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At awards time, Drury is as smooth as Selke

The other day, when the sun was shining and temperatures were in the 50s, someone asked whether I wanted to play my first-ever round of golf in January. It sounded like a terrific idea, especially without having to tend to my empty backyard ice rink. And that's when it dawned on me.

Who can think about golf when we're halfway through the NHL regular season? It's time for my midseason awards, for heaven's sake. It should be easy this year with the Buffalo Sabres playing so well, but they never have been a team that garners an inordinate amount of attention when it comes to individual honors.

Sorry, folks, but that hasn't changed.

Ryan Miller has played well, but he's not worthy of the Vezina Trophy. Daniel Briere is having a career year with unrestricted free agency fast approaching, but he's not Hart Trophy material. The only player making a case for a top individual trophy is the one who cares about them the least, center Chris Drury.

Drury is the lone Sabres player you'll find on my midseason list. He's built a reputation for scoring clutch goals, but his defensive play has made a bigger difference this season. It's why he's my choice at the halfway point for the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward.

The Selke in recent years has been given to the top two-way player, not necessarily the best stopper. Not since Guy Carbonneau had 18 goals and 39 points for the 1991-92 Montreal Canadiens has a Selke winner had fewer than 20 goals or averaged less than a point per game.

This season hasn't been easy. Drury is plus-8 while playing mostly with Ales Kotalik and Jiri Novotny, both of whom struggled for much of the season, and whatever wingers coach Lindy Ruff dug up from Rochester before Paul Gaustad provided some relief.

Drury frequently plays against the opposition's top line, plays on the Sabres' No. 1 penalty-killing unit, has scored twice shorthanded and was fourth (58.5 percent) among faceoff leaders who have taken at least 400 draws. He entered the weekend with 20 goals and 38 points in 39 games, which put him on pace to shatter career highs in both categories.

And the winners are . . .

*Hart Trophy (most valuable player): Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh. It's not just that Sid the Kid was leading the league in scoring with 61 points (19 goals). He has taken his game to a different stratosphere in his sophomore season and making everyone around him better. Last year, he was minus-1. In 35 games this season, he was plus-17.

*Vezina Trophy (top goaltender): Martin Brodeur, New Jersey. The Devils wouldn't be leading the Atlantic Division without their veteran horse in goal. He was second in victories (22), second in goals against average (2.10) and tied for third in save percentage (.924). Brodeur carried his team, unlike Anaheim's J-S Giguere.

*Norris Trophy (top defenseman): Chris Pronger, Anaheim. History tells you to pick Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, who has won four of the last five. Pronger was having a career year for the Ducks before breaking his foot. His value could be measured in the next month while Anaheim plays without him.

*Calder Trophy (top rookie): Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh. Where will the Penguins be when their kids grow up? Hopefully not Kansas City. Malkin had 18 goals and 37 points in his first 34 NHL games. Teammate Jordan Staal is no slouch, either. Kings center Anze Kopitar would be better on a better team.

*Jack Adams (top coach): Barry Trotz, Nashville. Ruff won the award last season, and Anaheim's Randy Carlyle has become the chic pick this year. Trotz has done more with less for the oft-overlooked Predators, who have been without No. 1 goalie Tomas Vokoun since Nov. 23.

*Lady Byng (sportsmanship). Joe Thornton, San Jose. Jumbo Joe for years has been Mr. Nice Guy, and he might have been too clean when he played for Boston. He had 46 points and 22 penalty minutes in his first 40 games. Martin St. Louis had more points and fewer PIMs, but Thornton is a better sport.


Problem for Preds

The Predators were anticipating Vokoun's return to the lineup, which has the makings of a full-blown goaltending controversy.

Chris Mason has been superb since Vokoun suffered torn ligaments and a broken bone in his thumb. Mason was 12-6-1 with a 2.24 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage in 19 straight starts. Vokoun was 11-4-1 with a 2.48 GAA and .920 save percentage before he was injured.

Good problem, you say? It depends on the personalities of the players. Vokoun scoffed at the idea of rotating goalies. Trotz helped defuse potential problems when he named Vokoun the No. 1 goalie, but that could change if the No. 1 isn't playing like one.

"(Mason) is playing great," Vokoun said. "So if he doesn't play, it's not going to be fair to him. Or if we rotate, I don't think it will be fair to me. So there's no real fair situation. This is hockey. It's a business and this is my position. This is where I stand."


Ricci restless

Coyotes winger Mike Ricci has played in 1,099 NHL games, and it doesn't look like he's going to reach 1,100. The veteran spent much of last week away from the team while pondering retirement.

Ricci hasn't been right since injuring his neck during a summer workout, and the fourth pick overall in 1990 hasn't taken kindly to being a fringe player on a bad team. Ricci was a healthy scratch for seven straight games before asking for a leave of absence. He was scratched four times earlier this season.

"It's gotten to the point where he really needs to address whether he wants to be an in-and-out player with Phoenix and continue that battle or make the decision that the injury is just taking a toll on him and step aside," agent Anton Thun told the Arizona Republic. "(It) was a serious neck injury, and he's not a spring chicken anymore."


Forsberg at the finish

Nobody is going to tell Peter Forsberg when to retire, but there's no denying the Flyers' superstar looks like an old, broken-down Corvette.

Forsberg has been battling foot problems all season. He came back from a concussion two days after Christmas, and now he's sidelined again with a strained groin that he believes is related to the foot problems.

The Flyers entered the weekend 0-10-3 without him. Don't get me wrong. He's a great player. They obviously miss him. But it's getting pathetic.


Around the boards

*Patrick Kane's stock skyrocketed after he led the United States to the bronze medal in the World Junior Championships in Sweden. The South Buffalo native had five goals and nine points and tied for the tournament lead in goal scoring with three others. Teammate Erik Johnson tied two players from Finland for the lead in points with 10. He had a goal and an assist against Sweden on Friday. Kane was projected to be a mid first-round pick before the tournament, but his play in the WJC could send him into the top five.

*St. Louis entered the weekend having not allowed a first-period goal in 12 straight games under new coach Andy Murray, tying a 32-year-old NHL record set by Los Angeles. In 28 games under Mike Kitchen, the Blues allowed 34 goals in the first period.

*Mike Comrie's trade to Ottawa could work out for Phoenix if it can get Alexei Kaigorodov, who quit on the Senators this season and returned to Russia, to show up next year. Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg is the latest Desert Dog on market. At $750,000, he's worth a peek.

*Word around the league had Philly shopping inconsistent defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who has been a mix of brilliant and brutal. He could help a playoff contender.

*The Oilers grabbed Petr Nedved off waivers 18 years to the day after he bolted from his midget team during a tournament in Calgary with $20 in his pocket and defected from the former Czechoslovakia. You might say that decision worked out.


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