We've reached the halfway point of the 2011-12 NHL season, so it's time to dish out some midseason hardware to five deserving figures.
, Senators -- The expectations were low in Ottawa, but Karlsson's play has them in the top eight in the Eastern Conference. He plays a high-risk, high-reward style that's been reaping rewards all season. He has 8 more points than any defenseman and is plus-7 on a team that's a minus-4 in goal differential. His play can take your breath away. He's a patient skater with great hockey sense. His nerves of steel have served him well.
, Blackhawks -- On a loaded offensive team, there are guys with more talent -- Patrick Kane
, Patrick Sharp
, Marian Hossa
-- but the most consistent player is Toews. He can play in any situation. You don't have to worry about him bringing his best effort or taking a night off. He's the league leader in faceoffs (61.5). You need a penalty killed? Fine. You need a goal? Fine. You need someone to defend or hit? Fine. He does it every night and the matchup doesn't matter.
, Rangers -- This one isn't easy to pick. There are a lot of quality candidates -- Tim Thomas
, Jonathan Quick
, Brian Elliott
. This is the best start to Lundqvist's career, but I like his overall game. He's more aggressive. His catching glove is a lot better, he's catching more pucks than ever before. I like the maturity I've seen from him. He's referring to his teammates a lot more in interviews. He's talking about other guys and what they're doing in front of him. It's a sign of maturity. The downside of having to do it on your own is no matter how sick Henrik is, just look at Dominik Hasek
, the greatest goalie of all-time, and he couldn't win by himself. When Lundqvist took the podium after the Winter Classic, he talked about the plays his teammates made. This is a whole new level this year.
Rocket Richard Trophy
, Lightning -- This season, he's shown it doesn't matter who's on his line. He can score in many different ways. You hear people talk about Steven Stamkos
, and people always want to talk about his one-timers. This season, I bet only a handful came off that one-timer. That's a key for me. It doesn't matter if he's playing with Martin St. Louis
or Vincent Lecavalier
or neither of them. He's become a guy who scores goals from anywhere. He has speed and the motivation to keep himself where he is.
John Tortorella, Rangers -- The Rangers have reflected his personality. The team is playing a more honest game, and it's not about superstars as much anymore. It's not about one guy -- it's about the collective. More importantly it's also about the style of play -- they play harder. Marian Gaborik
is playing harder. He's scoring in different ways and not poaching for breakaways. He's driving the net, and it's one of the indicators of a more honest game, a game with more effort. Block a slot of shot. They have an identity. They're a four-line team with a lot of guys playing hard every night. It gives them a chance to win.