September 20, 2019

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Opinion

Several Jets among mid-season contenders for NHL hardware

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Jets centre Mark Scheifele has established himself as one of the league's top centres. Hart Trophy candidate? Why not?</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jets centre Mark Scheifele has established himself as one of the league's top centres. Hart Trophy candidate? Why not?

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/12/2018 (265 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

He has taken his game to new heights this season, establishing himself as one of the premier centremen in the game. The playmaking ability was always evident, but now he's developed a shoot-first mentality that also makes him one of the league's elite scorers. He's also earned a reputation as being clutch, with five game-winning goals thus far, four of them in December.

He is Mark Scheifele, a player whose worth to the Jets has never been more apparent. And I'm not just talking about the eight-year contract extension he signed in 2016 which, at $6.125 million annually, makes him one of the best bargains in the business.

If Scheifele stays healthy, 50 goals and 100 points is not out of the question. Nor is consideration for the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player to his team which, in Scheifele's case, leads both the Central Division and Western Conference.

As the season nears the midway point, it's time to start thinking about who may be in the running for various year-end awards. There's no doubt Scheifele is a contender right now for the most coveted individual trophy in the sport.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/12/2018 (265 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

He has taken his game to new heights this season, establishing himself as one of the premier centremen in the game. The playmaking ability was always evident, but now he's developed a shoot-first mentality that also makes him one of the league's elite scorers. He's also earned a reputation as being clutch, with five game-winning goals thus far, four of them in December.

He is Mark Scheifele, a player whose worth to the Jets has never been more apparent. And I'm not just talking about the eight-year contract extension he signed in 2016 which, at $6.125 million annually, makes him one of the best bargains in the business.

If Scheifele stays healthy, 50 goals and 100 points is not out of the question. Nor is consideration for the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player to his team which, in Scheifele's case, leads both the Central Division and Western Conference.

As the season nears the midway point, it's time to start thinking about who may be in the running for various year-end awards. There's no doubt Scheifele is a contender right now for the most coveted individual trophy in the sport. 

So let's gather 'round the crystal ball, shall we, and take a peek at who might be stepping up on stage next June to collect some hardware at the annual gala event in Las Vegas, based on how things have played out so far. I'll keep this limited to the major awards. Sorry, Frank J. Selke. I'm sure you'll be a good sport about it.

HART TROPHY (most valuable player to his team)

DIRK SHADD / TAMPA BAY TIMES FILES</p><p>Right-wing Nikita Kucherov is having quite the impact on the Tampa Bay Lightning's fortunes, making him a contender for the Hart Trophy.</p>

DIRK SHADD / TAMPA BAY TIMES FILES

Right-wing Nikita Kucherov is having quite the impact on the Tampa Bay Lightning's fortunes, making him a contender for the Hart Trophy.

You'll get no argument from me that Connor McDavid is the best hockey player on the planet. But with his Edmonton Oilers once again outside the playoff bubble, we may be in store for another round of "Can you give the MVP to someone on a bad team?" arguments. He has 19 goals and 35 assists, putting him fourth in the NHL scoring race. 

Nikita Kucherov may be the front-runner right now, as he leads the league in scoring (17 goals, 44 assists) while playing for the No. 1 team in Tampa Bay. A player we just saw at Bell MTS Place Thursday night, Johnny Gaudreau, has also emerged as a contender. His hat trick against the Jets has him fifth in the scoring race with 19 goals and 32 assists, and the Calgary Flames lead the Pacific Division.

Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon sit second and third in NHL scoring, but you wonder if they'll end up splitting some votes. And then there's Scheifele, with 22 goals and 27 assists, which has him seventh in scoring at the moment.

Other contenders include Boston's David Pastrnak, Washington's Alex Ovechkin, Buffalo's Jack Eichel and Toronto's Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews.

MY PICKS: Kucherov, Scheifele, Gaudreau.

NORRIS TROPHY (best defenceman)

FRANK GUNN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Morgan Reilly is having a career year with the Toronto Maple Leafs, putting him at the top of any list for the Norris Trophy for outstanding defenceman.</p>

FRANK GUNN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Morgan Reilly is having a career year with the Toronto Maple Leafs, putting him at the top of any list for the Norris Trophy for outstanding defenceman.

Morgan Rielly is having a career season on the Toronto Maple Leafs' blue line, with 13 goals and 31 assists. He's the runaway favourite right now.

But don't sleep on Washington's John Carlson, Calgary's Mark Giordano, Pittsburgh's Kris Letang, San Jose's Brent Burns, Ottawa's Thomas Chabot and yes, even Winnipeg's own Dustin Byfuglien, who is on pace for a career-high in offensive production with four goals and 24 assists in 31 games so far. Any one of these players could challenge Rielly with a big second half.

MY PICKS: Rielly, Giordano, Carlson.

VEZINA TROPHY (best goaltender)

MARK HUMPHREY / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES</p><p>Despite his apparent meltdown in the playoffs against the Jets, Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has launched himself back into the discussion for the Vezina, while his runner-up from last year, the Jets Connor Hellebuyck, has not.</p>

MARK HUMPHREY / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

Despite his apparent meltdown in the playoffs against the Jets, Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has launched himself back into the discussion for the Vezina, while his runner-up from last year, the Jets Connor Hellebuyck, has not.

This category is tough to call at this point, with several contenders but no clear front-runner. Toronto's Frederik Andersen, Nashville's Pekka Rinne, Anaheim's John Gibson, Dallas' Ben Bishop and Boston's Jaroslav Halak are all having strong seasons. Tampa's Andrei Vasilevskiy battled injury but has been stellar since his return. Marc-Andre Fleury currently leads the league in wins, even if his underlying numbers aren't as strong as others.

Noticeably absent is one of last year's finalists in Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck. Although he sits third-overall in wins (behind Fleury and Andersen), his goals-against-average and save-percentage will need to improve dramatically in the secondhalf to get back into the conversation.

MY PICKS: Rinne, Gibson, Andersen.

CALDER TROPHY (best rookie)

BEN NELMS / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Rookie of the Year? That's a list that should have only one name: Vancouver Canucks Elias Pettersson.</p>

BEN NELMS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Rookie of the Year? That's a list that should have only one name: Vancouver Canucks Elias Pettersson.

A one-horse race. And that horse is lapping the field. Elias Pettersson has 18 goals and 20 assists, giving him a 15-point lead on Ottawa's Colin White for the rookie scoring race. Senators forward Brady Tkachuk, Carolina winger Andrei Svechnikov and Buffalo defenceman Rasmus Dahlin are also in the mix, but strictly for runner-up status as this point.

MY PICKS: Pettersson, Dahlin, Tkachuk.

JACK ADAMS AWARD (best coach)

JASON BEHNKEN / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES</p><p>Does having a good team automatically qualify you for coach of the year? No, but Jon Cooper's work with the Tampa Bay Lightning has been nothing short of spectacular.</p>

JASON BEHNKEN / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

Does having a good team automatically qualify you for coach of the year? No, but Jon Cooper's work with the Tampa Bay Lightning has been nothing short of spectacular.

Best team, best coach? It doesn't always work that way, but it's hard to argue with the job being done by Tampa's Jon Cooper, Toronto's Mike Babcock and Winnipeg's Paul Maurice. Of course, all three have plenty of talent at their disposal which, some may argue, takes away from their candidacy.

Calgary's Bill Peters has done a masterful job in his first year behind the bench with a young Calgary squad, while Phil Housley has helped shape a Buffalo team that has had its fill of misery for many years but is finally on the rise. And don't dismiss the work being done by Washington's first-year coach in Todd Reirden, who has stepped in to lead the Stanley Cup champs, seemingly without missing a beat.

MY PICKS: Cooper, Housley, Peters.

Finally, our thoughts turn to something much closer than year-end awards, the upcoming All-Star game Jan. 26 in San Jose. Once again, they're going with the divisional format, which means every team must have at least one representative. Fan votes have also determined the four captains in Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon.

DAVID ZALUBOWSKI / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES</p><p>Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon simply must be in the conversation for the all-star game.</p>

DAVID ZALUBOWSKI / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon simply must be in the conversation for the all-star game.

With just six forwards, three defencemen and two goalies per division, some quality players are going to be left behind. Focusing on just the Central Division, here's how I see things shaking out, with three Jets joining the party.

FORWARDS: MacKinnon (captain), Scheifele, Wheeler, Rantanen, Patrick Kane (Chicago), Ryan O'Reilly (St. Louis)

DEFENCE: Ryan Suter (Minnesota), Roman Josi (Nashville), Byfuglien

GOAL: Rinne, Bishop

IN THE MIX: Laine, Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado), Tyler Seguin (Dallas), Jamie Benn (Dallas), Mikael Granlund (Minnesota), Zach Parise (Minnesota), Jonathan Toews (Chicago), Tyson Barrie (Colorado)

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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