We have hit the halfway point of the 2016-17 season, which means it’s midseason awards time. And for a change, Wild names are strewn throughout this column, a testament to the job the club did the first three months.
Most surprising teams
1. Columbus: Nobody — nobody! — could have predicted the Blue Jackets would be leading the NHL at the midpoint, especially in the stacked Metropolitan Division. But they became the toast of the NHL with 15 consecutive wins. 2. Wild: Nobody — nobody! — could have predicted the Wild would have the best points percentage in the West at the midpoint, but 12 wins in a row did the deed. Now, expectations are high heading into the second half. 3. Carolina and Vancouver: Both East and West teams are just on the outside looking in.
Most disappointing teams
1. Colorado: The Avs are an embarrassment and now are taking calls on core pieces like Matt Duchene, Tyson Barrie and Gabriel Landeskog. 2. New York Islanders: Last in the East, they lost Kyle Okposo and Frans Neilsen to free agency and signed bust Andrew Ladd. 3. Dallas: Last season’s Central winner is sixth in the division and a train wreck defensively.
Hart Trophy (Most valuable to his team)
This is a two-horse race with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, but at 19, Connor McDavid might already be a top-two player in the NHL. He leads the league in scoring and is a gigantic reason why perennially disappointing Edmonton is firmly in a playoff spot. Runners-up: Crosby; Cam Atkinson, Columbus; Carey Price, Montreal; Devan Dubnyk, Wild.
Vezina Trophy (Best goalie)
The fact Montreal has been so good with the amount of injuries it has endured is verification of how important Price is to the Habs, and Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky has been sensational for the Blue Jackets. But the most consistent and best goalie in the first half has been Dubnyk, plain and simple. Runners-up: Bobrovsky; Price; Braden Holtby, Washington; Tuukka Rask, Boston.
Norris Trophy (Best defenseman)
Brent Burns has turned into the biggest threat from the back end in the NHL. The Sharks’ offense, especially on the power play, is driven through the hairy, tattooed thoroughbred, and this could be the season he is blessed with his first hardware. Runners-up: Shea Weber, Montreal; Ryan Suter, Wild; Erik Karlsson, Ottawa; Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay.
Jack Adams Award (Best coach)
After seeing what Bruce Boudreau has done for the Wild — no long losing streaks, best offense and defense in the West, an expectation level to win the Central — it’s hard not to go with the affable, breath of fresh air. And, perhaps he’ll earn the trophy after Game 82. But after Game 41? Nobody expected anything from the Jackets, so John Tortorella gets the first-half nod. Runners-up: Boudreau; Michel Therrien, Montreal; Bill Peters, Carolina; Todd McLellan, Edmonton.
Calder Trophy (Best rookie)
Most consider this a two-horse race with Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, but Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski, at 19, has to be in the running. He has been dominant on the Jackets’ blue line. But goal-scoring is what wows, and after a 13-game slump at one point, Matthews is absolutely on fire right now and a big reason Toronto has marched up the standings. Runners-up: Laine; Werenski; Mitch Marner, Toronto; Matt Murray, Pittsburgh.
Selke Trophy (Best defensive forward)
The issue with this award is the writers tasked with voting for this hard to define trophy often get lazy and go with the same guys year after year, like the Bergerons and Kopitars. But it’s time Wild captain Mikko Koivu gets his due. One of the best faceoff men in the NHL ranks 19th among NHL forwards and put up a terrific first half, not just defensively, but piling up points. Runners-up: Ryan Kesler, Anaheim; Patrice Bergeron, Boston; Vincent Trocheck, Florida; Eric Staal, Wild.
Lady Byng Trophy (most gentlemanly)
The Wild’s Mikael Granlund and Jared Spurgeon split it.
Staal, hands down. Leads the Wild in scoring after many felt he was washed up.
Best offseason acquisition
1. Staal; 2. Sam Gagner, Columbus; 3. Alex Radulov, Montreal.
Worst offseason acquisition
1. Ladd; 2. Brian Elliott, Calgary; 3. Mikkel Boedker, San Jose.
• The All-Star Game badly needed an overhaul, so it’s hard to rip on the four division, 3-on-3 tournament in its second season that at least gives teams something to fight for in the skills competition (the opportunity to pick your semifinal division opponent and what period you play) and a $1 million prize to the winning team.
“Eleven guys are playing for $1 million, so I know I’d be pretty intense for the game,” Central Division coach Bruce Boudreau said.
But with the format comes roster constraints. Only 11 players (six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies) can be on each of the four All-Star teams. All 30 NHL teams must be represented. So when two divisions in the West have seven teams and two in the East have eight, there are snubs. Some of the biggest: Chicago’s Artemi Panarin, Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele, Dallas’ Jamie Benn, the Wild’s Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu, Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom, Columbus’ Cam Atkinson and Zach Werenski, Montreal’s Max Pacioretty, Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel and Boston’s David Pastrnak.
• Washington’s Alex Ovechkin surpassed the 1,000-point mark last week. He has 546 goals, giving him the highest percentage of goals to points for any 1,000-point scorer in history.
“He is the best scorer I’ve ever seen live,” said Boudreau, his former Capitals coach. “There was one game in Montreal where he scored three on Carey Price that I didn’t see any of the three shots because they were so hard. … It’s not going to be surprising to me if he gets 800, 900 goals.”
• The NHL Board of Governors is expected to vote on NHL participation for the 2018 Olympics in South Korea during All-Star Weekend. By and large, league owners don’t want their players to go.
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 6 p.m. at Chicago
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. New Jersey
Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. Arizona
Saturday: 8 p.m. vs. Anaheim
Sun. NBCSN; Tue., Thu. and Sat. FSN
Player to watch: Patrick Kane, Blackhawks
A year after becoming the first American to lead the NHL in scoring, he is once again in the top three.
“I’ll be like a kid in a candy store. I’ll be getting more autographs than I think any other kid will be.”
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who will coach in his first All-Star Game, on what All-Star Weekend will be like for him.