With the NHL season hitting the midpoint, here’s an update on CSNNE.com's preseason prediction. My picks from back in October:
Penguins over Bruins in Eastern Conference Final – It’s a rematch of last year’s four-game sweep with Pittsburgh looking for revenge this time around, and somehow getting the goaltending to take it away from Boston.
Midpoint Update: This still looks good, and I’ve been impressed with the way the Penguins have persevered through a ton of injuries. Marc-Andre Fleury has been good, and this is leading up to a real hate-filled series if it does truly happen in the conference finals. There are a lot of hard feelings after that Brooks Orpik-Loui Eriksson-Shawn Thornton-James Neal-Brad Marchand regular-season finale.
Chicago over Edmonton in Western Conference Final – The Blackhawks are a wagon that’s going to be difficult to derail. They should waltz into the Stanley Cup Final again provided they’re healthy, whooping up on Edmonton in the process. It will be a nice Cinderella run for the Oil, who arfe still a year or two away from being ready to run for the Cup.
Midpoint Update: Well, one out of two isn’t bad. The Blackhawks seem poised to be back in the conference finals, but it’s not an automatic in a field of Western Conference teams that seems to be the best of the last 5-10 years. But we’d love to be able to take back the trendy Oilers pick, which was based on offseason improvements and the maturity of their young players. They still don’t have enough defense or goaltending . . . not even close. That might be the worst preseason prediction in the history of preseason predictions.
Chicago over Pittsburgh in Stanley Cup Final – The Blackhawks impressed last season with their mix of skill and grit along with star-studded personnel, and that should give them enough to become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champ in 16 years. The Wings last pulled it off in the glory days of Niklas Lidstrom, and that speaks to meaningful back-to-back Cups could be for Chicago.
Midpoint Update: I haven’t seen anything from the Blackhawks to make me think they don’t have what it takes to a win a second straight Cup. But the East is wide open for the Penguins or Bruins to be the team serving as underdog in the Stanley Cup Final.
Hart Trophy – Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Norris Trophy – Mike Green, Washington Capitals
Calder Trophy – Seth Jones, Nashville Predators
Vezina Trophy – Tim Thomas, Florida Panthers
Selke Trophy – Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Hart Trophy – Sid the Kid leads the NHL with 41 assists and 65 points, and is among the league leaders with 24 goals. He’s pacing close to 50 goals and over 100 points if he remains healthy this season, and is far and away the favorite to take home the Hart Trophy for a Penguins team he’s held together in the first half. Other candidates: Pat Kane, John Tavares, Ryan Getzlaf, Alex Ovechkin, Marty St. Louis, Alex Steen, Duncan Keith, Tuukka Rask.
Norris Trophy – I was impressed enough with what I saw at the tail end of last season to think Mike Green was in store for a big season in Washington. He’s been okay, but certainly not Norris-worthy with 5 goals, 21 points and a minus-11 rating. It would seem clear that Duncan Keith is the favorite with 43 points and a plus-17 while averaging 24:24 of ice time for the Blackhawks. Dustin Byfuglien, Erik Karlsson and Shea Weber have put up big goal numbers, but also have been big minus players for non-playoff teams. Other candidates: P.K. Subban, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brent Seabrook, Ryan Suter, Keith Yandle.
Calder Trophy – Seth Jones has been decent for the Nashville Predators, but he’s not among the top tier of NHL rookies as a teenager finding his way for a Preds team with goaltending issues. He’s got 16 points and a minus-11 while playing 20:58 every night, and he’s had some growing pains in Nashville alongside Shea Weber. It looks like the trophy will be going in another direction unless he has a strong second half. The lead candidate at the halfway mark is Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon, who leads all rookies with 28 points in 43 games. Other candidates: Torey Krug, Antti Raanta, Chris Kreider, Tyler Johnson, Hampus Lindholm, Valeri Nichushkin and Eric Gelinas.
Vezina Trophy – Tim Thomas has battled groin problems and been a difference-maker for Florida (just look at the Panthers' numbers when he is and isn’t playing), but he’s also found out how difficult life is without the Bruins defense in front of him. Speaking of the Bruins, Tuukka Rask has been Boston’s best player through the first three months of the season as he paces for between 65-70 games this season. A recent rough stretch has pushed his numbers up, but the 2.05 goals-against average and .930 save percentage have been outstanding. He’ll clearly be a finalist for the award this season after getting slightly snubbed last year. Ben Bishop will have to hold up over the second half of the season, but right now it’s a photo finish between Bishop and Rask for the award. Other candidates: Josh Harding, Carey Price, Semyon Varlamov and Steve Mason.
Selke Trophy – Patrice Bergeron was the pick prior to the season, and he’s still a good choice now with a 61.7 percent success rate on faceoffs and a plus-16 rating in a season where he struggled offensively over the first two months. Look at some of the time-on-ice numbers for Bergeron since Dennis Seidenberg went down and the way he’s still played at a high defensive level with a struggling Brad Marchand an injured Loui Eriksson on either side of him. There are other fine candidates, but Bergeron should have won last year as the NHL’s best defensive forward. He should win again this year. Other candidates: Jonathan Toews, Joe Pavelski, Sidney Crosby, Anze Kopitar and Pavel Datsyuk.