Handing out awards in the middle of the season is always a little silly, because just about anyone can spasm 40 games of brilliance. But hey, we’re here to be silly! So it feels like a great time to go over the first half of the NHL season and see who is the leader in the clubhouse for the baubles handed out at the end of the season.
I don’t like picking the chalk anymore than you, despite what some of my friends may claim, but sometimes you can’t get around it. McClavicle here is on pace for 150 points with 67 goals. He leads the scoring race by 14 points. If you get into what “valuable” actually means like a mouth-breather instead of just using it as a Player Of The Year award, then you already know what the Oilers would be without McDavid. His expected-goals percentage relative to the rest of the Oilers is +7.9. When he’s not on the ice the Oilers are the Coyotes. When he is, they’re a genuine playoff team.
The Devils have been the surprise of the season, still hanging off the shoulder of the Hurricanes in the Metro Division. More than that, Hughes has transformed what we think of when we think of the Devils. It took decades to not immediately have your bowels curdle when just hearing the phrase, “New Jersey Devils,” given that the connotation was a group of nameless fuckarounds playing the most boring hockey imaginable in some glorified parking lot on the other side of the river in front of a few thousand bewildered bridge trolls and Anthony Soprano. The Devils now are fast, explosive, and fun, and most of that is due to Hughes. It also doesn’t hurt his cause that he’s been dragging around Erik Haula on his wing for most of the year and he’s still on pace for 55 goals.
Again, it’s chalky as shit, picking the goalie on the best team, but Ullmark’s numbers even behind the doomsday device that is the Bruins are still pretty ridiculous. He leads the league in save percentage by 10 points. He leads in goals against. He leads in goals saved above expected, and goals saved above expected per 60 minutes. Yes, the Bruins are a great defensive team (second in xGA against per 60), but Ullmark is the biggest reason that the Bruins lead in goals-against by half a goal per game. Sure, Ullmark may split more starts with Jeremy Swayman as the season goes on and the Bs go into cruise control, but that’s the game today.
Whereas Ullmark has been behind a finely tuned unit, Saros spends most of his nights cleaning up various piles of puke and charred couches thanks to the utter mess that the Predators are. No one has seen more rubber than Saros so far this year, and he only trails Ullmark in goals saved above expected and goals saved above expected per 60 minutes. His team will probably sink him, but any kind of Preds revival in the second half puts him at the top of the conversation.
Man, I’m starting to look like Powder here with all this chalk. But I, nor too many others, knew that Thunderkiss EK65 here was going to roll back the clock a couple of years and look like he did in Ottawa when he was dragging those dog-ass teams to competence. He leads D-men in goals and points, and his metrics are so far above the rest of the Sharks that it’s a wonder he doesn’t make his teammates tie his skates before practices and games. Sometimes these things have an element of feel to them, and when you watch Karlsson —assuming you can admit to yourself that you’re the kind of person that will take time out to watch Sharks hockey — zoom around the ice like he’s the only skinny guy and everyone else is the fat guy from the original Nintendo hockey game, you know you’re watching something special. Karlsson transformed the game a few years ago and sent every team looking for their own dervish to push the play from the back, and he’s spent this whole season reminding everyone why.
Theodore’s counting stats aren’t impressive (4-18-22), but his underlying metrics are pretty dizzying when you consider he’s got a better relative Corsi percentage than Karlsson but only starts 41 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. The rest of the Golden Knights’ defensive corps has been getting buried, but Theodore has kept them afloat and provided the platform for the Knights to lead the division.
Now we’re going off the board, bitches! I know, you’re asking, “WHO?!” And how can I dare hand an award to someone who is currently in the AHL (though will be back up today with the Capitals. Oh, right, I should tell you he plays for the Capitals.) But this has been my quest for years. For the past decade and a half, this award has come down to whether or not Patrice Bergeron is still intaking oxygen or not. And Bergeron is a legendary player! His defensive metrics are still wonderful. But we, as a society really, have to do better. Bergeron starts two-thirds of his shifts in the offensive zone. Which means he barely ever has to play defense, though that’s mostly due to his own ability in keeping the puck. But this is supposed to be for “defensive” work, and Bergeron is basically just an offensive player now. I will now take the next two weeks off to hide from the entire population of Charlestown that will camp outside my door.
But now it’s time to find forwards that play defense, that have to save their teams in the defensive zone and do so. So that lands us on the Caps’ Protas. He starts less than 30 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone. And yet he’s sixth in the league in relative expected goals against. Teams don’t score on the Caps when Protas is on the ice, and he has to do most of his work starting in his own end and getting up the ice.
OK, yeah, he was sent down. The Caps don’t even think much of him. But it’s not about Protas himself so much, it’s about using him as a symbol. This shouldn’t be an award about finding the No. 1 center who wins most of his faceoffs. This should be an award for the plugs, the faceless, the foot soldier. Follow Protas to freedom.
Kind of the same thing as Protas, just with more skill.
Do we have to call him “Matty?” This is the big leagues, son, you’re Matt or Matthew.
Anyway, it’s hard to know how much of the Kraken’s emergence on the scene is permanent or long-lasting, given how lucky they’ve been with pretty much every shot they take going in, but Berniers is the identifiable foundation for whatever comes next. While fellow rookie Shane Wright has been on some sort of weird hockey odyssey, Berniers has made that OK by anchoring Seattle’s top line. He’s lapping the rookie field, so this is another easy one.
He should get the award for allowing us all to make a Hot Fuzz reference. “Mr. Skinner to the manager’s office…MISTER…SKINNER!”
Skinner might have a chance at the award if the Oilers would stop pretending that Jack Campbell wasn’t some sort of ghost that only they can see. Skinner is plus in both goals saved above expected and goals saved above expected per 60, carries the best save percentage among rookie goaltenders, and the only thing keeping him from taking the job full-time is the Oilers’ blindness to anything other than their record. It’s always 90s baseball thinking up there.