Mid-season award nominees announced at NHL All Star Break

With the NHL recently on its All-Star break, the Professional Hockey Writers Association took advantage of the down time to announce the league’s mid-season award nominees. Writers in each NHL city cast their votes for the different awards which are annually handed out every June. In some cases the mid-season winners may end up on the podium at the end of the season while others may miss the boat. A pair of non-traditional awards were also announced which were the the Rod Langway Award for the league’s top defensive defenceman and the Comeback Player of the Year Award.

The mid-season Hart Trophy nominees as the most valuable player to his club were Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers along with Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames and Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning. All three forwards were leading their respective teams in scoring.

The nominees for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman were Mark Giordano of Calgary followed by Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks. These were the top-scoring blue liners in the league at the All-Star break as Burns had 55 points, Giordano was second with 52 and Rielly had 50.

The three players named as nominees for the Frank Selke Trophy were Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, Mark Stone of the Ottawa Senators and Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers. This award is handed out for the best defensive forward in the league.

The league’s best rookie receives the Calder Trophy and the mid-season nominees were forward Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks along with defenders Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres and Miro Heiskanen of the Dallas Stars.

The most sportsmanlike and gentlemanly player is rewarded with the Lady Byng Trophy and the candidates were forwards Aleksander Barkov of Florida and Sean Monahan of Calgary along with Toronto defenceman Morgan Rielly.

The Vezina Trophy nominees as the best goaltender in the league were John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks, Frederik Andersen of Toronto and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights.

The candidates for the Jack Adams Award as the top coach were Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders along with Bill Peters of Calgary and Jon Cooper of Tampa Bay.

The General Manager of the Year Award’s nominees were Brad Treliving of Calgary along with Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks and Lou Lamoriello of the Islanders.

Mattias Ekholm of the Nashville Predators, Calgary’s Mark Giordano and Victor Hedman of Tampa Bay were nominated for the Rod Langway Award as the most effective defensive defenceman while the candidates for the Comeback Player of the Year Award were goaltender Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders and forwards Jeff Skinner of the Buffalo Sabres and Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild.

As for the three-on-three All-Star Game itself in San Jose, California on Jan. 26th, The Central Division downed the Pacific Division 10-4 in the first round while the Metropolitan beat the Atlantic 7-4. The Metropolitan then doubled the Central 10-5 in the final. Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby was named the event’s most valuable player.

In the Skills Competition, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid won the fastest-skater event for the third straight year with his lap of the ice timed at 13.378 seconds. Defenceman John Carlson of the Washington Capitals blasted the hardest-recorded shot at 102.8 miles-per-hour while defender Brent Burns of San Jose came second at 100.6 mph.

David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins won the shooting accuracy competition while fellow for ward Leon Draisaitl placed first in the premier passing event. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers made the most consecutive saves with 12 and Calgary’ forward Johnny Gaudreau captured the puck-control event.

Vegas Golden Knights back to their best

The Vegas Golden Knights took the NHL both by storm and surprise last season by winning the Pacific Division and reaching the Stanley Cup Final. The club enjoyed one of the most successful seasons ever in pro sports for an expansion franchise. However, the fairy tale ending they hoped for didn’t materialize as they were ousted in five games by the Washington Capitals who hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time in team history.

It looked like the rest of the NHL knew exactly what to expect from the upstart side this season as Vegas struggled out of the starting gate with a 5-6-1 mark in the first month. Opponents appeared to be much better prepared for them when the season faced off as they knew just how dangerous and talented the squad could be. It wasn’t a complete surprise to most experts as it looked like the team had simply come back down to earth following last year’s magical campaign.

Vegas had to play the first 20 games of 2018/19 without defenceman Nate Schmidt though as he was suspended following a failed drug test. Since his return, the Golden Knights have been vastly improved  and are once again challenging for top spot in the Pacific Division. The team was 8-2 in its last 10 games as of Jan. 21st and owned an overall record of 29-17-4. They also had one of the best home marks in the league at 16-4-3 while playing .500 hockey on the road.

With Schmidt patrolling the Vegas blue line alongside partner Brayden McNabb, the team isn’t given up as many scoring chances and its offence and puck possession has improved. During Schmidt’s 20-game ban Vegas went 9-11-1 and they have now gone a highly-impressive 20-6-3 since he returned to the lineup. The team’s record may also be somewhat surprising considering some of its key players have been hit by injuries, including Colin Miller, Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch, Erik Haula and newcomers Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty.

Haula, Smith and Miller are still sidelined, but Tuch, Stastny and Pacioretty are back and are playing consistent hockey together as a line with the veteran Stastny centering it. The Golden Knights are also getting solid if unspectacular performances out of forwards Smith, Brandon Pirri, William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault as well as goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The Smith-Karlsson-Marchessault line isn’t posting the same types of numbers as last season, but has still been the team’s top trio when Smith was healthy.

The Golden Knights’ offence should kick into another gear once the injured players return and as long as the goaltending remains steady the team could take another run at the cup. The 34-year-old Fleury entered the Jan. 21st game with¬† a league-high 27 wins and six shutouts along with a 2.49 goals-against average and 91.1 save percentage. His stats may be slightly lower than last season, but he’s still among the top goaltenders in the NHL.

The Golden Knights have been quietly going about their business this season without the fanfare and headlines of their inaugural campaign. The team’s lineup has been subject to a few changes with James Neal, Tomas Tatar and David Perron more or less being replaced by Stastny and Pacioretty over the past year. But the Golden Knights are still proving to be one of the toughest teams to handle in the NHL and should wrap up a playoff spot long before the season’s over.

San Jose’s Erik Karlsson comes to life

Going two NHL games without registering a point isn’t typically considered a slump for an NHL defenceman unless your name happens to be Erik Karlsson that is. Heading into the San Jose Sharks’ game on Jan. 15th the 28-year-old Swedish blue liner had gone pointless in his two previous outings. But considering he posted 25 points in his 14 appearance before that, yes he’s in a bit of a drought.

It took the two-time Norris Trophy winner several weeks to get rolling this season after his blockbuster trade to San Jose from the Ottawa Senators shortly before campaign faced off. Karlsson was well known around the league for his scoring exploits and that’s one of the reasons the Sharks took a risk on him. San Jose gave up a multitude of draft picks and young prospects to acquire the Ottawa captain even though he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

Some fans also felt the club didn’t really need more point production from the blue line since the Sharks already have one of the top-scoring defenders in the league in Brent Burns. There’s no guarantee Karlsson will re-sign with San Jose, so the club could be left out in the cold when the summer arrives. Still, they’re hoping he inks a new deal and will help the squad challenge for the Stanley Cup this spring. If he doesn’t, they’ll definitely live to regret it considering what the return for him might be before next month’s trade deadline.

While Karlsson hasn’t exactly been igniting the opposition goal light on a regular basis this season with just three markers, he’s definitely been an elite playmaker with 38 assists in 45 games and has been scoring at a rate of 0.91 points-per contest. He hasn’t been a liability in his own end either as he was a plus-eight. Karlsson wasn’t acquired for his defensive prowess though as offense comes first with him. As of Jan. 13th he had scored 129 goals in 672 regular-season games and added 430 assists for 559 points and was a minus-28. He’d also added six goals and 37 points in 48 playoff outings.

During the first quarter of 2018/19 Karlsson notched just 10 points and it seemed he wasn’t really happy or comfortable in San Jose. However, it turns out he was just getting used to his new teammates and surroundings and is now feeling quite at home on the west coast. Karlsson recently set a San Jose franchise record by recording at least one point in 14 straight appearances and became the fifth NHL blue liner to notch an assist in 14 consecutive appearances. However, his streak was then snapped as he attempted to equal Paul Coffey’s league milestone of an assist in 17 straight games.

Karlsson’s name was rarely mentioned earlier this season when the topic of the Norris Trophy and league’s best defenceman came up, but he’s now on the tip of everybody’s tongue following his recent spurt. He’s being counted on by head coach Peter DeBoer in all types of game situations as he’s been averaging 25 minutes of ice time per night. Karlsson’s play of late has helped the Sharks in their challenge for top spot in the Western Conference and the Pacific Division. The team has gone 15-3-2 since early December and would have to completely come off the tracks to miss the postseason.

If Karlsson can manage to keep up his current scoring rate he’s on pace to finish the season with five goals and 68 assists for 73 points, which would be the fourth-highest point total of his NHL career. Ottawa missed the playoffs in four of the nine seasons Karlsson played in Canada’s capital, so he’s obviously looking forward to playing this April. However, he also needs to decide on his future plans. If he hasn’t given the Sharks any hint of staying with the club, it’s possible he’s shipped out as a rental player before or at the trade deadline. With the Sharks looking like a legitimate cup contender though, that’s a scenario the club hopes doesn’t happen.

NHL reaches record goal scoring mark

Scoring in the NHL reached a new level in 2018 as the puck was deposited in the net 7,662 times in 1,282 regular-season games. This broke the previous record for a 12-month span which was 7,410 goals scored in the 2006 calendar year. The playing field was a little unbalanced though since there were 31 teams in the league in 2018 and just 30 in 2006.

The top scorer in the 2018 calendar year was Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers as the team captain posted 121 points in 81 games from 48 goals along with 73 assists. Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche was second on the scoring list with 113 points from 34 goals and 79 assists. Fellow Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon was next with 110 points and Russian forward Nikita Kucherov followed with 109 points. Evgeni Malkin and his Pittsburgh Penguin teammate Sidney Crosby each scored 102 points and Philadelphia Flyers’ forward Claude Giroux reached 100 points.

It was the first time since 1996 that seven NHL players scored at least 100 points in the same season, when eight players managed to do it. When last year’s playoff totals are added, Kucherov jumps to number one overall with 126 points in his total of 101 games played with 40 goals along with 86 assists. The top goal scorer in the 365 days of 2018 was Washington Capitals’ sharpshooter Alexander Ovechkin with 54 goals in 80 contests while Winnipeg Jets’ youngster Patrik Laine was the runner up with 50 in his 81 contests.

It was the sixth time Ovechkin led the league in scoring for a calendar year to tie Phil Esposito for second place all-time while Montreal Canadiens’ legend Rocket Richard led the league seven times during his career. Ovechkin, who’s now 33 years old, became the fourth player to lead the regular-season goal-scoring parade in the NHL after turning 33. He also topped the list in total goals for 2018 as he scored 15 times in the postseason for 69 goals in a total of 104 games. To top things off, the veteran was named the Conn Smythe Trophy for the playoffs as he led Washington to the Stanley Cup for the first time in club history.

Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks led all defencemen in regular-season scoring last year when he notched 82 points from a dozen goals and 70 assists. Matt Dumba of the Minnesota Wild ranked number one in goals though with 19. Even though the goals came fast and furious last year, NHL goalies still performed well. Veteran Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights posted the most wins in the regular-season with 44 in a total of 73 appearances. Fleury has now won at least 40 games in three different seasons as he registered 46 victories in 2009 and 45 more in 2013.

The highest-scoring team in 2018 was the Tampa Bay Lightning with 313 goals. They also registered the most victories in the regular season as well as points with 57 and 119 respectively. When looking at the current NHL season it’s obvious scoring hasn’t slowed down and last year’s record may be smashed in the 2019 calendar year. As of January 7th there were 13 players on pace to score over 100 points in the 2018/19 campaign with several others just off the mark. In comparison, just three players reached the 100-point plateau in 2017/18 as Giroux, Kucherov and McDavid achieved the milestone.

In the previous seven years only five players in total netted 100 points in a season and there was never more than one player per season to reach the mark. We have to go back to 1995/96 to find the last time the league had 10 or more players with at least 100 points. Team-wise, Tampa Bay was scoring at a rate of 4.17 goals each game at the halfway mark of 2018/19 with 171 goals in their first 41 contests. For the 10th-highest total in the last 28 years.