The Chicago Blackhawks were the story of the NHL’s first half, winning 21 of their first 24 games, gaining at least a point in each contest. It’s a historic start for the Original Six franchise, as the Blackhawks seemed to be breaking or chasing a new record every night.
They are the subject of these bold predictions for the second half. I’m going to go out on a limb and say they will make the playoffs. Wait, they’ve already clinched a postseason berth? And the Central Division? There goes that idea.
Well, anyway, here are five bold (or not-so-bold) predictions for the NHL’s second half, which promises to be an intriguing two months of hockey.
1. Blackhawks will, in fact, lose in regulation again
What the Chicago Blackhawks have done is unreal but they will lose in regulation again before world ends, likely by end of this season. In fact, they’ll lose at least five games in regulation by Game 48, perhaps close to 10. They’ve been playing with fire in recent games and, now that Colorado snapped their streak, a slight regression to the mean is more than possible. A second-half letdown won’t keep them from winning the Presidents’ Trophy or contending for the Stanley Cup.
2. Maple Leafs will end playoff drought
Only one NHL team hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2004. I don’t need to remind you, but I’m going to anyways. After the pain and misery the previous seasons have presented, the Toronto Maple Leafs will end their playoff drought this spring. Randy Carlyle has the Leafs in a good spot, sitting in fifth place and four points out of first in the Eastern Conference through Thursday’s action. In recent years they’ve seen their playoff hopes fade away in the second half, but not this time.
3. Kings will win Pacific Division
If the Los Angeles Kings do win the division, it will be more about them surging than the Anaheim Ducks crumbling. That said, even though I’ve been high on the Anaheim Ducks since last summer, they have been playing over their heads a bit, and Viktor Fasth may get a slice of humble pie in the second half. Meanwhile, the Kings are 9-2-0 in their last 11 games and have climbed out of their early-season funk. Darryl Sutter’s gang is nine points back of Anaheim with a game in hand, but once that Kings train gets rolling it’s hard to stop.
4. Tuukka Rask will win the Vezina Trophy
Contrary to recent seasons, the Vezina Trophy race at the midway point is up for grabs. One goaltender that could easily win the Vezina with a stellar second half is Tuukka Rask. His transition to being the full-time starter has been seamless; he is currently tied for first in the NHL in wins (11), seventh in GAA (2.09) and save percentage (.923). Boston’s schedule weakens down the stretch and is home-heavy in April, which should be a recipe for success. Rask will hold off the likes of Pekka Rinne, Henrik Lundqvist and Craig Anderson (if healthy soon) for the Vezina.
5. Trade deadline will be relatively quiet
Some experts believe we will see an active trade deadline, but one has to be sceptical. In recent years there have been fewer and fewer sellers, and this spring it will only be worse with the condensed schedule and a logjam of teams competing for a playoff spot. Unless Vancouver finds a trade partner for Roberto Luongo or Anaheim cashes in on Corey Perry prior to free agency, it’s difficult seeing a blockbuster going down. A quiet deadline could set up for a wild summer of activity.