Hutch's Hockey: Midseason Awards

Hutch's Hockey: Midseason Awards

With the NHL crossing the halfway mark of the season in the last week, it's time to hand out some midseason awards. Since we're in the middle of the season, this is roughly half a commentary on what players have done and half a prediction on what's in store over the next three months. The usual caveat that I don't vote on the awards applies -- this is just pure opinion. 

Let's get the easy pick out of the way first: any award that is synonymous with MVP is Connor McDavid's to lose at this point. He has recorded 37 goals, 46 assists, 183 shots on net, 41 power-play points and a plus-3 rating through 45 contests. For many players, that's a good season -- he's done it in half of a season. The Hart Memorial Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award should all be engraved with the same name next to 2022-23. If he keeps this up, we're looking at a season that hasn't been done in a couple of decades. 

There's a little more debate to be had in discussing the Vezina Trophy. Right now, the front-runners have to be the Jets' Connor Hellebuyck and the Bruins' Linus Ullmark. Hellebuyck is at 22-10-1 with a 2.37 GAA and a .926 save percentage through 33 games. He's played like a workhorse in the first half, and it's been an impressive turnaround from his tough 2021-22. Ullmark has better ratios (1.92 GAA and .936 save percentage), but he's played in just 28 games and could end up seeing less time down the stretch with a more capable backup in Jeremy Swayman. The key to this debate is how much you value games played; if you like an old-school No. 1, Hellebuyck's probably your favorite. If you're looking purely at performance, it's Ullmark. I'll take Hellebuyck for now, but this is one award that will likely be a close vote if they both continue playing well. 

Right now, Adam Fox is making a slam-dunk case for the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman. The offense is there -- he has nine goals and 35 assists through 44 contests, good for a point-per-game pace. He's also driving play well; the Rangers are at 57.3 percent of shot attempts when he's on the ice, good for 12th among blueliners that have played in a majority of their teams' games. For unblocked shot attempts, he's helped the Rangers to a 57.1 percent share, ranking 10th under the same qualifications. The Hurricanes, Flames and Devils particularly shine in these areas as teams too -- Brent Burns and Dougie Hamilton are due for some love, while the Flames' top overall blueliner Rasmus Andersson hasn't been as strong. Of course, there's the Shark circling the waters, as Erik Karlsson's ridiculous 56 points through 44 games can't be ignored. I still prefer Fox's overall play, as there's more to being a good defenseman than just purely offense or purely defense. Last year, the highest-scoring rearguard, Roman Josi, lost out to Cale Makar, so hopefully the voting contingent looks beyond the point total again this season. 

In the Lady Byng discussion, there are two notable high-level players that have yet to take a penalty this season: Aleksander Barkov and Cole Caufield. Barkov is at 11 goals and 23 helpers through 34 games. Caufield is up to 26 tallies and 10 assists in 44 contests. Your definition of "gentlemanly conduct and sportsmanship" may vary, but as long as guys stay out of the sin bin, they've got a strong case here. 

The Selke Trophy, awarded to the top defensive forward, is one that always gives me a bit of trouble. It requires a certain nuance -- your typical fourth-line, penalty-killing, faceoff-winning grunts aren't ever going to be considered here, regardless of how well they fill those roles. If the NHL ever goes down the path of renaming awards in the future, this may eventually be called the Patrice Bergeron Award. The Bruins' center has won it five times in his career, and there's a strong case to be made for him again this season. He helps Boston command over 60 percent of the shots when he's on the ice, and he couples that with a 62.1 percent win rate on faceoffs, trailing only Jonathan Toews' 63.9 percent mark this season among centers with at least 400 draws. Bergeron has also chipped in 34 points in 42 games. It feels like a cop-out to go with him, but he's the (black and) gold standard. 

The Jack Adams Award for top coach typically means one of two things: a team that took a gigantic leap forward, or a team that dealt with awful injury luck. The other factor is that the team has to be good. This one's going to be tough to narrow down by the end of the season. Jim Montgomery's work in Boston is virtually unparalleled so far. Dave Hakstol has turned the Kraken from first-year laughing stock to a fast and challenging group of road warriors. Rick Bowness has silenced discord in the Jets' locker room to make his team a winner. Bruce Cassidy has the Golden Knights back on track, though the next month or so will test his mettle. Rick Bowness has lifted the Stars from their usually mediocrity to excellence. Lindy Ruff has the Devils playing some fun hockey. There's a lot of deserving names in the group here, but I'm thinking it probably goes to Montgomery or Hakstol. In a season that's yet to see a coach fired, the second half will be telling at both ends of the standings. 

Finally, for the rookies, there's the Calder Trophy. This feels like the second-easiest one to pick right now, and it's because of what Matty Beniers is doing for the Kraken. The numbers are good -- 17 goals, 19 assists, plus-14 rating, 86 shots on goal through 42 games. His ice time's at 17:04 per game, and he's seen usage in all situations. Different rookies have popped up throughout the season so far, with Logan Thompson, Mason McTavish, Shane Pinto and Cole Perfetti all catching the spotlight in moments. The thing that comfortably sets Beniers apart from the others is that he has been arguably the most consistent from day one. Maybe he hits a rookie wall in the second half and opens this conversation up more, but it's his award to lose right now. 

Of course, most of these players can't help you in fantasy unless you already have them. They're not widely available on the waiver wire. Players in contention for awards are the ones you hope you've built around and can augment by riding the hot hands throughout the season. 

One of those hot hands is Devils defenseman Ryan Graves. He's picked up a goal and five assists, as well as a plus-12 rating, since the start of January. The 27-year-old last gained fantasy relevance when he posted 26 points and a plus-40 rating with the Avalanche in 2019-20. His recent surge has him pushing a 30-point pace, and the Devils' improvements this year again have him on the positive side of plus-minus. He's also logged 52 hits and 74 blocked shots this season, though a lack of power-play time will likely cause his offense to drop off eventually. 

In what's becoming a common occurrence in this column, there's a Kraken of the week, and his name is Yanni Gourde. The 31-year-old was a driving force behind Seattle's historic seven-game road trip sweep, putting up two goals and six assists during the trip. He's found some quick chemistry with newcomer Eeli Tolvanen, who looks like a good pickup in deeper formats thanks to his power-play time. Gourde doesn't get much time with the man advantage, but his offense is pushing a 60-point pace anyway and he's got enough grit (64 hits, 42 PIM through 41 contests) to cover for when the points aren't so easy to get. 

Scott Laughton launched himself back onto the fantasy radar with five points over two games versus the Capitals this week. Taking a longer look back, the 28-year-old has produced 18 points and 39 hits through 20 games since the start of December. The best part with Laughton is that he's tough enough to be John Tortorella-proof -- it's unlikely he gets benched since he always puts in an honest defensive effort. 

Another Flyer on the rise is Joel Farabee, who is inexplicably available in 96 percent of Yahoo! leagues. For the season, he has nine goals and 16 assists, right in line with the kind of numbers he's posted over the last two years. He's earned seven of those points in his last six outings. He's 22 years old and doesn't have the defensive acumen of the aforementioned Laughton, but Farabee's a good player. Most fantasy managers can make room for a winger flirting with 50 points, if only in a bench spot. 

Something's gotten into the Hurricanes' defense lately -- they're carrying the load on offense. Brett Pesce is right at the front of it with two goals and eight assists in his last 11 games. The 28-year-old is up to 18 points through 44 contests overall, and he's added 68 blocked shots, 77 shots on goal and a plus-15 rating. A power-play role helps, but this is the kind of depth move you can make that doesn't look like much on the surface. He's not a point-per-game guy, but he's probably an upgrade over your fourth or fifth blueliner in standard formats. 

It's time to get the Gabriel Vilardi hype going again. He's put a cold stretch from early December behind him, and he's earned four goals and eight assists in his last 13 outings. The third-line role is a bit concerning, but that has him playing with the red-hot Kevin Fiala at even strength, and they're both on the same power-play unit too. Vilardi's already at 31 points through 45 contests this season -- a 55-point campaign isn't out of the question for a 23-year-old that already checks a lot of boxes positively. 

Another player outplaying his role is Dawson Mercer. He's produced two goals and seven assists over his last eight games, though some of that has been with fourth-line usage at even strength. He's not a huge factor on the Devils' power play, but this is a team that gets contributions from all over when they're at their best. He had 42 points in 82 games as a rookie last year, and he looks poised to easily beat that mark -- he's already at 27 points through 43 contests this season. 

Get ahead of this potential goalie controversy now and go pick up Pavel Francouz. Since the holiday break, the Avalanche have two wins -- Francouz's shutout Saturday over the Senators was one of them, while Alexandar Georgiev went a terrible 1-5-1 with a 4.10 GAA and an .887 save percentage over seven games. Francouz has made two straight starts heading into Monday, and he might be good for a solid week or two before slipping back into the backup role. Nonetheless, this team is too talented to struggle much longer, and it could be Francouz who digs them out of trouble. 

Midseason awards are probably one of my favorite things to write up. It's a good time to check in on the best of the best, but it's important to remember that a race isn't won halfway through -- you have to go to the finish line. Fantasy's the same way. If you're down right now, you're not yet out. If you're up, you can't coast to the finish since first place always has a target on its back. There's never a bad day to improve your roster. This is a busy week ahead, so keep on top of your teams and I'll have more for you next week. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shawn Hutchinson
Shawn has covered sports independently since 2010, and joined RotoWire in 2019. In 2023, he was named FSWA Hockey Writer of the Year. Shawn serves as a contributor for hockey and baseball, and pens the "Hutch's Hockey" column. He also enjoys soccer, rooting for his hometown teams: Sounders FC and Reign FC.
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