roy-gaudy, Thibault’s 23-10-6 record is more than enough to overcome a 2.52 GAA and a .901 save percentage. The Hawks are winning and they probably don’t care if they are winning ugly. But Joz has made things a bit prettier of late -- he hasn't allowed a goal over his last 125 minutes, 37 seconds in net, Chicago’s first back-to-back shutouts since Jeff Hackett did it in March 1998.
"That's as crazy a game as I've seen in a lot of years. It was bizarre in a lot of ways, but not the least of which was, the worse we got, the better the results were for us."
-- Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish, after his team bounced back from a 6-3 deficit to beat the Canadiens 7-6 on Sunday.
"I've said all along I don't really consider myself a goal scorer. But I've been fortunate through my longevity in the league to have an opportunity to reach that milestone and not many guys have accomplished that."
-- Hurricanes captain Ron Francis, after scoring his 500th career goal last Wednesday to become just the fourth player ever to score 500 goals and tally 1,000 assists, joining Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Mark Messier and Marcel Dionne.
"He is a miserable player [to play against] and he comes to play every night. And he can be nasty. If that's the bad, we will take the bad."
-- Lightning general manager Rick Dudley on his team’s 2001 first-round pick, Alexander Svitov, who spit on a Canadian player and punched a Swiss player at the recent World Junior Championships, earning a two-game suspension.
"[General manager Mike Smith] said, 'You can go out and be an average player and things will be fine. You can get 45 or 50 points. Or you can make a decision to want to be a difference on the hockey club and go out and get your 65 or 70 points.' He said that was a decision I had to make, and I took that to heart."
-- Blackhawks center Steve Sullivan, on the motivation needed to make him the NHL player of the month for December.
If your roster needs a midseason talent infusion, take a peek north of the border. The six Canadian franchises have some fantasy studs who would help any roster, according to Dave Wallace.
Most of last week, Eric Lindros was visiting with doctors or trying to keep his fitness level up in the hopes of a speedy return. Big E returned the Rangers’ lineup on Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh and was tested almost immediately. Darius Kasparaitis, the inflictor of Lindros’ first concussion a few years back, took a run at Lindros about 20 seconds into the game and continued to torment him with thumping body checks for the entire contest.
Lindros took three shots, finished a minus-2, but mostly importantly emerged from him first game back unscathed. The Rangers play only twice this week, Wednesday night at the Garden against Los Angeles and Saturday night in Philadelphia, where Lindros will return for the first time since being dealt to New York on August 20.
Follow Lindros' progress this season here in the Head Games section of the Glance every week.
Last week's topic: Who will be the best six players (name three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie please) in the NHL five years from now?
Mike Comrie, Edmonton; Joe Thornton, Boston; Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta; Jay Bouwmeester, WHL (2002 draft eligible); Eric Brewer, Edmonton; and Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Jason Zack, Kiev, Ukraine
Marian Gaborik, Minnesota; Mike York, N.Y. Rangers; Simon Gagne, Philadelphia; Jordan Leopold, University of Minnesota (1999 Calgary draftee); Brad Stuart, San Jose; and Dan Blackburn, N.Y. Rangers Matt Christianson, Las Vegas
Jarome Iginla, Calgary; Milan Hejduk, Colorado; Dany Heatley, Atlanta; Chris Pronger, St. Louis; Danny Markov, Phoenix; and Roberto Luongo, Florida Adam Ruck, Whitby, Ontario
Simon Gagne, Philadelphia; Jarome Iginla, Calgary; Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay; Ed Jovanovski, Vancouver; Wade Redden, Ottawa; and Roberto Luongo, Florida Samy Ousset, Montreal
This week's topic: Now that Jarome Iginla has come back to the pack a bit, who is going to win the scoring title?
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for CNNSI.com. "Week at a Glance" appears each Monday during the season.