Every NHL club has played at least 25 percent of its games, so it's the perfect time to give the NHL’s top early-season performers their due (based on the NHL’s year-end awards).
Keep in mind these are my selections alone; so direct any fan furor my way, not towards the other (poor) THN souls.
HART TROPHY (most valuable player)
Jarome Iginla, Calgary – I know most non-Flames fans will be frothing with indignation at the thought of this pick, but stick with me for a minute. The Hart Trophy is “given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team,” not the league’s best player. And there’s no player more integral to his squad’s success than ‘Iggy.’
Boston’s done well with the backup in the crease, ditto (so far) for Vancouver. So Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo, keep your seats.
In Pittsburgh, if Evgeni Malkin goes down, Sidney Crosby’s there to pick up the slack. And vice versa.
What about Washington and either Alex? Just like the Pens, if Ovechkin or Semin struggles, the other keeps the Caps chugging.
Any of those six are good choices, but the Flames would be lost without Iginla’s perfect mix of leadership, skill and physical play. He’s also eighth in league scoring, so he edges the others out.
Runners-up: Roberto Luongo, Van.; Evgeni Malkin, Pit.
CALDER TROPHY (rookie of the year)
Kris Versteeg, Chicago – The smallish winger doesn’t seem to be getting the same respect as his freshmen brethren because he’s a little older (22), was drafted late (134th overall in 2004) and was traded (from Boston) before he played his first NHL game.
But the Lethbridge, Alta., native is leading all rookies in scoring, has played a huge role in the Blackhawks’ turnaround and his goal against Dallas Nov. 20 is a candidate for goal of the year.
Runners-up: Drew Doughty, L.A.; Derick Brassard, Clb.
VEZINA TROPHY (top goaltender)
Tim Thomas, Boston - This race was tighter than an Emo-kid’s pants, but Tim Thomas – THN’s cover boy for the upcoming Dec. 14 issue – has to get the nod over Roberto Luongo, despite the fact the Canucks “captain” was on pace to break the modern-day shutout record.
The 34-year-old Thomas is first among NHL starters in GAA and SP and got the fans’ nod for both MVP and best goalie in recent THN.com polls.
Oh, did I mention Thomas is a UFA this summer?
Runners-up: Roberto Luongo, Van.; Henrik Lundqvist, NYR
NORRIS TROPHY (top defenseman)
Shea Weber, Nashville – I said several times during the summer that Preds GM David Poile was genius in getting Weber, a restricted free agent to be, to sign a very reasonable deal before other teams had the chance to knock on his agent’s door with an offer sheet.
Five months later, I’m looking prophetic; Weber has dazzled in both ends posting 10 goals and 23 points, both a blueline best, and a plus-12, tied for fourth best among rearguards.
Nashville fans have been calling for years to have Weber’s name spoken in the same breath as Dion Phaneuf’s. Turns out Weber may be in a class of his own.
Runners-up: Marc-Edouard Vlasic, S.J.; Mike Green, Wsh.
JACK ADAMS AWARD (top coach)
Todd McLellan, San Jose – Normally reserved for coaches of teams that show a significant turnaround, but the impact the former Wings assistant has had on the Sharks is nothing short of remarkable.
McLellan has instilled a skate-and-shoot-then-shoot-and-skate mentality perfectly suited to the Sharks’ skill set. San Jose is on pace to break the record for points in a season, even without the assistance of the “loser” point.
Runners-up: Claude Julien, Bos.; Tom Renney, NYR
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.
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