- Jim Kelley
- 0 Shares
There are 1,230 games in a National Hockey League season. With 615 already come and gone, below is a team-by-team analysis of the first half of the season and what each team hopes to accomplish on and off the ice in the second.
Teams are listed in order of playoff standing (through Jan. 8):
1. Toronto Maple Leafs (23-9-8-3, 57 pts.)
First-half analysis: Recovered from a slow start -- and at least one spell of rumored dissension about the coach -- and ran off a 16-game point streak and grab the top spot in the NHL at Christmas. They play physical, play smart, score well and have strong goaltending in Ed Belfour.
Second-half outlook: A few weaknesses, and even injuries to key players like Alexander Mogilny and Owen Nolan, don't slow the offensive march. Still, defense is thin (16th in the league in goals allowed with 2.47 per game) and the unit lacks a true physical element.
2. Philadelphia Flyers (20-7-10-5, 55 pts.)
First-half analysis: Garnered the top spot in division, flirted with top spot in conference, masters of all they survey at home (13-1-2-2) and playing above .500 on the road (barely). It's a good first half for the Flyers, made better by the fact they appear to have meshed with coach Ken Hitchcock's defensive-minded approach. They made the best pickup on the trade market by acquiring Mike Comrie from Edmonton for picks and prospects.
Second-half outlook: If there are causes for concern, it's depth at defense, injuries and whether or not Jeff Hackett and Robert Esche are the answer in goal. Both goalies have played reasonably well to this point, but neither is a true playoff-tested performer and the Flyers are looking to win it all this season.
3. Atlanta Thrashers (19-18-3-2, 43 pts.)
First-half analysis: Bob Hartley might not be the best coach in the NHL, but he's doing some of the best coaching. Ilya Kovalchuk has played like a man possessed and the rest of the team, especially Marc Savard, have followed. The youth of this team explains their poor road record (7-10-1-2) and their 3-6-0-1 record in their last 10 games through Jan. 8 indicate they may be coming back to their predicted form. But they are still the best in the Southeast and Hartley won't let them surrender that easily.
Second-half outlook: How they handle the return of Dany Heatley will go a long way toward how the second half plays out. If he can't contribute because of physical or emotional problems they'll all be affected. Otherwise, the biggest problem is a lack of a cohesive defense. Thrashers are simply too young on the blue line to be very successful in the second half, when points are harder to come by.
4. Ottawa Senators (22-10-5-3, 52 pts.)
First-half analysis: After a stumbling start, the Senators have been among the best teams in the league since Dec. 1, going 13-2-3 through Jan. 8 and narrowing the gap for the division lead. The hot line of captain Daniel Alfredsson, Peter Schaefer and Todd White has keyed the streak, but there's been balanced scoring all around lately and goaltender Patrick Lalime has returned to last season's form.
Second-half outlook: That the Sens are in the top three in goals-per-game average should finally put to rest the notion that they are a one-dimensional, defensive-minded team. Questions of mental toughness and physical grit still linger, opening the door to rumors that general manager John Muckler will make a trade.
5. New Jersey Devils (20-9-9-1, 50 pts.)
First-half analysis: They have the best goals against in the league, the best goalie in the game in Martin Brodeur, a commitment to defense and play team game like no one else. They're good at home and even better on the road, a trait befitting a defending Stanley Cup champ.
Second-half outlook: They need more offense, but that's been the case for the last three seasons. Their 95 goals through Jan. 8 is OK, but the paltry output means the Devs must play a perfect game almost every night. That's something they often do, but in the years between the Devils' Stanley Cups ('00 and '03) it appears that fatigue hit Brodeur and key scorers. One more 20-goal scorer or better should be enough.
6. Boston Bruins (17-11-10-4, 48 pts.)
First-half analysis: A 3-7-5 run in December produced rumblings of trades and the firing of general manager Mike O'Connell. But the Bruins have righted themselves at the half and appear to be back in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Goaltending is OK and offense is better than average, but penalty killing is a big hurt (82.4 percent, 24th in the league).
Second-half outlook: Depth is an issue here, as is consistency in goal. The Bruins tend to wear down in the second half, so some depth, especially on defense, is essential. Felix Potvin and Andrew Raycroft are capable of spectacular runs in goals, but Raycroft is young and Potvin still has a reputation of being streaky. They're a playoff team, but they need more strength on the back end.
7. Montreal Canadiens (20-16-5-2, 47 pts.)
First-half analysis: The Canadiens are a smallish team that struggles to score goals. They do, however, score timely goals, play good team defense and are getting spectacular goaltending from Jose Theodore, who is flashing his Hart Trophy (2001-02) form.
Second-half outlook: They're playing their best hockey of the season right now. However, their six-game point streak, which was snapped by Tampa Bay on Jan. 8, was due to good goaltending and team defense. Weaknesses point to even-strength goal scoring (18th overall), but they're ninth in power-play efficiency. Penalty killing is also weak, which indicates a lack of size. Those needs must be addressed for the playoff run to continue.
8. New York Islanders (20-17-3-1, 44 pts.)
First-half analysis: First-half effort had this team hanging on to a playoff berth and actually playing a tad better since perceived No. 1 forward Alexei Yashin went down with a cut forearm. Goalie Garth Snow won out in the No. 1 battle with Rick DiPietro, but team goals against (102 through 40 games) has been the Achilles' heel.
Second-half outlook: They need Yashin to perform in a team concept and they need to put aside locker room differences over current coach Steve Stirling and past coach Peter Laviolette. They need to play tougher physically and mentally on the road. They need to improve their mediocre power play (14.6 percent). That's a lot of needs.
9. Tampa Bay Lightning (17-15-6-1, 41 pts.)
First-half analysis: Tampa got a lot of good pub off it's strong playoff run last spring and decent start this season, but the numbers don't lie: two games above .500, 91 goals for, 86 against. That's below-average hockey. Offense just didn't get the job done in the first half, a combination of closer checking and the inability of younger Lightning players to produce in the clutch.
Second-half outlook: Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and vets like Dave Andreychuk and Tim Taylor have carried this team in the past, but the younger players like Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards have to contribute more in leadership and offense. A 3-4-0 record in the division is an indication that the competitive fires have dimmed. Going 6-13-4 in 22 games through Jan. 8 hasn't helped, either.
10. New York Rangers (16-16-5-3, 40 pts.)
First-half analysis: They were all over the map, but steadied a bit in December and are above .500 in their last 10 (5-4-0-1). They're mediocre on offense (109 goals), but that's not good enough when allowing 108 goals. They've got an awful penalty kill (27th overall, 81.8 percent) and need spectacular goaltending to stay in touch with most teams, which they didn't always get.
Second-half outlook: Still too much dependence on soon-to-be-43-year-old captain Mark Messier and other big-name players. As a result, there isn't enough team play and certainly not enough team defense. They're able to generate offense from defense when Tom Poti and Brian Leetch are healthy, but they must improve the talent level of their defensive-minded defensemen. They need much more grit in the corners and in front of the net.
11. Florida Panthers (14-17-9-2, 39 pts.)
First-half analysis: Things are only marginally better under interim coach Rick Dudley than they were under Mike Keenan. He's lost only once to a sub-.500 team since he took over for Keenan, but Dudley's team has also lost eight times to teams above that mark, a primary reason the Cats are still out of reach of a playoff berth and were four games below .500 at the 41-game mark.
Second-half outlook: Goaltender Roberto Luongo remains outstanding in goal and the youth on this team is of high quality. But there's simply not enough experienced talent to make this a winning year.
12. Buffalo Sabres (16-20-5-1, 38 pts.)
First-half analysis: They couldn't score, couldn't keep the puck out of their own net, and likely played themselves out of a playoff spot with an ugly eight-game winless streak that included seven straight losses.
Second-half outlook: Goaltending has been better of late with the emergence of Mika Noronen as No. 1 and the improved play of Martin Biron, who is challenging to regain No. 1 status. A lack of offense, poor defense, on-again, off-again goaltending and a 7-12-2 road record indicate the need for a great deal of help.
13. Carolina Hurricanes (14-17-8-2, 38 pts.)
First-half analysis: Another team that pulled the trigger on a coach -- Paul Maurice -- and has nothing to show for it yet. Carolina doesn't score (a league-low 73 goals at the half), isn't overly strong in its own end and has just one bright spot, goaltender Kevin Weekes. Weekes is responsible for nearly all of the team's points and it's relatively stingy goals-against number (93).
Second-half outlook: Not being Washington helps. After that, younger players must step up to fill the fading roles played by the aging Ron Francis and Rod Brind'Amour. Having the worst offense and the worst power play puts a lot of pressure on general manger Jim Rutherford, who doesn't have many resources at his disposal.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins (10-24-5-3, 28 pts.)
First-half analysis: There's nothing good to write about here. Mario Lemieux couldn't recover from a hip injury and now is lost for the season. A sell-off of stars has left them devoid of veteran talent and laden with kids who aren't yet ready for prime time. They play hard under rookie coach Ed Olczyk (wait, that was something good), but that's not enough to avoid the bottom in almost every statistical category.
Second-half outlook: There's the promise of youth, especially in goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and kids like homegrown Ryan Malone, but the team itself is years away from returning to the playoffs. This is a survival and development year, so the playoffs are out of the question.
15. Washington Capitals (11-26-4-1, 27 pts.)
First-half analysis: They fired coach Bruce Cassidy, went with Glen Hanlon, and nothing happened. The offensive talent has been offensive in its lack of production. Their goaltending has been average or below mostly because of the defense, which long had been the strength of the team but now is in makeover mode. The Caps reached the half last in the league largely because they won't pay a price to win.
Second-half outlook: The rumored deal that would send Jaromir Jagr to the Rangers won't be enough to turn this around. The Caps need leadership, more physical players and some backbone, especially among the defensive corps.
1. Detroit Red Wings (26-13-4-1, 57 pts.)
First-half analysis: The Red Wings put in an outstanding effort in overcoming injuries and a major goaltending controversy. The loss of Sergei Fedorov, arguably the most talented player on the squad, has not been a problem, either. They're contending for first overall and are showing signs of taking another legitimate run at the Stanley Cup.
Second-half outlook: Age could be a factor down the stretch, but with young players like Pavel Datsyuk and Jiri Fischer taking dominant roles, the contributions of veterans like Mathieu Schneider and Jason Woolley on defense, and the strong play of Curtis Joseph (yes, Joseph not Dominik Hasek) in goal, the second half looks like little more than a tune-up for this team to redeem itself in the postseason.
2. Vancouver Canucks (23-11-6-2, 54 pts.)
First-half analysis: It's been a very good first half for the Canucks, a team that shows balance on offense, strong play on defense, excellent penalty killing (fourth in the league) and, perhaps finally, consistency in goal. Still, it's a bit of a thin line between the 120 goals for and the 95 against, which makes Canucks watchers a bit nervous.
Second-half outlook: Picking up veteran Mike Keane brought a winner's attitude to the room, but the Canucks may need a bit more of that kind of grit up front and more help for a power play that is only 15th overall in the league.
3. San Jose Sharks (17-10-11-4, 49 pts.)
First-half analysis: The Sharks are in a somewhat weakened division, but they are a formidable team. They have just 10 losses, only three at home, and have a 13-game home points streak. Their 102 goals are well off the pace of say, Detroit (145), but they've scored more than St. Louis (92) and have shown well on defense (92 against). The Sharks started the season with just one win in their first nine games, but went 16-5-8-3 to the 41-game mark. In that time, they've gone from being 29th overall to inside the top five. Impressive.
Second-half outlook: The Sharks are doing it with defense. They are on pace for 179 goals allowed, well below the franchise record of 191. Novice GM Doug Wilson gives loads of kudos to coach Ron Wilson, long considered an offensive-minded coach. Still, look for Wilson to try to add just a bit more oomph to the offense in the second half, likely from the blue line.
4. Colorado Avalanche (21-10-7-2, 51 pts.)
First-half analysis: Injuries, especially long-term ones to Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya, have slowed what was expected to be a fire-wagon offense. Still, the team played well overall and better than expected in goal, as David Aebischer silenced a great many critics.
Second-half outlook: As well as Aebischer has played, he hasn't been a top-10 goaltender in goals-against average and he barely squeaks into that group in save percentage. That's good enough in the division -- even in the conference -- during the regular season, but it is difficult to imagine that the Avs won't take a run at a more experienced netminder at the trade deadline. If they get that piece of the puzzle, they are true Stanley Cup contenders.
5. St. Louis Blues (22-11-5-1, 50 pts.)
First-half analysis: Overshadowed somewhat by the Red Wings, especially because of key losses to the Red Wings, but still a dominant team. The Blues were 22-11-5-1 in their first 39 games and were a stunning 13-4-4-0 at home, a big reason for being in the top five overall.
Second-half outlook: Just 98 goals is well off the pace established by the four teams ahead of them (Detroit, 145; Toronto, 123; Philadelphia, 117; Vancouver, 120) overall. The strength of the Blues has been its team defense (a mere 89 allowed) and goaltending. Look for general manager Larry Pleau to try and add one more play-making center to the offense in the second half, but not at the expense of the "D."
6. Calgary Flames (21-13-3-3, 48 pts.)
First-half analysis: One of the surprising teams (in a good way) and truly enjoyable to watch. Calgary doesn't do anything exceptionally well -- except working hard and beating Edmonton -- but it's been enough to keep the Flames in the hunt for a playoff berth through the first half.
Second-half outlook: Long-term injuries are something the Flames can't easily handle, so having goalies Roman Turek and Miikka Kiprusoff on the shelf will slow the drive to a playoff spot. The Flames don't have the money for major acquisitions, so more hard work and even more goals from Jarome Iginla will have to suffice. And unless Kiprusoff comes back quickly, there is a good chance the Flames won't make it.
7. Nashville Predators (19-16-4-2, 44 pts.)
First-half analysis: The Predators reached the half-way mark three games above .500, the latest in the season they've been above that benchmark in franchise history. Good goaltending, good coaching, good work ethic and a reasonable amount of timely offense have been the keys.
Second-half outlook: The team has been beset by injuries in recent weeks, with eight regulars out of the lineup, including several key players on an already thin defense. It has exposed an overall lack of depth and may pressure general manger David Poile to make a deal or two to keep team in the playoff race. It would help if Denis Arkhipov would take the next step in his development. He scored 20 goals two seasons ago, 11 last season and this season has just three, not acceptable for a player projected to be a No. 1 or 2 center.
8. Dallas Stars (18-17-8-0, 44 pts.)
First-half analysis: They were brutal at the start and not a whole lot better at the half (17-17-8-0 after 42), especially when you look at their overall talent. They seem to miss Derian Hatcher's toughness in a big way, and key players, like Mike Modano, still aren't performing at their peak on a nightly basis.
Second-half outlook: They're right at .500 at the midpoint and that's largely because the defense has tightened up considerably and goaltender Marty Turco is returning to form. The offense is still woeful, especially the power play which has struggled just to get to the middle of the pack. Clearing some high salary and old age (moving Pierre Turgeon would do both) for some grit would be nice, but it's a tough sell as GM Doug Armstrong is locked into some long-term deals. They should make the playoffs with a big push.
9. Los Angeles Kings (16-14-7-4, 43 pts.)
First-half analysis: A decent start has been marred by a recent 10-game winless streak (0-3-6-1) which indicates that injuries and problems in goal have caught up to coach Andy Murray's club.
Second-half outlook: The Kings have offensive capability based on their 2.63 goals per game, but that may be threatened if leading scorer Zigmund Palffy undergoes season-ending shoulder surgery. They also have problems in their own end that need to be addressed. Goaltender Roman Cechmanek might be able to address them if he stays healthy, but that's a big if. A playoff spot depends on whether they get some forwards back on the ice and have an effective Cechmanek in goal.
10. Phoenix Coyotes (15-12-11-2, 43 pts.)
First-half analysis: The Coyotes are a middle-of-the-pack team with several good qualities -- good goaltending from Sean Burke and Brian Boucher and some good scoring and leadership up front from Shane Doan and Ladislav Nagy, both of whom are flirting with the top 10 in league scoring.
Second-half outlook: It remains to be seen if Boucher can be as consistent as he has been spectacular in recent days (four straight shutouts), but even if he falters, Burke is tried and true. However, trading for Burke for a little muscle on the blue line would be a plus.
11. Minnesota Wild (15-16-11-0, 41 pts.)
First-half analysis: The Wild struggled without their best player, Marian Gaborik, in camp and they've paid the price through the first half. Almost no offense leads to almost no wins, and that's what this team has.
Second-half outlook: Gaborik is starting to round into good shape and the same trapping style of defense and solid goaltending they had last year is what they'll rely on for a strong finish. But the odds aren't in their favor for a playoff berth. Though you can't win a berth in the first half of the season you can certainly lose one, and the Wild may have done exactly that.
12. Edmonton Oilers (15-18-7-1, 38 pts.)
First-half analysis: The Oilers are as cold as the weather at the outdoor game. They've had trouble scoring goals, especially on the power play, and there have been reports that the relationship between the players and the hockey department is cool, especially in light of the fact they got no immediate help in the deal that sent Comrie to Philadelphia. Comrie aside, the league's next-to-last power play and last-place penalty kill reflects that problem.
Second-half outlook: GM Kevin Lowe concedes he needs to make a trade. True enough but whether or not he can afford to bring in a play-making center, a scoring winger or an offensive defenseman remains to be seen. Look for a major shakeup here in attempt to climb back into the playoff race.
13. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (13-17-6-5, 37 pts.)
First-half analysis: They started poorly, especially in goal, and not much has improved. The Ducks have always been offensively challenged and remained so through the first half, as their 86 goals through 41 games will attest.
Second-half outlook: The Ducks didn't catch fire until the second half last season. GM Bryan Murray could wait until the March 9 trade deadline, but don't bet on it. He tried to get a second scoring center behind Sergei Fedorov when he bid for ex-Oiler Mike Comrie, but he was rebuffed in ugly fashion. Murray knows what teams need to win and he's pretty good at getting it. Look for a deal for a second-line scorer well before the deadline; it's a necessity if the Ducks are to avoid a playoff miss after reaching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final last spring.
14. Chicago Blackhawks (11-21-7-4, 33 pts.)
First-half analysis: Chaos reigns largely because of long-term injuries to key players, more rookies than skilled veterans, the firing of general manager Mike Smith and stumbling attempts to designate his successor. Little wonder the team was 11-21-7-4 at the half. Weak special teams have really hurt; the Hawks have allowed nine short-handed goals and scored only 20 with the man advantage. Goalie Jocelyn Thibault's long-term hip injury was crucial.
Second-half outlook: The Hawks have won just five of their last 29 games and management has done nothing to change that. Look for more of the same, as this once-proud franchise appears to have written off the season.
15. Columbus Blue Jackets (11-23-4-3, 29 pts.)
First-half analysis: President and general manager Doug MacLean removed himself as coach, but it appears too little too late. Where we once thought this team was poised to make a move, they immediately went nine straight without a win and now have just 11 wins against 23 losses, four ties and three overtime losses. A wasted first half.
Second-half outlook: New coach Gerard Gallant is charged with making winners out of players who, for the most part, have never experienced the feeling and some who refuse to pay the price to do so. Not an easy task. Goalie Marc Denis still appears to be a blue-chipper, but with just two wins on the road and an offense that doesn't produce enough goals, he may wear down as the season wears on.
Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Submit questions or comments to his mail bag.
Will the Wings keep Curtis Joseph? Will the Leafs finish first? What the second half holds for all 30 teams.