The middle of the NHL Season is upon us and it’s time to look back at what has been an exciting first half of the season.
Best Team: This was a tough one. I’m giving it to the San Jose Sharks, but the Chicago Blackhawks and New Jersey Devils are not far behind. I’m giving this to the Sharks, because they have lost seven games in either the overtime and shootout while Chicago has had just three. This means that San Jose had the potential to gain more points than Chicago did. Chicago earned their points by going 8-3 in shootouts and overtime. Chicago has also played 24 home games to just 18 away games while San Jose has had just 20 home games to 22 away games. The Sharks have won eight straight and are playing their best hockey right now and that’s why they earn my pick as the top team from the first half of the NHL season.
Worst Team: The Carolina Hurricanes win this award easily. The Hurricanes are embarrassingly bad. They have the fewest points in the league with 29, seven worst than Edmonton who has the second fewest points. Carolina’s goal differential is also worse in the league at -44 and they have accumulated just 10 points in 20 away games. To cap it off, the Hurricane’s power play and their penalty kill are both 26th in the league. Carolina is the only team truly eliminated from the playoffs and for that they are the worst team from the first half of the season.
MVP: Marian Gaborik earns this award not just for his incredible stats, but for how he has carried the Rangers the entire year. Gaborik leads the league in goals with 27 and is third in points with 52. He is averaging over 22 minutes of time on ice yet has just 14 penalty minutes on the year. Incredibly though, Gaborik is the only Ranger with double-digit goals. While New York has allowed seven more goals than they’ve scored, Gaborik is +6. Gaborik has more than just the best stats in the NHL, he is the reason the Rangers have 43 points and currently sit in 8th place in the Eastern Conference.
Top Goaltender: Like the last two, an easy choice: Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov is second in GAA (behind Tuuka Rask who has played 21 fewer games than Bryzgalov) and is fourth in Save Percentage. He leads the league with five shutouts, but like Gaborik, his dominance registers in how much he has carried his team. The Phoenix Coyotes should not be good on paper, but due to Bryzgalov’s incredible performance this year, they are fourth in the Western Conference.
Biggest Surprise: This goes to the Coyotes again. I posted recently on how shocking Phoenix’s first half has been and it truly is amazing. They have by far the lowest payroll in hockey and their management is in disarray, but they still sit in fourth place in the Western Conference. On paper, this team should be competing with Carolina for the Worst Team Award, but Bryzgalov’s brilliance and some unexpected contributions have propelled the Coyotes to a terrific first half.
Biggest Disappointment: The Toronto Maple Leafs earn the Biggest Disappointment Award for failing to meet the high expectations that surrounded the team entering the season. The Maple Leafs are second to last in the Eastern Conference and have struggled for most of the season. Getting Phil Kessel healthy helped the team, but goaltending has still been a major issue for the Leafs. Jonas Gustavsson and Vesa Toskala have split the time and neither has played well. With a busy offseason including the big acquisition/signing of Phil Kessel, the Maple Leafs were expected to compete for the Northeast Division title, but they are way out of it right now.