Ladies and gentlemen. Dusters and goons. Boys and girls. Welcome to the annual State of the NHL Address, brought to you by Belly Up Sports originals, @BellyUpZachMac and @BellyUp_KJ. This address is designed to inform the people of the current situation in the NHL, team by team. The State of the NHL Address will always happen during the All Star break, and it will cover everything from standings, to key players, to front office issues and successes. KJ will cover the West, where his Blackhawks reside. ZachMac has the East, his Red Wings’ home conference. From game one of the season to now, what has your team done?
Helloooooooo, hockey fans!! I hope you are enjoying the 2018-2019 NHL season as much as I am. I don’t want to take too much of your time, as I am sure you are all taking full advantage of your All Star break free time. My name is ZachMac, and I will be addressing the situation in the East, squad by squad. I have it broken down by division, but each team will have its conference rank listed next to their name. Current playoff teams are notated with an asterisk (*). It’s no secret that the Tampa Bay Lightning have the East in the palm of their hand at the moment. However, slots 2 thru 8 are very close. The naked eye has no idea how the East will finish. This should help.
Tampa Bay Lightning // 37-10-2 (1st)*
The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t take very long to start making headlines this year. In fact, the preseason hadn’t even started yet when Steve Yzerman announced he would be stepping aside as the Tampa GM. It was a move that sent speculation to the next level. Where is Stevie looking for the future? What is Tampa’s next move?
The Lightning didn’t miss a beat, not that you would expect them to. Day to day performances aren’t typically impacted by a GM change right away. And so, the team that Yzerman built set out to do exactly what Yzerman built them to do… contend. Safe to say they are doing okay. Tampa Bay is double digit points ahead of everyone else in the NHL besides Calgary. The Flames are 5 points behind the Lightning, but Tampa has played two less games. They have been extremely consistent in their gameplan, as it seems like everyone understands their role very well.
Nikita Kucherov has been the catalyst for TB this season. The beautiful thing about this team is that they have multiple talents that are able to take control of a hockey game. Steven Stamkos would be widely regarded as the most intimidating offensive weapon this team has, but Kucherov is trying to prove otherwise. He leads the entire NHL in points with 78 (22G, 56A). The emergence of Brayden Point has been a big boost to the Lightning offense as well. With 65 points (30G, 35A) through 49 games, he is only one point shy of his career high last year, in which he played all 82 games. He’s the top scorer on the team and tied for second in the NHL behind Ovechkin (tied with J. Skinner and J. Tavares).
With Kucherov and Point shouldering a lot more offensive production, Stamkos has been able to dial it back and conserve more of his energy. This squad is Cup ready, and they have been for a couple years now. They have the talent. They have the gameplan. If Kucherov and Point can continue this tirade, the leadership of Stamkos, Hedman, and McDonagh could make for a deadly team, come April.
Toronto Maple Leafs // 30-17-2 (3rd)*
Ahhh, the preseason favorites. Canada’s poster child. The Toronto Maple Leafs were considered by most, myself included, to be the team with the best shot at winning the Cup. They have youth, coaching, good enough goaltending, depth, and the hunger and desire to win. Not to mention, they added free agent John Tavares in the offseason. People started getting Maple Leafs tattoos saying “2019 Stanley Cup Champs”. The hype was real.
The Leafs’ first 11 games resulted in a 8-3 record. However, it was in that 11th game against Winnipeg that Auston Matthews went down with a shoulder injury and was placed on IR. He returned to the lineup a month later after missing 14 games. Toronto was able to still able to put up a 9-5 record in those games without an injured Matthews and amidst a William Nylander holdout. Matthews returned on November 28th from injury. It took a little while longer before we saw Nylander, though.
Personally, I lost some respect for Nylander during this holdout. It wasn’t a ton of respect lost. I don’t hate the guy, but he has less now than he did before. You get the point. Anyway, Nylander didn’t end his holdout and sign a contract until minutes before the deadline. It seems like he is kind of a “my way” guy, and that’s exactly how he orchestrated this to go down. He wanted it done his way, on his terms, and so minutes before the deadline he made the call, and signed the contract. December 6th, Nylander hit the ice, and the Toronto Maple Leafs were now a full family.
Since the addition of Nylander to the lineup, the Maple Leafs are 10-9-2. They were 20-8 without him. I said this on the podcast when this holdout ended, and I’ll reiterate it here. I just don’t see how this kid makes this team better, and the entire holdout situation made no sense to me. The Leafs thought they wanted him more than they needed him, and Nylander somehow felt entitled to holdout on a legitimate Cup contender. Now, we’re just not sure how this shakes out going forward. It’s giving off a real vibe of “early exit to the Bruins in the playoffs”. We shall see.
Montreal Canadiens // 28-18-5 (4th)*
If you like roller coasters, this might be one of the teams for you. The Montreal Canadiens are sitting third in their division and 4th in the Eastern Conference right now, but it hasn’t always been that way this season. The Canadiens jumped out to a quick 5-1-2 record to start the season, and 11-6-3 through their first 20. They then lost their next five games which pushed them to 11-9-5. Montreal was starting to lose hope.
But don’t forget, this is a roller coaster. Four of their next five went in the win column and all of a sudden, 15-10-5 wasn’t looking so bad. You can do the math, Montreal then proceeded to go 13-8-0 until the All Star break, good enough to currently find themselves in a playoff spot. A lot of their success is owed to the back end of their play, defense and goaltending.
Montreal won’t exactly overpower an opponent with oppressive offense. They rely a ton on their defensive poise and solid goaltending. Carey Price has started 37 games this season, averaging 2.56 goals against, a .915 save percentage, and 3 shutouts. As a team, Montreal ranks 12th in the league in goals allowed per game. On offense, though, not a single player has over 45 points. Max Domi leads the way with 44 points (16G, 28A), but Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Drouin are second and third with 38 points (16G, 22A) and 37 points (14G, 23A), respectively.
As a team, Montreal has the league’s worst powerplay at just 13%. Don’t be shocked to see teams play Montreal very aggressively going forward. Taking penalties aren’t as big of a worry, and if you can wear down their defense, they are a very beatable team, night in and night out. For Montreal’s case, I think they need to adjust some attack plans. They are 6th in the league in shots on goal, so it’s not like they aren’t creating chances. I just think they need to create them differently.
Boston Bruins // 27-17-5 (7th)*
The Boston Bruins are a tough team for me to figure out. Their identity has always been that of a scrappy team. A team that will do whatever it takes along the board to create the chances in the middle of the ice. However, with David Pastrnak busting onto the scene for the Boston organization, that identity might be seeing a bit of a shift. The old heads in Boston are still playing the way they’ve always played, but Pastrnak might be the saving grace that prevents Boston from becoming the next LA or Chicago.
Pastrnak, the only player besides David Krejci to play in all 49 games so far, leads the Bruins in points with 56 (27G, 29A). Boston veteran Brad Marchand is right on his tail with 53 points (19G, 34A). As tight as that competition might be, have you seen the goalie situation in Boston? Oh man.. Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have split time almost down the middle. And they’re both earning it. Rask, in 25 starts, has a 14-8-3 record, a 2.43 goals against average, a save percentage of .919, and one shutout. Halak, in his 24 starts, has a 13-9-2 record, a 2.47 goals against average, also a .919 save percentage, and three shutouts to his name.
Simply put, the Bruins can throw either goalie out there on a nightly basis, and know pretty much what they’re going to get. That sort of consistency is not something you want to squander. The offensive side for Boston has to compliment the goaltending they are getting if they want to contend. It has to come from more than Marchand and Pastrnak. Will Boston make a roster move or two? I believe they need to, but we’ll see how they feel about the place they’re in.
Buffalo Sabres // 24-18-6 (9th)
The Sabres have been fun, this year. I don’t care who ya are. The trio of Eichel, Skinner, and Reinhart are always fun to watch, not to mention the pair of Rasmuses on the D-Line. Rasmus Ristolainen has tallied 30 points (5G, 25A) for 4th on the team, and Rasmus Dahlin has tallied 26 points (5G, 21A) for 5th best on the team. The Sabres, though, had one of the best feel-good stories of the year when they went on their 10-game winning streak.
The Buffalo Sabres were the worst team in last year’s NHL. They finished with the worst record. Fast forward to November 8th, 2018. They don’t know it yet, but the Sabres are about to play the first of ten games that will put them into the history books. They would go on to win their next 10 games, culminating on November 27th with an OT win at home, over San Jose. Not only did they tie the longest win streak in franchise history, but they also broke an NHL record.
Buffalo became the first team to finish the previous season with the worst record, then have the best record through the first 25 games of next season. It had people in Buffalo wondering, is this real life? It was cool to see an unexpected team at the top, even if it wasn’t going to last forever. The Sabres have since fallen from the ranks of the elite, as you can tell. They don’t even currently hold a playoff spot, and you have to wonder what that means for this team going forward.
They’ve shown they can play. They have the talent and the goaltending to make waves in this league. It just seems like they’re missing a piece or two. This is a very important time for the Buffalo organization. They captured the hearts of the fans this season and gave them a reason to tune in. They can’t afford to lose that grip and spiral back into irrelevance.
Florida Panthers // 20-20-8 (12th)
Speaking of irrelevance… Ahh i’m kidding. Florida is at the point where they are looking for the future. I think they are finally trying to make themselves a long term destination for players in a franchise that wants to continuously compete. Too often, in the past, Florida has banked on free agency to get them to playoffs without developing their own young talent. Enter, Aleksander Barkov.
Barkov has been both all the hype, and none of the hype at the same time. It truly is a shame, and sort of a testament to the Florida market, how few people know about the young Aleksander Barkov. However, if you do get to talk to someone who knows about this kid, all the hype is there. Let’s be honest, the casual hockey fan isn’t throwing on Florida Panthers games, but Barkov, along with some other talents, could change that soon enough.
Barkov, 23, is a Finnish born player who was drafted 2nd overall back in 2013 by Florida. This kid has shown flashes of greatness while playing with Jonathan Huberdeau this season. Huberdeau leads the team in points with 49 (12G, 37A), but Barkox is right behind him with 47 (17G, 30A). Huberdeau is just 25 years old and when you start to look at it, the Panthers have a real chance to build. If they can get Vincent Trocheck, also 25, to stay healthy, the Panthers have a chance to be a threat in years to come. Until then, keep an eye on how these boys are developing.
Detroit Red Wings // 19-25-7 (13th)
Ooof. Well, seeing how the season started, things could be a lot worst for Detroit. First thing first, captain and Stanley Cup winner, Henrik Zetterberg, retired due to injury before the season started. The Red Wings went on to lose their first 7 games of the year, and only two were one-goal games (both OT losses). It started to look like the rebuild was going to be a long and gruesome one. Then, some hope surfaced. Steve Yzerman stepped down as the Tampa Bay GM and made allusions saying he was “going home”.
Then, all of a sudden, Detroit started playing with lineups. They started to bring guys up and give them a chance in the big league. Young guys were getting valuable experience and some lines were gelling very well with each other. As they started to get in a groove with different chemistry, it started looking like Detroit was getting a grip on their rebuild faster than we thought. With all the young talent in their organization, through drafts and the minor league affiliate, the Wings found themselves in a sticky situation.
In early November, Detroit started figuring out how to win, and at one point, had seven wins in nine games. Detroit finished November at 8-4-1 and gave their fan base something to root for. However, things never really gained traction for Detroit, and they were in danger of finding themselves on the bubble – unable to get a good draft pick, unable to compete for a Cup. Not the ideal position to be in when you’re rebuilding. It remains yet to be seen if the Wings will #LoseForHughes, but it’s looking more like they will finish at the bottom than the top.
Ottawa Senators // 19-26-5 (16th)
Disasters will be disasters. And that’s exactly what Ottawa is. I really don’t want to speak much on this organization, because they don’t deserve much. But if you didn’t hear about the story, an Uber driver recorded a conversation in his vehicle while transporting a few Ottawa Senators to a night out. They were bashing the coaching staff in Ottawa, claiming they weren’t paying attention for the past few weeks but still knew what to do when thrown out on the ice.
Aaand Ottawa was pretty much like ‘yup, that’s been handled. No big deal. Hahahaha. Excuse me, but it sounds like Ottawa just clearly has no desire to be an NHL contender. Mark Stone leads the team with 50 points (22G, 28A). Matt Duchene, one of the players in the Uber ride, is right behind with 47 points (20G, 27A). Their goaltending has been nothing to write home about, either. The Senators are worst in the Conference, and they will be all year. That’s enough…
New York Islanders // 29-15-5 (2nd)*
The New York Islanders are my favorite story of the year. John Tavares, their biggest offensive weapon and first overall pick for the Islanders in 2009, decided to leave New York in free agency for Toronto. New York rebounded by going out and hiring reigning Stanley Cup champion head coach, Barry Trotz. Fans like to look at talents all too often when assessing a team’s overall performance, but coaching is a hugely underrated factor. Both good and bad.
Barry Trotz has the Islanders sitting in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. They are 13 points behind Tampa Bay, but the one point they sit ahead of John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs probably feels all too good to care. In Tavares’ absence, Matthew Barzal has stepped up, leading the team in points with 45 (14G, 31A). Josh Bailey and Anders Lee are tied for second, each with 37 points (Bailey: 11G, 26A; Lee: 18G, 19A). The real reason the Islanders are competing on the ice? Between the pipes.
Robin Lehner has played out of his mind this season, and he would be my front runner for the Vezina trophy if he wasn’t splitting time in net this season. In 25 game started, Lehner has a 15-7-4 record, a 2.02 GAA, .931 save percentage, and three shutouts. I have no doubt in my mind, if Lehner is playing for any other top three team in either conference, his record looks way better than 15-7-4. It’s not only Lehner, though. Thomas Greiss has gotten the other 24 starts. His record is 14-8-1. Greiss allows 2.50 goals per game, and maintains a .920 save percentage with two shutouts.
Whether New York is getting elite goaltending out of both guys, or Trotz has tightened the defense to make their lives easier, the Islanders would do well to keep it going. They are the best in the NHL in goals allowed per game at 2.41. I would love nothing more than to see the Islanders win a Cup in my lifetime before the Rangers can.
Washington Capitals // 27-17-6 (5th)*
The Washington Capitals have had a rough season defensively. Barry Trotz left Washington after winning the Stanley Cup last year, and it looks like he took the defensive prowess with him to New York. The saving grace for Washington is that their offense allows them to never be out of a game. Alexander Ovechkin has posted his 14th straight season with at least 30 goals. He leads the team in points with 57 (37G, 20A) and his 37 goals are good for best in the NHL by 7.
Nicklas Backstrom is right on Ovi’s tail with 51 points (13G, 38A). They have to be happy with where they sit for now, but it hasn’t always been there for Washington this year. Washington looked very vulnerable to start the year. It became very apparent, early on, that teams were having no trouble getting in behind the Caps’ defense and pushing them around. That all finally changed when Tom Wilson’s suspension was lifted.
The Capitals were intimidating again. Wilson was producing on offense while still establishing the enforcer role on the ice, and Caps were a force. After Wilson was reinstated, the Capitals won eight of their next nine, and 13 of their next 16. They surged back into contention. Washington was able to maintain that momentum and now they find themselves in a familiar position. A playoff spot while their captain tears up the league on offense. In order for Washington to complete the back-to-back, they are going to need to stay healthy, especially on defense.
Columbus Blue Jackets // 28-17-3 (6th)*
Columbus is among one of the most aggressive teams in the NHL this year, but they do so without picking up very many penalties. However, it’s this exact aggressiveness that has pushed them into a playoff position at the All Star break. Columbus isn’t exactly getting elite goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky like they were expecting. In his 33 starts, Bob is 19-14-1 with two shutouts, a 2.91 GAA, and a save percentage of .904. Those just aren’t championship numbers, so how do they maintain?
Well, to go along with their 2nd fewest penalty minutes this year, they have the 8th ranked penalty kill in the league. Their aggressiveness has been very well maintained and even when it does get out of hand, the penalty kill is there to back them up. That sort of confidence in your PK is what allows a team to consistently be on the forecheck and tire out their opponents. On offense, CBJ ranks 9th in the league in goals per game, and 11th in shooting percentage. They’re barely in the top half of the league for shots on goal (14th), so the shooting percentage is very important.
Artemi Panarin leads the way on offense with 53 points this year (19G, 34A). Cam Atkinson leads the team with 27 goals, and his 21 assists put him second on the team with 48 points. Pierre-Luc Dubois is the only other player over 30 points (17G, 26A – 43P), and you start to scratch your head at how Columbus has managed to grab 3rd place in the Metro at this point in the season. They aren’t getting enough production on offense with the lack of goaltending to be a legitimate contender this year.
Pittsburgh Penguins // 26-16-6 (8th)*
Pittsburgh, much like Washington, started the season off very slowly as compared to their standards. As long as Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on their roster, I see them being a threat to go at least two rounds deep in the playoffs. Safe to say, I wasn’t worried about the Penguins at season’s beginning, and I made that very vocal. On our podcast. On our forum. In their fist 20 games, they went 8-8-4. I said watch out for Pittsburgh, before they were even in a playoff spot.
Then, in late December and early January, Pittsburgh went on a 8 game win streak that put them right back into the conversation. They’re getting offense from enough spots in their lineup to create problems for opponents. Sidney Crosby leads the way with 57 points (21G, 36A), but Phil Kessel (20G, 33A – 53P) and Evgeni Malkin (14G, 38A) are right there with him. Even Jake Guentzel is producing at a high level, leading the team with 24 goals while still amassing 23 assists for 4th on the team in points (47).
On the back end, Kris Letang is logging a ridiculous 26 minutes of ice time per game. I guess Pittsburgh is trying to help out the goaltending as much as they possible can. Matt Murray has started 22 games this year, going 14-6-1 with a 2.86 GAA, .913 save percentage, and three shutouts. Casey DeSmith has gotten the starting nod 24 times, with a 12-9-4 record, 2.68 GAA, save percentage of .917 and two shutouts. DeSmith is looking a little better as far as individual stats go, but the team gets wins with Murray in net.
I don’t think the entire story has been told on this team yet. Often times, you get a good feel about a team at the All Star break. With Pittsburgh, I’m not so sure this is the team we will see at season’s end. I think they will solidify things defensively and look to be control games from the get-go more often as the season goes on. I don’t predict often, but I see Pittsburgh finishing first or second in the Metro.
Carolina Hurricanes // 24-20-6 (10th)
What’s the opposite of an Icy-Hot? Yup, that’s right, the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes started out hot at season’s beginning, winning their first three. Then they lost three followed by two more wins. They finished the opening month at .500. They proceed to have pretty decent November, going 6-2-2. December then went cold at 4-6-1. January was warm one as the Hurricanes went 8-3-1 leading up to the All Star break.
Sebastian Aho is leading the way for Carolina with 57 points (22G, 35A). Teuvo Teravainen was acquired in trade with Minnesota this season, and he sits second on the team with 43 points (11G, 32A). Carolina inked Teravainen to a 5 year, $27M extension, so it looks like they are hoping he will be a key piece to their future. The biggest downfall for the Hurricanes, this year, has been their ability to score the puck. They lead the NHL in shots on goal per game, but they rank 27th in the league goals per game. To no surprise, they have the worst shooting percentage in the league. They are hoping that is something Teravainen is able to help with going forward.
Perhaps the biggest story line Carolina has this year are the post game celebrations. The Hurricanes have started putting together team-wide victory celebrations after their wins. Some have been great, some have been questionable. Either way, they’re bringing celebrations to a new level, and we’re all anxious to see how it catches on for the future.
New York Rangers // 21-20-7 (11th)
The Rangers are another team who has struggle offensively this year. They rank 26th in the league in goals per game and 30th in the league in shots on goal. On the other hand, their defense hasn’t been much better. They take the most penalties per game, and they aren’t helped out at all by their penalty kill, which ranks 26th in the league.
The Rangers’ lack of individual performances have been a concern as well. Mika Zibanejad leads the way with just 44 points (17G, 27A). No other player has above 40 points, which is huge letdown for a roster that has talent capable of putting wins together. Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t had a particularly phenomenal season either. Hank has played a majority of the season , starting 35 games with a 15-12-7 record, 3.01 GAA, and save percentage at .908.
The things that New York require to be clicking on all cylinders simply are not happening. They’re losing to bragging rights rather quickly to their compadres across the bridge.
Philadelphia Flyers // 19-23-6 (14th)
DAILY DOUBLE!!! KJ and ZachMac both going in on the Philadelphia Flyers
ZachMac: Outside of Gritty, nothing has been going right for the Flyers this season. They let go of their GM and their head coach over the course of the season, so things are in full rebuild. They rank top in the league in faceoffs, and mascot likeability, but that’s about it.
Claude Giroux has been about the only bright spot on the roster, aside rookie goalie Carter Hart, putting up 52 points so far (14G, 38A). Sean Courtier, along with Giroux, has ammassed over 20 minutes of ice time per game, but is 2nd on the team with only 39 points (19G, 20A). His 19 goals lead the team by four to the next closest (W. Simmonds). Plainly put, Philly isn’t scoring enough. I’ll let KJ take care of the rest.
KJ: Man, I hate the Flyers. But, even I feel a little bad for them at this point. Living in the greater Philly area, I deal with Flyers fans regularly. They are a downtrodden bunch. Zach said it, nothing is going right for the Flyers. They have no shot at the playoffs, and Yake is drowning in self-pity.
New Jersey Devils // 18-23-7 (15th)
The New Jersey Devils have failed to get any traction over the course of this season. They are tied for the 2nd best penalty kill this season, but that’s about the only thing that is going consistently well for New Jersey in a team sense. Goaltender Keith Kinkaid had a great start to the season, but has since fallen into fallen to nothing more than an average NHL goaltender.
Star forward Taylor Hall has been battling injury this season which has been a huge obstacle for the Devils. Hall is, without question, the leader of this team, both on and off the ice. Without him, they looks like a lost organization. Kyle Palmieri leads the team with 38 points (22G, 16A). With just 33 games played, Hall is right behind with 37 points (11G, 26A). At this point, it’s very obvious that the Devils don’t have the depth or gameplay strategy to be a force in the league. They are more than likely going to look forward to the draft and see what they can get to skate with Taylor Hall in the near future.
Ladies and gentlemen, we all know the phrase “West coast, best coast” and boy does that apply to hockey. Well, it’s top heavy. Side note: I will not be putting an asterisk next to playoff teams as we all know 1-8 make the playoffs, use common sense. This truly is the wild, wild, west. 8th through 13th is separated by just three points, and basically everything is up for grabs. Flames are hot, Jets are flying, and the Avs, well they’re tumbling. That’s enough dad jokes, lets get to it. What you’re about to read is troublesome, it’s anarchy, its… the Western Conference.
Winnipeg Jets // 31-15-2 (3rd)
With Winnipeg, offense is never less than a certainty. Where said offense comes from however, is sometimes in question. We’ve come to expect Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele to be regulars on the score sheet, along with youngster Kyle Connor, as they man the first line together. What’s unexpected, is the inconsistency, and almost troublesome scoring droughts, seen from star F Patrik Laine.
The Finnish born sniper was an early favorite for the Rocket Richard trophy this year, but has now fallen to 18th in the league in goals, 12 behind leader Alex Ovechkin, with 25. Whether it be physical or mental, he hasn’t been able to find the back of the net with his usual regularity. There are some players who can make up for a lack of goal scoring with a plethora of helpers, Laine is not that player. Just nine assists on the year, which puts him at a pretty underwhelming 34 points in 48 games.
Laine struggles aside, things seem to be working for the Jets. Leading the Central with four games in hand on the Preds, they’ll take wins in whatever fashion they can get them.
Nashville Predators // 30-18-4 (4)
Have I mentioned I hate talking about this team? They’re good, they’re consistent, and damn are they exciting. All of that, still can’t overshadow how incredibly ill-informed and yuppity their fan base is. That’s right Preds fans, come get me. That said, this is a very dangerous team, especially when it counts. There’s a clutch gene in just about everyone on this team, G Pekka Rinne being the obvious exception. If they get any amount of quality goal tending in the playoffs, I wouldn’t be surprised if they find themselves right back in the Stanley Cup Finals. Here’s hoping they don’t.
Personal feelings aside, what they’ve done without Subban and Forsberg for stretches is impressive. Near miraculous for most teams. The defensive pairings are continuously in-sync and don’t seem to miss a beat no matter the circumstances. While Nashville doesn’t have the offensive fire power of Tampa or Winnipeg, they don’t seem to be lacking in the goal department. If Nashville plays to their potential in the second half, they’re a lock for the playoffs and I’d expect to see them in the WCF.
Minnesota Wild // 26-21-3 (6)
I have no ill-will for Wild fans. Honestly, being a Blackhawks fan, I’ve never understood the predetermined hate for our Northern neighbors. I just can’t stand to watch this team, it’s almost nauseating how boring they are. With a myriad of talented players and the uber talented Devan Dubnyk, there’s nothing not to like. Bruce Boudreau is basically a 100-point guarantee and, if you remember back to October, I picked them to win the Presidents trophy.
Their production comes from all over, but the loss of D Matt Dumba has visibly impacted their fluidity on both sides of the ice. If they keep their current pace and make the playoffs, they’ll get Dumba back and could be back to the team that led the Central earlier in the season. Winners of three in a row, the season has been one of streaks, good and bad. Look no further than their goal differential of 0 for evidence of that.
In a wide open Western conference, and central division for that matter, their streaky tendencies might not be their downfall. Better yet, their own Head Coach might be to blame for any future post-season struggles. Notorious game seven loser, Bruce has to prepare this team for playoff success, or this could be it for the long time bench boss.
Dallas Stars // 24-21-4 (7)
“F*****g Horses**t” could be considered one of the greatest motivational phrases of our generation by the end of this season. That, or the thing that pushes Tyler Seguin out of Dallas. CEO Jim Lite was quoted saying as much about his two superstar forwards, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin, and their current play.
Since then, there’s been a modicum of consistency among the Stars. Benn and Seguin have both had more production, and their 10-game splits are more often positive than not. They’re still going to have to make a pretty decent sized splash at the trade deadline, but staying above water right now is a good start.
While Ben Bishop is still bad, the Dallas defense is continuing to get healthy, and Miro Heiskanen is getting better every game, and showed up big time over All-Star weekend. First year coach Jim Montgomery has a steep hill to climb in the second half of the season, no question. But, in a year where St. Louis and Chicago are in the dumps, he has as good a chance as any.
Colorado Avalanche // 22-20-8 (8)
The definition of “fun to watch” would be this years Colorado Avalanche. Their top-line is still the best in hockey, and they score at a rampant rate. The other guys? Awful. They have seemingly no depth and when it rains, it fu**ing pours on this team. From 10 game losing streaks to actual watchable dysfunction among their bottom six. I actually can’t go too in depth on this team because they still have a positive GD and that doesn’t make sense yet.
3-7 in their last 10 is a microcosm of how bad they’ve been the last month and a half. Shortly after declaring them a possible Stanley Cup contender, they started tumbling down the standings. I’ve have an entire piece of the true identity of this team coming soon. Until then, ouch.
St. Louis Blues // 22-22-5 (12)
How this team has as many wins as they do is mind blowing. Vladamir Tarasenko has disappeared(17g-15a), and screwed my fantasy team along with his teams season. Ryan O’Reilly (18g-32a) has been a bright spot, but not much else is going right for them. They aren’t to the point where they’ll sell at the deadline, but a rough stretch back from break might push them over the edge. The leagues toughest division has a tendency to prey on their weak. The Blues would fall into that category.
Somehow, by some miracle, they’re only three points out of a playoff spot. They’re definitely in the lower half of Western teams, but amidst all the mediocre teams, they could come out on top. There’s enough firepower on this squad to make a push, and the eighth seed is in their sights. It would take some serious dysfunction from Minnesota and Colorado, but the division isn’t out of the question either.
Chicago Blackhawks // 18-24-9 (14)
I sorta feel like I’m writing my own eulogy with this analysis. The Chicago Blackhawks are bad like I couldn’t imagine. Patrick Kane (29g-42a) sometimes looks like the only professional hockey player on the team. Toews has shown glimpses of his old self, but overall the entire roster is underwhelming, disappointing, and just outright bad.
I thought I’d enjoy a nice year of a so-so Blackhawks team but still be able to laugh at the likes of Detroit and Philly in last. Never would I have assumed this debacle happening in front of my eyes. Their games are almost unwatchable and the rest of the Central is just picking them apart. and creating more distance. It’s safe to say this season is lost, and the future looks bleak, but not unbearable. Kaner looks like he could play another decade, and there’s enough youth and potential to be just a few moves away from relevance.
This season, however, is something out of a horror story. There’s no exact problem, everything just seems to go wrong at once. Losing Corey Crawford again, and possibly for good, is disheartening and scary all at the same time. No matter how miserable we are now Chicago, this is the worst it can be. In two to four years, we’ll be back on top. Guarantee it.
Calgary Flames // 33-13-5 (1)
The Flames are statistically intimidating. Their leader, is not. John Michael Gaudreau, Johnny Hockey, has been tearing it up from game one to 51. He put on a show at the ASG, and is showing no signs of slowing down. They’ve been able to overcome some just okay goal tending from Mike Smith, and David Rittich has looked damn impressive.
Similar to Colorado, Calgary has a dominant top line. Centered by Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm, and Gaudreau on the wings. They score in bunches, becoming a powerhouse early in the season and putting their foot on the pedal as of late.
Beyond basically scoring at will, the Flames have put a more satiable defensive core on the ice. Mark Giordano (11g-41a) has had his name mentioned among Norris finalists, and Travis Hamonic been more than just a corpse on skates. This Flames team is a serious contender and assumed favorite to get to the Western Conference Finals.
San Jose Sharks // 29-16-7 (2)
First off, thank you Sharks for an entertaining (maybe?) All-Star weekend and letting Erik Karlsson be on my TV all weekend.
The Sharks are led by… whoever happens to be on the ice at that time. Joe Pavelski is still the locker room leader, that seems to be the constant. Beyond that, on the ice, the hot hand takes over in a hurry. They’re well balanced, getting good play in net, and are much faster than the Sharks of old. Brent Burns (9g-46a) and summer addition Erik Karlsson (3g-40a) have been electric for a team that just needed a spark. For a team that’s been so close, so many times, this year has to feel different.
Martin Jones has been a solid “just enough” goalie so far this year. He lands somewhere between the best, and worst tendies in the league. He is sometimes great, often average, and occasionally terrible. How that’ll translate to the playoffs remains to be seen, but we’ll definitely see them there.
Las Vegas Golden Knights // 29-19-4 (5)
No beginners luck here guys, Vegas is legit. My early season pick to win this division, they have yet to disappoint. Nothing perfect for the Knights so far, but their off-season acquisitions have paid dividends so far.
After spending most of the first three months without FA signing Paul Stastny, Vegas is back on track, stalking the top teams in the West. The x-factor with this team is undoubtedly G Marc-Andre Fleury. With a .911 Save %, and his health finally in check, it’ll be nice to see what a fully cohesive Vegas team, with added firepower, can do in the long run.
With Stastny coming out firing, and Max Pacioretty finally getting his sh*t together, the Golden Knights are must watch TV yet again. I’m 100% sticking with them to win the Pacific, and probably represent the west in the Stanley Cup finals.
Vancouver Canucks // 23-22-6 (9)
HART TROPHY ALERT – Don’t sleep on rookie phenom Elias Pettersson (23g-22a) if this Canucks team does anything of note. He’s over a point per game so far (40 GP) and has the speed, stick handling, and ice vision of some of the best to ever do it. Along side last years Calder trophy runner-up, Brock Boeser (16g-18a), Pettersson is basically a lock for rookie of the year this season. Even after suffering a lower-body injury early in his rookie campaign, the 20 year old Swede has lit up some of the leagues best defenses.
Beyond Pettersson, nothing about Vancouver is particularly interesting. Offense without him is boring, defense is good, not great. Jacob Markstrom is no Vezina candidate but has done plenty to keep them in contests, and steal the occasional game with late heroics.
Vancouver gives you the “don’t let them get in” vibe. If they get to the playoffs, they might not know how to lose, and cause just enough trouble for a first round upset. It’s a far cry as of now, but if we see them late April, they’ll cause some trouble.
Anaheim Ducks // 21-21-9 (10)
The Anaheim Ducks SUCK.
Gibson for Vezina.
Arizona Coyotes // 23-23-4 (11)
We’re doing this again. The Coyotes aren’t out of it, but they’re not on the good side of really any stat. They can’t score, and surely can’t stop anyone from scoring. Not a recipe for success. I’m starting to think I got the wrong conference because none of these teams are good. They’re all bad to the point they all have a chance to be in a playoff spot by the end of the week.
Arizona is putting some building blocks together, and their future doesn’t feel as helpless as previous seasons. Clayton Keller (11g-24a) is good enough to be a first line player, but absolutely cannot lead a winning team. Trading away Max Domi might come back to bite them in that sense, but Oliver Ekman-Larsson (6g-20a) continues to show leadership in the midst of falling apart. I mean, physically and emotionally that guy has to be drained.
Nothing new in Arizona, they’ll stick around for another week or two, then the wheels will officially come off. They’ll be at the bottom with LA (spoiler alert) and can only hope for a chance at drafting incoming star, Jack Hughes.
Edmonton Oilers // 23-24-3 (13)
Call it love for Sid, but I’m so tired of the hockey world coming together to pity Connor McDavid. Yes, he’s carrying this limping sack of garbage called the Oilers. Yes, he’s going to eclipse 100 points with ease again (29g-44a) this season. No, I don’t feel bad for him. Still, I refuse to pretend that every superstar player is immediately supposed to be surrounded with players of their ilk.
Edmonton is an extreme example of bad, of course. Leon Draisaitl (27g-34a) has been encouraging, then the drop-off the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (16g-30a) and it just get’s worse from there. Defensively they barely exist, leaving Cam Talbot to continue his descent into irrelevancy after an impressive season two years ago. Granted, they just fired GM Peter Chiarelli, it’s hard to imagine anything gets better for the Oilers in the near future. Bad, bad team.
Los Angeles Kings // 20-26-4 (15)
Thank God for the LA Kings. If not for their incompetency, the Blackhawks might be in last place in the West. I’m not going to give player stats for this breakdown, because I don’t actually believe any of them want it to be known they play for the Kings. Bad luck or not, they just aren’t good. It’s not that this is a team with talent that isn’t performing. They just don’t have good players. Kopitar and Doughty aside, nothing seems to work for them, anywhere on the ice.
This is a squad less than five years removed from winning a cup, and they are far and away the worst team in the NHL. Last in goals, and bottom five in shots, PP%, and shooting percentage, it’s astounding that a professional hockey team can be this bad. With 2018-19 out the window, it’s time for the Kings to focus on the rebuild and sell big time at the trade deadline.
We hope you enjoyed the 2018-19 season State of the NHL Address. Take this as our commitment to ensuring we bring you the best, most in-depth, and consistent hockey news every week. This has been a year of high scoring, high intensity hockey, and we can’t wait to spend this rest of the season with all of you. Except for you, Preds fans. Whether your teams criticism seemed unwarranted, or we praised your rival just a bit too much, let us know!