Blue Line Bill’s Midseason NHL Report

With the Super Bowl now over, sports fans can now focus on the great sport of hockey. It does not matter if you are more of an NBA, college basketball, or competitive eating fan, because the NHL has officially declared February “Hockey is for Everyone” month. So that means everyone needs to watch some hockey, or at the very least read the rest of my article. This edition of Blue Line Bill focuses on my picks for midseason awards. With the All-Star game having recently concluded in Montreal, full of the usual lack of defense but with added annoying tributes to the Canadiens, it seems an appropriate time to see who the best in the league have been so far this season.

MVP: This is a no brainer for me. In my opinion there is one player who has far and away been the best performer in the League this year, Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. Ovechkin leads the league with a staggering 36 goals. He also has a solid 31 assists and a plus 13 rating. Furthermore, as anyone who watches SportsCenter knows, the degree of difficulty on many of his goals in extremely high. The only real competition comes from Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, who leads the league with 79 points, but only 24 of them have come on goals. However, even more problematic for Malkin is the fact that his team would not be in the playoffs if they started today. Ovechkin’s Capitals on the other hand have the second-best record in the East, and when it comes to MVP, team success has to be factored in as well.

Goalie of the Year: Once again this was an easy choice for me. Like Ovechkin, this player not only has the stats but also shows up on the highlight reel night after night. I’m talking about Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins. He leads the league with an astounding .934 save percentage and is third in the league with a measly 2.08 goals against average. Not surprisingly, the Bruins tend to win when he starts. Thomas has a 23-5-5 record and is also a great story. He struggled most of his career, but at the age of 34, he has emerged as one of the league’s best net minders. He does have a great defense in front of him, but Thomas has made enough acrobatic saves this year to more than justify my choice as best goalie. Oddly enough, his strongest competition for the award probably comes from his own teammate, Manny Fernandez, whose save percentage (.928) is slightly worse than Thomas’. However, his GAA (2.07) is actually a little better. But Thomas has played in 14 more games than Fernandez, and the workhorse points put him over the top.

Defenseman of the Year: This is always a tough choice for me because I have to decide whether to focus more on pure defensive ability or choose a defender that contributes on the offensive end as well. I’ve decided to go more in the offensive direction, and when it comes to offense from the blue line, Mike Green of the Capitals is in a league of his own. He leads all defensemen in goals (16), assists (26), points (42) and power play goals (11). And he’s not letting opponents get many scores either, as his plus 19 rating attests to it. What’s more impressive is that Green has done all this while playing in just 39 of his teams’ 52 games. Props go out to Boston defender Dennis Wideman who leads the league in plus/minus with a plus 32, but Green’s offensive prowess is just too much to overlook.

Coach of the Year: This has to go to Bruins’ coach Claude Julien. Julien has a team that just sneaked into the playoffs last year sitting pretty atop the NHL standings with a sterling mark of 38-8-6. They have been solid in every aspect of the game this year. They are second in the league in goals scored per game (3.42), and they are far and away the best in keeping the puck out of their own net, allowing just 2.10 goals per game. They are also in the top ten in both the penalty kill and power play. When a coach has a team playing this well in every facet of the game he has to be the pick for coach of the year.

Rookie of the Year: Though this year’s rookie class has not gotten the same kind of publicity as last year’s, which featured megastar Patrick Kane, this class might be better. Chicago has another great rookie this year, in winger Kris Versteeg who leads all rookies in points (38) and assists (24). There is also Anaheim’s winger Bobby Ryan who leads all first-year players with 17 goals. And then there is Boston’s talented young winger Blake Wheeler who is second in plus/minus among all players with a plus 31. However, despite all these qualified candidates my vote for the League’s top rookie goes to goalie Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Mason leads the league with a 2.09 goals against average, a phenomenal feat for a rookie. His save percentage is also extraordinary at .923. Mason’s 19-12-2 record has helped propel the usually atrocious Blue Jackets (I mean come on, did you even know Columbus has a hockey team?) into the playoff race. At only 20 he is helping to resurrect the Blue Jasckets’ franchise and for that he deserves rookie of the year.

I’d like to apologize in advance to any of my picks who see their numbers drop off after this article is published in the same way that my surprise team from my last article, the Vancouver Canucks, have fallen to 11th in the West. However, I think that all these players and Coach Julien will continue to thrive the rest of the season and into the playoffs, but you’ll have to check back next time to see if I’m right.