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Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov gets MVP vote at NHL’s halfway point

The new year is as close to a halfway point as the NHL gets, as teams have played for three months with another three-plus left.

So as the calendar flips, it’s time to reflect on the stars, scores and standout performances that have marked the first half of the season. And what better way to do that than see where things stand in each major awards race:

(All statistics updated through Thursday’s games.)

Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP)

Nikita Kucherov, Right wing, Tampa Bay Lightning

The best player on the NHL’s best team looks to be the early leader in the race to win the Hart.

Kucherov leads the league in points (61) and is tied for first in assists (44), making him the engine that helps the Lightning’s top-ranked offense go. The 25-year-old finished sixth in the Hart voting last season.

Runners-up: Mikko Rantanen, RW, Colorado Avalanche; Nathan MacKinnon, C, Avalanche; Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers

James Norris Memorial Trophy (Best defenseman)

Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs

Playing on the blue line obviously isn’t all about offense, but it’s hard to ignore the impact Rielly has made on the scoresheet. The 24-year-old has 44 points, seven more than any other defensemen, and leads all skaters in plus-minus at plus-26.

Runners-up: John Carlson, Washington Capitals; Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

Vezina Trophy (Best goaltender)

Jaroslav Halak, Boston Bruins

Halak has played in only 21 games, but the 33-year-old is turning in a career season.

He leads the league in save percentage (.928) and is third in goals-against average (2.28). Most important to the Bruins, they are 12-6-2 when he’s the goalie of record and 8-8-2 when he isn’t.

Runners-up: Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators; John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Calder Memorial Trophy (Top rookie)

Elias Pettersson, Center, Vancouver Canucks

This race isn’t much of a competition. The 20-year-old Swedish forward has 38 points in 34 games, putting him on pace for the most points by a rookie since Evgeni Malkin scored 85 for the Penguins in 2006-07.

Runners-up: Rasmus Dahlin, D, Buffalo Sabres; Colin White, C, Ottawa Senators

Jack Adams Award (Best coach)

Peter Laviolette, Predators

The Predators’ top three scorers from last season — forwards Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson and defenseman P.K. Subban — have combined to miss 55 games.

But Laviolette has kept Nashville competitive. The team has the fourth-most points and the third-best goal differential in the Western Conference. Plus, he wore a bull mask in October, which is award-worthy by itself.

Runners-up: Bill Peters, Flames; Jon Cooper, Lightning

Stars burning out

Two players not headed for awards are Dallas Stars forwards Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and the team isn’t happy about it.

Stars CEO Jim Lites delivered a message on behalf of management and ownership to reporters Friday, according to The Athletic: The two aren’t playing well enough. There were a few expletives thrown in for good measure.

Calling out two players signed through 2027 (Seguin) and 2025 (Benn) is an interesting move for the Stars, who are in line to make the playoffs as a wild card. The two have combined for 62 points, not an eye-popping total but certainly nothing to sniff at, either.

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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