NHL Power Rankings: First-half happy (and some sad) surprises edition

Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri, left, congratulates right wing Mikko Rantanen after his third goal of the night against the Nashville Predators, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Denver. (AP/file)

Some pretty awesome things are just up the road in this NHL season.

With a five-game slate on Wednesday night, the league tipped the balance from first to second half, as 658 games are now in the books. Ahead of us is a delicious Rocket Richard Trophy battle featuring unlikely leader Chris Kreider (he’s getting his shine here so we can highlight a different Ranger below), a March 21 trade deadline that’s now less than two months away and a wide-open Western Conference playoff race that basically has five sure things and three more spots that — depending on where you draw the line — are being fought over by eight clubs.

Before we completely turn our attention to what’s ahead, though, let’s take a minute to do some rear-view mirror work and determine the story of the first half for every club. From some amazing UFA-to-be performances to fantastic goaltending to teams lowering the bar for all-time franchise futility, there’s a lot to pick over since Lightning hung another banner and the Kraken officially came into existence on the night of Oct. 12.

1. Colorado Avalanche (30-8-3)
If this is, in fact, Nazem Kadri’s final year with the Avs, man, is he ever going out with a bang. The 31-year-old and UFA-to-be will soon surge past his previous career high of 61 points and is on pace for 119.

2. Florida Panthers (29-9-5)
It took two warm-up years in Florida, but Sergei Bobrovsky is playing like a $10-million man.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins (27-10-5)
The Penguins woke up 5-6-4 on the morning of Nov. 18; they’re 22-4-1 since then. Sidney Crosby rejoined the team two weeks before it took off and the Pens have lost only once since Evgeni Malkin made his season debut on Jan. 11.

4. Carolina Hurricanes (28-9-2)
Frederik Andersen is definitely in the running for best free-agent signing of the summer. The former Leafs stopper has provided the consistent, high-end goaltending Carolina has long sought.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (28-10-5)
The stars on this squad are shining, but after losing its entire third line last summer, the question was more about how a new support staff would fare. Well, first-year Bolt Corey Perry has 11 goals in his past 26 games after taking a while to get the goal-scoring monkey off his back, while sophomore Ross Colton is hitting his stride with 15 points in his past 20 games.

6. New York Rangers (28-11-4)
Igor Shesterkin is a Hart Trophy candidate halfway through the season. The Russian goalie is routinely the saviour of a Metropolitan Division-leading team that has a worse high-danger Corsi percentage (45.3) than all but six clubs in the NHL.

7. Minnesota Wild (25-10-3)
Sophomore jinx? Please. “Dollar Bill” Kirill Kaprizov is earning every penny of the $45-million deal he signed in the off-season.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs (26-10-3)
Jack Campbell entered this season at 29 years old having never began an NHL season as the clear No. 1 goalie; he’s passed the test with flying colours.

9. Nashville Predators (27-14-3)
The key to a surprisingly strong season? Top-notch goaltending from Juuse Saros and really nice bounce-back years from Matt Duchene, Mikael Granlund and Ryan Johansen.

10. St. Louis Blues (25-12-5)
Ville Husso — who only played four games before December — and his .943 save percentage are the story of the second quarter. Overall, though, this season has been all about how the likes of Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas, Ivan Barbashev and newcomer Pavel Buchnevich have established themselves as the future core of this club.

11. Boston Bruins (24-13-3)
The Big 3 of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are unimpeachable, but even with Taylor Hall in the mix, it remains unclear if there’s enough secondary scoring on this roster to make Boston a serious threat.

12. Washington Capitals (23-12-9)
Nearly 10 years after his most recent Hart Trophy win, Alex Ovechkin — the league leader in even-strength goals (21) and points (44) — is surely the first-half MVP of the league.

13. Vegas Golden Knights (25-15-3)
Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone and William Karlsson have all missed significant time this year, while in-season acquisition Jack Eichel could still be months away from playing. Despite all those key injuries, the Pacific-leading Knights are still well-positioned to have a spring run with all their horses back.

14. Calgary Flames (20-12-6)
In a walk year, Johnny Gaudreau is having the season of his NHL life, tracking a 110-point total.

15. Dallas Stars (22-16-2)
Forty games in, the story here is you still can’t get a handle on who these Stars are: Are they a future-focussed team building around Jason Robertson, Miro Heiskanen and Roope Hintz? Are they an over-the-hill gang weighed down by the bad contracts of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov? This team took a month to get its first regulation-time win and had a five-game losing streak in December. Yet here they are, scrapping it out for the final Western Conference wild-card spot.

16. Los Angeles Kings (21-16-6)
The glory days may be long gone, but three core players from the Cup years are still leading the way as Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and — to a lesser degree — Jonathan Quick are all playing as if firmly in their prime while the Kings wait for the next gen to sprout around them.

17. New York Islanders (15-14-6)
It’s easy to forget, but nine games into their epic 13-game roadie to start the season, the Isles were actually 5-2-2. What followed was an 11-game losing streak during which the squad was forced to ice a COVID-depleted roster for a week in November before the NHL relented and postponed some of its games.

18. Anaheim Ducks (21-16-7)
Whether or not this season ends with the Ducks in a playoff spot, the foundation for the next Orange County contender is clearly there with Troy Terry, Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale all proving themselves to be NHLers on the rise.

19. Edmonton Oilers (20-16-2)
Really, it’s a story of two quarters: the Oilers were 16-5-0 after game No. 21 and are 4-11-2 in Nos. 22-38. Can GM Ken Holland find a reliable goaltending solution before the season is completely sunk?

20. Winnipeg Jets (17-15-7)
Paul Maurice’s decision to step away from the bench about a week before Christmas was a shocker. Unfortunately for the Jets, they still can’t seem to fight their way out of mediocrity, posting a 4-5-2 mark under interim coach Dave Lowry.

21. San Jose Sharks (22-19-2)
Erik Karlsson was having a resurgent year, but he just went under the knife to have forearm surgery and won’t be back until at least mid-March.

22. Chicago Blackhawks (16-20-7)
Nothing on the ice matters relative to what we learned about the awful ways this organization failed Kyle Beach 10 years ago.

23. Vancouver Canucks (18-19-5)
A complete in-season coaching and front office overhaul was completed this week when new president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford hired Patrik Allvin as the new team’s GM, on the heels of hiring Emilie Castonguay as assistant GM and installing Bruce Boudreau as coach at the start of December.

24. Detroit Red Wings (18-19-6)
If their second act is as good as their first, Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider could finish 1-2 in rookie-of-the-year voting. Everything else that happens in Detroit this season is gravy.

25. New Jersey Devils (15-21-5)
When Jack Hughes has been in the lineup, the third-year player has been the point-per-game guy the Devils hoped they were getting when they drafted him first overall in 2019.

26. Ottawa Senators (13-20-3)
For all the rough patches, the Senators still feature four 23-and-under guys at the top of their scoring charts in Drake Batherson, Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris and Tim Stützle.

27. Columbus Blue Jackets (18-21-1)
Remember when you had to fight for everything you got against Columbus? The Jackets are giving up 3.60 goals per game and the only clubs who surrender more are Montreal and Arizona.

28. Buffalo Sabres (13-22-7)
Buffalo closed the book on the Jack Eichel saga and can hope the positive early returns from the pieces they got back — Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs — are a sign of things to come.

29. Seattle Kraken (13-25-4)
Philipp Grubauer fell flat after inking a big free-agent deal and the team’s overall save percentage is a league-worst .875.

30. Philadelphia Flyers (13-22-8)
Philly set the franchise mark for most consecutive games without a win (13) and earlier this year the Flyers went 10 games without a victory, which it has only done three other times (four if you count the current awful run) in the history of the club.

31. Arizona Coyotes (10-27-4)
Quite frankly, the story of the first half is things are going exactly to plan as the Coyotes enter a two-year window to try to draft one of Shane Wright in 2022 or — even better — Connor Bedard in ’23.

32. Montreal Canadiens (8-26-7)
After a decade in the big chair, former GM Marc Bergervin was fired in favour of two men — executive vice-president Jeff Gorton and GM Kent Hughes — who’ve spoken pretty openly about modernizing the Habs’ approach to building a team.

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