Someone not named Crosby led the NHL in scoring. Someone named Mike Green led all defencemen in goals.
The first half of the 2007-08 NHL season is in the books and yes, there were more than a few surprises. We take a look back and also take a look ahead.
ART ROSS: When Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby picked up his first Art Ross Trophy last season it was widely believed that it would be the first of many consecutive NHL scoring championships for the 20-year-old superstar. And that’s not to say he won’t end up winning it again this season, because he wasn’t that far away when the league hit its official halfway point over the weekend.
But kudos to Tampa Bay Lightning centre Vincent Lecavalier, who led the league in points for much of the first half. He’s en route to a career season and has sparked some healthy debate about whether he, not Crosby, is the top player in the game right now.
Calgary Flames winger Jarome Iginla also had a monster first half and was second in league scoring so keep an eye on him. Prediction? Lecavalier holds on thanks in part to his linemates Martin St. Louis and Vaclav Prospal.
WAYNE’S DOGS: The rebuilding Phoenix Coyotes were often the most popular choice in pre-season picks to be dead last in the NHL standings, but head coach Wayne Gretzky and his young team had other things in mind. It is simply stunning that the Coyotes were three games over .500 at the halfway mark and just four points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
MIKE WHO? Mike Green, that’s who. The 22-year-old Calgary native is beginning to make a name for himself on the Washington Capitals. His 11 goals were the most by any NHL defenceman at the halfway mark, a remarkable development for a player probably not on anyone’s pool list last October.
“My buddies, that’s about it,” Green, laughing, told The Canadian Press last month when asked how many hockey fans knew he was challenging for the defencemen goal lead.
Under new head coach Bruce Boudreau, Green has been getting tons of ice time and plays the point alongside Alex Ovechkin on the power play. We don’t see Green’s production sliding anytime soon.
MIKE WHO?, PART 2: Mike Ribeiro, that’s who. The 27-year-old Montreal Canadiens castoff has finally blossomed into the first-line centre he was projected to be after collecting 167 points one season in junior. Ribeiro’s 46 points through 41 games were the same as Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin. He’s been rewarded for his breakthrough season by signing a US$25-million, five-year extension with the Stars.
BLIZZARD OF OZ: On a team with Dominik Hasek you’d be hard-pressed to convince anyone that backup Chris Osgood would end up with 19 wins at the halfway point while leading the NHL with a 1.68 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. Sure, a lot of that has to do with Hasek’s health and the Wings’ awesome talent, but Osgood’s twilight resurgence at 35 is a feel-good story to be sure. Which begs the question – is he still just the backup in Detroit?
SECOND-HALF STORY LINES
CHASE FOR 60: Iginla, Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk were all on pace to eclipse the 60-goal barrier at the halfway mark, which hasn’t been done since Mario Lemieux piled up 69 goals in the 1995-96 season. We think Kovalchuk’s got a real shot.
THE MATS WATCH: As much as we believe there’s way too much focus on the Toronto Maple Leafs in this country, we can’t help but agree that the Mats Sundin situation is terribly intriguing. An unrestricted free agent July 1, the 36-year-old’s future with the floundering club is the most pressing issue for the Leafs.
Clearly if they’re out of it by the Feb. 26 trade deadline, the Leafs must either have Sundin signed to a contract extension or traded to a contender in exchange for important assets. No doubt the Sundin stories will heat up over the next seven weeks.
BOBBY LU’S CANUCKS: Roberto Luongo’s Western Conference-leading six shutouts helped Vancouver to a successful first half. Now can GM Dave Nonis help out in the second? Nonis was already on the lookout for a top-six forward but centre Brendan Morrison’s injury stressed the need for the Canucks to add an impact forward.
Did we mention Sundin might become available next month? The Canucks could be a dangerous team with one more piece up front.
OTTAWA GOALIES: For a team en route to a cakewalk first-place seeding in the Eastern Conference, the Ottawa Senators have a found a way to keep it interesting, eh? Much of that has centred around goalie Ray Emery, whose recovery from off-season wrist surgery and then less-than-remarkable work habits in practice in the first half opened the door for Martin Gerber to start the majority of games.
The focus will be on the two goalies in the second half to see who gets the starts. Prediction? Emery is back in net come playoff time.
HOT WINGS: Parity, what parity? The salary cap was supposed to even out the playing field in the NHL – and it did for the most part – but someone forgot to tell the Detroit Red Wings. They were the cream of the NHL in the first half with 30 wins in 41 games. Can they beat their own NHL record of 62 wins set in 1995-96?
JUMBLED-UP EAST: If the Eastern Conference were a painting it would be akin to dropping multiple buckets on a canvass and calling it art. Only 10 points separated second-place New Jersey from 14th-place Washington at the halfway mark with last-place Tampa just a short winning streak away from joining the fray.
Aside from the high-flying Sens, the East is about 14 other teams scrambling for the other seven playoff spots and expect the jostling to go down to the wire. Toronto at Montreal just happens to highlight the last Saturday night of the season.