Top Shelf: Handing out the first-half NHL Awards

3:11 PM, Mar 12, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With the lockout eating up a large portion of the 2012-13 schedule and turning this season into a sprint, it's already time to evaluate the first half.

In fact, with the Boston Bruins about to play their 24th game of the season on Tuesday, the entire league will have reached the midway point of this shortened campaign. Some teams, like the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, have thrived under the unusual circumstances, while other teams like the Florida Panthers have failed to effectively adjust to the schedule's pace.

The second-half schedule will be just as busy, so what better time than now to catch our breath and take a look at who's on their way to winning hardware this spring.


Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

With a career resume like Crosby's, it's hard to believe "Sid the Kid" only has one Hart Trophy to his credit. Of course, injuries have stood in the way of him adding to his MVP haul, but there's a good chance Crosby will double that total in a few months if he keeps amassing points at his current rate. After missing considerable time due to concussion issues in each of the past two seasons, Crosby has played in every game for Pittsburgh in 2013 and is leading the NHL with 45 points (12 goals, 33 assists) through 26 games. That total places him eight points ahead of Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who could have his MVP chances dashed since his Lightning are in danger of missing the playoffs. Chicago's Patrick Kane and Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf are leading the way for more impressive teams than the Penguins, but Crosby is once again setting himself apart as the league's premier talent. If Crosby wins the award this season, it'll mark the first time an NHL team has had different players claim the Hart Trophy in consecutive years since Boston's Phil Esposito won the award in 1968-69 and was followed by Bobby Orr the next season. Crosby's teammate Evgeni Malkin won the Hart last year, of course.

Other finalists: Patrick Kane (Chicago), Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim)


Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

When reigning winner Erik Karlsson of Ottawa went down with a season-ending knee injury last month, the Norris Trophy field opened up considerably. The dynamic defenseman had six goals in just 14 games this season and, a full month since he's played a game, that total still has Karlsson tied for the goal-scoring league among blueliners. Without Karlsson the race is robbed of the NHL's best offensive defenseman and that's why maybe it's time to open the door for a defense-first guy like Chara to get another look. Chara won the award for Boston in 2008-09 when he scored a career-best 19 goals. He only has four goals and six assists in 23 games this season, but the 6-foot-9 Slovak's unique skill set is still the biggest reason Boston is one of the hardest teams to play against. With Chara looming large in their own end, the Bruins have made a seamless transition in goal this season from Tim Thomas, a two- time Vezina Trophy winner, to Tuukka Rask, who assumed the No. 1 role when Thomas announced he was taking the season off due to personal reasons. When it's time to vote, folks may simply cast their ballots for the highest-scoring defenseman, but Boston's captain is a always a strong choice.

Other finalists: Duncan Keith (Chicago), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Phoenix)


Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators

Just like Karlsson in the Norris, an injured Ottawa player is clouding the race for the Vezina. Anderson has been sidelined due to an ankle injury since Feb. 21, but his numbers through 15 starts are too good to ignore. The journeyman backstop leads the league in both goals against average (1.49) and save percentage (.952) and has an 8-4-2 record through 15 starts. To put that in perspective, Chicago's Corey Crawford, who has played in 16 games, is the next eligible goalie on the GAA list and he is at 1.91. Meanwhile, Crawford may not even been a finalist for the Vezina since teammate Ray Emery's 10-0-0 record in net could cause the Chicago duo to split the vote. As far as Anderson is concerned, there will be a point when he could drop out of this race if his injury continues to be a lingering problem. However, the injury isn't considered to be serious, but Ottawa wants to make sure Anderson is fully recovered before rushing him back. However, if the ankle problem gets worse and causes Anderson to miss several more weeks, then the Vezina field will be wide open one.

Other finalists: Henrik Lundqvist (New York), Antti Niemi (San Jose)


Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

Unlike the Hart, the voting for the NHL's rookie of the year award doesn't necessarily take how good your team was into consideration. That's certainly good news for Huberdeau, who has been phenomenal this season despite playing for a Florida team that is last in the NHL in wins (seven) and points (20). Although Cory Conacher of Tampa Bay leads rookies in points with 20 (seven goals, 13 assists), Huberdeau's 12 goals and 17 points make him a stronger candidate. The centerman was the third overall pick by Florida in the 2011 NHL draft and has made a seamless jump to the NHL this season after spending his previous three campaigns as a junior player with Saint John of the QMJHL. In addition to putting the puck in the net Huberdeau also has shown glimpses of Detroit star Pavel Datsyuk in his game, as the Florida youngster is adept at swiping the puck on defense and taking it the other way.

Other finalists: Cory Conacher (Tampa Bay), Justin Schultz (Edmonton)


Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks

As is often the case, the coaching award appears to be the toughest race to call. Boudreau has led a Anaheim team to an 18-3-3 record out of the gate, putting a team that was supposed to struggle for a playoff spot way out in front in perhaps the league's toughest division, the Pacific. But is that more impressive than the job Michel Therrien has done with even lower expectations in Montreal? Is it more impressive than Joel Quenneville helping Chicago navigate the first half of the season without a regulation loss? There's also the case of Ottawa's Paul MacLean, a finalist for the award in 2011-12, who is somehow getting the Senators to play at a high level despite the loss of Karlsson, Anderson and top centerman Jason Spezza. Still, Boudreau seems to be the safest best to win the Adams since his Ducks have zoomed past this season's expectations and only a full-scale implosion in the second half will keep them from the postseason.

Other finalists: Joel Quenneville (Chicago), Paul MacLean (Ottawa)

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