With the quarter mile marker now firmly in sight, we’re starting to get a better idea of who ‘has it’, which teams are still a work in progress and where tee times will be in greater demand come April.
Whilst Alberta and Buffalo look set to have the busiest golf courses, others have faired much better during the early running and it seemed like a good time to look at the early leaders for the NHL’s annual awards.
You can find my preseason predictions here (some now seem way off, others not so much); selections are as follows:
Hart Trophy – Steven Stamkos
There is one MASSIVE asterisk next to this selection, given Stamkos potentially season ending injury sustained 24 hours ago, but few would argue that the Bolts superstar has been anything less than sensational for the Eastern Conference leaders thus far.
Stamkos has 14 goals and 23 points (tied for the lead in each category) on a Lightning roster that has scored 54 goals. Or put another way, Stamkos has had a hand in nearly half of Tampa Bay’s goals this season.
Whilst the aforementioned broken leg will end any chance the Ontario native had of actually winning the Hart, thus far he has represented both ‘definitions’ of the Hart Trophy – he has been both the player most valuable to his team, as well as (arguably) the best player in the NHL so far this season.
Norris Trophy – Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Perhaps the closest of all the categories, Ekman-Larsson’s all round contribution sees him pip the likes of PK Subban (yes, Montreal’s handling of him does hurt his case) and Erik Karlsson (still too much of a liability in his own end, ‘IMHO’) as my ‘early Norris winner’.
The talented Swede has been a rock for the Coyotes, whose solid 12-4-2 record has been overshadowed by the division topping Ducks recent streak.
Calder Trophy – Seth Jones
Tomas Hertl’s early tear sits him atop the rookie scoring chart with 10 goals (including 4 vs New York) and 16 points; but Jones has played like a veteran on a Predators blue line now without its most important player.
The former Portland Winterhawk is averaging more than 24 minutes per night for Nashville, who will lean on Jones, Shea Weber and their defensive core more than ever with Pekka Rinne.
Jones play has been so good it’s put him on the bubble for Team USA’s Olympic squad, whilst also scoring one heck of a beautiful goal against Montreal:
Vezina Trophy – Ben Bishop
Whilst a (very) strong case could also be made for Semyon Varlamov (or perhaps even Josh Harding), the giant Tampa Bay stopper has been as pivotal to the Bolts success in their own end as Stamkos has in the offensive zone.
The former Ottawa stopper has gone 11-2-0 with a .927 save percentage. But perhaps more importantly, he’s given Tampa confidence in their goaltending for the first time since Dwayne Roloson’s career went south.
Selke Trophy – Nicklas Backstrom
A surprising choice perhaps, but the Caps Swedish centreman ticks a lot of the right boxes thus far. Looking at the ‘simple stuff’, Backstrom is 3rd in takeaways, and has just 3 giveaways to his name (not losing the puck in the first place is as important as winning it back) whilst being a shade under 50% in the circle right now.
It’s hard to envisage Backstrom will be talked about as a Selke candidate come the summer, but he’s proved to be an important cog in the Caps machine again and is displaying a more solid two way game than many give him credit for.
Jack Adams – Patrick Roy
Colorado are 14-2-0 and undefeated on the road. They also have the best defensive record of any team in the NHL (just 28 goals against).
That’s the same Colorado Avalanche who last year couldn’t have kept a beach ball out of their own net and were only saved from the wooden spoon by the equally appalling Panthers.
As if propelling the fallen back to the top of the standings wasn’t enough, Roy also managed to reintroduce himself to the NHL with a partition bending tirade in the teams opening game of the season.
Art Ross – Steven Stamkos/Sidney Crosby
The two superstars are currently tied on 23 points, with Ryan Getzlaf just a point behind. Alex Steen and Corey Perry have accumulated 21 points thus far, and then we find five players, including Alexander Ovechkin, tied on 20 points.
Rocket Richard – Alexander Steen/Steven Stamkos
The St Louis Blues forward has scored a remarkable 14 goals in 15 games so far this season, just 12 fewer than the entire Philadelphia Flyers roster (and in a game less than the Flyers!).
Alex Ovechkin’s 13 goals leads the ‘chasing pack’, while Corey Perry, Hart candidate Matt Duchene and (surprisingly) Jason Pominville have 11 goals apiece.