NHL’s midseason report card: the best and worst so far

Matthew Bacon

Journal Staff

The NHL held its annual All-Star game in Ottawa this weekend, marking the symbolic halfway point of the season and the beginning of “the grind,” the last half of the season where the teams still in contention battle their hearts out for a playoff spot. So far, this season has been an interesting one full of surprises and busts.

Here are just a few of them, along with some individual player awards.

The best surprise team has been the New York Rangers. With the signing of Brad Richards, the development of homegrown talent, and the always consistent play of Henrik Lundqvist, expectations were big in New York this year. But not this big.

Going into the All-Star Break, the Rangers (31-12-4) lead the Eastern Conference and boast the best goaltending and defense combination in the NHL. Through 47 games they have allowed just 96 goals against, a league low.

The runners-up are the St. Louis Blues and the Ottawa Senators.

The biggest team bust has been the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not once this season has Tampa looked like the team that took the Boston Bruins to game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals last season.

With their 21-23-4 record they sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference and 4th in the Southeast Division. They are not completely out of contention, but captain Vinny Lecavalier and his team must turn things around quickly if they wish to return to the postseason.

The runners-up are the Buffalo Sabres and the Los Angeles Kings.

The best surprise player has been Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues. This guy is nothing short of fantastic for the Blues. Elliott started his career in Ottawa, where he was never able to prove his ability as a starting goaltender.

In his first year in St. Louis, Elliot has turned his career around, backstopping the Blues through an intense battle with four other Central Division teams for the top spot in the Western Conference. Elliott is 15-5-2 with a 1.69 GAA and .938 save percentage.

The runners-up are Jason Garrison (FLA) and Adam Henrique (NJD).

The biggest player bust is Ilya Bryzgalov of the Philadelphia Flyers. Philadelphia GM Paul Holmgren made it clear this summer that he was putting an end to his team’s goaltending woes by signing Bryzgalov to a 9 year, $51 million contract.

So far, the move has proved to be a failure. Bryzgalov’s 18-10-4 record is respectable, but his 2.99 GAA and .895 save percentage are among the worst in the NHL. Philly’s potent offense will only be able to cover up Bryzgalov’s blunders for so long.

The runners-up are Jarret Stoll (LA) and Brandon Dubinsky (NYR).

The most valuable player is Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Malkin (42 GP, 26 G, 32 A, 58 P) has stolen the award at this point of the season. The Penguins (28-17-4) are in 5th place in the Eastern Conference, largely due to his heroics in the absence of captain Sidney Crosby.

His 58 points are the most in the league, and he has been a scoring machine since Crosby left the lineup on Dec. 8. Malkin’s ability to deliver in clutch situations is matched by no other player in the league.

The runners-up are Claude Giroux (PHI) and Jonathan Quick (LA).

The Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) goes to Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. After six seasons and three nominations, Lundqvist is finally playing like he will steal the Vezina this year.

The Rangers starter is 22-10-4 with a 1.87 GAA and .937 save percentage this year, and is a huge reason why the Rangers have a league best 96 goals against this year. Add five shutouts (and counting) and it seems as though this might finally be Hank’s year.

The runners-up are Jonathan Quick and Jimmy Howard (DET).

The Norris Trophy (best defenseman) goes to Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators. Move over, Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara. The Nashville captain has been outstanding as always this year.

His 10 goals and 24 assists combine for 34 points, second overall on Nashville and third amongst NHL defenseman. Weber has been the catalyst behind the recent success in Nashville and is undoubtedly the cornerstone of the franchise.

The runners-up are Erik Karlsson (OTT) and Chara (BOS).