Mid-Season Power Play MVP Nominations
With this week's announcement of the roster for the NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa on Jan. 27, I thought it would be appropriate to put together an MVP lineup based solely on power play performance through the first half of this year. In my opinion, each player below has had the biggest impact on his respective team's power play so far this season. In some cases that player may not be the team's highest scorer; instead, his presence is usually felt in a more intangible way.
Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks. In a season where everything is going wrong for the Ducks, including a steep drop-off in team PP production - currently 16.4% (19th overall), down from 23.5% last year (3rd overall), Selanne has been a model of consistency. In the absence of Lubomir Visnovsky - the team's PP assist leader from last year who missed four weeks in Nov/Dec due to injury - Selanne is on pace for 22 PP helpers this season, providing most of the spark for top sniper Corey Perry.
Jordan Eberle / Taylor Hall / Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers ranked a dismal 27th out of 30 teams in the league's PP standings last year (14.5%). This season, they've jumped all the way to 4th (21.3%), due almost entirely to the trio of wunderkinds they've had manning their top line. Eberle and Hall are each on pace for 16 PP goals this season, which is precisely the number of goals scored by the entire team last year. Meanwhile, RNH, the team's PP assist leader prior to his shoulder injury earlier this month, wasn't even expected to make the team out of training camp.
Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers. The Panthers were a lifeless team last season, ranking dead-last not only in the league's PP rankings (13.1%), but in the Eastern Conference standings as well. This year, thanks to a roster overhaul during the offseason, the Cats have plenty of new blood along with a new agenda - just win, baby. A prime example of this is on the power play, where they now rank a respectable 11th overall, due in large part to Campbell, who leads the league in PP assists (18), is tied for the lead in points (19) and has accounted for 20.4% of his team's total PP production.
James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins. Neal currently leads the Pens in PP goals with 10, and is on pace for roughly 30 total PP points, well above the 10 he scored last year. Given that the team has been without Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang for much of this season, Neal has taken a major step forward.
Shea Weber / Ryan Suter, Nashville Predators. Arguably the best d-man tandem in the NHL this year, Weber and Suter have been the heart and soul of the Preds' power play attack which currently ranks an astounding second in the league (22.2%) after finishing 26th last year (15.2%). And given the team's tendency to give up more even-strength goals than it scores (0.90% 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio), the Preds need every bit of PP production they can muster. Suter currently leads the Preds in PP helpers with 10, while Weber has a share of the team's PP goal scoring lead with five.
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators. In just his third season in the NHL, Karlsson has risen to the level of elite defenseman. He and Jason Spezza have almost single-handedly taken the sad-sack Senators, fourth-last in the East last year, and brought them back to respectability. In terms of the power play, Karlsson leads the team in points (17), assists (16), and average ice time per game (4:13, good for 12th in the league).
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers. There was perhaps no other player in the league under more pressure to deliver this season than Giroux, who was suddenly thrust into the spotlight with the departures of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter following the 2010-11 season. Giroux has responded brilliantly, staying at or near the top of the NHL's scoring race for most of the season, despite missing four games with a concussion. In PP terms, Giroux's 19 points (5G, 14A) put him on pace for a 40-point season, or roughly double what he registered last year.
Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals. At 24.3%, no player currently accounts for a greater share of his team's overall PP point total. In a year where linemate Alexander Ovechkin is struggling so badly, it's a wonder how Backstrom can possibly be on pace to finish a whopping +15 over and above the 22 PP points he scored last season.
Henrik Sedin / Daniel Sedin / Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks. Okay, the Sedins are an easy pick, I know. The Canucks have been the league's best power play team the last two years running, and you can't talk about the Canucks without name-dropping Daniel and Henrik at some point during the conversation, blah blah blah. However, the twins have also had a lot of help from Edler this season who is tied with Daniel for the team lead in PP assists (13) and has really taken over from Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa as the Canucks' go-to guy on the blue line. Edler's enjoying nothing short of a breakout season, on pace for 30 PP points, 13 more than last year's total.
Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs
Marc-Andre Bergeron, Tampa Bay Lightning
Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
Jason Pominville, Buffalo Sabres
Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks
Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado Avalanche
Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
Matt Moulson, New York Islanders