- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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The ballots are in, and the nominees have been notified. ESPN.com's NHL midseason awards are a big moment for the players and coaches involved, so we take this seriously.
OK, they have no clue we're doling these out, but we know you, the fans, will either embrace or attack these choices. So be it!
A look at which guys ESPN.com would choose as award winners if the season ended Wednesday, the midway point of what has been a very interesting 2009-10 campaign:
Our case: With top defenseman Sergei Gonchar out for a long stretch earlier this season and Malkin not having his usual kind of production, Crosby has been the most consistent star for the Penguins and has carried on right from last season's playoffs, where he was dynamite. He's shooting the puck more, scoring more goals and reminding us that, at age 22, the best is yet to come. (Full disclosure: Pierre LeBrun has never picked a goalie for the Hart; it goes against his rules. He believes the Vezina is worthy enough an award for netminders.)
• Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres: His consistency is perhaps his most admirable trait so far this season.
• Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix Coyotes: Rebounding in a big way from last season's disappointing performance and by far the biggest reason the Desert Dogs are in a playoff spot at the midway point.
• Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks: He has a great team in front of him, but his play has also been stellar.
(Writer's note: You might be surprised to see no Marc-Andre Fleury on this list, but his numbers have very quietly dipped. His .905 save percentage was ranked 32nd among NHL goalies as of Tuesday afternoon.)
Our case: As Team USA GM Brian Burke said New Year's Day at Fenway Park, if there's one area in which Team USA won't take a backseat in the Olympic tournament, it's in goal.
• Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres: The friendly 6-foot-8 giant leads all NHL rookies in ice time with more than 23 minutes a game.
• Niclas Bergfors, New Jersey Devils: Another David Conte special shines through.
• Semyon Varlamov, Washington Capitals: The goalie is 12-1-2 so far this season!
Our case: The Big Easy is a staple on special teams and in late-game situations; his 22 points (3-19) lead all rookie defensemen; and his plus-8 rating isn't too shabby, either. No position in the NHL is harder to learn than defense, and Myers is making it look easy.
• Mike Green, Washington Capitals: No Team Canada, but a heck of a bounce back from those playoffs.
• Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks: The quarterback of the Sharks and a puck-moving king.
Our case: Perhaps a surprise pick for many of you, but watch the Sharks and you'll see how impactful this defenseman is on their success.
Jack Adams Award
• Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes: Crushing dire preseason predictions with a surprising season that has Phoenix in the playoff hunt.
• Joe Sacco, Colorado Avalanche: See Tippett.
• Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators: Hard to believe this guy has never won this award, given the small payroll and the competitive teams he leads every season.
• Jacques Lemaire, New Jersey Devils: Free-agent defections and injuries haven't slowed one of the game's great coaches.
• Lindy Ruff, Buffalo Sabres: He should be nominated every year.
• Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks: He has his young star lineup on a leash obeying his every command.
• Bruce Boudreau, Washington Capitals: Yes, he has lots of firepower, but he still doesn't get enough credit for what he does behind that Caps bench.
• Todd McLellan, San Jose Sharks: Don't underestimate the coaching job he has done to get his players' heads screwed on right after last season's playoff failure.
• Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings: The toughest coaching job he has had in his career with all the massive injuries.
(Writer's note: Honestly, without exaggerating, you can easily make the case for close to 16 coaches every season for this award because nearly all the playoff-bound teams have a coach who has done well.)
Our case: Tippett and Sacco will get the nod from most of my colleagues (the NHL Broadcasters Association votes on the award); but, after a while, it gets tiresome that this award is always won by the coach whose team surprised the most. What about the coaching on great teams, as well? The Blackhawks give up the fewest shots on goal in the NHL and launch the second-most at the other net. Quenneville has 12 players who should be on the first-unit power play and has found the delicate balance to please everyone. His team leads the league in goals against with two goalies no one would rank in the top 30. That's called coaching.
• John Madden, Chicago Blackhawks: The old goat has found new life with the young Hawks and is indeed doing his thing.
• Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins: He might just be the best penalty killer in the NHL.
• Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: He leads the best penalty-killing unit in the NHL.
• Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks: He'll be one of Team USA's top penalty killers in the Olympics.
• Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks: He doesn't get nearly enough credit for his defensive prowess.
Our case: He's eighth in the NHL in short-handed ice time per game, but first among recognizable star players. He's also plus-8 on the season.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Sidney Crosby? Ryan Miller? Joe Thornton? Alex Ovechkin? Who is our midseason MVP? Pierre LeBrun dishes out the hardware.