RALEIGH, N.C. -- Conveniently, we're in North Carolina for Tuesday's Flyers matchup, the site of last year's 58th annual All-Star Game, the traditional halfway marker. Following up on our mid-term position grades in today’s paper, let’s hand out some hardware at the official halfway point of the season.:
most valuable player
Winner: Claude Giroux (PHI)
Finalists: Henrik Sedin (VAN), Phil Kessel (TOR).
The scoop: If you want, you can call me a homer. But ESPN.com, Sports Illustrated, the Hockey News and numerous other publications that cover the NHL - like the Arizona Republic - also have Giroux tabbed as the league’s first-half MVP. Giroux enters Tuesday’s action just one point back of Sedin and tied with Kessel. The only difference is that Giroux has played 7 games less than Sedin and 5 games less than Kessel. At the halfway point, Giroux appears to have himself booked for a trip to the NHL Awards in Las Vegas in late June.
rookie of the year
Winner: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM)
Finalists: Adam Henrique (NJ), Matt Read (PHI)
The scoop: Nugent-Hopkins has missed the Oilers’ last 3 games, but he is still the odds-on favorite - at this moment - to skate off with the Calder in Las Vegas in June. The ‘Nuge’ has 13 goals and 22 assists for 35 points, which lead all rookies, despite the fact that he hasn’t netted a goal since Dec. 9 - a span of 10 straight games. Henrique, a smart and steady forward for the Devils, isn’t far behind and could take the reins if Nugent-Hopkins is out long-term. You have to wonder how much Read’s age, 25, will impact voters, especially when compared to Nugent-Hopkins, 18, and even Henrique, 21.
Winner: Henrik Lundqvist (NYR)
Finalists: Tim Thomas (BOS), Brian Elliott (STL)
The scoop: Take a look at Lundqvist’s stat line and you’ll know why he should win: 29 starts, .939 save percentage (3rd), 1.89 goals against-average (3rd), 18 wins (5th), 3 shutouts (5th). Lundqvist has been complete and consistent - and it helps that he finally has a team in front of him. Is it possible for Elliott to win the Vezina when he isn’t even the full-time starter on his team? Elliott (.940 SV%, 1.62 GAA) has split most of the season with Jaroslav Halak. Tim Thomas (1.99 GAA, .938 SV%) has also been ultra-impressive as his Bruins have bulled their way to the top of the standings.
JACK ADAMS AWARD
coach of the year
Winner: Ken Hitchcock (STL)
Finalists: Kevin Dineen (FLA), Paul MacLean (OTT).
The scoop: It isn’t often that a coach who did not begin the season with a team goes on to win the Jack Adams that same year. But Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, already the longest-tenured coach in St. Louis professional sports after 2 months, with Tony LaRussa retiring and Steve Spagnuolo being fired, is running away with it. The Blues are 18-5-5 since ‘Hitch’ took over on Nov. 7. After a lengthy stint in the AHL, Dineen - a former Flyers captain - has the Panthers poised to end the NHL’s longest playoff drought by one franchise and MacLean weaving a minor miracle in Ottawa with a roster that was destined for a lottery pick.
GM OF THE YEAR
Winner: Dale Tallon (FLA)
Finalists: Paul Holmgren (PHI), Peter Chiarelli
The scoop: Yes, Dale Tallon had more financial flexibility this offseason than any other general manager in the NHL, since he was forced to spend more than $30 million just to make it to the salary cap floor. Still, Tallon created some of that room by cleaning house when he came in last winter. Tallon has put together a feisty franchise that has a nice balance of old and young. Holmgren is the only GM in the league to make bolder moves. And it’s scary to think that Chiarelli has nearly $13 million in cap space to play with before the Feb. 27 trade deadline.
STANDINGS ANALYSIS: Now, what about a look at the standings? Here are my predicted standings from Oct. 5 side-by-side with the current standings. Since they fluctuate from day-to-day, it’s tough to put much stock in the actual seedings, for some teams more than others.
Who would have guessed that the Penguins and Capitals meeting this week would be with a playoff spot on the line?
CURRENT (through Jan. 9, 2012): PREDICTION (on Oct. 5, 2011):
1. N.Y. Rangers 1. Washington
2. Boston 2. Pittsburgh
3. Florida 3. Boston
4. Philadelphia 4. Philadelphia
5. Ottawa 5. Buffalo
6. New Jersey 6. Tampa Bay
7. Toronto 7. N.Y. Rangers
8. Pittsburgh 8. Florida
9. Winnipeg 9. Carolina
10. Washington 10. Montreal
11. Buffalo 11. Winnipeg
12. Montreal 12. Toronto
13. Tampa Bay 13. New Jersey
14. Carolina 14. N.Y. Islanders
15. N.Y. Islanders 15. Ottawa
As it stands, I have 5 of the 8 teams currently in the playoffs. I’d venture to say that Washington and Buffalo are able to pull it out and slide into a spot. My guess is that New Jersey and Ottawa would fall off as the season progresses and the games continue to get harder to win. Talent trumps all. Toronto has been fading fast, though.
Listen to former Flyer Joffrey Lupul, who is on pace for a 90-point season, who said it best in the Toronto Sun: “If I look at my stats in the first half and have all sorts of points, but we are not in a position to make the playoffs, what have you really done?” The Maple Leafs haven't made the playoffs since being eliminated by the Flyers in 2004.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Ottawa Senators. Take a look at the Senators roster. Tell me which players on that list would scare you in a playoff series? Other than Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Erik Karlsson, the list isn’t long. That’s why Paul MacLean should be one of the finalists for the Jack Adams - and he should win if the Sens can hang on to make the playoffs. Karlsson is a true treat to watch from the blue line. Daniel Alfredsson has been rejuvenated. And Spezza is finally earning his enormous paycheck for the first time. Amazingly, this team’s roster is rounded out by players like Colin Greening, Erik Condra and Jared Cowen.
Honorable mention: New York Rangers.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Buffalo Sabres. It is tough to look at the Sabres’ payroll - with actual payroll approaching $80 million this season, above their $64.3 million salary cap - and justify their 11th place standing. They are just 5 points back. But they have way too much talent to even be out of the playoff picture. Injured forward Ville Leino has just 10 points in 30 games. Injured defenseman Tyler Myers has been a healthy scratch at points. Ryan Miller looks like a shell of his former self. Anyone other than Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek has been an enormous disappointment for the trendy pick to win the Northeast division.
Honorable mention: Tampa Bay Lightning.
Check back for updates from the Flyers' morning skate in Raleigh, which kicks off at 11:30 a.m. from the RBC Center.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers