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NHL Superlative Awards: One Half of the 2022 Season

With the all-star break a little under a month away, the 2022 NHL season has past the halfway mark. Surrounded by storylines each and every night, the Boston Bruins are continuing to dominate the rest of the league. Fresh off a 6-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday, the team has lost just once in regulation at TD Garden to lead the way with 74 points. Meanwhile, Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid remains on pace to make history. Currently leading both the goal-scoring race (38) and the points race (84), the 25-year-old is looking to become just the fifth player in history to reach the 150-point mark behind Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Phil Esposito, and Bernie Nicholls. Set to hand out some honors, here are my NHL superlative awards through one half of play.

Outstanding Team

Nominees: Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vegas Golden Knights

Choosing to part ways with head coach Bruce Cassidy in the offseason, the Bruins hired former Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery to be their new bench boss. Jumping out to a red-hot start to begin the season, the team lost just two of their first 15 games while also breaking the NHL record for most consecutive wins at home to start a year. Now up to first place in the Metropolitan Division once again after finishing with a franchise record 116 points in 2021, the Hurricanes have won 14 of their last 20 games while also picking up points in 16 of their last 25. Guided by the play of their goaltending tandem in Illya Samsonov and Matt Murray, the Leafs rank sixth in the league with just 2.67 goals allowed per night.

Winner: Boston Bruins

The Bruins were lauded by many as a team expected to begin the season behind the 8-ball. They entered the year without both Brad Marchand and Charlie Mcavoy after both players underwent off-season hip surgeries. Not missing a beat, Boston has won 35 of its first 44 games to lead the Atlantic Division. Rock solid in their own end; they sit first in the league in total goals allowed (95), goals allowed per game (2.09), and penalty kill percentage (86.7). Furthermore, after choosing to sign Linus Ullmark to a four-year contract extension, the 29-year-old is the early Vezina favorite. Pacing net minders with a 24-2-1 record, he sits no. 1 in both goals against average (1.89) and save percentage (.937) while also amassing two shutouts.

Biggest Surprise

Nominees: Seattle Kraken, New Jersey Devils, Winnipeg Jets

Seattle positioned itself for the future during the NHL's expansion draft a year ago. The franchise built its roster with the focus of acquiring pending unrestricted free agents with immediate trade value to acquire draft picks. As a result, they finished with the third-worst record in the league during their inaugural season. However, the Kraken has flipped its fortunes around through 40 games. Sitting second in the Pacific Division, they have picked up points in eight of their last ten games. Jumping out to the hottest start across the league to begin the 2022 season, New Jersey rattled off victories in 19 of their first 23 contests. Led by the play of star net minder Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg is tied with the Dallas Stars atop the Central Division.

Winner: Seattle Kraken

Emerging as the biggest surprise across the NHL during their second season in the league, Seattle has picked up a point in 30 of its first 44 contests. Hanging onto the final playoff spot in the Pacific Division, Matthew Beneirs has emerged as one of the brightest young stars in the game. Leading the way in the race for the Calder Trophy, the former second-overall pick has recorded 17 goals and 19 assists while playing over 17 minutes a night. Along with this, both Andre Burakovsky and Jordan Eberle are enjoying stellar campaigns. Flanking Beneirs on the Kraken's top line, the former is on pace to shatter the previous career high in points of 61 with the Colorado Avalanche last year, while the latter has racked up three points over his previous five contests.

Greatest Disappointment

Nominees: Ottawa Senators, Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks

Anticipated as a group predicted to take a significant leap forward in 2022, the Ottawa Senators made multiple moves to reinvigorate their fan base. The franchise acquired Alex DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks while also inking Claude Giroux to a three-year deal. Nonetheless, after a disappointing stretch in November in which they recorded just four victories, DJ Smith and company find themselves nine points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wild-card spot. Stumbling out of the gate, the Panthers look far from the team that captured the President's Trophy a year ago. Undergoing multiple three-game losing streaks, Florida sits 23rd in goals allowed per game (3.41) and 15th in team save percentage. Losers of four of their last five matchups, the Canucks have been hampered by the play in their own zone. Vancouver has given up at least five goals in a game 19 times through just 43 contests.

Winner: Florida Panthers

A year ago, Florida was disappointingly knocked off by their bitter Atlantic Division rival, the Tampa Lightning in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The franchise lost four straight matchups while failing to score more than one goal in any one of them. Focused on becoming harder to play against, general manager Bill Zito made one of the splashes of the offseason when he acquired Matthew Tkachuk from the Calgary Flames. Paying a significant price, the Panthers sent back Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar. Meanwhile, they also lost both Claude Giroux and Mason Marchment in free agency. Failing to recover from all the talent out the door halfway through the season, Paul Maurice's group sits four points out of a wild card spot while allowing more than 3.4 goals per game.

Most Underrated Superstar

Nominees: Tage Thompson, Jason Robertson, Jack Hughes

Acquired from the St. Louis Blues in the trade for Ryan O'Reilly five years ago, the Buffalo Sabres were becoming more and more frustrated with the slow development of Thompson. However, after being moved to the center spot by head coach Don Granato before the start of the 2021-2022 season, the former first-round pick has become one of the most prolific scorers in the game. He is on pace for a career-high 113 points. Arguably the best-kept secret in the league since being selected by the Dallas Stars in the 2017 draft, Robertson is tracking towards his first-ever 50-goal season. Presently on a point-per-game pace, Hughes is looking to become the first New Jersey player to eclipse the 100 point plateau.

Winner: Tage Thompson

Recently selected to the first all-star game of his young career, Thompson failed to latch on with the Blues. Ultimately shipped to the Sabres in the summer of 2018, he played just 65 games with the team over his first two seasons after suffering a season-ending injury. Earning more ice time under the guidance of Granato, the first time head coach helped to unlock the University of Connecticut product's potential. Immediately paying dividends, he scored a career-high 38 goals in 2021. Rewarded by Buffalo with a seven-year contract extension, Thompson has picked up right where he left off to begin the year. The 6'7 sniper trails only McDavid and David Pastrank in goals (31) while sitting sixth in the NHL in points (59).

Best Fit on a New Team

Nominees: Matthew Tkachuk, Kevin Fiala, Matt Murray/Ilya Samsonov

Skating on a line alongside Carter Verhaeghe and Sam Bennet, Tkachuk has been outstanding for the Panthers early on. The 25-year-old sits eighth in the NHL in points (56) and 17th in goals (22). Helping to will his team to victory at points amidst a slow start for the reigning Atlantic Division champions, the Boston native racked up three assists in Florida's win over the Sabres on Monday night. Brought in by the Kings from the Minnesota Wild in late June, Fiala has proven that his career year in 2021 was no coincidence. The winger currently leads the group in both goals (16) and assists (31). Reworking their goaltending tandem in the offseason after Jack Campbell departed for the Oilers in free agency, both Murray and Samsonov have been strong for the Maple Leafs. They each sit top 20 in the league in goals-against average.

Winner: Matthew Tkachuk

One of the lone bright spots for the Panthers through three months of the 2022 season, Tkachuk has been the engine for the team. The former sixth-overall pick has been forced to adjust to different line combinations amidst a mounting number of injuries for the group. The 25-year-old has also continued with his physical style of play while remaining deadly with the man advantage. Operating as the net front guy, he leads Florida with 20 power play points. The London Knights alumn was selected to the all-star game for the second time in his career after recording the most points (37) through a player's first 25 games with the club. Furthermore, the Arizona native also surpassed Pavel Bure to become the quickest player in franchise history to reach the 40-point mark in just 32 games.

Finest Coaching Performance

Nominees: Lindy Ruff, Jim Montgomery, Dave Hakstol

Sitting in the middle of a multi-year rebuild, New Jersey hired Ruff to develop their young core and move the team forward in the right direction. However, after finishing near the bottom in each of his first two years, he entered the 2022 season on the hot seat. Quickly turning the fortunes of the Devils around, the 62-year-old has the group situated second in the Metropolitan division at 29-12-3. Brought in to replace the departing Cassidy, Montgomery has helped navigate a Boston team surrounded by question marks to the top spot in the league. Currently, on a 60-win pace, the Bruins lead the NHL in goal differential at +75. Preaching a high-flying offensive style of play, Hakstol has guided the Kraken to a spot in the postseason. Seattle averages more than 3.66 goals a night while pacing the way in team shooting percentage (12.3).

Winner: Jim Montgomery

Boston surprisingly chose to fire Cassidy after he coached the team to a 51-win season. Opting to bring in Montgomery, the 53-year-old had not been the lead man behind a bench since Dallas let him go just 31 games into the 2019-2020 campaign. The Montreal native has been tasked with navigating a club that has been on the doorstep of capturing their second Stanley Cup of the last decade for multiple years. Furthermore, he also began his tenure without two of his top players in, Marchand and McAvoy, after both entered the season on the injured reserve list. Montgomery has exceeded all expectations. The University of Maine alumn has the Bruins sitting first in the league with a 35-5-4 record. They still have yet to lose two games in a row.

Top Rookie

Nominees: Matthew Beniers, Logan Thompson, Mason McTavish

Selected by the Kraken as the first draft pick in team history, Beniers appeared in ten contests in 2021 as a 19-year-old. He has burst onto the scene this season. The University of Michigan product has helped reinvigorate the Kraken from a 30th-place finish in their inaugural campaign. Right now, on a 30-goal pace, he has racked up six tallies over his last ten games. Named the starter for the Golden Knights after it was revealed Robin Lehner would miss the entire year after undergoing offseason hip surgery, Thompson has been stellar for the team. The 25-year-old has posted an 18-12-1 record across 30 starts while posting a 2.72 goals-against average, and a .913 save percentage. One of the lone brights spots in a down year for the Ducks, Mctavish has come on as of late after a slow start to the season. The Peterborough Petes product has racked up seven points in his last seven games to pull within nine of Troy Terry for the team lead.

Winner: Matthew Beniers

Slotted in as Seattle's top-line center, Beniers seamlessly transitioned to the NHL after returning to Michigan in 2021. He has led the rookie-scoring race all season long. The Hingham, Massachusetts, native is on track to eclipse the 60-point mark. Off to a hot start to begin 2023, the 20-year-old has racked up 11 points in ten games during January while posting a 44.4 percent shooting percentage. Furthermore, the one-time Big Ten Scoring Champion has also remained strong in his own end. Beneiers has recorded 24 takeaways while posting a 38.9 percent defensive zone start percentage and a 53.9 Corsi rate. Selected to the all-star game for the first time in his young career, he has the size and speed to be the leader of the Kraken for years to come.

Player Who Is Most in Need of a Change of Scenery

Nominees: Brock Boeser, Jakob Chychrun, Patrick Kane

Entering the summer as a restricted free agent, Boeser ultimately re-upped with the Canucks on a three-year $19.95 million extension. However, after getting off to a slow start to begin the 2022 season, the 25-year-old winger had been granted permission by the Canucks to seek a trade as the franchise looks to clear cap space. A hot name amidst NHL trade circles over the last year, Chychrun has two years remaining on his contract with just a $4.6 million cap hit. The league leader in goals by defenseman over the previous two years, the former 16th overall pick has 23 points in just 28 games this season after undergoing wrist surgery. A pending unrestricted free agent, Kane is expected to be moved by the NHL's trade deadline in March, with the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Pittsburgh Penguins emerging as potential suitors.

Winner: Patrick Kane

Beginning to enter into a rebuild after general manager Kyle Davidson started the fire sale by shipping out both Debrincat and Kirby Dach in the summer, Chicago shocked the rest of the NHL by jumping out to a 4-2 start. However, the team has won just eight of their last 28 games to sit dead last in the league with 28 points. With trade rumours around Kane beginning to swirl, the 34-year-old is on pace for his lowest point per game total (0.73) of his career. The nine-time all-star has also battled a hip injury that has forced him to miss time. Nonetheless, with 242 tallies in 204 contests over his previous three seasons, the three-time Stanley Cup champion still has the big game pedigree that contending teams will covet.

Leading Highlight

Nominees: Trevor Zegras Lacrosse Goal, Alex Ovechkin Scores 802, Tage Thompson's Five Goal Night

Zegras pulled off the Michigan for the third time in his career in early November. The 21 scored the lacrosse-style goal during the second period of the Anaheim Duck's game against the Minnesota Wild by flipping the puck around the net before Filip Gustavsson could react. More impressively, the Boston University product also hit his stick on the crossbar to avoid being called for high sticking. Notwithstanding, after the goal was called back due to an offsides challenge by Wild head coach Dean Evason the individual feat by one of the game's brightest young stars remains one of the first half's top highlights. Finally tying Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL's all-time goals list, Ovechkin scored an empty netter against the Winnipeg Jets to bring him one step closer to breaking hockey's ultimate record. Thompson netted five goals against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 9-4 victory. The former first-round pick scored a hat trick 12 minutes into the game and became just the second player in team history behind Dave Andreychuk to accomplish the feat.

Winner: Alex Ovechkin Scores 802

With only Wayne Gretzky left ahead of him on the all-time scoring race list, Ovechkin tied Howe in December against the Jets. He beat goaltender David Rittich on a blast from the top of the circle for goal number 801. Far from done on the night, the three-time Hart Trophy winner added the 54th empty netter of his NHL tenure with one minute left in the game to surpass Mr. Hockey. Already the owner of the most markers with one single franchise record, he is just 85 goals behind the all-time record. In a career defined by longevity and excellence, the 37-year-old has won a remarkable nine scoring titles. Furthermore, with 30 tallies already on the season, the 18-year veteran is closing in on his ninth 50-goal season.

One Storyline to Track the Rest of the Season

Nominees: Seattle Kraken Playoff Push, Connor McDavid Points Race, Alex Ovechkin's Goal Scoring Chase

Red hot to begin the new year, the Kraken have won eight of their first ten games to start 2023. They tore through Canada by defeating the Maple Leafs, Oilers, Senators, and Canadiens by a combined score of 22-7. Moreover, the team also shut out the Boston Bruins before picking up an 8-5 victory over the Blackhawks on Saturday Night. Now in a tie with the Los Angeles Kings for the second spot in the Pacific Division, expect general manager Ron Francis to add to the group at the trade deadline. The runaway leader for the Hart Trophy as the league MVP McDavid in is entering rarified air. He is presently sitting 14 points up on his teammate Leon Daisaitl for the lead in scoring. The Richmond hill, Ontario, native is on track to become just the fourth player since 2000 to reach the 60-goal mark. Beginning to rewrite history after recording goal number 30 in their loss to the Flyers on Saturday night, Ovechkin tied Mike Gartner for the most 30-goal seasons in NHL history.

Winner: Connor McDavid Points Race

McDavid is putting up video game numbers night in and night out. He has carried the Oilers to the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference and is the runaway favorite to win MVP for the third time in his career. Currently riding an eight-game point streak, the 26-year-old eclipsed the 60-point plateau in just 31 games, making him the fastest person to accomplish the mark since Mario Lemieux did it in just 21 contests in 1995. The league leader in both goals and assists, the former first-overall pick should capture the Rocket Richard Trophy for the first time in his career. He could go pointless the rest of the season and still finish on a per-game pace.

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