NHL at midseason: Unpredictability has made for great drama

 NHL at midseason: Unpredictability has made for great drama
The Kings' Drew Doughty, seen flipping Washington center Nicklas Backstrom, has been the best defenseman in the league at the midway point. (Chuck Myers / Tribune News Service)

Rule changes and modifications intended to increase scoring did little to pump up goal production during the first half of the season, a point the NHL passed Saturday.

Through Saturday's action (624 games) the goals-per-game average was 5.36, excluding shootout deciders. The average was 5.34 at the same juncture last season and for the full schedule. No player was on pace to score 100 points, a plateau reached every season since 2003-04. Martin St. Louis, then with Tampa Bay, won the 2004 scoring title with 94 points.

Commissioner Gary Bettman — in Anaheim on Sunday for Teemu Selanne's jersey retirement ceremony — said the scoring is up "a little" at even strength but said numbers don't tell the whole story of the NHL's first-half performance.

"The fact is we're having a very competitive season," he said. "The game is strong, entertaining, exciting and competitive. Franchises are strong. And all the indices that we look at are strong."


Bettman said other suggestions to boost scoring might be considered.

"I wouldn't make that big a deal out of it," he said. "It's something we continue to monitor. We periodically make tweaks when we see trends, but I don't know that we need to overly focus on how many goals are scored. I think it's more about lead changes, about the competition night in and night out and the unpredictability in the results of games."

Unpredictability has made for great drama. Though Saturday, 315 games (50.5%) were decided by one-goal margins and 54 others were decided by two goals after empty-net scores. Also, in 267 games (42.8%), a team had rallied to overcome a deficit at any point, including 56 multi-goal comebacks.

Bettman tends to take a rosy view in public, but the season has been entertaining. Revivals by the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets have created good division and wild-card playoff races, and the scoring race has a fresh look with Philadelphia's Jakub Voracek, St. Louis' Vladimir Tarasenko and Tampa Bay's Tyler Johnson among the leaders. The mumps outbreak apparently has subsided and Ducks goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is back, a humongously big gift to us all.

So far, so good. And think of it this way: After Monday night, 601 regular-season games remain before the playoffs.

The half-season award winners are:

Several players made strong cases for season awards during the first half. Here's who might win the trophies if voting took place now:

Hart (most valuable player)Pekka Rinne, Nashville. Runners-up: Rick Nash, New York Rangers; Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks; Tyler Seguin, Dallas.

Goalies have the Vezina to themselves, but Rinne's excellence after recovering from hip problems has enabled the Predators to challenge for the top spot in the West while being aggressive offensively. Nash (26 goals) has been a pillar for the hot Rangers. Getzlaf is a trusted leader and didn't falter when linemate Corey Perry was injured. Seguin is keeping the Stars in the West wild-card race.

Vezina (top goalie) — Rinne. Runners-up: Carey Price, Montreal; Jaroslav Halak, Islanders; Roberto Luongo, Florida.

Rinne (1.98 goals-against, .930 save percentage) has a league-best 28 wins. Price (2.19, .928) faces an average of more than 30 shots per game. Halak (2.29, .914) has been solid. Veteran Luongo (2.23, .927) steadies an emerging team.

Calder (rookie of the year) — Filip Forsberg, Nashville. Runners-up: Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary; Aaron Ekblad, Florida.

Forsberg shares the rookie lead with 14 goals and leads with 38 points and a plus-22 defensive rating. Gaudreau (13 goals, 32 points) is dynamic. Ekblad, 18, the No. 1 draft pick last June, plays a remarkably mature game.

Norris (best defenseman): Drew Doughty, Kings. Runners-up: Duncan Keith, Chicago; Mark Giordano, Calgary.

Doughty's scoring is off but he's playing long, hard minutes while leading a patched-together defense. Keith has been his usual dependable self. Giordano is a popular pick because of his 36 points, but there are better defenders.

Selke (best defensive forward)Patrice Bergeron, Boston. Runners-up: Jonathan Toews, Chicago, Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit.

The usual reliable suspects minus Kings center Anze Kopitar, who's hurt by a negative plus/minus rating. Bergeron has won 59% of a league-high 957 faceoffs.

Adams (coach of the year) — Peter Laviolette, Nashville. Runners-up: Barry Trotz, Washington; Jack Capuano, Islanders.

Laviolette owes a lot to Rinne but has given the once-conservative Predators a successful offensive dimension. Trotz has juggled personalities skillfully. Capuano has maximized his team's talent, which is any coach's goal.

Slap shots

Forward Simon Gagne won't return to the Boston Bruins, who changed his status to suspended player to maintain a full roster. Gagne took a leave in early December to be with his father, who died of cancer late last month. Gagne said Monday he can't be fully committed to playing and agreed to the status change. He had three goals and four points in 23 games.

Todd Bertuzzi, 39, signed a tryout deal with the Binghamton (N.Y.) Senators, Ottawa's top affiliate. He had nine goals and 16 points in 59 games for the Detroit Red Wings last season. Steve Moore's lawsuit against Bertuzzi and the Vancouver Canucks for a 2004 on-ice incident was settled last September. Moore suffered a concussion and three fractured vertebrae and never played again.

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