With half the season in the books and the All-Star weekend in the rearview mirror, it's time for the hockey season to truly begin - for the second to last time in 2014-2015.
The true "real" season will begin once the playoffs start, but in order to get there teams will have to be at their best in the most important stretch of regular season hockey.
There are still a good chunk of teams in contention for playoff spots in both conferences, and a lot of it has to do with the outstanding, surprising, or inspiring play from some of the league's brightest stars. Things may very well change drastically over the next few months, but halfway through the year these players are deserving of some fictitious hardware.
*Award Winner Prediction: Predicting who will actually win the award following the regular season.
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8 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy
Midseason Winner: Rick Nash
Rick Nash has rebounded quite nicely from last year's disappointing campaign, to say the least. Even though the Rangers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, they did it with Nash playing well below his capabilities. He missed a chunk of games last season and was hampered by concussion issues all year - he managed to pot 26 goals, but only 39 points in 65 games.
This season, Nash has already eclipsed both of last season's totals with a league-leading 28 goals and 43 points in just 45 games.
Runners-up: Jaromir Jagr, John Tavares
Award Winner Prediction: Rick Nash
7 Jack Adams Award
Midseason Winner: Jack Capuano
Jack Capuano was close to being a lame-duck coach a couple of years ago, so it's incredible how he's turned around this Islanders' team so quickly. Aside from John Tavares, New York doesn't have much true star power, but Capuano has managed to lead his roster to first in the Metropolitan Division and has transformed the image of the Islanders from doormat to Eastern Conference force. If this group stays healthy and Jaroslav Halak recaptures his 2010 magic, the Islanders could surprise in the East.
Runners-up: Peter Laviolette, Barry Trotz
Award Winner Prediction: Peter Laviolette - Capuano has the edge at this point of the season because everyone expected the Predators to be better playing under a new coach and with Pekka Rinne back in net, but if Nashville can maintain their position in the Western Conference with Rinne out, there's no way anyone beats out Laviolette for the Jack Adams.
6 Frank J. Selke Trophy
Midseason Winner: Jonathan Toews
As the players mentioned here are arguably the NHL's most complete player, it's hard to argue with any of the potential choices for the Selke trophy, given to the forward who exemplifies the defensive aspect of the game from the forward position. This award is often given to the player with the best point total and plus/minus at the end of the season - while the analytics crowd might shake their fist at that reasoning, it's going to be the case until the Professional Hockey Writers' Association is dominated by pro-analytics writers. Until that changes, Toews is a strong candidate to win his first Selke.
Runners-up: Patrice Bergeron, Max Pacioretty
Award Winner Prediction: Jonathan Toews
5 Calder Memorial Trophy
Midseason Winner: Aaron Ekblad
In any other year, Filip Forsberg would be running away with the rookie of the year award. Unfortunately for Forsberg, he has to contend with the revelation that is Aaron Ekblad.
Revelation might be a bit of a strong word, since we all knew Ekblad was going to be a solid player - we just didn't realise it would happen this fast. He's having one of the best rookie seasons for an 18-year-old defenseman of all-time (currently 8th all-time for points by a defenseman at that age), is playing over 22 minutes a game on an upstart Panthers squad and overall has almost seamlessly transitioned from junior hockey to the NHL game with little difficulty.
Runners-up: Filip Forsberg, Johnny Gaudreau
Award Winner Prediction: Aaron Ekblad
4 James Norris Memorial Trophy
Winner: Mark Giordano
Yet another award that is often predicated on point totals - in this case, though, it is well deserved. Mark Giordano has been rock solid for the surprising Calgary Flames all season, and he's forced his way not only into the conversation of this year's Norris candidates but is also being discussed as one of the league's top rearguards. He's leading all defenseman in points with 41 points and is an impressive +19 through 48 games. The absence of big names at the top of the scoring list (Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, P.K. Subban, etc.) makes Giordano as close to a lock for the award as there will be this season, barring anything unforeseen happening in the second half.
Runners-up: Kevin Shattenkirk, John Carlson
Award Winner Prediction: Mark Giordano
3 Vezina Trophy
Midseason Winner: Pekka Rinne
This one is a no-brainer, for the time being. Rinne's knee injury might hurt his chances at holding up the Vezina during the summer, but up to this point he's been the most impressive goaltender in the league by a fairly large margin. His sparkling numbers - 29 wins, 1.96 GAA and .931 save percentage - are amplified by the fact that he is the backbone of the Predators, and is one of the biggest reasons for their success thus far this season.
If his knee injury acts up and he's unable to play consistently, next in line would be Carey Price, who's been similarly impressive.
Runners-up: Carey Price, Braden Holtby
Award Winner Prediction: Pekka Rinne
2 Hart Memorial Trophy
Midseason Winner: Pekka Rinne
As previously mentioned, Rinne has been the Nashville Predators best player by a mile, and then some. Even on a team boasting top defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi, the Predators have relied heavily on their goaltender to win games. Their lack of success last season (played largely without Rinne, who was out with a hip injury) compared to this season's resurgence (and current spot in the standings) wouldn't have been possible without Rinne.
Runners-up: Patrick Kane, Tyler Seguin
Award Winner Prediction: Pekka Rinne - unless Seguin or Jakub Voracek find a way to drag their teams into the playoffs with a miraculous second-half run.
1 The Rest of the Hardware
Midseason Art Ross: Jakub Voracek / Award Winner Prediction: Sidney Crosby
Midseason Rocket Richard: Rick Nash and Tyler Seguin / Award Winner Prediction: Steven Stamkos
Midseason Lady Byng: Patrick Kane / Award Winner Prediction: Patrick Kane
Midseason GM of the Year: Steve Yzerman / Award Winner Prediction: Garth Snow
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