NHL awards race: Leaders for Hart, Vezina, Norris and more

Nikita Kucherov has a seven-point lead over second place in the race for the NHL scoring title thus far this season. How does he stack up in the other awards races? Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

At the midpoint of the NHL's 2017-18 season, there is a muddled mess at the top of the rankings for every major award.

Well, save for coach of the year. Let's just say that it's convenient that the league usually holds its awards ceremony in Las Vegas.

Here are my picks for the midpoint awards in the NHL, both as a Professional Hockey Writers Association voter and through a dozen conversations with those around the game. Please keep in mind that all advanced stats are via Corsica. Put your agreements, disagreements and alternative candidates in the comments.

Art Ross Trophy (points leader)

Current leader: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning (59 points in 42 games)

Watch out for: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (52 points in 42 games)

Dark horse: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (47 points in 43 games)

Rocket Richard Trophy (leading goal scorer)

Current leaders: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals, and Kucherov (27 goals in 42 games)

Watch out for: Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks (22 goals in 39 games)

Dark horse: Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (19 goals in 33 games)

The preceding hardware is awarded to players based strictly on statistical achievement. And now, the nominees for the voting-based awards ...

Hart Trophy (most valuable player)

Leader: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

Finalists: Kucherov, Ovechkin

First, a caveat: You have to be in it to win it.

Being the most valuable player on a non-valuable team is like selecting the best scene in "The Emoji Movie," i.e., celebrating one glimmer of greatness from an otherwise irredeemable mess. In fact, the most valuable player on a bad team isn't all that valuable, when you consider how much harm he's inflicting on the team's draft lottery odds.

As such, playoff-seeded teams only, please. As of Tuesday morning, the Colorado Avalanche are one of them! This means that not only is Nathan MacKinnon eligible for the Hart Trophy under our rigid criteria, but he's also the leader for the MVP award at the midpoint of the season.

Through 41 games, MacKinnon has 52 points. That's second to only Kucherov. MacKinnon is also second to Kucherov in points per game (1.27 to 1.40) and slightly ahead of him in primary points (goals, primary assists) per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey (2.60 to 2.54).

What puts MacKinnon ahead of Kucherov is contextual evidence. The Lightning are the second-best defensive team in the NHL, with (spoiler alert) the league's top goalie this season. The Avalanche are 20th in team goals-against average, with neither Semyon Varlamov nor Jonathan Bernier possessing a save percentage above .912.

MacKinnon's line has generated nearly 30 percent of the Avs' 5-on-5 goals this season. He's 11 points better than the Avalanche's second-leading scorer this season, his linemate Mikko Rantanen. MacKinnon has 25 primary points at 5-on-5, which is 12 better than his other linemate, Gabriel Landeskog. MacKinnon has two game winners in overtime as well.

Oh, did we mention that MacKinnon is doing this heavy lifting in a season that saw Colorado trade star center Matt Duchene for a collection of rebuilding blocks? The Lightning are a darn good team all around, but MacKinnon is doing a bit more in getting Colorado to a wild-card spot.

Kucherov has been the best player in the league this season, better than Ovechkin or his own teammate, Steven Stamkos. But when it comes to "most valuable player," it's hard to assign that to Kucherov when Andrei Vasilevskiy is having the season he is having. The Lightning are 21 points better than last season through 42 games; ask them why, and I'm sure Vasilevskiy's name would be mentioned once or 20 times.

Ovechkin has been a Hart finalist in five of his eight seasons with a 50-goal pace, winning it three times, and he's on that pace again. Ovechkin has 15 more goals than anyone else on the Capitals. But let's spell it out: For Ovechkin to win the Hart, the Capitals would need to win the Metro, and he'd need to win the Rocket Richard as the goal-scoring leader. After 42 games, that's exactly where we are.

MacKinnon is my choice, but it's a thin margin over Ovechkin. Much respect to Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, who has an impressive Hart case. Stick tap to Auston Matthews, who is averaging a point per game for the Toronto Maple Leafs. As for John Tavares of the New York Islanders? We'll talk when you're back in a playoff seed, because hoo boy, what a season you're having. But for now: Gotta be in it to win it.

Norris Trophy (top defenseman)

Favorite: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

Finalists: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning; John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

Klingberg wasn't originally invited to this party, but he has kicked the door down, holding two cases of craft beer and the latest "Cards Against Humanity" expansion pack.

With Erik Karlsson having gone from "bad season for Erik Karlsson but still better than everyone else" to the more succinct "bad season," Klingberg has claimed his Swedish defenseman birthright and is leading the NHL in scoring among blueliners, with 39 points in 43 games. The impact from head coach Ken Hitchcock and assistant coach Rick Wilson has been immediate and effective. "He's worked hard at keeping it simple from the red line back, and that's really helped his game," Hitchcock said. "He's not exposed himself. He's not put himself in tough spots physically, and I think it's allowed him to be a much better player."

Hedman is tied with P.K. Subban with 31 points in 42 games. His underlying analytics don't blow you away, but he skates more than 25 minutes per game and in every situation. He is one of the few defensemen in the league whose individual effort can be a game-changer on either end of the ice. The Lightning are going to collect hardware this postseason like a shelf stocker at Home Depot, so it wouldn't be a shock to see Hedman finally get his Norris.

But at this point, both he and Klingberg are less deserving than Doughty.

Doughty was handed the Norris in 2015-16 because the Canadian media felt he was due, but he's earning this one. He has 30 points in 42 games with a league-high 27:10 average time on ice. His 9.13 relative expected goals per game -- the higher the number, the better the team is playing when he's on the ice -- puts him fourth in the NHL among defensemen who have logged at least 500 minutes. He's plus-106 in shot attempts. He has been outstanding.

Klingberg could pull this one off, especially if he leads defensemen in scoring by a significant margin, but he's a few strides behind Doughty right now.

Selke Trophy (best defensive forward)

Leader: Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

Finalists: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins; Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

It has been close to six years since Couturier first made his mark as a defensive forward, shadowing Evgeni Malkin in the 2012 playoffs. But as is tradition for an award for the league's best defensive forward, one starts to get noticed only when one starts scoring as well.

Couturier is a point-per-game player this season for the Flyers, scoring 23 goals while leading the team in relative Corsi (7.67). He's a solid 53.3 percent on faceoffs and plays the most penalty-killing minutes among Flyers forwards. He has taken a major step up in role and ice time (nearly three minutes more per game) and has run with that.

Bergeron continues to win faceoffs like a boss (57.9) despite the new restrictions placed on draws this season, and he continues to drive possession (58.3 Corsi for percentage at 5-on-5) like few players can. His line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak has been on the ice for one 5-on-5 goal against this season in nearly 300 minutes, which is absurd. Bergeron has won the Selke in three of the past four seasons.

The guy who broke up the recent Bergeron monopoly was Kopitar, who won in 2015-16 and is making a case to do it again, winning faceoffs at a 54.4 percent clip, playing in every situation and excelling at both ends of the ice with 44 points in 42 games. But he's staring up at a two-player race for the award at the moment, with the acknowledgement that there's probably a better defensive player than any of them who isn't getting chatted up for this award because he has, like, five points on the season.

Vezina Trophy (top goaltender)

Leader: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

Finalists: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets; Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

It isn't even close at this point.

Vasilevskiy has been the league's most dominant goalie on the league's most dominant team, with an NHL-best .941 even-strength save percentage and six shutouts. He's doing the little things right, with a low-danger shot save percentage of .990, second in the NHL. He's doing the big things right, too: His goals saved is above average, which is essentially how many goals he has saved compared to a league-average goalie facing the same number of shot attempts, at 23.43 overall, and no one is within a country mile of him.

Bobrovsky, for what it's worth, is second to Vasilevskiy in GSAA in 5-on-5 (14.29), which puts the two of them in rarefied air. The defending Vezina winner took a wee step back in the past month but still rocks a .931 save percentage at even strength, though his work on low-danger chances (.977) leaves us a little wanting.

Crawford is second to Vasilevskiy in even-strength save percentage (.934) and all situations GSAA, at 13.18. For most of the season, he has been the reason the Blackhawks have been in sniffing distance of the playoffs, propping up an underwhelming defensive group. One hopes the success Jeff Glass has during Crawford's injury absence isn't more Scott Darling 2.0, "Hey, anyone can do this job!" type of nonsense, because Crawford has been outstanding this season. Whether he challenges for the Vezina is entirely dependent on his health in the second half.

Lady Byng (most gentlemanly player)

This is your midpoint of the season public service announcement that members of the media should not vote for the most gentlemanly player because we've reduced it to "best player with the fewest penalty minutes." The NHL Officials Association should hand out this sportsmanship award on an annual basis.

Calder Trophy (top rookie)

Leader: Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks

Finalists: Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders; Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins

Historically, a forward can win the Calder only if he leads the NHL in goals or points by a rookie. The good news for Boeser is that with 22 goals in 39 games, he has an eight-goal lead over any other rookie, and is even threatening to invade the Rocket Richard race. The good news for Barzal is that his 39 points in 43 games put him one behind Boeser for the NHL lead for rookies, and Boeser doesn't have a John Tavares line on the Canucks to draw the top defensive assignments away.

Stick taps to Clayton Keller of the Coyotes, Alex DeBrincat of the Blackhawks and Danton Heinen of the Bruins, all of whom are still in the conversation at forward.

But it's on defense that the Calder race gets really interesting. McAvoy is the only rookie playing more than 20 minutes per game (22:53), and he has 21 points in 40 games. Hype is as vital to the Calder race as stats -- and McAvoy has both in a way that even Barzal and Boeser don't, especially as the Bruins climb the standings.

Boeser gets the nod here as the midpoint leader in both offensive glamour categories, and he has done so through significant injury losses to his line. But McAvoy is a legit spoiler.

Jack Adams Award (best coach)

Leader: Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights

Finalists: Two guys who will lose to Gerard Gallant

It's at least a little interesting that the Avalanche have inserted themselves into the playoff narrative because Jared Bednar deserves his moment of redemption. And there's no denying the coaching acumen of Jon Cooper with the Lightning.

But it's Gallant, all day. We're witnessing history. They say there are no sure things in Vegas. This is the exception.