Before the NHL season began, I asked what I felt was the biggest question for every NHL team in 2017-18. Most teams have reached the 41-game mark, exactly half of the 82-game season. Here are the mid-term answers to every NHL’s teams question.
Anaheim Ducks: The window to get a second Stanley Cup for Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry is closing. Do the Ducks have enough depth around them to get them there? Mid-Term Answer: No. They lack offensive punch outside of their stars and are flirting with missing the playoffs.
Arizona Coyotes: The team has a lot of young offensive talent and not much else. Will the additions of Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Antti Raanta greatly improve a bad team? Mid-Term Answer: No. The Coyotes are the NHL’s worst team, by far, with no signs of getting much better this year.
Boston Bruins: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and Zdeno Chara appear to have a young core as good as they are with David Pastrnak, Anders Bjork, Brandon Carlo, and Charlie McAvoy. Can Tuukka Rask be consistent enough to let them climb the standings? Mid-Term Answer: Yes. After a slow start necessitating the use of back-up Anton Khudobin for a time, Rask has arguably been the league’s best goalie over the last six weeks and the Bruins are rolling against good and bad teams alike.
Buffalo Sabres: They are still in rebuild mode. Can the amazing talent of Jack Eichel help lead the Sabres to an Oilers’ style turnaround after years of futility? Mid-Term Answer: No. As expected, the team as at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a severe lack of scoring.
Calgary Flames: They made the playoffs last year, then got swept and made a lot of changes. Did they make right ones to make them a contender, or even a playoff team again? Mid-Term Answer: Incomplete. They are one point out of a playoff spot, but have already begun to try to tweak their roster again. They don’t look a playoff team to me.
Carolina Hurricanes: This team has some of the best talent that you’ve probably never heard of. Can ex-Black Bear goalie Scott Darling make them a playoff team in his first year as starter? Mid-Term Answer: No (kind of). This is a no because Darling, despite playing more, hasn’t had as strong a year as veteran Cam Ward has. But, Carolina looks like they will contend for a playoff spot.
Chicago Blackhawks: A perennial contender that cracked early in the playoffs for the first time in the decade last season. Was it a blip on the radar or a sign of more trouble ahead? Mid-Term Answer: Incomplete. The Blackhawks have been very streaky and aren’t in a playoff spot right now. They sure don’t look like a Cup contender.
Colorado Avalanche: Last year could not have gone worse for the Avs. Without much strength on D, will it get any better this season? Mid-Term Answer: Yes. A resurgence in scoring from their young stars, improvement on D and solid goaltending have made the Avalanche a playoff contender.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Led by Vezina winning goalie Sergei Bobrovski, they were one of last season’s biggest surprises. Can this team, centered on young stars, take the next step forward? Mid-Term Answer: Yes. The Blue Jackets led the Metropolitan Division for a good portion of the first half and look poised for a deep playoff run.
Dallas Stars: This team remains loaded with offensive firepower, but missed the playoffs last year after having the best Western Conference record in 2015-16. Can a reunion with 1999 Stanley Cup winning coach Ken Hitchcock lead to better defense and a playoff return? Mid-Term Answer: For now, Yes. Dallas is contending in a very tough Central Division. A playoff return would be a positive step this year.
Detroit Red Wings: The team from HockeyTown missed the playoffs for the first time in a quarter century last year. How long will their rebuild take? Mid-Term Answer: It won’t be completed this year. After a strong start, the Red Wings have come back to Earth. Ex-Black Bear Jimmy Howard has helped keep them somewhat relevant.
Edmonton Oilers: A decade of being bottom-feeders finally ended with an MVP season from 20-year-old Connor McDavid. Are the Oilers ready to become a perennial Stanley Cup contender? Mid-Term Answer: No. The Oilers have taken a significant step backward and will need a near perfect second half just to get into the playoffs.
Florida Panthers: Stunted by injuries last year, they regressed from a division champion to out of the playoffs. Will going younger push them back toward the top of a very tough division? Mid-Term Answer: No. The Cats are have started to play better lately, but still have a ways to go.
Los Angeles Kings: They went from winning Stanley Cups in two out of three seasons to missing the playoffs in two out of three seasons. Will a new head coach and GM lead to a Tinsel Town revival? Mid-Term Answer: Yes. Head Coach John Stevens has pushed the right buttons to bring the Kings back toward the top of the Western Conference.
Minnesota Wild: Always one of the league’s best teams from October-March, they always fall short come April. Are they any better now, or will this season be the beginning of a decline? Mid-Term Answer: Incomplete. They are in playoff contention, but another one-and-done playoff run or worse would be considered a failure.
Montreal Canadiens: They seem to be building around the defensive style Claude Julien likes to play. Can goalie Carey Price keep other teams off the board enough for his offensively challenged team to win? Mid-Term Answer: No. Price has missed time with injury, but hasn’t been his best when he’s played. And it has hurt Montreal’s playoff chances big-time.
Nashville Predators: Two wins away from a Stanley Cup last season, they already had the best defensive unit in the league and added Alexei Emelin this offseason. Will they use last season as a springboard or will they have the Stanley Cup Finalist hangover? Mid-Term Answer: Some of both. They sputtered out of the gate, but have been one of the NHL’s best teams over the last two months and seem ready to play into June again.
New Jersey Devils: After adding Taylor Hall last offseason, they landed Nico Hischier with the first overall draft pick this summer. Is this team ready for a breakout year? Mid-Term Answer: Yes. Hall is the big reason why, but a lot of youngsters who have marinated for years are finally reaching their potential all at once.
New York Islanders: The questions of whether John Tavares will re-sign with the team and where the team will play long-term could overshadow the season. Can the team overcome those distractions? Mid-Term Answer: Incomplete. The arena situation is taken care of, the Tavares situation is not. The Isles were in the top eight in the East for a while, but a recent slide has knocked them all the way to the bottom of the Metro.
New York Rangers: Defense and goaltending is the Broadway Blueshirts’ bread and butter, but their core is aging. Is their Cup window still ajar or is this the year it slams shut? Mid-Term Answer: Still ajar. The Rangers have steadily improved as the year has gone on, but they are far from the best in the East.
Ottawa Senators: A team whose strong regular season was overlooked last year, they were an overtime goal away from knocking out the two-time defending champs. Will they be overlooked again or were they playing over their heads? Mid-Term Answer: They were playing over their heads a year ago. Many of their players have returned to past mediocre form and the Sens appear to be an afterthought this season.
Philadelphia Flyers: They were a disappointment last year, but their young core is as good as anyone’s. Can a relatively unproven group reach their high expectations? Mid-Term Answer: No. Veterans Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are carrying the team, to mixed results.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The two-time defending Cup winners lost some depth this summer, but they’ve still Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Matt Murray. Are they good enough to be the first three-peat Cup winner since the 1980-83 Islanders? Mid-Term Answer: No. They are outside the playoffs looking in at the halfway point. They can’t possibly win two straight Cups then miss the playoffs. Right?
San Jose Sharks: For the first time in 20 years, Fins fans will not see Patrick Marleau in teal. Can anyone fill his void and keep this team afloat in the Cup race? Mid-Term Answer: Incomplete. No one has replaced Marleau’s production, but their defense and goaltending are among the best of the league, which is keeping them relevant.
St. Louis Blues: They’ve turned over a lot in the last two years, yet remained very competitive. Can they take the next step and play for a Stanley Cup? Mid-Term Answer: Incomplete. They’ve been near the top of the Central Division all season, but it remains to be seen if they can fight their way through and stand ahead of everyone in the spring.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Last season was derailed for the last team not named “Pittsburgh Penguins” to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Final when Steven Stamkos got hurt. Have they added enough to stay competitive if that happens again? Mid-Term Answer: Yes. Nikita Kucharov is the league’s leading scorer and Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the league’s top goaltenders this season. The Lightning are very much for real.
Toronto Maple Leafs: They made the playoffs thanks to young additions Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, and added strong veteran depth. Does the next step in the Toronto hockey revival happen this year? Mid-Term Answer: Yes. The Leafs have one of the highest-flying offenses in the league, despite Matthews missing some time due to injury.
Vancouver Canucks: There’s a new coach, but pretty much the same awful roster. Do they final bottom out and fast track a rebuild? Mid-Term Answer: Incomplete. After a surprisingly strong start, they are second to last in the West. They have some young talent to build around and cashing in some of their older assets will help a few years from now, should they chose to do it.
Vegas Golden Knights: There’s lots of excitement surrounding this year’s expansion team in Sin City, and with good reason. Do they have enough talent to make the playoffs in a weak division? Mid-Term Answer: Yes. They have the Western Conference’s best record right now. I’d be surprised if they didn’t win the division and play in the West Final, and a Stanley Cup Final appearance is now a real possibility.
Washington Capitals: For a team that forever disappoints come playoff time, last year felt like their last best chance to a win a Cup. Can they stay among the league’s elite or is this the first year of their regression? Mid-Term Answer: Still elite. They’ve reached the top of the Metro Division and are likely to stay, or at least remain close to the top.
Winnipeg Jets: A team loaded with young talent that still appears somewhat in transition. Can they be this year’s Blue Jackets or is their ascendance still a year away? Mid-Term Answers: They’re this year’s Blue Jackets. The Jets have elbowed their way to the top of the Central and they have the personnel to stay there.