NHL at the halfway point
Crawford, Couture in line for hardware
AMIT MANN, Sports Network
TORONTO -- The mid-point of the NHL season is upon us and while there's plenty of hockey remaining, let's take a look at who could be in store for some hardware in Las Vegas this summer:
JACK ADAMS AWARD: Marc Crawford, Dallas Stars
Last season, the Dallas Stars struggled under Marc Crawford to find the consistency needed to be a playoff team. This year, however, with essentially the same core of players, the Stars are giving fans flashbacks to their Stanley Cup-winning year in 1999 as they sit fourth in the league with 63 points and are ninth in goals against with 122.
Kari Lehtonen has replaced Marty Turco between the pipes, but, generally speaking, we're looking at the same roster that couldn't get it done last season, making Crawford's case as Coach of the Year all the more enticing. With eight straight road wins, the Stars have an excellent road record (14-7-1), which is common for playoff-caliber teams, and have demonstrated an inane ability to scratch and claw their way to victories, something that has historically characterized Crawford's teams.
Dallas is tied for first in the league with five wins when trailing after two periods and Crawford's ability to get his players to buy into his system makes him an early candidate to pick up his second Jack Adams Trophy.
Honourable Mention: Guy Boucher (Tampa Bay Lightning), Craig Ramsay (Atlanta Thrashers)
CALDER MEMORIAL TROPHY: Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks
In past years, there has been a clear-cut winner for the league's best rookie. However, this season Logan Couture is but inches ahead of his competition. The former Ottawa 67 leads all rookies in goals (21), game winners (six) and face- offs taken (530).
Couture barely made the Sharks' roster, but now his value to the team could not be more significant. With the big three of Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton not having their typical exceptional seasons, the 21-year- old's secondary scoring has been vital for a Sharks team that is still trying to find their way.
Leading all rookie forwards in total ice-time (848:56) and fifth in plus/minus (10), Couture has been forced to mature in a competitive Western Conference at a rapid rate, and the Guelph-native has taken it in stride. As a first-year player, Couture's importance to the Sharks has been magnified with their struggles and his ability to rise to the occasion has put him in the driver's seat to be the league's best rookie.
Honourable Mentions: Jeff Skinner (Carolina Hurricanes), Sergei Bobrovsky (Philadelphia Flyers)
JAMES NORRIS MEMORIAL TROPHY: Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
In October, the notion Kris Letang was the league's best defenceman would have likely drawn laughs. But with the departure of Sergei Gonchar in Pittsburgh, the Sainte-Julie, Quebec native has realized his potential.
After finishing with just 27 points in 73 games last season, the 62nd overall pick in 2005 has collected 40 in 48 contests this season. Following suit with his offensive success are the developments in his defensive game, as the smooth skating 23-year-old sits sixth in the league with a plus-21.
He's been rewarded by his improvements in 1-on-1 coverage and ability to handle pressure situations with more playing time, leading the Penguins in ice-time per game (23:44), and is 15th in total-ice time in the league (1139:49). Letang's quick progression in the NHL could make him a candidate as best defenceman for years to come.
Honourable mention: Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins), Shea Weber (Nashville Predatos)
VEZINA TROPHY: Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
He didn't even start the year as the Boston Bruins' No. 1 goaltender, but Tim Thomas is on an early track to win his second Vezina Trophy. With so much expected of the Bruins going into the season, goaltender Tuukka Rask seemingly crumbled under the pressure.
Fortunately for the Bruins, Tim Thomas came on and was calm, cool and collected - or at least as cool as he could be with his erratic goaltending style. Thomas has been nothing short of brilliant as he leads all goaltenders with an impressive .945 save percentage and adds a masterful 1.83 goals against average.
Despite playing less games, his 22 wins is only one off the league leaders and his seven shutouts tie for the league lead.
After struggling last season, Thomas has gotten his groove back and is the early candidate to win his second Vezina in three years.
Honourable Mention: Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens), Jonas Hiller (Anahiem Ducks)
HART MEMORIAL TROPHY: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Need we say more? Sidney Crosby leads the league in points (66), is second in goals (32) and fifth in assists (34) as well as second in plus/minus among forwards (20).
At just 23 years of age, the Pens' sixth-year star is an MVP candidate every season because of the multiple ways he affects the game. Whether it's through offensive production, defence or winning clutch face-offs, Crosby's importance to his team outlasts any other player.
Since being sidelined with a concussion, Pittsburgh has gone 3-3, whereas during his 25-game point streak the Penguins climbed the Eastern Conference standings by going 19-6. Simply put, he's the best player in the league and providing there is not a melt down by the Penguins in the second half of the season - and Crosby's health improves - "Sid the Kid" is a lock for his second Hart Trophy.
Honourable Mention: Tim Thomas (Boston Bruins), Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay Lightning)