The Florida Panthers have made the playoffs once since 2000 and haven’t won a playoff round since 1996.
So, there are Panthers fans in college who have no recollection of the glory days of Beezer and Mell and Screwy and JovoCop and plastic rats flooding the ice after every goal during the Panthers’ Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final in only their third season.
But this season, behind the great play of kids Aaron Ekblad, Aleks Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau and the rise once again of soon-to-be 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr, the Panthers just reeled off a franchise-record 12-game winning streak and a 13-game point streak to sit atop the Atlantic Division.
So as if I hand out my midseason awards as if the season ended today, we’ll start with the Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year): The Panthers were the NHL’s feel-good story of the first half, and for that reason my Jack Adams vote (broadcasters actually vote for this) would go to Florida’s Gerrard Gallant. Runners-up: Washington’s Barry Trotz; New Jersey’s John Hynes; Arizona’s Dave Tippett; Los Angeles’ Darryl Sutter.
Hart Trophy (Most valuable player to his team): Remember, the definition isn’t MVP of the league. This is why last season, I was all about the Wild’s Devan Dubnyk. I’m tempted to pick Dallas’ Jamie Benn, but how much of his awesome first half had to do with Tyler Seguin playing alongside him … and vice versa? What Patrick Kane did in the first half was simply extraordinary. After not skating for much of the summer because of an off-ice issue, the Blackhawks star playing for the NHL’s hottest team leads the league in scoring by a wide margin and had points in 26 consecutive games. He’s my winner. Runners-up: Benn, Roberto Luongo, Florida; Erik Karlsson, Ottawa; Alex Ovechkin, Washington.
Vezina Trophy (Best goaltender): No-brainer here. The Capitals are the best team in the NHL and Braden Holtby has been the best goalie in the NHL with a ridiculous 28-4 record and league-leading 1.91 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. And the Caps play an exciting brand of hockey, meaning he faces his fair share of high-quality scoring chances. Runner-up: Luongo, Florida; Corey Crawford, Chicago; Cory Schneider, New Jersey; Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay.
Norris Trophy (Best defenseman): Always a tough debate because this award is supposed to go to the NHL’s best all-around defenseman, not the blue-liner with the most points. There are so many great defensemen in the game that there’s bound to be snubs, but the guy who has impressed me the most is Dallas’ John Klingberg. A midround steal with an affordable contract, he is so good defensively and ranks third in scoring among defensemen. Runners-up: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles; Karlsson, Ottawa; Ryan Suter, Wild; Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona.
Calder Trophy (Best Rookie): Most folks would have predicted Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the Nos. 1 and 2 players in last June’s draft, battling head-to-head for this hardware, but McDavid got hurt and Eichel is one of many great rookies in today’s game. Detroit’s Dylan Larkin and Arizona’s Max Domi have been exceptional, but the one kid who has been head and shoulders above them all is Chicago’s Artemi Panarin. The Blackhawks swooped in to sign the Russian free agent and he leads all rookies in scoring and has made Hawks fans quickly forget about Brandon Saad (traded in the offseason to Columbus). Panarin gets the nod. Runners-up: Larkin; Domi; Eichel; Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia.
Selke Trophy (Best defensive forward): While the Bruins have been an ever-changing team with captain Zdeno Chara on the downslide of his career, the one constant continues to be the exceptional play of Patrice Bergeron. This guy may get the award ’til his career ends. Runners-up: Jonathan Toews, Chicago; Ryan O’Reilly, Buffalo; Mikko Koivu, Wild; Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles.
Wild awards: Hart: Koivu; Selke: Koivu; Norris: Suter; Vezina: Dubnyk; Lady Byng (most gentlemanly): Jared Spurgeon; Breakthrough player: Charlie Coyle; Best rebound season: Thomas Vanek; Biggest Disappointment: Jason Pominville.
NHL short takes
Wanting to trade
With the Wild offering defenseman Jonas Brodin and a forward to Columbus for center Ryan Johansen before he was dealt to Nashville and the team showing interest in Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Drouin with Matt Dumba’s name being the focal point, it’s clear Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher is trying to spark his slumping team with a bona fide trade.
The trade deadline is Feb. 29. The past two deadlines, Fletcher gave Buffalo significant assets for rentals Chris Stewart and Matt Moulson. Neither panned out and neither was re-signed, so it appears as of now at least that Fletcher is trying to give his team a shot in the arm with an actual “hockey trade.”
It’ll be interesting to see what Fletcher has up his sleeves after scouting meetings the past week in Florida.
An example to copy?
The Wild’s Mike Yeo might want to take a page out of Bruce Boudreau’s book when it comes to slumping veterans. With Ryan Getzlaf having a miserable season in Anaheim, the Ducks coach benched his captain for eight minutes after a giveaway led to an Ottawa goal.
Getzlaf then set up the winning goal.
“I certainly don’t want to do it too often. But what happens there is between me and Getzy,” Boudreau said.
No end in sight
With Jaromir Jagr turning 44 next month, the grizzly vet keeps being asked how long he will play? “My plan is I have no plan. I believe if you really wanted to, you could play until 60,” Jagr said.
There was a near brawl at the end of last week’s Canucks-Panthers game when Daniel Sedin taunted the Panthers bench after the overtime winner. He was apparently responding to some inappropriate chatter aimed at him and his brother, Henrik.
By all accounts, the culprit was Shawn Thornton.
“It’s a heat of the moment thing, an emotional game and stuff happens,” Daniel Sedin said.
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Wednesday: at Ana., 9:30 p.m.
Thursday: at L.A., 9:30 p.m.
Saturday: at San Jose, 3 p.m.
Player to watch: Brent Burns, Sharks
The former Wild first-rounder became the first defenseman to score 18 or more goals in his team’s opening 40 games since 1990-91 (Al MacInnis, Calgary).
« It’s unacceptable. It’s quite embarrassing. »
— Erik Haula, after a 3-2 loss to Buffalo, on the Wild’s losing skid at home.