Since the NHL doesn't count games as a halfway point for the league, January 9th is the date which is officially the half-way point of the '05-'06 season. It's been quite a year with the game actually coming back (and prospering), the shakeup on rosters, and the scoring being up 1.2 goals per game. It's been a fun year for the fans and for media alike. What I'm going to attempt to do now is break down the surprises, the disappointments, and give out some first-half awards, why not??
-The Buffalo Sabres don't have a goal scorer on their roster, they have some inexperience in net, but somehow they are up in the chase for the Stanley Cup. The two headed monster in goal with Martin Biron and Ryan Miller makes the Sabres a threat to begin with, but when you look at the team, they almost remind you of the '98-'99 team that went to the Stanley Cup. They have gritty players who can put the puck in the net, and they are able to win low scoring affairs with ease.
-Forget about Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby for a second. You'll see that the Rookie Class in the NHL is amazing. Marek Svatos, Dion Phaneuf, Andrej Meszaros, Mike Richards, and Petr Prucha are doing what they need to do and contributing to their respective teams where needed. In net, Ryan Miller, Antero Niittymaki, and Henrik Lundqvist are taking over their respective #1 jobs from the incumbents that were there before.
-The refs are actually being consistent with their calls. Because of the lack of hooking and holding, we are seeing more and more amazing goals on the even strength chances. Because of that, we are getting more and more highlight reel plays and it is getting hockey somewhat into the minds of the people who may not normally watch the game.
-First and foremost, who would have thought that the Pittsburgh Penguins would be as bad as they are now?? With the talent they picked up in the off-season, you would almost think they would be either in the playoffs or pretty damn close. Of course, because of the underachievement, the Pens are seemingly battling for the #1 Overall Pick in the '06 Draft.
-Sergei Fedorov was suppose to flourish with the new rules, but with injuries and now on a new team, it's unknown whether or not Fedorov will ever regain his old form like he was in the Red Wings dynasty. He has been getting better as of late with Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev on his line, but it is going to be another story for the second half.
-There seems to be no love for OLN in the TV Market. Seeing some games that have been simulcasted up here on TSN, I can see why some people may not like the OLN. Of course, that's not to say they won't get better with time, but there's a point where that company line cannot be used anymore. Of course, the intermission staff is dreadful, so I've heard, but what can you do when you throw something together in 3 months??
THE HALF WAY AWARDS
Hart Trophy (MVP): Eric Staal (Carolina): If you take out Staal from the Hurricanes, they are pretty much dead in the water. Staal has become the quiet leader and is making all those around him better. He's a household name in the Raleigh area and it can only help the Canes in the long-run.
Norris Trophy (Top Defenseman): Wade Redden (Ottawa): Remember kids, it's about defensive play, not offensive play. Redden is a great puck moving defenseman and he is very responsible in his own zone. He commands leadership on the back line and will continue to be a dominant defenseman for the next few years.
Orr Trophy (Top Offensive Defenseman): Bryan McCabe (Toronto): This should be a new award seeing as how all the d-men want to be scorers, but this is well deserved. McCabe had to overcome wearing the Gorton's Fisherman jersey on Long Island to become the best scoring defenseman in the NHL this year. He has all the tools to be the first defenseman to lead the Maple Leafs in points in their history.
Vezina Trophy (Top Goalie): Miikka Kiprusoff (Calgary): Kipper has come back from a break out season to still prove that he is one of the top goalies out there in the league. With his six shutouts this year, he not only leads the NHL and has broken the single season record for Flames goalies with that mark as well.
Calder Trophy (Top Rookie): Alexander Ovechkin (Washington): I don't care about all the hype everyone else is getting-- if you take out Ovechkin from the Caps, they are nothing. If you take the other rookies from their teams, they probably won't be as missed as Ovechkin would be with the Caps. He is their franchise future and he plays an amazingly even game.
So that is that for now, but keep on the look out for the second half of the season and what could happen there. However, throughout the year, make sure to tune in Face Off Hockey Show every Wednesday at 9 PM ET, but if you miss it-- not to worry. Just download the FOHS Podcast and take the hockey and hilarity with you along the way.
This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!