By: Andy Palm, Columnist
With the official midway point of this 2019-20 NHL season rapidly approaching, as most teams are either at or right around 41 games played; it’s time to look at some of the best performers of the season so far. We’ll be looking at the league’s top performers, as well as some disappointments, and a few players who have been surprising.
Mid-season Presidents trophy (best record) – Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals have the most points at the midway point of the season with 59, and at the pace they are playing, I expect that to stay the same. We’ve seen this show before in the nation’s capital. A wildly successful regular season campaign leading to utter playoff disappointment. Now that they have a Stanley Cup title under their belt, maybe this will change. A good portion of this roster was part of the 2018 championship run, so they know how to handle the postseason now. The Caps have been phenomenal so far. With four lines that all have scoring threats, opposing teams never really get a break.
They aren’t top heavy either, they get big time production out of their superstars, but it isn’t as relied upon as in years past. The supporting crew in D.C. is just as responsible for this great start as the superstars are. They are also getting superb play from the backend as well. Defensively they have been extremely consistent as well with MVP candidate defenseman John Carlson leading the way. Carlson is currently in the top ten in both points and assists, and he’s been clutch for the Caps and is tied for the league best with six game-winning goals. So far so good in Washington, we’ll see what the second half has in store for them.
Mid-season Hart (MVP) – Connor McDavid, center, Edmonton Oilers
McDavid continues to live up to the high expectations he came into the league with, and so far this season he has just reinforced everyone’s opinion of how good he is. The Oilers are not a very good hockey team, they have a lot of holes to fill on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ice. The only reason they are remotely competitive right now has to do with the insane production they have gotten from their two superstar centers, McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
McDavid and Draisaitl are first and second in points scored for the entire league right now. McDavid has 64 points this season, while Draisaitl has 62. Both players are more than deserving to be named MVP, but I give McDavid the slight edge due to the simple fact that his stats are slightly better. I also believe a large portion of Draisaitl’s success has something to do with him being on the same team as McDavid. McDavid can live without Draisaitl, I don’t think the same could be said if the roles were reversed. McDavid is the best player in the league right now, and his production shows that.
Mid-season Norris (best defensive player) – John Carlson, defenseman, Washington Capitals
This isn’t really even up for debate. Carlson has been spectacular all season long and amongst the top 10 in the entire league for points this season with 50. The next closest defenseman in terms of points scored is Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators, with 41. Carlson is a big reason why the Caps are as good as they are this season. He is on the ice for a large amount of time every night and has his hand in all aspects of the game. Carlson has been deserving of this award for a while, but it was also such a slim margin between him and other defenders. This season, he has made no question about it.
Mid-season Rookie of the year – Cale Makar, defenseman, Colorado Avalanche
Makar had big shoes to fill this season, as Colorado made a bold move last offseason and traded away their top defenseman Tyson Barrie. So far Makar has answered the call. He’s been very solid for the Avalanche this year, and has had better offensive production than expected. He is second on the team in points with 29, only trailing superstar forward Nate MacKinnon. He’s got some catching up to do if he wants to catch MacKinnon, who has 58 points thus far. For rookies, it’s most important to look for progress throughout the season to show they are coming into their own. Makar has done that and more and plays a pivotal role on a playoff-contending team.
Mid-season surprising team – Philadelphia Flyers
I really thought the Flyers were not going to be a good hockey team this year. I believed they were a young team in a transition period and this was a season for them to develop chemistry and try to rebuild. I was wrong, this team is playing well and has really thrived to this point into the season. With young pieces all over the ice, this is just the beginning of what Philly could look like for years to come. Newcomer right winger Kevin Hayes has put his mark on this team, as he is tied for the team lead in goals so far this season with 12. They brought him here to score, and that’s what he’s done.
Center Travis Konecny got an extension right before the season started, and he has proven that to be a wise investment. He leads the team in points, and his tough mentality really has become something the team feeds off of. Konecny was just selected for his first All-Star game and deservedly so. This team is very even when it comes to production. A lot like the Capitals, they don’t rely heavily on one player like in years past.
Overall, it’s been a very exciting first half of the season, the second half looks to be just as exhilarating. With 24 teams currently above .500, anything can happen as the push for the playoffs gets closer. In both conferences, the leader currently has a three game lead, so it will likely come down to the final few games for playoff seeding. This should be another exciting second half to the season and I look forward to seeing how it turns out.