NHL Three Month Report

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As the title says, the NHL season is now three months old, and we’re nearly at the half-way point. Here’s a look at some of the most notable things that have happened so far in 2014-15 and how they might impact the rest of the NHL schedule.

NHL Three Month Report

Biggest Surprises

1. New York Islanders

The acquisition of goaltender Jaroslav Halak, defenseman Johnny Boychuk and the continued blossoming of superstar John Tavares have propelled the Islanders upwards, but nobody expected them to be this good. It’s great for a team with the glorious history of the Islanders, who have been down-trodden for so long and even thought to be relocated, finally becoming a contender again.

2. Nashville Predators

Nashville was always a good defensive team but now that they have added some offensive punch, they are a more complete team and a possible true contender. But they are in the Western Conference with “dynasty” teams Los Angeles and Chicago, so it will be the playoffs where they will find out how much they have improved.

3. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets do not have any star players, but they are playing solid, winning hockey consistently despite injuries, and it would be great to see them rewarded with a playoff spot at the end of the season. However, they are in a dog-fight with several other teams and could just as easily miss the post-season again if some other teams get hot or they went into a slump. They have to show the same gritty, consistent, dependable play in the second half of the season as they have in the first.

4. Calgary Flames

Similarly, the Flames are now making a serious bid for the playoffs. They showed lots of improvement last year under coach Bob Hartley and are continuing to move upwards. But this is a young, inexperienced team that already experienced a horrendous losing streak that has seriously hurt their playoff chances. Hopefully they will make the playoffs, but like Winnipeg they are in a tough fight. Perhaps they still need more seasoning and more star talent added.

Biggest Disappointments

1. Boston Bruins

They have gone from Stanley Cup Champion/contender to being currently out of a playoff spot. The loss of Boychuk has hurt them more than they anticipated and injuries have not helped either. The Tyler Seguin trade might come back to haunt them but Seguin’s Stars are not currently in the playoffs either despite his fine play, so criticism is muted so far (though the Stars have been playing better lately). It is not too late to turn the ship around and make a charge at the playoffs, but they are not what they once were.

2. Minnesota Wild

They were expected to build on the improvements they showed last year, winning a playoff round, and showing improved competitiveness against Chicago, but they are currently out of the playoffs. The big money spent on star players Ryan Suter and Zach Parise was supposed to make this team a serious Stanley Cup contender, but all the improvement has been to take this team from being out of the playoffs to playoff contender. That’s not where ownership and management expected to be. Like Boston, it is not too late to get righted but if they continue to play stumblebum hockey, they will find themselves out of the playoffs.

Dismal

Edmonton Oilers

Enough has been written on this blog by myself and others about the horrible play of this team. With all the top draft choices Edmonton is icing, this team should have been a contender years ago. Instead, the players probably deliberately got their coach Dallas Eakins fired (the fifth such coach in five years) and are the leading candidate for Canada’s next hockey phenomenon Connor McDavid. But this bunch is either a group of surly, over-rated, uncoachable players or horribly mismanaged or both. For their record, they do not even have the excuses rebuilding low-talent Buffalo, Carolina and Arizona have. One does not want McDavid coming to a team with such a poisonous environment.

Still The Teams To Beat

Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks

No matter where they are in the standings, (and both teams are in playoff positions) these two teams have dominated the league in the past half-decade and are still the yardstick for every other team to measure itself. No matter who has improved this year, as long as these two teams are in the playoffs, no other team can be favored until both are eliminated.

Show Me

St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins

These teams have been great in the regular season in recent years but have badly under-performed in the playoffs. How much of a Stanley Cup contender are they? If they under-perform again in the playoffs, there may have to be some serious roster retooling in the near future. No gambler should put bets on them.

Last Hurrah?

Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks

Both teams are build around duos: the Sedin twins and the Thornton-Marleau combination. But their peak playing years are in the past and maybe it is time to rebuild. Currently both are in playoff positions but both could be pushed out. Even making the playoffs may not be enough if they don’t play like contenders. If management feels that they did not advance far enough and cannot go farther, there may be some painful significant long-term decisions made in the off season involving four old loyal players.

Overcoming Injuries

Columbus Blue Jackets

Everybody who was somebody on this team got injured and the Blue Jackets fell to the bottom. But they have nobly battled back as their team got back together and still have a chance to make the playoffs.

Questionable Decision

Coach Paul MacLean was allegedly fired for not setting up stable line combinations, which hindered the development of the team. Most critics would blame a lack of talent for Ottawa’s problems instead. Nobody is indispensable, but Maclean’s teams lost two star players, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, and still he got the team to be playoff contenders. Since firing Maclean, the Senators have dropped out of a playoff spot. One logical explanation may be that the Senators are deliberately trying to fall to the bottom so that they have a chance at getting McDavid. Look for Maclean to be back in the NHL again next year.

How Modest Are The Fallen

Washington Capitals

Remember when Alexander Ovechkin joined the NHL the same time as Sidney Crosby and it was predicted that the Capitals and Penguins would dominate the NHL in the coming decade? Washington has gone from that status to just being happy to make the playoffs. They have been playing better lately, but expectations are significantly reduced.

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