x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

The NHL's start has been full of surprises

Sam McCaig does a recap at the one-quarter pole of the NHL's regular season and finds some unexpected winners and losers.

We have reached the one-quarter pole of the NHL's regular season, with more than a few surprises.

Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils lead the league in disappointment, while the Chicago Blackhawks are still trying to find their footing and shake off a Stanley Cup hangover. Meantime, traditional pushovers such as Atlanta, Columbus and Tampa Bay are contending for play-off spots.

On an individual level, here is a look at the leaders for the league's major trophies:

Hart Trophy (MVP): Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay.

The dynamic Lightning centre had a league-high 21 goals and 38 points through 22 games, and was the biggest reason the Lightning have returned to respectability. With apologies to Sidney Crosby, no player has been more valuable to his team than Stamkos. With apologies to Alex Ovechkin, no player has been more electrifying and fun to watch. And the kid still is only 20 years old.

Honorable mentions: Crosby, Pittsburgh; Tim Thomas, Boston.

Norris Trophy (top defenceman): Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit.

Dustin Byfuglien, John-Michael Liles and Kris Letang are the names that, surprisingly, sit atop the league's defencemen scoring leaders. But Lidstrom, 40, traditionally a slow starter, is right there with them. Crucially, he is playing his best all-around hockey in years and remains Detroit's Mr Everything. Will this guy ever get old?

Honorable mentions: Byfuglien, Atlanta; Liles, Colorado.

Vezina Trophy (top goaltender): Tim Thomas, Boston.

The 2008/09 Vezina winner struggled through injuries and sub-standard play last season, but Thomas has been outstanding thus far this season.

He won his first seven starts, recording three shutouts in the process, and is tied for the league lead with four shutouts. His record is 11-2-1 with a scant 1.56 goals-against average and an outstanding .951 save percentage. Not bad for a 35-year-old whom the hockey world was writing off as past his prime.

Honorable mentions: Carey Price, Montreal; Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles.

Calder Trophy (top rookie): Sergei Bobrovsky, Philadelphia.

Signed as a free agent during the summer, Bobrovsky has come out of nowhere - well, actually out of Novokuznetsk, Russia, of the KHL - to save the Flyers in goal. At 12-3-2 with a 2.19 goals-against average and .926 save percentage, the 22-year-old Bobrovsky has had a bigger impact on his team than any other NHL rookie. The Flyers are as unorthodox as it gets when it comes to goaltending, but their gamble on the little-known Russian is paying dividends.

Honorable mentions: Jeff Skinner, Carolina; John Carlson, Washington.

Jack Adams Award (top coach): Joe Sacco, Colorado.

A roster dotted with youngsters. A No 1 goalie who already has missed two long stretches due to injury. Yet, Sacco has the Avalanche not only winning more than they lose, but challenging Vancouver - with a much more experienced and talented line-up - for supremacy in the Northwest Division. The Avs surprised by qualifying for the play-offs last spring, and then pushed San Jose to the brink in the first round. It appears they are using that experience as a springboard for even bigger aspirations.

Honorable mentions: Mike Babcock, Detroit; Jacques Martin, Montreal.