What would the midpoint of the National Hockey League season be without midterm grades? Here's a look at our choices for NHL awards if they were handed out in early January instead of mid-June and a couple of awards (or anti-awards) of our own.
Hart Trophy (MVP)
Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton are all having superlative seasons and will garner MVP talk, but our halfway MVP is Jaromir Jagr of the overachieving New York Rangers. Jagr led all NHL scorers at the midpoint with 63 points. More impressive is the fact that he's responsible for more than half of his team's goals. The gap between Jagr and Martin Straka, the second-leading scorer on the Rangers, is 21 points. Talk about carrying a team. For a guy whose reputation has been as a coach-killer, Jagr has been the man in New York.
Norris Trophy (Top Defenseman)
There is no denying the breakout year unheralded Kings defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky is having on the left coast. Second in defensive scoring with a sterling plus-18 rating, Visnovsky has helped the Kings become a force in the West. We also love the season Wade Redden is having in Ottawa and the Red Wings' Nicklas Lidstrom remains an elite defender. But there is simply no denying the monster year Bryan McCabe is having in Toronto. At the midpoint, he led all defensemen with 47 points, 12th among all scorers. His 28:12 of ice time per game leads all NHL players. Yes, the Leafs' defense has its moments, but McCabe's plus-6 rating is impressive given that he and partner Tomas Kaberle log most of their minutes against the opposing teams' best players. With his combination of physical play and offensive prowess, McCabe has matured dramatically and has replaced Rob Blake as the game's most imposing defender.
Calder Trophy (Top Rookie)
Oh, we know it's fashionable to trot out the names of what is a bumper crop of rookies: Marek Svatos, Petr Prucha, Dion Phaneuf, Henrik Lundqvist. But come on, this is a two-person race, plain and simple: Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin. The two superstars-in-waiting have almost identical point totals (46 for Ovechkin, 45 for Crosby) that dwarf the competition. They log almost the same amount of ice time and have similar plus/minus ratings. Crosby has produced in spite of relentless media attention and turmoil in Pittsburgh, while Ovechkin has produced in spite of a relentless lack of talent in the Caps' locker room (Ovechkin's 46 are more than double the total of Jeff Halpern, the second-leading scorer on the team).
Does it sound like we're waffling? You bet. But we give the slight nod to Ovechkin, if only for his happy admission that he's his own favorite player and the fact he wears the coolest visor in the league.
Vezina Trophy (Top Goaltender)
Another interesting battle is shaping up for the top goaltending prize. Dominik Hasek has been, well, Hasek-like, in Ottawa, where his .929 save percentage is second in the league. Czech countryman Tomas Vokoun is the man behind the Nashville Predators' presence at the top of the Western Conference standings. But our pick goes to workhorse Miikka Kiprusoff. The stoic Finn (is there any other kind?) is second in games played with 35 and leads the NHL with 21 wins. As Kiprusoff goes, so go the Flames.
Jack Adams Trophy (Top Coach)
Traditionally, this award goes to a coach who gets a lot out of a little. That's why it's hard to pick Ken Hitchcock and Bryan Murray, who have gotten a lot out of a lot in Philadelphia and Ottawa, respectively. Peter Laviolette deserves high praise for guiding the Carolina Hurricanes to the top of the Southeast Division and Lindy Ruff has worked magic in Buffalo. But we like Andy Murray, whose stern hand has guided the L.A. Kings to the top of the Pacific Division and second overall in the Western Conference. Plus, any coach who has to put up with both Sean Avery and Jeremy Roenick on a daily basis deserves some sort of award. He won't get any votes at the end of the year, but Washington's Glen Hanlon also deserves special credit for getting as much as he has out of a talent-thin but scrappy Capitals team.
Top GM of the Half-Year
The GMs who are at the top of the heap at the midpoint are the ones who made important yet subtle changes to their lineups. Carolina's Jim Rutherford eschewed the high-priced, free-agent baubles on the market over the summer, bringing in Cory Stillman and Ray Whitney up front and Oleg Tverdovsky on the back end as the Hurricanes consistently sport one of the most entertaining teams in the league. Dave Taylor brought in quiet sniper Pavol Demitra, who ranks ninth in NHL scoring, while Darcy Regier added underrated defenseman Toni Lydman and veteran Teppo Numminen as the Sabres are one of the biggest surprises.
Still, it was the GM who made the biggest splash who gets our nod. Who can forget Bob Clarke's deft handling of the cap situation in landing Peter Forsberg, Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje? While other teams failed to find chemistry with the arrival of big stars (see below), Clarke's additions have moved seamlessly into the fold. And even with a crush of injuries, the Flyers are the hottest team at the midpoint, going 8-0-2 in their last 10.
The Anti-GM (Most disappointing job of team building)
Craig Patrick in Pittsburgh and Mike O'Connell in Boston. Both proved that simply throwing a bunch of talent at the wall sometimes just makes a big mess. The Penguins looked to be a sure bet to make the playoffs with super-kid Crosby and a bevy of free-agent acquisitions. But the team's lack of effort and cohesion cost coach Ed Olczyk his job and the Penguins are languishing at 14th in the East. The remade Bruins began the season as a team many thought would challenge for the top spot in the East, but will likely miss the playoffs. O'Connell's desperation trade of captain Joe Thornton to San Jose hasn't stopped the bleeding and security isn't a word that comes up in Boston very often.
Best Free-Agent Acquisition
Forsberg leads the NHL with 41 assists through 34 games and is seventh in league scoring. Not surprisingly, linemate Simon Gagne leads the NHL in goal scoring with 28. Honorable mentions go to Paul Kariya in Nashville, Curtis Joseph in Phoenix and Demitra in Los Angeles.
Biggest Free-Agent Bust
There's a long list of candidates here, starting with Alexei Zhamnov in Boston, Sergei Gonchar in Pittsburgh and Miroslav Satan on Long Island. But Nikolai Khabibulin, who became the game's highest-paid netminder when he chased the money to Chicago, is at the top of the class. The former Cup-winning keeper ranks 53rd statistically among goaltenders with a 3.34 goals-against average and .880 save percentage for the woeful Blackhawks.
Player to Watch in the Second Half
Patrik Elias, New Jersey Devils: It looks like Elias hasn't missed a beat. Earlier this week, he returned from a bout of hepatitis that kept him out of action for the first half of the season and has registered five points in his first two games back. He'll need to be all of that and more in the back half of the season if the struggling Devils are going to stay in the hunt for a playoff berth. Other players worth keeping an eye on: Blake in Colorado and Martin St. Louis in Tampa Bay.
Team to Watch in the Second Half
The San Jose Sharks hit the midpoint a disappointing 12th in the Western Conference, but they have been buoyed by the arrival of Thornton and their goaltending has stiffened after a woeful start. The Sharks will have to jump over four teams if they are to make the playoffs, but they have the coaching staff and talent to do so. In the East, watch for the Atlanta Thrashers behind now-healthy goaltending phenom Kari Lehtonen to make things very uncomfortable for teams in the playoff hunt. The explosive Thrashers hit the halfway point tied for eighth in points.
Team Ready For a Second-Half Fall
With their inspired play, the New York Rangers were one of the surprise stories of the first half. But they have started to settle back to the pack. They built themselves a nice cushion, but will it be enough to earn their first playoff berth in eight seasons? Stay tuned. Likewise, the Toronto Maple Leafs have managed to surprise critics with their consistent play heading into the midpoint in spite of injuries. They, too, could be headed for a fall.
Comeback Player of the Year
Hasek's improbable turning back of the clock for the Senators has been inspiring. But it is his teammate Heatley, whose trade to Ottawa in the offseason from Atlanta has revived a career marred by the car accident that killed Heatley's former teammate Dan Snyder. Although he faced criticism for asking out of Atlanta, Heatley has been one of the league's most dominant players in his new surroundings.
And the scoring champion is ...
As dynamic as Jagr has been, his production has dipped slightly as have the Rangers' fortunes. Watch for Ilya Kovalchuk of the Thrashers to pass Jagr and the rest of the scoring competition to earn his first NHL scoring title.
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.