The NHL has seen some surprises in the first half of the season, but what awaits for the second half? Calgary and the New York Islanders have outperformed expectations. The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins have underperformed. Will that trend continue?
There has already been on coaching change, and others may be on the way. A blockbuster deal could happen before the Feb. 25th trading deadline, thus propelling a team with aspirations of making a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
We look at five questions that popped up during the All Star break, and should provide answers in the last three months of the season.
1. Will Edmonton Reverse Course with New GM?
They didn’t do so when they fired coach Todd McLellan on Nov. 20 after a 9-10-1 start. They hired Ken Hitchcock and he has led the team to a 14-13-2 record. Not exactly a marked improvement.
The firing of general manager Peter Chiarelli last week says more about the future than the present. Chiarelli was criticized for not bringing in talent to help one of the game’s best players in Connor McDavid.
Even with the coach and GM getting canned, the team is only three points from a playoff spot. Chiarelli’s replacement might not come until the end of the season, as the team is rumored to be looking at Vegas Golden Knight’s assistant general manager, Kelly McCrimmon. The team probably won’t allow McCrimmon to interview for a job while the team readying for next month’s trade deadline.
2. Can Vegas Recapture Last Year’s Magic?
So far so good. After a sluggish start and some hitting the panic button, the Vegas Golden Knights are third in the Pacific Division, but there are some areas of concern.
The first is the team needs an established, preferably veteran back up goalie for Marc Andre-Fleury. The future Hall of Famer looked tired in the Stanley Cup Finals last year and many thought it was because of the amount of work he put in during the regular season. They have to address that or getting deep in the playoffs again might be in jeopardy.
The team also needs another sold defenseman. Getting Nate Schmidt back after his 20-game suspension definitely helped at the blue line, but they need some more quality players there.
The power play has been abysmal, especially when they have a 5 on 3 situation. They have not scored once this season with a two-man advantage. Teams know this and are more willing to go to the box.
3. Will Randy Carlyle Be Anaheim’s Coach Next Month?
The Ducks were projected to get 93 points this year, but injuries and bad play have the under bettors licking their chops. The team went through a 12-game losing streak, and that should blow back on the coach.
But Carlyle seems bulletproof, which is head scratching since this is his second go round with the team, he led to the Stanley Cup in 2007. Is management willing to give him a pass because of past success? This is the third year for Carlyle, but if the team keeps losing, their probably won’t be a fourth.
4. Are the New York Islanders for Real?
The New York Islanders lead the Metropolitan Division by three points, and new coach Barry Trotz is showing Washington that they probably should have given him the money he was asking for to stay there. He has taken the Islanders from a predicted last place finish to the third pick at 8/1 to win the Eastern Conference.
The first thing Trotz did was change the mindset in New York, and implemented his disciplined play on the ice, and winger Matt Martin said it is working.
”I think a lot of guys took it as a little bit of an insult when we were starting to get ranked to be the worst team in the league after he left,” Martin said. ”(Trotz) gets the best out of everybody. … He gives everybody the role and responsibilities, everyone’s playing similar minutes every night, getting a real good opportunity to play. As a player, when you’re getting those opportunities and you feel emotionally invested, you feel involved.”
5. Can Anyone Topple Toronto or Tampa Bay?
The chance that Toronto and Tampa Bay meet in the Eastern Conference Finals is a definite probability. The Lightning currently have the best record in the NHL, and are the 15/4 favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
Toronto got coveted free agent John Tavares in the offseason and are currently second behind Tampa Bay in the Metropolitan Division. They are 10/1 picks to win the Cup.
Calgary has been the surprise of the league, leading the Western Conference in points. They could beat those two teams if they meet in the finals. In the regular season they defeated Toronto on the road, but lost to Tampa Bay at home.