Thursday, January 6, 2011

Rangers Midseason Award Winners Are...?

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After last night's game the New York Rangers are exactly halfway through the 2010-11 campaign and to this point the Rangers have performed above the expectations of many, including myself.  As the team arrives at the middle of their season now is as good a time as any to reflect back on the first half and give out awards for player performance so far.  After 41 games the Rangers currently 7th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 23-15-3.  In order for the Rangers to maintain their current standing as a playoff team and continue to exceed expectations all of the players I mention today will have to continue to play at their high levels and those who have underachieved will have to join the festivities in a more constructive way.  Seeing as how we are at the half way point the winners might be a little more in line with conventional thinking in comparison with those at the quarter pole as the cream does rise to the top. 

Hart: Brandon Dubinsky:  About a week ago the choice for Dubinsky was not as clear as it had been all season as he had seen a dip and play and Brian Boyle had continued/improved on his excellent season.  The problem for Dubinsky as I had written about seemed to be a mental one as he was having a blockage in terms of his aggression with the return of Marian Gaborik, but that has changed and reverted back to earlier for to make him the clear choice.

Dubinsky currently leads the team in goals (16), assists (18), points (34), and ice time by a forward (20:09).  Beyond the statistics Dubinsky has been the Rangers skater most capable of putting the team on his back and willing them to win and it has been needed with the injuries to so many key players and the inconsistent impact of Marian Gaborik offensively.  Brandon has been leaned on heavily this season in terms of the offense, killing penalties, taking big draws and leadership and at each turn he has answered the call with a new level of consistency befitting of an All-star level.  More and more I believe the organization and the coaching staff in particular are seeing Dubinsky as the offensive player to shape the team around.  He will obviously have to earn the right to keep that, but for now at least he is the key component to the Rangers top line while Gaborik gets his game together on the second unit.  Last night typified why he is the MVP of this team as it was his will that was as important as anything else in getting the Rangers the win.

Other Candidate(s): Brian Boyle, Henrik Lundqvist

Norris: Marc Staal – For much of the early season Dan Girardi was the Rangers best defender, especially with the early struggles of Marc Staal but over the past few months Staal has not only gotten his game back on the defensive end, but he has advanced it offensively as well.  It is nothing new for Staal to be called on every night to play against the opponent’s best not only at even strength but on the penalty kill, though what is new is the increased responsibility on the power play which he has also taken in stride.  Currently Staal has 6 goals (T-9th on team, 1st on D), 10 assists (T-9th on team, 3rd on D), 16 points (T-9th on team, 2nd on D) with five of his goals and ten of his points coming either on the power play or shorthanded.  All of this is being added to his prowess as a shutdown defender who is playing a team high 25:14 (and rising) per game that is good enough for 9th in the league and if the offense went up another level you are talking contention for the Norris in the league.  Oh and let us not forget he has the hit of the season with this gem on Matt Stajan.

Other Candidate(s): Dan Girardi

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Vezina: Henrik Lundqvist – After an inconsistent start Henrik Lundqivst has returned to form not only as the Rangers franchise figure, but among the best in the league between the pipes.  Overall Lundqvist has excellent numbers with a 17-12-3 record, 2.34 goals against average, .923 save percentage and five shutouts.  He is T-8th in the league in wins, 9th in the league in goals against, 7th in save percentage and T-1st in shutouts.   

While all of those numbers and rankings are very good, the play for Lundqvist over his last 16 appearances he is 10-4-2 with a 1.80 goals against average, .935 save percentage and three shutouts.  Henrik still will give up the soft goal that can drive you crazy, but he stands on his head and steals games for this team with much more frequency even though you would not know it listening to some on the nights when he falters.

Calder: Derek Stepan – In the last go round I had Michael Sauer winning in a close race and the change now is not about any drop in Sauer’s play as he has been excellent, but the rise in Stepan’s game.  Stepan has been among the Rangers top three forwards over the course of the last six weeks having used excellent play to cement his standing as the team’s top center and is currently making a charge to rise up the Calder rankings league wide.  I would peg Stepan as fourth or fifth for the league award at the moment as he ranks T-3rd in goals (11), T-6th in assists (12) and T-3rd in points (23) among rookies.  This 20 year old has displayed poise well beyond his years and handled whatever the coaching staff has asked him to do whether it be playing the first line center role or the point on the power play.

Other Candidate(s): Michael Sauer

Selke: Brandon Prust – With the quality of the Rangers forwards in their defensive zone this might be the toughest of all the awards to call, but Prust has been phenomenal this year in his own end and especially on the penalty kill.

Other Candidate(s): Brian Boyle, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko

Most Improved: Brian Boyle – Tough not to consider a guy who went from on the outside looking in at the start of training camp to even make the roster to in a discussion for team MVP not the most improved player. Offensively Boyle is crunching people on the forecheck and chipping in with a career high 14 goals already, which puts him 2nd on the club combined with his recent rise in assists giving him a grand total of 22 points already.  He has continued his excellent play on the penalty kill with his partner Brandon Prust as well as the center of the team’s most consistent line.  Boyle leads the team in plus/minus, is second in hits (125), seventh in blocked shots (40) and first in faceoffs among those with more than 100 taken (48.9%).

Rangers do not really have any Byng type players so just skip that.

Most Consistent: Michael Sauer – For a rookie who had a grand total of three games of NHL experience coming into the season there has been no more consistent performer for the Rangers this season than Sauer.  Sauer goes out there does his job as a steady defensive defender who clears the crease and takes no junk from anyone every night and with Sauer being unnoticed is exactly what he wants because it means he did his job the right way.
Most Disappointing: The Veterans- On an individual basis Del Zotto is the winner to the point where he had to be demoted to get his game back in order, and then Gaborik for his lack of impact overall, but as a group the veterans have virtually all underachieved, been inconsistent or had slippage in their game whether it be Gaborik, Drury, Avery, Frolov, Rozsival.  The only veteran players that are exempt from this list are Ruslan Fedotenko, Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron.  The kids and young core has done their part and now it is time for the vets to come through and pitch in.