I believe it was the great Jon Bon Jovi — or maybe it was Mitchell Marner — who once looked up and excitedly realized, “Whoa, we’re halfway there.”
As the NHL’s clubs play Game 41 of the 2017-18 schedule, it’s time for mid-term assessment.
Our NHL Power Rankings: Mid-Term Grades Edition delivers marks on a curve relative to each team’s expectations entering the semester.
As always, teams are ranked in order of their current 2017-18 awesomeness. The write-ups explain why we gave your favourite club a passing or failing letter.
A+. The Lightning’s goal differential (+53) is 24 goals better than their closest rival (Vegas). Dominance plus determination elevates Tampa to the top of the class.
A+. Oh, so you can just waltz into the National Hockey League, win eight of your first nine games, storm into 2018 whilst in the throes of an eight-game win streak, and vault to the top of the Western Conference? Maybe $500 million is a reasonable expansion fee, after all.
B+. A rocky, injury-riddled October put the Bruins behind the 8-ball, but this group has rallied around one of the game’s best trios (Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak) and is now a smart bet to seize home ice in a first-round playoff series versus Toronto. Dressing the game’s best super-young D-man (Charlie McAvoy) and best super-old D-man (Zdeno Chara) certainly helps.
A-. A trendy pick as a group in sharp decline, Barry Trotz’s Capitals are back where they were a year ago at this time — atop the Metropolitan Division — despite having their depth gutted by salary cap restraints. Alex Ovechkin, your Rocket Richard pacesetter, won’t stop bringing the goods.
A. The Predators have weathered the retirement of Mike Fisher (hey there, Kyle Turris!) and the injury to Ryan Ellis (he returned Tuesday!). Enviable for its balance, Nashville ranks among the league’s top eight in offence, defence and both special teams. The Preds will need Filip Forsberg (upper body) healthy if they hope to repeat last year’s run.
A. A coaching change appears to be just what L.A.’s veteran core needed. High-scoring Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown are reinvigorated, and Drew Doughty says the Kings are playing freer than they have in the recent past. They’re less afraid to make mistakes and, consequently, aren’t making as many.
A. Fast, fun and brimming with young talent, the Devils are the Eastern Conference’s feel-good story of the half season.
B. St. Louis’s D core rates among hockey’s best, Brayden Schenn looks like the steal of the summer, and the goaltending tandem of Jake Allen and Carter Hutton has been fantastic. Still, the scoring depth and power-play woes here are of concern. GM Doug Armstrong says he’s not looking for a rental fix at the deadline, but we have to believe he’ll go hunting for more goals.
B+. The Jets are operating with the best goal differential in their division, a testament to some scary-good scorers but mostly to Connor Hellebuyck’s breakout contract year. Winnipeg is Exhibit A in the case for why goaltending is paramount. Now, let’s get Mark Scheifele back ASAP.
B-. If Alberta gets shut out of the post-season, it’ll be because we were too foolish to write off the Sharks. So what if they have the 25th-best offence in the NHL and Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns have seen their production fall off a cliff? San Jose is getting by on excellent defence, solid goaltending and the stingiest penalty-killing unit outside of L.A.
B. The team most affected by first-half injuries suddenly looks scary-good at full health. We love the addition of Ryan Miller as a No. 2 goalie, and the bold trade for Adam Henrique is having an immediate payoff.
B-. What to make of Carolina, which can topple a giant one night and play a stinker the next? Scott Darling has been just OK as a starter, and we still believe this team needs to add a scorer. But, hey, it’s Jan. 3 and they’re in a playoff spot. They have a shot at ending the league’s longest active post-season drought.
C+. With Washington and New York hitting refresh and Pittsburgh floundering early, Columbus missed an opportunity to take a first-half stranglehold of the Metropolitan. Seth Jones and Pierre-Luc Dubois are emerging as stars. We need to see more production from Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno.
B. Consider where the Avalanche finished 2016-17. Consider that Joe Sakic traded away one of his top scorers in Matt Duchene. Consider the injury to Tyson Barrie. So, it’s quite remarkable that the Avalanche have scored more goals than they’ve given up and won more games than they’ve lost. They have more victories than 2017 playoff teams Chicago, Edmonton and Calgary — which is saying something.
B. The depth and breadth of Toronto’s scoring is remarkable, and the decline of Marner and William Nylander has been greatly exaggerated. But for long, disturbing stretches, the club’s thin blue line and sporadic commitment to getting the puck out of its own zone has been disturbing. Two months of Frederik Andersen’s excellence has masked more problems than you think.
B-. Call it the Ken Hitchcock Effect (and credit a primary assist to Ben Bishop). Those seemingly run-and-gun Stars actually rank higher in goals allowed (10th) than goals scored (12th). One of the many clubs entrenched in the mushy middle that is looking to break away in the second half.
C-. We expected a decline with the off-season departures of Artemi Panarin, Scott Darling and Niklas Hjalmarsson, but could we actually see both Pittsburgh and Chicago miss the playoffs? The good news for Blackhawks fans: No western club will have more home games coming their way in the second half.
C+. Maybe free agent prize Kevin Shattenkirk is more of a three-four than a one-two. Maybe dependable second-line centre Derek Stepan is more difficult to replace than the Rangers hoped. And maybe getting outshot by an average of two shots a night will catch up to New York?
C. The Wild have dealt with injuries aplenty and still suffer from a dearth in offence. So when their team defence and goaltending aren’t spectacular, this group struggles. And yet, they’re good enough to remain wild-card relevant.
C. There are points of optimism in Philly: Claude Giroux’s bounce back, Robert Hagg’s emergence, Sean Couturier’s two-way play. But, like last season in Calgary, Brian Elliott has toggled between hot and cold, and we may look back at the Flyers’ 10-game losing skid as the run that cost them a wild-card spot.
C-. Halfway through the season, and the two-time defending champs are outside the playoff picture. Kris Letang is in the rumour mill. Matt Murray’s shaky health has underscored Marc-Andre Fleury’s value. A team led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel is looking to add offence before the trade deadline?! Not where we thought they’d be.
C. Mathew Barzal has become one of the season’s best first-half stories. Ditto Josh Bailey. The solidification of the Belmont Park site for a new arena is wonderful news. Still, the goaltending has been atrocious, and we wonder what type of effect another post-season miss might have on the John Tavares negotiations. Losers of seven of their past 10, the Isles are on track to be on the outside looking in.
C-. We applauded GM Brad Treliving’s off-season, how he added Travis Hamonic to an already-solid D core and found himself a true No. 1 goalie in Mike Smith. But the Flames’ top-heavy offence and shaky special teams aren’t doing the trick, and with Anaheim surging, Calgary needs to get in gear fast if it’s to avoid the lottery.
D+. No team gives up more shots per night than the Panthers (35-plus), who only seem to win when either Roberto Luongo or James Reimer does a headstand. The cost-cutting measures that saw Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, Jaromir Jagr, Thomas Vanek and Jason Demers leave town have taken their toll.
D. Just when you think Edmonton is getting some Christmas mojo and preparing to take a run up the standings, the team loses consecutive games at home by a combined score of 10-0. Reality bites.
D-. The biggest problem for the Atlantic’s Red Wings may be that Ottawa, Montreal, Buffalo and Florida could all out-awful them and get better draft lottery odds.
D-. Marc Bergevin’s heavily criticized summer moves have yet to bear fruit in a half season marred with scoring droughts, uninspired efforts, injuries, nasty gossip, Bronx cheers for franchise stars, and a hot new Trade Rumour of the Week.
D+. Heck of an autumn for Vancouver, which came out of the gate ultra-competitive under new boss Travis Green. There’s so much to get excited about over Calder candidate Brock Boeser. Chris Tanev, Bo Horvat and Derek Dorsett were all off to nice starts until injuries struck. Alas, the depth just isn’t there, and a true No. 1 goalie remains a mystery in a city that used to have too many of that thing.
F. Everyone who screamed about how the Sens overachieved last season has a right to say, “I told you so.” But when you look at the names on the roster, there’s no way Ottawa should be this bad. The Sens won 11 playoff games last spring. It’s taken them three months to win 12 in the regular season.
F. The Buffalo Bills qualified for the post-season for the first time in 18 years. So, there’s that.
F. The Vegas odds-makers had the Coyotes slotted as 1,000/1 long shots to win the Stanley Cup on Dec. 1. Now, they won’t even take your money. Arizona is off the board and lottery-bound, again.