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Half-season trophy tracker a revealing picture

by Dan Rosen
With half of the regular season now behind us, it's the perfect time to reflect on what we've already seen and, of course, predict what's in store for us during the next three months before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.
In that vein, here are the players we feel have been the true standouts in the first half of the season and would be walking home with some serious hardware if the NHL season were just 41 games.

Here, then, is the's Trophy Tracker:

Awarded to the Most Valuable Player as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
Predicted winner: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Ovechkin overcame a slow start by his standards and, to date, has arguably been the League's most dominating player. With 53 points on 27 goals and 26 assists through the Capitals' first 41 games, Ovechkin actually had more points than he did in the first half last season, when he finished with 65 goals and 47 assists. Even more amazing, he missed back-to-back games in late October while visiting his ailing grandfather in Russia. He didn't miss a game last season.

Ovechkin finished the first half of the season second in the League in points, first in goals and shots on goal, and was ranked among the top five in hits. The Capitals had a strong lead for first place in the Southeast Division and the second-best home record in the NHL behind the San Jose Sharks.

Predicted runners-up: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins and Marc Savard, Boston Bruins
Malkin led the NHL in points and assists at the 41-game mark, but the Penguins were slumping. Savard, centering the top line for the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins, was top five in points and assists and led the League with a plus-28 rating.

Awarded to the top rookie as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
Predicted winner: Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets

If you scan below, you'll also see Mason's name as one of the predicted runner-ups for the Vezina Trophy, which is amazing considering he wasn't even on the NHL roster in October. Yes, the Oakville, Ont., native has been that good since being called up to the big club in early November.
Mason finished the first half of the season tops in the NHL with a .938 save percentage, 1.75 goals-against average and six shutouts. He has carried the Blue Jackets into playoff contention as they sat third in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference with 44 points.

Predicted runners-ups: Kris Versteeg, Chicago Blackhawks and Drew Doughty, LA Kings
Versteeg surprised just about everyone in the NHL at the start of the season, but he's been nothing but consistent and is benefitted from playing with Hawks captain Jonathan Toews. Doughty, who turned 19 last month, is remarkably the Kings most consistent defensemen and is leading the team in ice time.

Awarded to the best defenseman as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
Predicted winner: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings

Thought about going out on a limb here and picking against the six-time winner, but just couldn't do it. Lidstrom is once again proving he's still the gold standard for defenseman in today's NHL. He's still the most consistent even though the blue line, it appears, has become the place to be with such talented youngsters like Shea Weber, Dion Phaneuf, Mike Green and Duncan Keith dominating the headlines.

Lidstrom hit the 41-game mark (39 for him after missing two games with an ankle injury) with 28 points and a plus-16 rating. The 38-year-old Swede is still playing close to 25 minutes per game. In fact, after sitting out two-straight games with that ankle injury, Lidstrom returned for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day and played in a game-high 24:59. Two nights later, he played 28:21 against Minnesota.

Predicted runners-up: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks and Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins.
Even though Brian Campbell was voted in as an All-Star starter, a case could be made that Keith has been the Hawks best all-round player this season. Chara is one of the big reasons why the Bruins are in the running for the William M. Jennings Trophy.

Awarded to the best goalkeeper as voted on by the general managers of all 30 clubs.
Predicted winner: Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins

Can we finally put aside our amazement and recognize that Thomas is this good? The guy was an All-Star last season and is again this season even though his name wasn't even listed on the ballot. Thomas has been brilliant for the Bruins, who led the Eastern Conference with 64 points at the 41-game mark.

In 23 appearances, Thomas was 16-4-3 with a .932 save percentage and 2.13 GAA. Thomas and backup Manny Fernandez were named the NHL's First Star for the month of December. Thomas was 7-0 with a 2.40 GAA and a .922 save percentage with one shutout. He was 5-0 on the road for the month.

Predicted runners-up: Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota and Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Wild would not have been in the playoffs at the 41-game mark, but it's not Backstrom's fault. He has been excellent for the West's most offensively challenged team. Mason has been one of the best stories of the first half.

Awarded to the best defensive forward as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
Predicted winner: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings' Russian magician, who won this trophy last season, is the master at turning great defense into scintillating offense in the blink of an eye. Datsyuk's speed, incredible hands, innate hockey sense and remarkable sneakiness has enabled him to once again lead the League in takeaways with 49 while also boasting a plus-15 rating through 41 games. He was dynamite in the faceoff circle, winning 57.3 percent of his 703 draws.
You can't find a player in the NHL right now who is better at the quick steal, turn and go. At least once a game, Datsyuk sneaks up behind someone, lifts his stick and poaches the puck away before turning up ice to start a rush for the Red Wings.
Predicted runners-up: Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers and Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild
Richards' 4 shorthanded goals were tied for the League lead with teammates Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne. He's among the leaders for forwards in takeaways and blocked shots. Koivu headlines the Wild's penalty kill, which is among the best in the League. He's arguable the NHL's best faceoff guy, too.

Awarded to the best coach as voted on by the NHL Broadcasters' Association.
Predicted winner: Claude Julien, Boston Bruins

Julien has gotten more out of his team than anyone could have expected. The Bruins have rocketed to the top with the League's best combination of offense and defense. Their power-play is in the top five and their penalty-kill is in the top 10.

Every player has bought into Julien's defensive approach. Savard is the poster boy for that. A minus-19 in 2006-07, Savard owned a League-best plus-28 rating through 41 games. David Krejci is flourishing in his first full season. Phil Kessel has blossomed into the dynamic goal scorer everyone expected him to be in his draft year. Michael Ryder has found his touch again after an off-year in Montreal last season. Blake Wheeler has been one of the top rookies all season. Milan Lucic has turned his hard, physical play into offensive production. Rookie Matt Hunwick has been a nice addition on the blue line that already included veterans Chara, Aaron Ward and Shane Hnidy. Dennis Wideman is en route to his best season, as well.

Predicted runners-up: Todd McLellan, San Jose Sharks and Brent Sutter, New Jersey Devils
McLellan is a first-year head coach that has only experienced first place. An assistant with the Detroit Red Wings last season, he's now in charge of the team that poses the biggest threat to the defending Stanley Cup champs. That Sutter has the Devils, sans Martin Brodeur and with a no-name defense, battling for first in the Atlantic is remarkable. Zach Parise could become the Devils' first 100-point scorer under Sutter.

Awarded to the player who best combines his skill with sportsmanship as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
Predicted winner: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
Surprise, surprise. Datsyuk has won this trophy every year since the lockout and he's on his way to making it four straight. He finished the first half of the season as the Wings' leader with 47 points while spending only 12 minutes in the penalty box. Datsyuk won this trophy last year after leading the Wings with 97 points and only 20 penalty minutes.

Predicted runners-up: Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning and David Krejci, Boston Bruins
St. Louis is in line to finish second to Datsyuk for the third-straight season. Through 41 games he led the Lightning with 40 points and had committed only one minor penalty. Krejci had 43 points with only 10 penalty minutes, so he edged teammate Phil Kessel (41 points, 10 PIMs) as the second runner-up.

Presented to the most outstanding player as voted on by members of the NHL Players' Association.
Predicted winner: Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins

While the media can easily select Ovechkin or Malkin as the Hart Trophy winner and be spot-on in the choice, the players' definition of MVP sometimes varies from the general consensus. They're the ones in the trenches and they know who comes up with huge, game-changing performances on a nightly basis. This is not to say that Ovechkin or Malkin haven't done that this season -- they most definitely have -- but it's hard to find someone who has come up any bigger than Thomas has this season.

While he may be buoyed by one of the League's best offenses, you all know the saying about how good defense translates into offense. On most nights, Thomas has been the last line of a defense on one of the League's best defensive teams. Savard, Krejci, Kessel, Chara and Lucic are all having big years, but Thomas has been out of sight. That he's risen from virtual anonymity only adds to the intrigue of his story.

Predicted runners-up: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals and Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins.
Case closed.

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