The halfway mark is as good a time as any to assess what has taken place in this 2017-18 NHL season, and to start giving out our awards (that mean nothing right now). There have been surprises and disappointments alike, and, as Rangers coach Alain Vigneault says any time he gets a chance, the league is “as competitive as it has ever been.”
That goes for the individual players and their accomplishments, as well. So it wasn’t easy to compile these lists for a few important awards — some I vote for at the end of the season, and some I don’t. And a lot is to be determined between now and April.
But, with a minimum of 41 games played by each team, let’s go ahead and hand out some hardware.
1. Nikita Kucherov: The Lightning star has been the best player on the best team — and I think that’s all the criteria needed to be MVP. It’s hard to say his 27 goals and 60 points through 43 games is a breakout, but he’s been the driving force of the Stanley Cup favorite.
2. Nathan MacKinnon: No one from Colorado to California to Kalamazoo thought the Avalanche would be only three points back of a wild-card spot, especially not after they traded Matt Duchene. But the big reason is MacKinnon’s nightly brilliance, manifesting in 18 goals and 52 points, the latter tied for second in the league behind only Kucherov.
3. Henrik Lundqvist: As of now, the overwhelming reason the Rangers are in the first wild-card spot is because of Lundqvist’s bounce-back season. If things ended right now, no playoff team would have a more valuable single player than Lundqvist is to the Rangers.
1. Drew Doughty: Speaking of bounce-back seasons, how about the one the Kings are having on the back of Doughty and Anze Kopitar? With seven goals and 30 points in 42 games, all while playing over 27 minutes a game, Doughty is still the engine that drives that team.
2. Victor Hedman: Playing more than 25 minutes a night for the best team in the league against the best competition should be enough, but Hedman has added six goals and 33 points to what is becoming his perennial nod as a Norris finalist.
3. P.K. Subban: Seems that the taste of last season’s Stanley Cup final made it more clear to Subban that he needed to be more than an offensive player if he wanted to win. He’s doing that in Nashville, while still adding nine goals and 32 points.
1. Patrice Bergeron: Anytime I think it’s possible to put someone else at the top of this list, I watch Bergeron in person and am awed at all the little things he does. Helps he has a league-leading (among forwards) Corsi-for percentage of 58.28 and a plus-20 rating. Oh, and he also happened to score four goals on Jan. 6 while surpassing the 700-point mark.
2. Jonathan Toews: The Blackhawks captain has again proven to be one of the best two-way centers in history, holding a plus-11 rating (while adding 14 goals and 31 points on a team that’s struggling).
3. Sean Couturier: Despite getting abused by John Tavares in 3-on-3 overtime back on Nov. 22, the Flyers center is still one of the best defensive forwards in the league.
1. Brock Boeser: The Canucks 20-year-old Minnesotan reminds me a lot of Patrick Laine — a wicked shot (especially adept at the one-timer) and an uncanny knack for scoring goals. That will always work in the NHL.
2. Mathew Barzal: Remember when the Islanders traded Griffin Reinhart and essentially got back Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier? Might be one of the biggest steals in draft-day history.
3. Charlie McAvoy: The Bruins defenseman almost doesn’t feel like a rookie, having played six playoff games last season and now on the top pair with Zdeno Chara, not looking out of place for one minute (of his average 22:54).
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy: Have we said that the Lightning are the best team in the league? Well, that’s also because of Steve Yzerman’s prescience in trading away Ben Bishop and believing in Vesilevskiy (2.18 GAA, .930 save percentage).
2. Henrik Lundqvist: Unless there is a major drop off (certainly possible), Lundqvist has carried the Rangers and steadied his own evolving game with a 2.52 GAA and .924 save percentage.
3. Pekka Rinne: The towering Finn has managed to stay healthy, and when that’s the case, he puts up numbers like his 2.43 GAA and .924 — all while the Predators are near the top of the Western Conference.
1. Gerard Gallant: Something would have to go drastically wrong in Las Vegas for Gallant not to run away with this award, as his Golden Knights have shocked everyone in just how good they are.
2. Paul Maurice: From the hot seat in Winnipeg to the awards stage, Maurice finally has his Jets rounding the corner. He also had a great response to Sharks players ridiculing his city.
3. John Hynes: Speaking of surprises, how about where Hynes has gotten the Devils thus far? Everyone is waiting for the drop-off, but it’s hard to see it coming with all their skill.