By definition, the Hart Memorial Trophy – awarded to the NHL player judged to be "most valuable to his team" – annually trips up voters because it doesn't necessarily go to the league's best player. The Ted Lindsay Award, voted on by members of the players' association, is the one that's presented annually to the NHL's "most outstanding player." Many years, the two are indistinguishable, as they were last season, when the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby was the landslide winner of both.
But the 2014-15 NHL season, which hits its exact midpoint with the third game on Saturday's 11-game schedule, is shaping up as a completely different sort of a year, with a modest changing of the guard at the highest levels. A player who virtually no one knows a thing about – Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers – leads the league in points, while the Dallas Stars' Tyler Seguin is tops in goals. The St. Louis Blues' Kevin Shattenkirk leads in points by a defenceman, while the Winnipeg Jets' rookie goaltender Michael Hutchinson leads in save percentage and is tied with the Blues' Brian Elliott in goals-against average.
Tyler Johnson, not Steven Stamkos, leads Tampa in scoring. Evgeni Malkin, not Crosby, leads Pittsburgh. Alex Tanguay, not Matt Duchene or Nathan MacKinnon, leads Colorado. Nick Foligno, not Ryan Johansen or Scott Hartnell, leads Columbus. The New York Rangers' Rick Nash, who couldn't buy a goal in last year's playoffs, has been among the leaders this year, vying for top spot with Seguin and the Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko.
In short, the usual suspects are not shoo-ins for the major awards with the season half-over. It doesn't mean they can't, or won't, rally in the second half, but if NHL trophies were handed out based on what we've seen so far, the lists of contenders would probably look something like the following.
Hart Memorial Trophy
1. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim. 2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville. 3. Mark Giordano, Calgary.
Getzlaf is normally part of a dynamic duo in Anaheim with Corey Perry, but even though Perry missed time with the mumps and then a knee injury, Getzlaf didn't miss a beat. In fact, the Ducks' captain stepped up his play, scoring a league-leading 20 points in December. Voters like this sort of separation – the year Henrik Sedin won the MVP, he did it largely because his scoring numbers stayed consistent despite an injury to twin brother Daniel. The Predators are the surprise story of the season, returning to serious contention because Rinne is back and healthy again after missing most of last year recovering from an infection. Giordano is the undisputed leader, offensively and defensively, on a young, mobile team, but his candidacy hinges on whether the Flames make the playoffs: Since the late 1950s, the only MVP from a non-playoff team was Mario Lemieux with Pittsburgh in 1987-88, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
James Norris Memorial Trophy (top defenceman)
1. Giordano, Calgary. 2. Shea Weber, Nashville. 3. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles.
Giordano leads the way for Calgary in a coming-out season. Nashville's Weber, twice a Norris runner-up, is having another strong season for the Preds. Doughty is again the MVP of the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings: Without him, they go from title contender to the middle of the pack.
Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie)
1. Filip Forsberg, Nashville. 2. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary. 3. Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg.
Forsberg, stolen by the Preds from the Washington Capitals for Martin Erat in one of the most one-sided transactions of the past few years, played 13 NHL games last year and five the year before – the Preds were careful not to rush him – which is why he is still Calder-eligible. Now 20, he's playing on Nashville's top line. Hard on his heels is the electric Gaudreau (a.k.a. Johnny Hockey), the December rookie of the month. But the wild card is Hutchinson, who was the AHL playoff MVP last year with the St. John's IceCaps and earned a roster spot at training camp. Only 24, Hutchinson is a big part of why the Jets, who finished 22nd in goals-against last year, are now tied for sixth defensively this season. The Florida Panthers' excellent rookie defenceman, Aaron Ekblad, could also play his way into the Calder discussion before the season ends.
Vézina Trophy (top goaltender)
1. Rinne, Nashville. 2. Carey Price, Montreal. 3. Marc-André Fleury, Pittsburgh.
Rinne's bounce-back has been exceptional; Price has the Canadiens jockeying with the Lightning for top spot in the Eastern Conference; and Fleury, despite all those concerns about his playoff résumé, has done what he always does over the regular season – give the injury-plagued Penguins a chance to win every night.
Jack Adams Award (top coach)
1. Paul Maurice, Winnipeg. 2. Jack Capuano, New York Islanders. 3. Bob Hartley, Calgary/Peter Laviolette, Nashville (tied).
The Central Division is the NHL's deepest division and Maurice has the Jets competitive despite losing his top four defencemen plus sniper Evander Kane to injuries for long stretches of time. Capuano's Islanders have 26 wins, one off the league lead going into Friday's game, a significant turnaround from last year's last-place finish in the Metropolitan Division. Hartley and Laviolette have the Flames and Preds contending for the playoffs, respectively, after both teams fell short a year ago. In fact, Laviolette was named as one of the two NHL All-Star Game coaches, because Nashville had the league's best points percentage (.725) through last Saturday's games.