The All-Star break is here. Before we all head to our long weekends free of meaningful hockey, it's time to hand out first half awards and recall some of the dumb, odd, and fun things that happened so far this season.
All decisions below are final. Any disputes should take into account that I didn't pick your favorite player because I hate your favorite team and am completely biased against that team.
Winner: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Also worth considering: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning; Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks; John Tavares, New York Islanders
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If Crawford had played a few more games, I'd give him the award. Crawford may miss the rest of the season or he may be back after the All-Star break; if it's the former, the Blackhawks' season is over before we even get to February. Blackhawks goaltenders that aren't Crawford have a save percentage of about .906, and that's the difference between a wild-card spot and me making an endless array of jokes when the Blackhawks are mathematically eliminated in a couple months.
MacKinnon has 24 goals and 60 points in 47 games and he's done most of it during the Avalanche's surge into playoff contention. What makes him stand out more than Kucherov and Tavares is the fact he's basically doing it by himself. He has 13 more points than second-leading scorer Mikko Rantanen and 24 more points than third-leading scorer Gabriel Landeskog.
Worst Owner Award
Winner: Eugene Melnyk, Ottawa Senators
Also worth considering: Clayton Riddell/Murray Edwards, Calgary Flames; Ron Burkle/Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins
I won't do a blow-by-blow of all the horrid things done by Melnyk this season, but he's hands down the worst owner in the league right now. He basically checks all the boxes—he's cheap despite his wealth, has threatened to relocate the team, and is actively considering trading the franchise's best player. If Melnyk were the bad guy in a sports movie you'd think he was too unrealistic.
Flames and Penguins ownership are trash in different ways. Two billionaires in Calgary want residents to buy them a new arena while the guys in Pittsburgh were happy to make their team go to the White House.
Winner: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
Also worth considering: Mike Smith, Calgary Flames; Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks; Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
Vasilevskiy leads all goaltenders with at least 35 starts in every major category—save percentage, goals-against average, wins, shutouts. You can't help but wonder if the Lightning have a Stanley Cup right now if they turned to him over Bishop a year or two sooner. Getting everyone to peak at the right time is difficult. This is why time travel should be allowed in sports.
Smith and Hellebuyck are the biggest reasons their teams are in playoff spots. It's Vasilevskiy's trophy to lose but there are a lot of goaltenders in that second tier that could catch him with a great second half. Looking at you, Tuukka Rask.
Baby Driver Award (Most Disappointing Team)
Winner: Edmonton Oilers
Also worth considering: Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Carolina Hurricanes
The Oilers went from one game shy of a trip to the conference finals to eliminated from playoff contention the following season in record time. It's over now but you can make a case the Oilers were done a month into the season, which isn't entirely unexpected since Peter Chiarelli has been getting 30 cents on the dollar for assets since he arrived.
There are various reasons for the other teams worth considering but the Oilers going from team on the rise to lottery hopefuls in less than a year is too much.
Winner: John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
Also worth considering: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; PK Subban, Nashville Predators; Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Is there something about being an elite defenseman in Dallas that causes people to overlook you? As the world's leading cheerleader for Sergei Zubov's Hall of Fame candidacy, I'm not surprised that Klingberg leads all defensemen in scoring by at least nine points and there are Norris candidate lists he doesn't even make. I'm not saying he's a slam-dunk no-brainer, as you can make a great case for Subban considering he starts like every shift in his own zone, but Klingberg has been the guy we thought he was going to be a couple years ago.
With Erik Karlsson having a down year, the race is as wide open as it's been in a long time. Is this the year voters decide to give Alex Pietrangelo the award out of pity like they did for Doughty? This sport is extremely stupid so it can't be ruled out. Klingberg should apply for Canadian citizenship immediately just to be safe.
Fan Sadness Award
Winner: NHL skipping the Olympics
Also worth considering: Jaromir Jagr's career (likely) ending
The fact we're not getting a Jagr farewell tour or a trip to the playoffs is really sad, but Jagr's career has been like the original Law & Order—we got 20 great seasons so we can't be all that sad about it finally going away. Maybe Jagr will part ways with the Flames and latch on somewhere else, but as of now, he's not playing and it sucks.
But once every four years, we get treated to two weeks of the best hockey on the planet at the Olympics and now that's gone because of short-sightedness and greed. We can blame the NHL or the IOC or whoever you like, but at the end of the day, it's just another example of hockey fans not getting what they desperately want. Hearing about all the rosters without NHL stars just makes it all the worse.
Winner: Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
Also worth considering: Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
Flip a damn coin, man. I don't know. You know how in March some local beat guy writes a story about how a player on that guy's team should be "in the discussion" for an award when really that player will at best finish ninth in voting? That's the Calder this year. Clayton Keller is great but this is a two-horse race. The only Calder discussion involving Keller should be asking him if he think Boeser or Barzal will win rookie of the year.
I'm leaning Boeser because of the goals (24) and the fact he's on a way worse team than Barzal. It's not that Tavares is carrying Barzal or anything but man that Canucks team is terrible. The Islanders have talent throughout their top nine while Canucks fans are raving about Thomas Vanek's season.
Barzal has 50 points in 49 games; Boeser has 43 points in 45 games. Let's meet back here in April and figure this out then.
Weirdest Story Award
Winner: No coach has been fired this season
Also worth considering: Vegas rising to the top of the league
This one was hard to pick. If you asked me before the season which I thought had a better chance of happening, I'd probably pick the coach option. But after watching half the season, I can chalk up the Knights being really good to so many GMs being really bad at evaluating talent. Using hindsight, one team taking advantage of all that should have been something to consider.
This is the first time in more than 50 years no coach was fired during the first half of the season. Some of it has to do with struggling teams having coaches in their first year with a team but man, there are still plenty of candidates. Todd McLellan in Edmonton. Alain Vigneault in New York. Dave Hakstol in Philadelphia. It's not that they all deserve to be fired but coaches have been fired for less in shorter amounts of time. There's even talk Joel Quenneville may get the axe before the season is over.
But yeah, William Karlsson heading toward a Rocket Richard Trophy while the Knights fight for the Presidents' Trophy is its own kind of strange.
Jack Adams Award
Winner: Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
Also worth considering: Jared Bednar, Colorado Avalanche; John Hynes, New Jersey Devils; Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins; Ken Hitchcock, Dallas Stars
It's probably a toss up between Gallant and Bednar. This award always goes to the coach of the team we all thought would suck the most before the season then made the playoffs, and the Knights and Avs fit those descriptions. I give it to Gallant because he took a group of guys that never played together and made them the best team in the NHL (based on the standings). The Avs were awful last year but I'm sure a lot of that had to do with Professional Quitter Patrick Roy quitting right before the season and leaving Bednar holding the bag.
All the other guys listed would have great chances in any other season.
Dumbest NHL Thing Trophy
Winner: Kid Rock at the All-Star Game
Also worth considering: The Declaration of Principles, Penguins visiting the White House
Associating your league with Kid Rock is easily the dumbest thing the NHL has done in a long time, but doing it a few months after the whole Declaration of Principles stuff amplifies it. The Declaration of Principles itself was corny at best, and at worst it became a hypocritical joke that makes the NHL's pledge of inclusiveness look empty with Kid Rock and a White House visit following it.
Luckily for the NHL, we still have the second half of the season to see if the league can outdo itself.