Here's my take on some of the bests and worsts halfway through the 2008-09 season.
Stanley Cup favorites — Boston and Detroit: Yes, San Jose has the most points of any team in the league, but Detroit is the defending champion and just four points behind the Sharks. San Jose will need to get tougher to make it out of the West. The Bruins do everything well: defend, score, hit and stop the puck. The Red Wings are pretty much the same team as last year plus Marian Hossa.
Hart Trophy — Jeff Carter (PHI): Not only is Carter leading the league in goals with 29, he is on the ice killing penalties for nearly 3 1/2 minutes a night and is a threat to score even then (he's one of three Flyers with four shorthanded goals). It's hard to believe Toronto could have had him last season if Tomas Kaberle waived his no-trade clause.
Runners-up — Jarome Iginla (CGY) and Alexander Ovechkin (WSH): Iginla hasn't gotten much pub this year, but the veteran power forward has Calgary third in the Western Conference. After a slow start, Ovechkin is back to humiliating opposing netminders.
Norris Trophy — Zdeno Chara (BOS): Big Z is the most feared defender in the game, and not just for his physicality. He can single-handedly shut down star players (ask Eric Staal) and also produces more offensively than most notice: he's 20th in defensive scoring with 23 points, including seven goals.
Runners-up — Dan Boyle (SJ) and Duncan Keith (CHI): Boyle is the NHL's No. 1 blueline scorer with 34 points and has made Sharks fans forget about last year's deadline acquisition, Brian Campbell. Speaking of Campbell, he's not the best d-man on his new team, the Blackhawks. That honor belongs to Keith, who eats up more than 25 minutes a night while shutting down the opposition's best players and contributing offensively (25 points). Apologies to Shea Weber, who is also having a magnificent season.
Calder Trophy — Steve Mason (CLB): Mason has been nothing short of a savior net for the Blue Jackets. The rookie goalie missed the start of the year recovering from late September knee surgery, but has been the NHL's top netminder since seizing the starting job.
Runners-up — Kris Versteeg (CHI) and Drew Doughty: Versteeg leads all rookies in points (33) and has as many goals (13) as any other. He's even outscored Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. In L.A., Doughty is already proving to be a future Norris candidate. He leads the Kings in ice time, has a respectable 12 points, and is responsible and tough in his own end (remember his crunching hit on Staal earlier in the year?). There's no other blueliner in the league that I'd want to build a young team around.
Selke Trophy — Mike Richards (PHI): No player reminds me of a young Rod Brind'Amour more than Richards. Like his teammate Carter, Richards is a threat in every situation and aims to make opponents look foolish with his shorthanded play. While he only wins about half his faceoffs, no player in the league has taken more than his 916 draws.
Runners-up — Mikko Koivu (MIN) and Pavel Datsyuk (DET): The younger Koivu has surpassed big brother Saku as the better all-around NHLer. He is perhaps the league's most underrated player at both ends of the ice. Datsyuk, last's year's Selke winner, is always a threat to lift and opponent's stick and head the other way. Still, I can't shake Jordan Staal doing the same to him early in the season to complete Pittsburgh's improbable come-from-behind 7-6 overtime win.
Adams Trophy — Claude Julien (BOS): Tossed aside by New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello just before the playoffs two seasons ago, Julien has not only revived his career but the Beantown hockey scene. He did a magnificent job last season with a defense-first approach, but his willingness to adapt to his team's high-end skill and open up the Bruins' attack while involving several young players in prominent roles is what makes him the frontrunner at the halfway point.
Runners-up — Todd McLennan (SJ) and Brent Sutter (NJ): McLennan's team has the best record, but we've seen that from the Sharks before. Still, he's done a magnificent job at re-establishing Patrick Marleau as an all-world player and revamping San Jose's attack. Sutter has the Devils in the playoffs mix without the services of Martin Brodeur, plus injuries to several other key players.
Best UFA Signing — Marian Hossa (DET): The one-year deal Wings GM Ken Holland got Hossa to sign was not only the shocker of free agency, but it's also been the best move. Hossa leads a talented group of scorers in goals and has Detroit playing like they're hungry to repeat.
Runners-up — Mark Streit (NYI) and Michael Ryder (BOS): A lot of people laughed when they saw the money given to Streit and Ryder, but both have been key components to their teams. Ryder's 17 goals trails only Phil Kessel (24) on the Bruins, while Streit is the Islanders top scorer (33 points) and is behind only Boyle in points by a defenseman. Streit's teammate Doug Weight and San Jose's Rob Blake are also worth mentioning for reviving their careers late in the game.
Worst UFA Signing — Sean Avery (DAL): A disaster in every sense of the word.
Runners-up — Nearly any move by Tampa Bay (TB) and Brian Rolston (NJ): It didn't take long for Radim Vrbata to take his stick and go home. Ryan Malone is not living up to his $4.5 million cap hit. Gary Roberts is costing the Bolts $2 million on their cap to sit in the press box. Olaf Kolzig is showing his age. Only Mark Recchi has been worth his weight in cash (technically, Vaclav Prospal was acquired via trade and signed before the UFA period). Rolston, while still capable of being an impact player, has been hurt this year and is set to earn an average of more than $5 million through 2011-12. He turns 36 in February.
Best Trade Acquisition — Dan Boyle (SJ): Like mentioned earlier, Boyle has seamlessly filled the No. 1 d-man job in San Jose.
Runners-up — Robert Lang (MTL) and Nikolai Zherdev (NYR): Lang was acquired for a second-round pick by Habs GM Bob Gainey to provide secondary scoring. Instead, he leads Montreal in goals with 16 and is tied for the team's point lead. Zherdev's enigma status has seemingly come to end. Acquired with Dan Fritsche from Columbus for defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman, Zherdev has thrived with the Rangers and is far and away the team's top point producer.
Worst Trade Acquistion — Matt Carle (TB): How bad was this move? Tampa Bay gave up a Norris contender in Boyle for a player they no longer have. The Lightning also received first- and fourth-round picks, plus prospect Ty Wishart, but shipped Carle and a third-rounder to the Flyers for Steve Eminger, Steve Downie and a fourth-round pick. They'll be wishing they held on to Boyle.
Runners-up — Andrej Meszaros (TB) and Erik Cole (EDM): Here's the Tampa no-brain trust again. While Meszaros has been OK, he's had 10 fewer points than the player he was traded for (Filip Kuba), plus Ottawa got d-man Alexander Picard and a first-round pick out of the deal. Cole, like the majority of the Oilers, has struggled mightily this season. Edmonton dealt Joni Pitkanen to Carolina for Cole and went out and acquired Lubomir Visnovsky (for Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene) to replace Pitkanen, thinking they were upgrading both their defense and offence. Visnovsky and Pitkanen have had comparable seasons, while Cole has been outscored by Stoll and is on pace for his lowest point total since 2002-03.
Best Waiver Claim — Kyle Wellwood (VAN): Even the Canucks coaching staff thought this was a bad move to start. Vancouver claimed Wellwood from Toronto in late June, but he again started the season out of shape and was sent through waivers for assignment to the AHL. But injuries led to Wellwood's recall to Vancouver — even at half price, he cleared waivers again — and he was a key part of the Canucks' early season success.
Runners-up — Kyle Quincey (LA) and Ken Klee (PHX): Detroit knew if they put Quincey through waivers they'd lose a valuable asset for nothing, and, unable to find a trade partner, they did. Quincey trails only Doughty in ice time on the Kings and leads all defensemen in points with 23. Klee may not be a huge contributor, but the steady, veteran blueliner is a good fit with the young Coyotes — and will be even more valuable due to Kurt Sauer's recent injury.
Worst Injury — Brenden Morrow (DAL): Morrow is the heart and soul of the Stars. It's bad enough they had the whole Avery mess, but losing Morrow for the year pretty much ended any chance of a playoff run.
Runners-up — Martin Brodeur (NJ) and Joe Sakic (COL): These two are the faces of their respective franchises. It's amazing both teams have overcome the injuries and remain in the postseason hunt, which is why they're runners-up and not ahead of Morrow. Also worth mentioning: Francois Beauchemin, Patrice Bergeron, Derick Brassard, Rick DiPietro, Marian Gaborik, Sergei Gonchar, Roberto Luongo, the St. Louis Blues defense, Marco Sturm and Sergei Zubov.
Best Prediction: Cory — Bruins Will Win The Northeast; Bubba — Chicago Will Battle The Wings In The Central.
Worst Prediction: Cory — Dallas Will Win The Pacific; Bubba — Calgary Will Be Third In The Northwest
Note: I just saw that this is Canes Country's 1,000th post. Kudos to Bubba on starting and building up this great blog!