As we approach Thanksgiving for our friends south of the border, this past week marked the quarter pole of the NHL season. Like any great hockey blog, we will reveal our quarter season NHL trophy winners, and shed some light on who has impressed us, who deserves the recognition, and who we believe will win the Stanley Cup at the end of the year, based on what we have seen so far. Without further adieu, here are the picks!
Back in September, you all had the opportunity to make predictions on who will win the Hart Trophy. It was a unanimous sweep for Sidney Crosby back then. Who wins the Hart Trophy based on what we have seen thus far?
RK. Esq: Definitely Sidney Crosby. He was my preseason pick and has done nothing not to deserve the trophy at this point. 30 points already just past the quarter pole leading all scorers and has the Pens sitting near the top of the Eastern standings.
Ahmad Scientist: I will actually say Ryan Getzlaf based on the first quarter. He finds himself top 5 in NHL scoring with 27 points and is leading the charge for the formidable Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks’ captain is doing everything for coach Bruce Boudreau as Anaheim sits atop the tough Western conference. With a cast of fresh faces, Getzlaf is a key part of making it all work for this resurgent team, evidenced by his 5 game winning goals and +15 rating.
Jaideep: I’ll give it to Alexander Ovechkin. The reigning Hart Trophy winner has continued his impressive form from last season, and his 20 goals represent over a quarter of the Capitals goals on the season. When the Capitals were in President’s Trophy form a few seasons ago, their team looked impressive and deep. Nowadays, more often than not, the Caps seem to be ever more reliant on Ovechkin for their offense, and he continues to deliver.
What about the Norris?There are lots of early candidates?
RK. Esq: PK Subban – a beast on the Montreal blueline playing 25 minutes a game and sitting 2nd in points behind Erik Karlsson. His physical presence on the Habs blueline gives him the edge over Karlsson at this point as he is an imposing force for opposing attackers.
Ahmad Scientist: I’ll go to Sweden, the land of the elite defenseman. Erik Karlsson for me. This Swedish D man is leading all defenceman in scoring with 24 points in 24 games, a ridiculous point per game pace. With his goalie Craig Anderson struggling this season, Karlsson has kept the Senators D together to keep them in the hunt for a playoff spot. The astonishing part is that Karlsson could play even better.
Jaideep: I think Ryan Suter takes it for the first quarter. The Minnesota rear guard leads the league in minutes played, averaging just under 30 minutes a night, and often against the league’s top competition. The Wild have had one of the best goals against this season (2.20), and Suter is a major reason for why they are competitive in the difficult Western Conference. Suter’s point production has been good too, with 15 points in 25 games. Not bad.
Goalie of the first quarter?
RK. Esq: It is tough, between Ben Bishop and Tuuka Rask, but I’ll pick in an extremely close vote… Tuukka Rask.. Tuukka has played heavy minutes for the B’s and has a sub 2.00 GAA and a sparkling .945 SV%. Once again leading the Bruins to the top of the Eastern standings.
Ahmad Scientist: Tuuka Rask as well. Now comfy as ever as the Bruins’ number one puckstop, Rask is taking his game to a whole other level. Sporting a 1.62 GAA and a sparkling 0.945 save %, Rask’s play has been otherworldly so far in this young season. Its hard to imagine anyone challenging him for the Vezina unless his game falls off a cliff.
Jaideep: Hard to disagree with Tuuka Rask. He was my preseason favourite. He brings it on a nightly basis, and to me remains one of the best technical goaltenders in the game. I love watching him play. Two others that deserve merit are Josh Harding and Carey Price. Price’s netminding over the last month has been exceptional, and he has proven that he belongs on Team Canada in Sochi. But at the moment, Rask is slightly better on the season.
The Selke is often hard to judge at this stage, as many pundits put emphasis on the team’s performance over a full season. Who is your Selke winner based on what you have seen?
RK. Esq: The ex-North Dakota man, Jonathan Toews – an absolute force for the Hawks, he brings a strong faceoff presence, has been a load as an attacker and backchecker, and is great at taking the puck away from opposing players.
Ahmad Scientist: It has to be Pavel Datsyuk – Once again leading the league in takeaways with 40, the next closest is Marian Hossa with 33, Datsyuk is vying for his 4th Selke trophy. With a sick pair of mitts and extreme cerebral ability, Pavel is doing it all on both ends of the rink for the Red Wings
Jaideep: This is one of the hardest trophies to judge, and too often the award is given to the players with big reputations. I will actually give it to Frans Nielsen, just to be different. The Islanders forward is always considered one of the best defensive centres in hockey, but had never brought the offense as the Toews, Keslers, Datsyuks or Zetterbergs to be considered previously. Plus, playing on the Island did not help matters. That said, the Danish star is finally bringing it offensively this year. Hopefully he gets some credit league wide, well beyond the confines of this blog post (though I doubt he will, given the Islanders awful season).
One of the most prestigious awards is the Lady Byng Trophy. Wayne Gretzky is a five time winner! Who’s your choice?
RK. Esq: Henrik Zetterberg – currently averaging over a point a game for the Red Wings, has been a great two-way player and sitting with only 4 penalty minutes. Truly a deserving winner at this point in the season.
Ahmad Scientist: Logan Couture – A gentleman’s gentleman, Logan Couture has 23 points in 23 games with not a single penalty minute on the year. Don’t be confused, Couture is difficult to play against but he uses his slick moves rather than undisciplined play to get the job done.
Jaideep: Ugh! Why is this even a question? Prestigious? I suppose it does recognize guys that play hard, but clean, and that in itself is difficult. Especially when you consider a guy like Martin St. Louis. Feisty, plays hard every shift, yet only four penalty minutes. That surprises me considering how hard he plays. A true gentleman, and hopefully a 2014 Olympian too.
This season, we have already seen three coaches get fired (Laviolette-Philadelphia, Dineen-Florida and Rolston-Buffalo). We have also seen some very exciting coaches. Who would win the Jack Adams this season?
RK. Esq: This is easy… Patrick Roy – been a while since we’ve seen a team get out so such a hot start with a rookie head coach at any professional level. The inspiration St. Patrick has brought to the players has reinvigorated a franchise and greatly accelerated their supposed “rebuild” process. A no-doubter here.
Ahmad Scientist: I love Saint Patrick, but I will actually go West, and find Bruce Boudreau – Boudreau is proving that his success with the Washington Capitals was not merely a result of coaching Alex Ovechkin, but rather its his ability to get the most out of his top players, now Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, that makes him a great coach. Boudreau has also been able to manage a potentially sticky three headed goalie carousel, and has made sure his team shows up at home with a 9-0-1 record.
Jaideep: Patrick Roy for me. It still amazes me that the Avalanche are one of the best team’s in the league, and it is the end of November. They have an incredibly young team, and Patrick Roy has made the Colorado Avalanche relevant again. No coach has done more with less (less, in terms of experience) than Roy, and he deserves credit for it.
The Calder Race is once again interesting. Hertl’s four goals in the eye popping image of the season, but who else has been good? Who was the most impressive rookie?
RK. Esq: The guy that made Martin Biron retire! That’s who! Tomas Hertl – while the rookie sensation has slowed a bit since his red-hot start, he still currently leads all rookies in goals and points. Has clearly benefited from playing on a loaded Sharks team, but has more than held his own including a memorable 4-goal night against the Rangers.
Ahmad Scientist: Chris Kreider – After starting the year in the AHL, Kreider has finally figured out how to utilize his dangerous combination of size, speed, and skill to be a difference maker on a nightly basis. He is getting to every loose puck and creating opportunity after opportunity for the Blueshirts.
Jaideep: Seth Jones. He was also my preseason pick, but continues to do the things I expected he would get praised for. He is 30th in the league in ice time, playing almost 24 minutes a night, and has not looked out of place whatsoever. He has also contributed offensively, recording nine points in 24 games. The way that he has fit in, and at times excelled, is very impressive for a 19 year old rookie. At both ends of the ice, and for more of the season, Jones has been the best rookie.
So you guys have spoken about some surprises, like the Avalanche and Patrick Roy. Any other surprises for this season?
RK. Esq: Tell me how many of you saw Steen sitting 2nd behind Alexander Ovechkin in goals at the quarter-pole. Ya thats what I thought. Already with 17 goals, he sits only 7 away from tying his career-best established in 2009-10. He is leading the charge for the hard-playing St. Louis Blues.
Ahmad Scientist: The Tampa Bay Lightning! Finishing last year in the bottom 3, the Lightning have done a complete 180 this season as they started the year on a torrid pace. The play of towering goaltender, Ben Bishop, has been a key reason for their success, but don’t ignore the great development of young players by GM Steve Yzerman. With Steven Stamkos sideline for months now, the Lightning have already started to flounder without their stud sniper.
Jaideep: Colorado continues to amaze me. Most people predicted them to be a lottery team once again this season, but they really have surprised everyone. A defense led by Jan Hejda and Erik Johnson likely would not have feared anyone, especially the much vaunted Western Conference. Yet they continue to find ways to win, and are second in the league for goals against (2.04)! How is that not remarkable?
So we have seen an interesting first quarter of the season. Who do you foresee winning the Stanley Cup after what we have seen thus far? Anyone willing to change their picks?
RK. Esq: Nope. For me, it is absolutely the Boston Bruins – my pre-season pick has not led me to waver on this yet, despite the clear superiority of Western Conference squads. Still possess an elite goaltender and elite defenceman, plus their style of game is conducive to a prolonged playoff push.
Ahmad Scientist: The Chicago Blackhawks – Still tearing through the NHL, the defending champs have given us no reason to doubt them early on. The goaltender Corey Crawford has been shaky at times, but his team always finds away to get the goals they need. With the additions of young players like Brandon Pirri and the return of Kris Versteeg, the Hawks once again have the depth to make a run.
Jaideep: Still my preseason pick, in Chicago for me. Deep in all positions The addition of Kris Versteeg should further help. They will be a formidable opponent for anyone in the playoffs.
Well thanks a lot for your time gentlemen! The first quarter was definitely interesting, with some excellent storylines! We hope to have you guys at the midway point to review the season, and look forward to the year ahead! Readers, as always, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below!
– Jaideep Kanungo, Hockeyland Canada