Cullen: First quarter NHL award winners

Scott Cullen
2/15/2013 5:27:18 PM
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There is folly in trying to hand out NHL awards after a dozen games, but I won't let that stop me since that's what we get in a 48-game schedule. I'm diving in for the first quarter award winners.

There are many more players in contention for the awards than just the three that I've named, and a good or bad week can easily alter the landscape, but these are my top performers through the first 12 or so games of the NHL season:

Winner: Thomas Vanek, LW, Buffalo
Runners-up: Eric Staal, C, Carolina; Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago
Comment: It's a shame that Vanek isn't getting much support in Buffalo, but it doesn't detract from how well he's playing, leading the league in scoring and playing more than ever before for the Sabres. Staal is the league leader in plus-minus, has 17 points in 13 games, and is averaging 3.8 shots on goal per game, the second-best mark of his career. Kane has plenty of help in Chicago, but he's the most productive player on the best team. Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and Henrik Zetterberg are among the honourable mentions at this stage.

Winner: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa
Runners-up: Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis; Kris Letang, Pittsburgh
Comment: Well, it's safe to say that Karlsson won't actually win the Norris Trophy, now that he's suffered a torn Achilles and is out for the season, but he's been the best to this point. The next top scoring defencemen, Pietrangelo and teammate Kevin Shattenkirk, have both been very strong, as expected, for the Blues. Letang gets a nod now, but Zdeno Chara, Victor Hedman and Alex Edler have all been strong too.

Winner: Craig Anderson, Ottawa
Runners-up: Pekka Rinne, Nashville; Roberto Luongo, Vancouver
Comment: Anderson has been playing out of his mind this season, posting a .949 save percentage, so it's tough to hand it to anyone else. At the same time, given Ottawa's injury woes, to say nothing of anticipated regression, Anderson will be hard-pressed to keep playing at such a high level. Rinne has shutouts in three of his last four starts and is the backbone for an offensively-challenged Predators team that remains competitive. Luongo doesn't play a lot, but has been superb in a time-share situation with Cory Schneider. Chicago's Corey Crawford, and Anaheim's Viktor Fasth have also been impressive early.

Winner: Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis
Runners-up: Cory Conacher, LW, Tampa Bay; Alex Galchenyuk, C, Montreal
Comment: Conacher leads the rookie scoring race by one over Tarasenko, but with more goals and shots on goal, Tarasenko gets a very slight edge. Though he only has one goal, Galchenyuk's plus-7 rating gives him the narrow edge over Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau and the Edmonton Oilers duo of Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov.

Winner: Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston
Runners-up: David Backes, C, St. Louis; Daniel Winnik, LW, Anaheim
Comment: Using to look at strength of opposition, zone starts and shot differential, some familiar names emerge. Bergeron and Backes are perennial contenders, while Winnik has driven play successfully when playing a bigger role; it just so happens that he's scored a little to raise his profile early this season. Some other performers that warrant keeping an eye on: San Jose's Joe Pavelski, Colorado's Matt Duchene, Nashville's Colin Wilson and, somewhat to my surprise, Calgary's Alex Tanguay.

Winner: Mike Babcock, Detroit
Runners-up: Barry Trotz, Nashville; Peter DeBoer, New Jersey
Comment: Always an award that could have half a dozen or more deserving nominees, Babcock gets the early nod for steering the Red Wings through the post-Lidstrom era with a shaky -- and injured -- defence corps, yet the Wings persevere. Trotz gets mentioned annually and Pekka Rinne's strong play might be more reason for Nashville's success, but they're succeeding with minimal production from Shea Weber (or any forwards) after Ryan Suter left as a free agent. Perhaps there should be some Ewing Theory applied to the big ticket free agents signed by Minnesota, since the Devils haven't missed a beat without Zach Parise, but DeBoer deserves credit for keeping the Devils on track. Battling early injuries and dancing around goaltender usage, Vancouver's Alain Vigneault should be among those nominated too, so it pains me to have him among honourable mentions. Toronto's Randy Carlyle and Montreal's Michel Therrien could be in the discussion too, as both Toronto and Montreal are exceeding preseason expectations.

Scott Cullen can be reached at and followed on Twitter at For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Thomas Vanek (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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