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It’s a “special” time in the NHL at the moment, a time that comes only once a year. No, it’s obviously not the playoffs, or the March 9 trade deadline. That’s right, you guessed it, it’s the NHL midseason! OK, so maybe I’m getting a little too enthusiastic here, but it is an important time nonetheless. Teams are now starting to realize whether they have a realistic shot at making the postseason, or whether they’re doomed to be on the golf course down south in early April. The midseason is usually a time when there is someone on each team who already has, or is beginning to stand out amongst the rest of his teammates. Today, we honour these players in the 1st ever Habsworld NHL-Midseason MVP Awards Ceremony! (Trust me, I’ll have a better title come next midseason.)

Anaheim Mighty Ducks: Keith Carney, D

On a team that has the likes of Sergei Fedorov, Vinny Prospal, and J.S. Giguere, you may find it strange to hear that a defenceman is the team’s MVP. Carney is a fixture on the team’s top PK unit, and more often than not, logs the most icetime each night against the opponent’s top line. He was injured earlier in the season, but since his return, the Ducks’ winning percentage would have them in the playoffs had he not been injured.

Atlanta Thrashers: Ilya Kovalchuk, W

This one is almost a no-brainer, can you honestly think of another electrifying player who’s usually worth the price of admission himself on a nightly basis? Didn’t think so. With the absence of star winger Dany Heatley, Kovalchuk has stepped up his game to replace his offence. He and centre Marc Savard comprise the league’s highest scoring duo, one of the reasons that Atlanta is currently in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference.

Boston Bruins: Joe Thornton, C

Night in and night out, Thornton consistently logs the most icetime of any Bruins forward, and is the team’s captain and leading scorer, despite the struggles of linemates Glen Murray and Mike Knuble. Thornton sees PP time, PK time, anything you can think of, he’s there on the ice. Thornton’s continued physical presence also spells trouble for opponents’ checking units on the ice that try, but often fail to contain him.

Buffalo Sabres: Jean-Pierre Dumont, W

What a resurgence this player has had through the first half of the season. Dumont is now one of the leading scorers on the team, and was recently named Buffalo’s new team captain. Like many other MVP’s, Dumont plays in all situations, and his increased offensive production has been able to compensate for early season struggles from Miroslav Satan and Chris Drury.

Calgary Flames: Miikka Kiprusoff, G

Kiprusoff, aside from the man who acquired him, has been the most pleasant surprise in Calgary through the first half of the season. Coach/GM Darryl Sutter acquired him for just a second-rounder next season, and Kiprusoff has rewarded Sutter’s faith in him by posting the highest save percentage and the lowest goals allowed average (GAA). This isn’t just Jarome Iginla’s team anymore…

Carolina Hurricanes: Kevin Weekes, G

On a team full of underachievers, Weekes has been the only bright spot for the Hurricanes this season, aside from possibly rookie Eric Staal. Weekes is tied for second in the league in shutouts, behind Martin Brodeur (NJ), and tied with Jose Theodore (MON), and Brian Boucher (PHX), with 5. Weekes’ GAA and save percentage both rate in the top-10 in the league, which is the only reason that Carolina isn’t the worst team in the Eastern Conference at the moment.

Chicago Blackhawks: Steve Sullivan, W

Had he been healthy for more than 10 games, G Jocelyn Thibault likely would have gotten the nod here, but he’s out indefinitely, and the Hawks weren’t doing well with him in the lineup anyways. Hence, we turn to Steve Sullivan, often the lone threat to score for the Blackhawks on a regular basis. Yes, his numbers are down from last year’s, but with the exception of Mark Bell, whose aren’t? Sullivan plays in all situations, and averages the most icetime for all forwards on the team.

Colorado Avalanche: Joe Sakic, C

As was the case with the Blackhawks (see above), another player would likely have won the award here, but Peter Forsberg, despite having the highest points per game average just hasn’t played enough to be recognized as the MVP so far. So, with him down and out, who stepped up? Joe Sakic, who was expected to be the #2 centre at the beginning of the season. The team’s leading scorer, Sakic’s 1+ point per game average is hardly considered 2nd line material, especially when you see he’s averaging roughly 20 minutes per game in a variety of situations.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Marc Denis, G

Denis, a Colorado castaway, has flourished in Columbus since his arrival. He is the team’s workhorse, often facing 30 shots a night. Despite this, he still has a respectable GAA and save percentage, on a team with little defensive depth. I shudder at the thought of where this team would be without Denis.

Dallas Stars: Marty Turco, G

On a team that surprisingly is having trouble scoring, Turco has been giving them a chance to win on almost every night. Appearing in all but just 3 games, Turco’s GAA after October is below 2.00, one of the reasons that Dallas, despite their offensive shortcomings, finds themselves pushing for a playoff spot. With veteran Ron Tugnutt now suiting up for Utah (AHL), expect Turco to continue to shoulder the load.

Detroit Red Wings: Pavel Datsyuk, C

The only other player that one can think of as being worth the price of admission, Datsyuk has already made some Red Wing fans forget about Sergei Fedorov, who bolted to Anaheim in the summer. Despite being so young, Datsyuk gets top PP time, and sometimes plays a shift or two shorthanded as well. As the season progresses, he may lose some icetime to the returning wounded from injury, but he still will be a key factor in their success.

Edmonton Oilers: Steve Staios, D

Steady and reliable stay-at-home defencemen don’t get the credit that they deserve nowadays. Such is the case for Staios as well. He logs almost 4 minutes per game on the PP and PK, and averages over 24 minutes per game as well. He is also the second leading scorer amongst defencemen on that team, and is one of the few bright spots on a struggling Oilers team.

Florida Panthers: Roberto Luongo, G

Another workhorse goalie on a struggling team, Luongo himself has faced more shots than over half of the NHL teams’ goaltending duos. Despite this, he has a top-10 save percentage, remarkable for a goaltender who faces roughly 33 shots per game. Without Luongo, the Panthers likely would be the worst team in the National Hockey League today.

Los Angeles Kings: Zigmund Palffy, W

One of the few Kings to remain healthy through the first half (although not for the second, he’s out for the season), Palffy is (or now was) pretty much “Mr. Everything” for the Kings, playing on the top PP unit, and playing 4 shifts per game on the PK. He also logged the most icetime amongst Kings forwards. Without Palffy, it will be up to Martin Straka and Luc Robitaille to carry the load offensively.

Minnesota Wild: Dwayne Roloson G, Manny Fernandez, G

In Minnesota, there is no standout forward or defenceman, so one must look in goal to find an MVP. However, both goalies are standouts at this point in the season, combining for a GAA of just of 2.00, which is in the top-5. Lately, Roloson’s been playing more, but without no clear-cut number 1 goalie or number 2, neither goalie can be singled out at this point in time.

Montreal Canadiens: Sheldon Souray, D

Also the comeback player of the year through the halfway point of the season, Souray has already exceeded everybody’s wildest expectations, and left them in the dust. Souray leads all defencemen in goals with 14, and in 2nd amongst defencemen in overall points with 32, behind Sergei Gonchar (WAS). Souray takes a regular shift on the team’s top PP and PK units, and leads the team in ice time.

(An honourable mention goes to G Jose Theodore, who has kept the Canadiens in virtually every game, and has improved on all his numbers from last season. Had the Canadiens always needed his heroics as was the case 2 years ago, Theodore would be the MVP hands down.)

Nashville Predators: Tomas Vokoun, G

Yet another workhorse goaltender, Vokoun has played in 80 of his team’s 83 games since ex-teammate Mike Dunham was traded to the Rangers last season. Vokoun’s numbers aren’t spectacular, but both his GAA and save percentage hover around the league average, which is excellent for a goalie who gets a night off roughly every 3 months. Without him, Nashville is already eliminated from playoff contention.

New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur, G

This one isn’t as obvious as it seems, as LW/C Patrik Elias is enjoying a very good season as well. However, the decision is based on the fact that without Brodeur, the Devils aren’t the defending Stanley Cup champions, nor are they the team with the most shutouts (10-Brodeur has 9, Schwab 1). The Devils employ a trapping style for one reason, because they can. Brodeur also seems to be the consensus pick for the Vezina trophy midway through the 2003-04 season.

New York Islanders: Adrian Aucoin, D

What were the Canucks and Lightning thinking when they traded this guy? Aucoin does it all, from producing points to being a solid physical presence in his own end. He also plays the most PP and the most PK time, as well as logging the most total icetime on the Islanders. Aucoin is in the top-10 in defenceman scoring, and leads the NHL in plus/minus.

New York Rangers: Martin Rucinsky, W

This may very well be the most controversial pick, however “Rosie” does all of the little things for the Rangers, and there just isn’t anyone else who can claim the same. He sees icetime in all situations, although he doesn’t lead the team in any particular stats except for plus/minus, a tribute to his surprisingly solid two-way game. However, if at season’s end we’re still calling Rucinsky the team’s MVP, the Rangers are golfing in early April without a doubt.

Ottawa Senators: Zdeno Chara, D

One may wonder why wingers Marian Hossa or Daniel Alfredsson or even Radek Bonk weren’t picked. The reason, there’s too much offensive depth for one player to stand out amongst the others. So, we turn to defence, and arguably the most feared defender in the NHL. Chara is the biggest player in the league and his size is enough to scare people away. However, he knows his way around the net as well, as he leads all Ottawa defencemen in points, despite not seeing the most icetime in any given situation.

Philadelphia Flyers: Jeremy Roenick, C

On a team loaded with offensive firepower, it seems strange to be able to single anyone out. However, in the Flyers’ case, it can be done. Roenick is the team’s leading scorer, as well as providing a physical presence. His two-way game is also impressive, and he is a leader in the dressing room. It’s these qualities that put him above the rest, although one could make a case for several other Flyers players in terms of being the team MVP.

Phoenix Coyotes: Shane Doan, W/C

When Coyotes co-owner Wayne Gretzky speaks, people listen. Gretzky himself has proclaimed Doan as the team’s MVP, and I’m inclined to agree. Not the flashiest player on the team, Doan gets the job done at both ends of the rink, as well as providing a solid physical presence. The team captain, Doan also plays on the top PP unit as well as the 2nd PK unit, and is often out there at the end of the game protecting leads, which is a tribute to his defensive game.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Dick Tarnstrom, D

Why Tarnstrom? Simple, he’s usually the only Penguins player you notice on a nightly basis. He leads the team in points, the only defenceman in the league that can claim that. He leads the NHL in PP minutes per game, at just under 7:00. His plus/minus isn’t something to be desired, but that’s to be expected from a player who leads the Penguins in icetime. Not bad for a waiver-wire pickup…

St. Louis Blues: Chris Pronger, D

If NHL coaches had to describe Pronger in only one word, you’d see many different answers: workhorse, leader, franchise player, and of course, MVP. Pronger plays in all situations and leads the time in total icetime. He is one of the most feared defenders in the game because of the physical presence he provides, and is a coach’s nightmare because he seemingly is always out there. Without Al MacInnis and Barret Jackman, expect Pronger to shoulder the load even more throughout the second half of the season.

San Jose Sharks: Patrick Marleau, C

Marleau finally seems to be living up to his billings, as he currently is the team’s leading scorer. However, you don’t always notice him out there, as more often than not, the centre does all of the little things to help out the team, a rarity for a leading scorer in the modern NHL. If San Jose is to return to the postseason, Marleau will be the one leading the way.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Martin St-Louis, W

When you think of Tampa Bay, what player first comes to mind? Usually, it’s Vincent Lecavalier, or Nikolai Khabibulin, or even Brad Richards. Then there’s little 5’8″ St-Louis who just happens to be the team’s leading scorer, and the only Lightning player to be named an All-Star game starter this season. St-Louis isn’t the best player in any area, however he does possess a solid offensive game, as well as an adequate defensive one. He’s also Mr. Clutch, leading the team in game winning goals.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Bryan McCabe, D

At first, another surprising MVP pick, however the Leafs’ incredible point streak was sparked by the return of this young, budding defender. McCabe provides a very physical presence, although that also can be considered a shortcoming of his game as well. He leads the team in icetime, and is also considered one of the league’s best overall defencemen when he is on his game.

Vancouver Canucks: Markus Naslund, W

Where would the Canucks be this season without this Swede? Fighting for a playoff spot, that’s where. Once again one of the league’s leading scorers, Naslund has been able to pick up his game to make up for the supposed offensive struggles of his linemates Bertuzzi and Morrison, both who are having seasons below those of last year’s. Naslund is also the team’s captain, and although he doesn’t get the most playing time on the team, he’s certainly the most noticeable, as he is one of the most dynamic scorers in the league today. (His acting could use some work though…)

Washington Capitals: Sergei Gonchar, D

Sergei is “Mr. Everything” for the Capitals. He is one of the team’s leading scorers (and also leads all NHL defencemen in scoring), plays the most time on the powerplay as well as taking a regular shift on the penalty kill. He also leads the team in total icetime, as well as leading the whole league in the department as well. There isn’t another player in this league that does for Gonchar does for his team, which is why he also gets my vote for league MVP, which goes to the player judged as”most valuable to his team”. I can’t think of anyone else who fits that bill.

Many things have happened over the first half of the season, and the aforementioned players have played a big role in their teams’ successes (however big or small). In order for some of these teams to make the postseason however, some other players will have to make their mark, those labeled as “franchise players”. If not, it’s going to be a long summer, and possibly even longer if there is a lockout. We’ve passed first gear, time to kick it into second guys.

Questions/comments?  Agree/disagree with my selections?  E-mail me at [email protected].