The Lady Byng Trophy is given for "skillful and gentlemanly play" and has historically been the property of skilled (and often small) forwards. No defenseman has won it since Detroit's Red Kelly in 1954. Another Red Wing, Nicklas Lidstrom, was on track to be the second at the quarter pole -- and as the season reaches the halfway point, he's still there.
At age 40, Lidstrom is at the top of his game – no mean feat when your resume includes six Norris Trophies and four Stanley Cups. Through the Wings' first 40 games, Lidstrom has 11 goals and 39 points -- he's third in goals and second in points among defensemen. He's also taken just five minor penalties in those 40 games. Lidstrom is averaging more than 23-1/2 minutes a game -- a hefty total for anyone, let alone someone who turns 41 this spring.
If anything, Lidstrom may actually be getting better -- his offensive numbers at this stage of the season are the best of his career. He was the NHL's Third Star for December, leading all defensemen in goals with 8 (including the first hat trick of his career) and points with 16. He's on pace to exceed 20 goals and 75 points -- incredible totals for any defenseman, let alone one who started playing before some of the forwards he tries to shut down were even born.
"It's ridiculous," goaltender Chris Osgood, a longtime teammate, told the Detroit Free Press. "We always have debates whether he's the best defenseman ever. To me if he wins the Norris this year, I don't think there's much debate. Some people may debate it, but to me, he'd be the best ever. At 40 now, to win the Norris with the way the game is played now, the competition and how good the players are, it's incredible what he does.
"Just as you thought he'd accomplished everything, now he goes and does something like this. That's how good he is."
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning
Lidstrom might win the Lady Byng, but St. Louis, who won it in 2009-10, has done nothing to lose it
The 35-year-old is a big reason for the early-season success of 2008 first-rounder Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning, and is on the way to the highest-scoring season of his career – pretty good for a guy who already owns an Art Ross Trophy as scoring champ.
Through 41 games, St. Louis has 17 goals and 51 points, putting him on pace for the second 100-point season of his career. He has four game-winners, including Tuesday's night's OT goal at Washington. But his superb play has been overshadowed by Stamkos, his linemate and the recipient of a lot of St. Louis' superb passes.
The lack of attention is just fine with St. Louis.
"He's the most unselfish guy around," coach Guy Boucher said.
One of new GM Steve Yzerman's first moves was to sign St. Louis to a four-year contract extension; and if the first half of the season is any indication, Yzerman made a smart decision. St. Louis figures to have a good chance to take home the Lady Byng again at the NHL Awards Ceremony in June.
Loui Eriksson, Dallas Stars
Playing for a team that flies under the radar too often, Eriksson has become the star few people know about.
The 25-year-old Swede had a breakout season two years ago with 36 goals, put up a career-best 71 points in 2009-10 -- and is on pace to exceed that mark this season. He reached the halfway point of the season with 16 goals, 44 points and a plus-15 rating (up from minus-4 last season) for a team that's surprised everyone by being in first place in the Pacific Division at the midway point. He's done it all while taking just two minor penalties.
"From my perspective, I always try to go in and do my best out there, try to build on every game you play," Eriksson said. "You want to get better every day you get in here."
With vets like Mike Modano and Marty Turco now gone from Dallas, Eriksson knew that more would be expected of him. He's more than delivered so far.
"I say it all the time -- I think he's one of the more underrated players in the League," center and linemate Brad Richards said. "I get to see him every night and he's kind of my security blanket every night."