Midseason awards time!

With the NHL shutting down for the All-Star break, here’s my look at the unofficial first half of the season.

BIGGEST SURPRISE, TEAM DIVISION: Tie, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils

With apologies to the San Jose Sharks and their 22-1-2 home record, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, did anyone think the Bruins would be the most dominant team in their own conference?

There are no real stars in Boston – you won’t find a Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin there – but some could be emerging after putting up some already-impressive numbers.

One is Phil Kessel, seemingly unstoppable in an 18-game points streak. Another is Michael Ryder, who has seven game-winning goals in his first season in the Hub after virtually being run out of Montreal following the worst season of his four-year career.

Stout goaltending from All-Star Tim Thomas and a finally-healthy Manny Fernandez have helped Boston open a 10-point lead in the Eastern Conference, and 13 over the Canadiens in the Northeast Division.

How many people – besides me - said the Devils were done after losing ironman goaltender Martin Brodeur on Nov. 1 to an arm injury that may keep him out for the rest of the regular season.

With the way Scott Clemmensen has filled in, the Devils may tell their future Hall of Famer to take his time coming back.

Clemmensen started a total of 19 games over the previous five seasons with the Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs. In his first 30 games filling in for Brodeur, the Iowa native is 19-9-1 with a 2.29 goals-against average.

Since Nov. 2, only the Calgary Flames’ Miikka Kiprusoff has more wins (21) than Clemmensen. That’s helped move to Devils to the top of the Atlantic Division, one point ahead of the New York Rangers and two in front of the Philadelphia Flyers.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, TEAM DIVISION: Tie, Dallas Stars and Ottawa Senators

The addition of Sean Avery was supposed to make Dallas the kind of team that would rub you the wrong way. Instead, it took only 23 games for the Stars to realize they made a huge mistake.

The ‘sloppy seconds’ comment about former girlfriend Elisa Cuthbert was the final nail in the coffin for Avery, who was never seen by his Stars teammate as much of a team player. Mike Modano, who’s spent his entire career with the franchise, said recently that to the best of his knowledge no former teammates have reached out to Avery.

With Avery, the Stars went 8-11-4, and Marty Turco – definitely not an Avery fan – got off to 7-10-4 start with a 3.61 GAA. Cutting Avery seems to have helped, as the Stars are 12-7-3 since Dec. 1, and Turco is 12-6-5 with a 2.58 GAA.

Dallas is in 11th place in the Western Conference with 47 points.

Unless the Senators make a huge second-half push, their streak of 11 straight postseason appearances will end.

Thanks in large part to a horrific 1-6-1 road trip in which it was outscored 34-20, Ottawa will start the second half of the season with 39 points, tying the Atlanta Thrashers for the second-fewest in the East.

Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza have combined for 51 goals, but the remainder of the team has totaled just 56. Add ineffective goaltending by Alex Auld and the newly-waived Martin Gerber (Los Angeles? New York Islanders?), and a coach in Craig Hartsburg who’s seemingly clueless … there could be a revolt on Parliament Hill.


Maybe Ron Wilson was the problem all along.

The relationship between Marleau and his former coach was frosty at best. Especially when the Sharks captain was moved from center to left wing.

With a new coach, a new voice and fresh ideas, Marleau has bounced back in a big way from the worst season of his career.

Marleau told the San Jose Mercury News earlier this month that a conversation with new coach Todd McLellan shortly after he was hired to replace Wilson left quite an impression.

“Having that conversation about what was expected out of me, he set it out and made it pretty simple for me to know what he needed,” said Marleau, who’s had the game-winning goals in each of San Jose’s last two games.

He’s already got 25 goals this season, and needs 10 more to set a new career high. The 11-year veteran had 19 in 78 games last season.


I’ve written about the top overall pick in the 2008 draft. I’m sure there’s talent lurking somewhere, but I’ll sum his game up in three words.

He’s. Not. Ready.

He’s 18 and being scratched from time to help increase his physical strength. He’s also taking part in extra video sessions with the coaching staff.

So, not only does the 6-foot-1, 196-pound Stamkos seem to be physically unable to handle the rigors of an 82-game NHL season, he also seems to be having difficulties with the nuances of the pro game.

A recent spurt – two goals and two assists in a four-game streak – has padded his stats some. In 45 games, Stamkos has six goals and 12 assists.

Repeat after me: He’s. Not. Ready.

HART TROPHY WINNER, HALF SEASON: Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

A slow start made some think there was a MVP hangover, but Ovechkin has recently shown that he’s on track to win it again.

Last season, Ovechkin had 65 goals and 112 points en route to winning the Hart, and making hockey in REALLY relevant in the nation’s capital again. But through his first 11 games this season, he managed two goals and six assists. Turns out a family issue in Mother Russia was weighing on his mind.

“I feel great. I feel free right now, and I'm right now enjoying my time again,” he said in November

And how. After his slow start: 29 goals, 10 on the power play, six game-winners. The Capitals record in that time when he scored: 18-1-1.

By the way, the last player to win back-to-back Harts? Dominik Hasek of the Buffalo Sabres in 1997 and 1998.

VEZINA TROPHY WINNER, HALF SEASON: Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks

Yes, Kiprusoff leads the league in wins, but his former teammate has been the better netminder – especially at home.

In 21 starts at the Shark Tank, Nabokov is 19-1-1 with a 2.08 GAA and .920 save percentage. Overall, he’s won nearly 74 percent of his starts, posting a 25-5-4 record.

Not horrible for a ninth-round pick.

CALDER TROPHY WINNER, HALF SEASON: Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets

Unless something goes wrong, Mason will have the Blue Jackets playing in the postseason for the first time after entering the league as an expansion franchise in 2000.

Picked 69th overall in 2006, Mason has made Columbus fans forget the likes of Fredrik Norrena and Pascal Leclaire. Three straight shutouts to close 2008 among his league-leading six this season will do that.

Though he struggled into the break, giving up 13 goals in a three-game stretch against western Canadian foes, Mason continues to lead the league with a 2.05 GAA.


McLellan had the pedigree, winning a Stanley Cup last season as an assistant to Mike Babcock in Detroit.

This season, he could be raising the Cup at another parade – this time on the West Coast.

McLellan, a championship coach with the AHL’s Houston Aeros, guided the Sharks to 13 wins in their first 15 games.

“We've harnessed some of the early season energy, and we're able to get out of the gate quickly. Our confidence grew, and now it's about maintaining our game,” he said.

Establishing a dominant advantage at home has also helped. San Jose is 22-1-2 at home, and the regulation loss to Calgary last week was the Sharks’ first at the HP Pavilion since Valenetine’s Day.

Now, McLellan just needs to keep these guys grounded enough to get past the second round.

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