We are three-quarters of the way through the season and beginning to get a pretty good grasp on who should take home the hardware. Now, I still reserve the right to change my mind come early April once the regular season is over, but at this very point, here's how I see the award leaders. Agree or disagree?
(Most Valuable Player)
Candidates: Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks; Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals; John Tavares, New York Islanders; Rick Nash, New York Rangers; Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens; Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber, Nashville Predators; Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins; Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks; Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
The skinny: Getzlaf leads the NHL with 28 primary assists, a new filtered statistic available by the league that I just love. The Ducks have had all kinds of injuries all season long and the Ducks captain has kept his team in first place in the Pacific. He deserves more of an MVP look than he's getting nationally. Nash has had an incredible bounce-back season and is the very heart of why the Rangers are contending again. Doughty leads the NHL in ice time per game and has willed the defending champs back into playoff contention in the second half. I feel for Crosby because it's his own lofty standards that he's set that's pushing him down the Hart race this season, having blown away the completion by 17 points in the scoring race a year ago and now having to compete like a mortal with the league leaders. By any other player's definition, he's having a really good season. Kane would have gotten strong consideration at the end of the season, had he not got hurt. Too bad. Tavares should be getting way more attention than he's getting for the Hart; he's very much deserving of a top-three choice. Ovechkin is getting more and more mention for the Hart, and it's warranted. I didn't think he should have won the award in lockout-shortened 2012-13, when he took the first month of the season off with mediocre play in a schedule that consisted of only four months. But this season? This is the best, team-first concept hockey I've seen Ovechkin play in his career, so he deserves the Hart chatter. Problem is, how is linemate Backstrom not just as important to the Caps' success? Could be some vote-splitting there. Which brings us to Price, because right now, I don't think it's a debate. The Habs netminder is having the kind of dominating season that a goalie hasn't had since those Dominik Hasek seasons with the Buffalo Sabres in the late 1990s, in which a goalie just makes that much of a difference night in, night out. The Habs are a good team on their own but Price has made them conference leaders because of his all-world play. He's the best goalie in the NHL, period.
Candidates: Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens; Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators; Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins; Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals; Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild; Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers; Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils; Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers; Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators
The skinny: Almost put Jonathan Quick in there because he's been so darn dominant of late, back to his old self, while the Kings have turned their season around over the past month and a half. But his struggles in the first half of the season will probably negate any possible votes his way. Dubnyk deserves mention after rescuing the Wild's season, and don't forget he was playing well in Arizona before that, too. But let's just cut right to the chase and stop wasting people's time: We all know it's a 1-2 race between Price and Rinne, and pretty much the only interest left is who gets the No. 3 nominee when the award finalists are announced. The race would be even closer between Price and Rinne had the Predators netminder not missed a month with an injury. But I think everyone around the league agrees -- I know every coach and GM I speak with does -- that Price is the best goalie in the league this year, and perhaps for years to come.
Candidates: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; Shea Weber, Nashville Predators; Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames; P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens; Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks; Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators; Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins; Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues; Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
The skinny: You have to feel awful for Giordano, the Flames MVP who was well on his way to a Norris Trophy nomination before suffering a season-ending injury. To me, before Giordano's injury it was a close race between him, Weber and Doughty; I could have lived with any of those three winning the Norris this season. Which leaves us with a 1-2 race and I honestly feel like you can flip a coin between Weber and Doughty, but the thin edge here is that Weber has helped the Predators to a more impressive season so far and let's face it, he's long overdue for his first Norris Trophy winner after being runner-up twice.
(Rookie of the year)
Candidates: Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators; Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers; Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames; John Klingberg, Dallas Stars; Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators; Anders Lee, New York Islanders; Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg Jets
The skinny: Would love to see Hutchinson nab the third finalist vote when the official Calder votes are tallied considering the way he helped steady the Jets' season in goal; he deserves that. But I think everyone agrees the actual award is a 1-2 race, as it has been all season, between Forsberg and Ekblad. Forsberg, the rookie points leader, has been dynamic and a key part of the Predators' offense, making for a standout entry into his first full NHL season and if he wins the Calder. But for me, my top vote on the official ballot will go to Ekblad, who turned 19 just last month! To have done what he's done as a teenager on the blue line, the hardest position to learn at the NHL level, is simply mind-boggling. The first overall pick from last June's draft has looked wise beyond his years with his decision-making in his own zone. Oh, and he's added 11 goals and 23 assists in 64 games. Mind-boggling.
(Top defensive forward)
Candidates: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins; Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings; Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens; David Backes and Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues; Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks; Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings; Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks; Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals
The skinny: One of these years we have to get a Selke into Kopitar's hands, who is truly one of the NHL's premier two-way forwards. But his own inconsistent play early in the season, plus his team's overall struggles until lately, will likely hurt his case. But man, he is honestly one of the top two or three two-way forwards in the world, and one day he'll get his. My guess is that Bergeron will again win this season, and that's very much merited. He's a 200-foot artistic genius. But I'm going to step away from the popular trend here and make the case for a guy who, like Kopitar, really deserves to win a Selke one of these years. Backes has once again been a beast this season, playing in all situations and head to head against the other team's top players. He's so hard to play against. He deserves more love for this awards than he ever gets. I'm going with the upset pick.
JACK ADAMS AWARD
Candidates: Peter Laviolette, Nashville Predators; Michel Therrien, Montreal Canadiens; Jack Capuano, New York Islanders; Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues; Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers; Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning; Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings; Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals; Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets; Bob Hartley, Calgary Flames
The skinny: Laviolette has to be the favorite given where expectations were for the Preds in September. You could lump Capuano and Maurice in that group, too. It's funny how Therrien never gets any love for this award, even though he continues to do a great job and his Canadiens are in first place. Hartley deserves so much credit for taking a team many people thought would be in the Tank Derby this season and instead continuing to fight a playoff spot. The Giordano injury will likely do him in, but three-quarters of the way into the season, tip your cap to Hartley. But my pick? And I know he likely won't even be nominated, but I'm going with Babcock. Some people wondered in September whether the Wings might finally miss the playoffs this season. They looked at a blue-line corps that didn't impress anyone. They looked at a number of young players who lacked experience. But they forgot to look at the best coach in the NHL.
(General manager of the year)
Candidates: David Poile, Nashville Predators; Bob Murray, Anaheim Ducks; Marc Bergevin, Montreal Canadiens; Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues; Garth Snow, New York Islanders; Steve Yzerman, Tampa Bay Lightning; Ken Holland, Detroit Red Wings; Stan Bowman, Chicago Blackhawks; Kevin Cheveldayoff, Winnipeg Jets; Chuck Fletcher, Minnesota Wild
The skinny: Poile had such an underrated, under-the-radar offseason last year and it produced huge results. Bob Murray (last year's GM award winner) continues to stock a team full of young talent year in and year out, such a great talent evaluator. Bergevin surprised people last summer by taking the Canadiens, who had just reached the Eastern Conference finals and parting ways with a number of important veterans, and sticking to his long-term plan for growth through youth; he's a rising star in the GM business, simply put. As is Yzerman, who, like Bergevin, continues to patiently craft a young contending roster, a team that will be among the best for many years to come. I loved how Armstrong reacted last summer after a first-round exit, realizing the team needed more offense, and signed Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera. Snow has got piled on over the years but he's made excellent decisions in getting the Isles to become contenders, including preying on Cap-challenged teams before the season to get Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy. Cheveldayoff perhaps deserves the award just for being able to get so much for Evander Kane, given the controversy and the injury. Fletcher saves his season with the Devan Dubnyk trade -- a third-round pick is all it took -- and then he got Chris Steward for a 2017 second-rounder. Just wow. I love the way Bowman reacted aggressively after Patrick Kane's injury, picking up Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette. But even more so how he deftly handles his cap situation, having three guys on his roster who are having 50 percent of their salaries paid by other teams. But my guy in all this? It's the one who somehow has never won this award. Ken Holland is the dean of this group; his team have made the playoffs every season for forever, and especially over the past few years overseeing a rebuild on the fly that has seen the team continue to make the postseason, despite seriously reshaping the roster with more young studs. The Wings have surpassed most people's expectations this season. Holland is long overdue.