COACHING CHANGES TRANSACTIONS POWER POLL DEPTH CHARTS CURRENT ODDS
By Dan Di Sciullo
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With the NHL All-Star Game set to take place less than two weeks from now in Ottawa, it's a good time to see what players have had the biggest impact so far on the 2011-12 season.
With every NHL team past the midway point of the season, favorites have emerged for the league's annual hardware. Here's who would be adding trophies to their mantle if the season ended today.
HART TROPHY (MOST VALUABLE PLAYER)
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Giroux was a stronger choice for the league MVP a few weeks ago before he went into a January slump, but the Flyers' top offensive weapon should still be considered the favorite for the Hart. He is averaging 1.26 points per game with 18 goals and 31 assists over 39 contests and has compiled those excellent numbers despite a brief bout with a concussion as well as enormous pressure heaped upon him heading into this season. Giroux was handed keys to the Flyers' offense this summer when the team dealt top forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter (a duo that combined for 59 goals and 132 points last year) and he has not disappointed. The 24-year-old has also helped ease Jaromir Jagr's return to the NHL, as the legendary Czech player has posted 32 points in 37 games while primarily skating on a line with Giroux. For the Flyers, a team loaded with rookies and one that lost captain Chris Pronger for the season in November, Giroux has been the team's saving grace.
Other finalists: Jonathan Toews (Chicago), Phil Kessel (Toronto)
NORRIS TROPHY (BEST DEFENSEMAN)
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
Nashville's Shea Weber and Ottawa's Erik Karlsson have had better offensive seasons than Chara, but the Boston's big man is the most important player on the NHL's most dominant team. Chara captained the Bruins to a Stanley Cup title last spring, and after his team's slow start to the season, the Slovakian has Boston, which leads the NHL in goals scored and fewest goals allowed, looking like the favorites to win it all again. Chara is leading all NHL defensemen with a plus-27 rating and also has seven goals and 19 assists over 40 games. Nobody in the history of the NHL has the same combination of immense size (6-9, 260 pounds) and skill that Chara has and the 2009 Norris winner completes the package with a nasty streak that can't be taught. Chara was already an excellent NHL player when Boston signed him in the summer of 2006, but his time in Beantown has made him a lock for the Hall of Fame.
Other finalists: Shea Weber (Nashville), Erik Karlsson (Ottawa)
VEZINA TROPHY (BEST GOALTENDER)
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
The low-scoring Kings have been punchless on offense this year and it's been Quick's goaltending that has kept this team in the hunt for the Pacific Division title. LA had lofty expectations heading into this season and a poor start led to the firing of head coach Terry Murray, but, unlike his inconsistent team, Quick has been excellent all year long. He is leading the NHL with six shutouts and despite posting superb numbers in both goals-against average (1.95) and save percentage (.933), Quick is somehow just 19-11-8 on the season. Other goalies like Boston's Tim Thomas, Detroit's Jimmy Howard or Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers will likely finish the year with better records and similar stats to Quick's, but the Kings netminder has done more for his team than any other goalie this season.
Other finalists: Tim Thomas (Boston), Jimmy Howard (Detroit)
CALDER MEMORIAL TROPHY (ROOKIE OF THE YEAR)
Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils
Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is still leading all NHL rookies in points, but a recent shoulder injury suffered by last summer's No. 1 overall pick has opened the door for New Jersey's Henrique to claim the Calder. A third-round pick by the Devils in 2008, Henrique has surprised many by notching 13 goals and 34 points in 40 games this season. That ties him with Nugent-Hopkins for the rookie goals lead and also leaves him one point behind RNH. However, Henrique has set himself apart from Nugent-Hopkins thanks to his four shorthanded goals. He also has posted a plus-nine rating for a team that has allowed nine more goals than it has scored so far this year. Nugent-Hopkins could return before the end of this month and will likely be looking jp at Henrique in the rookie scoring race by then, but New Jersey's rookie should get the nod anyway because of his superior two-way play.
Other finalists: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton), Matt Read (Philadelphia)
ADAMS TROPHY (COACH OF THE YEAR)
Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues
Minnesota's Mike Yeo was the early front-runner for the Adams Trophy, but as the Wild's Cinderella season has slowly unraveled, Hitchcock has become the favorite for coach of the year. Hitchcock took control of the Blues' bench back on Nov. 6, when Davis Payne was the first of seven NHL head coaches to be fired this year, and St. Louis has been playing like a Western Conference power ever since. The Blues were a disappointing 6-7 under Payne, but the young team has blossomed under Hitch, going 21-5-6 since the coaching change and is currently tied for the NHL lead with 60 points. Considering the Blues have made the playoffs just once in the post-lockout era, the fan base in St. Louis had become restless with the franchise's long rebuilding phase. But, that's all changed since Hitchcock took over and his no-nonsense approach has helped bring winning hockey back to the Gateway City.
Other finalists: John Tortorella (NY Rangers), Kevin Dineen (Florida)