It’s that time of year again — the point in the season where everybody starts to prematurely look ahead to the end of the season. And that means midseason awards. Because we’re nothing if not givers in the hockey community.
So here are the honors that simply had to be handed out about halfway through the 2015-16 campaign. These aren’t your traditional awards though — we’ll give those out in another 40+ games.
Biggest Blockbuster Trade: Ryan Johansen from Columbus to Nashville, in exchange for Seth Jones. The Predators deal from a position of strength and land a much-needed 30-goal scorer. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets get a young defenseman with the potential to be an anchor on their blue line for years to come. Now they just need a No. 1 center.
Innovation of the Year: 3-on-3 overtime. Want to experience every human emotion in the span of five minutes or less? Well then 3-on-3 overtime is for you, my friend. Shootouts are down drastically, but not completely eliminated. And the OT period is more skillful and dramatic than ever before. Win.
Event That’s Going to Initiate a Change for Next Year: John Scott going to the All-Star Game. Guessing this wasn’t necessarily what the league had in mind when it decided to let the fans pick the captains for the 3-on-3 tournament.
Storyline to Watch in the Second Half: The return of Connor McDavid. Ironically, we were hearing more about McDavid a year ago at this time — when he wasn’t even on an NHL team yet — than we are now. The Oilers aren’t out of the playoff race just yet, and things could get interesting if they can manage to hang around until McDavid is able to get back in the lineup.
Winner of the Auston Matthews Sweepstakes: Edmonton. The answer is always Edmonton. Even if they make the playoffs, they’ll still find a way to win the lottery. Where have you been for the last six years?
Most Dominant Player Named Zemgus: Girgensons. The guy wins this award every year. He’s a machine.
Best Midseason Coaching Change of 2015-16: Pittsburgh switching to Mike Sullivan. On top of the fact that Mike Sullivan sounds like the name of a character from a movie about Boston — most likely directed by Martin Scorsese — his positive influence on the Penguins has already been noticeable. Under Mike Johnston, they were on the outside of the playoff picture, couldn’t find their offense and basically just didn’t look like the Pittsburgh Penguins. Under Sullivan, they’re still on the outside of the playoff picture, but they’re at least trending in the right direction. Now Sidney Crosby is scoring, they’re averaging 35 shots on goal per game and they actually seem to enjoy playing hockey again.
Top Rookie Duo: Max Domi and Anthony Duclair of the Arizona Coyotes. In a season loaded with rookie talent, a number of clubs can claim that they have the top Calder candidate. But no other club can really claim that they have two of them. Domi and Duclair play well off each other, have a combined 51 points between them already, have energized the second-place Coyotes and are each on pace to put up more points than Arizona’s leading scorer had in the 2014-15 campaign.
Toughest Division to Navigate: The Central. A year ago, teams in the Central averaged — averaged — 99.4 points in the standings and the division produced the Stanley Cup champs. That was by far the best of any grouping in hockey, and those same teams are on pace to collectively average over 98 points this time around. Not exactly a drop-off.
Player Most Likely to Still Be Posting 20-Goal Seasons When He’s 50: Um, Jaromir Jagr. He just doesn’t slow down. In a few years, this award might have to be changed to “Player Most Likely to Still Be Posting 20-Goal Seasons When He’s 60“.
Honorary Jagr Award: Shane Doan. He isn’t in his 40’s just yet, but the 39-year old captain of the Coyotes is currently averaging a goal every other game, and just went through arguably the most statistically prolific stretch of his entire 20-year career.
Top Line in Hockey: Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-and whoever the Stars want to pull out of the crowd on a given night. Yes, the Blackhawks can make a very strong claim with their Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane line, but that trio “only” features one Hart Trophy candidate. Dallas is somehow able to line two viable MVP candidates up alongside each other. Now they just need to find a consistent third option to round out that first unit. In the interest of fairness, let’s just call this the “Top Two-Thirds of a Line in Hockey” for now.
Best Disappearing Act: Tampa Bay’s “Triplets” line. Remember the Triplets? They were one of the hottest things in hockey just last season, now they sound like a forgotten pop group from the 80’s. Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov made up arguably the most dominant line in the playoffs about seven months ago, but injuries and general ineffectiveness completely derailed their first half of the 2015-16 campaign — well, except for Kucherov, who is still on pace for about 28 goals and 60 points by himself.
Preseason Dark Horse That Might Actually Win the Whole Thing: Washington and Dallas both qualify, but I’ll still take the Capitals.
Surprise Team: There are three ways you can go with this one. First there’s a young Florida squad, who has demanded everyone’s attention by winning 11 straight and seizing control of the Atlantic Division. Then there’s Arizona who — while I personally never understood why a more talented version of last season’s roster that still happens to be coached by proven winner Dave Tippett was ever projected to finish at the bottom of the NHL pecking order coming into this season — is undeniably shocking some people by sitting second in the Pacific. And then there’s New Jersey, whose relatively nondescript roster is hanging around as the first wild card in a Metro Division loaded with big name talent. Take your pick.
Biggest Disappointment: Anaheim’s offense. Can’t just say the whole team in Orange County, because the goaltending’s been phenomenal and the Ducks may very well still make the playoffs. But they’re averaging just 1.85 goals per game, which is a) good for last in the entire NHL, b) less than the Sabres were putting up when they had visions of McDavid dancing in their heads a year ago and c) borderline unbelievable, considering this is the same team that ranked first in scoring during the 2015 postseason. Apparently losing Matt Beleskey changes everything.