Whether slogging through a workout or crushing kilometres on a highway drive, it’s always nice to realize you’re halfway home.
In terms of the NHL season, we know tipping past the halfway mark means most of the best stuff — trade deadline, playoff chases — is ahead of us. The midway point is also a natural time to zoom out and take stock of what we’ve seen so far with 50 per cent of the year in the books.
Before we cast back four months, let’s look back one year at where things sat at the halfway point of the 2021-22 season. Now, last year was a little janky because COVID was still forcing teams to miss chunks of three or four games at a time, but on Jan. 20, 2022, all eight of the teams that were above the Eastern Conference playoff cut line wound up in the postseason.
In the West, two California teams that eventually fell completely out of the chase — Anaheim and San Jose — still actually held down playoff spots. Meanwhile, both Alberta teams were on the outside looking in (thanks in part to fewer games played than most clubs), so fans of the Oilers and Flames — both currently clinging to wild-card berths — will be hoping their teams make a second-half climb this year similar to what happened last year.
The halfway point also is often where we like to hand out some well-earned hardware for NHL stars, but in this week’s power rankings let’s give some shine to one guy on each of the 32 squads whose work — for one reason or another — may have gone a little under the radar through 41 (give or take) games played.
1. Boston Bruins (32-4-4) While he still only has five goals, Pavel Zacha is quietly on pace for a career-best 50 points. That’s decent value for a guy on a one-year, $3.5-million deal. Also, you could probably win a bar bet by knowing the guy with the second-most total minutes on the Bruins this season is defenceman Connor Clifton.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs ((26-9-7) No one goes under the radar in Toronto, but Mark Giordano’s 19:33 minutes per night on a blue-line that’s been dinged up all season has been huge. Did we mention, at 39, he’s the oldest skater in the league?
3. Carolina Hurricanes (25-9-7) Feisty Jordan Martinook is tracking a 40-point season, which would eclipse his previous best by 15 points. He’s also playing four more minutes a night for the Canes (15:21) than he did last year.
4. Dallas Stars (25-11-6) When you’re the backup to one of the best goalies in the biz, your contributions can get lost in the mix. Let’s recognize that Scott Wedgewood has been a reliable No. 2 in Dallas and held the fort for the Stars when Jake Oettinger was sidelined in November.
5. Tampa Bay Lighting (25-13-1) This might seem like a weird pull, but Nikita Kucherov is third in league scoring and with the rise of Tage Thompson and Jason Robertson — to say nothing of old favs Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and UFA-to-be David Pastrnak — it just feels like we don’t talk about the 2019 Hart Trophy and Art Ross winner nearly as much as a handful of other top scorers in the league.
6. New Jersey Devils (26-12-3) Tomas Tatar had an underwhelming start to his Jersey career last year, but he’s back to being a 50-point guy this season.
7. Seattle Kraken (24-12-4) Maybe it’s because we’re still riding high off a fun world junior championship that former WJC hero Jordan Eberle is on my mind. The right winger has a good chance to register the second 70-point campaign of his career and first since his sophomore season.
8. Vegas Golden Knights (27-13-2) A team’s leading scorer surely gets his fair share of praise, but there’s no chance we’re talking enough about Chandler Stephenson. This trade — Vegas got him for a mere fifth-rounder from Washington a little over three years ago — was a success the second it was made, and Stephenson just keeps getting better, pushing his production to nearly a point per game this season.
9. Winnipeg Jets (26-14-1) Josh Morrissey is rightfully getting all the love, but Neal Pionk continues to be a small-ish, right-shot revelation for the Jets. Only Morrissey averages more ice per game than the 27-year-old American.
10. New York Rangers (23-12-7) We better type this fast before K’Andre Miller’s exploits become common knowledge. The six-foot-five D-man has 13 points in his past 15 games and plays in all situations as part of the Rangers’ second pair. The 2018 first-rounder is coming into his own.
11. Los Angeles Kings (25-14-6) Everybody who watches the Kings closely knows how important Phillip Danault is, but he remains the kind of guy who’s perfectly suited to the unsung label because his game is so nuanced and smart. He also scored 27 goals last year for L.A. — more than twice his previous career high — and is tracking a career-best 60 points this season.
12. Washington Capitals (23-15-6) Dylan Strome was signed to provide offence as the Caps knew Nicklas Backstrom would be on the shelf for at least half the season. Strome has done just that, and though his opportunities may diminish now that Backstrom returned as early as anyone could have hoped for, Strome could still record the first 60-point season of his career.
13. Minnesota Wild (22-14-2) Filip Gustuvsson had but one win in his first six starts and it was fair to wonder if he could be a viable part of a goalie battery in the NHL. Since Nov. 17, he’s 8-2-0 with a .939 save percentage.
14. New York Islanders (22-17-3) Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s defensive game is widely recognized, but he’s pushing toward the first 50-point season of his career. Pageau, it should be noted, is starting over 60 per cent his shifts in the defensive zone.
15. Pittsburgh Penguins (21-13-6) With Jeff Petry and Kris Letang both spending significant time sidelined with injuries, the Pens have had to scramble on the back end. Marcus Pettersson is averaging over 20 minutes a night for the first time in his career, which is basically five more minutes per game than he was seeing with the Pens last season.
16. Colorado Avalanche (20-16-3) You sort of felt like Artturi Lehkonen might find another offensive gear with the Avs and, sure enough, he could touch 60 points this year while continuing to be a complete pain to play against.
17. Nashville Predators (19-15-6) No shade, but Nino Niederreiter could be the avatar for a certain type of support player it’s impossible to get excited about. The space between his floor and ceiling is like four millimetres. Still, give the man his due; he shows up every year, collects his 25 goals, posts his strong underlying numbers and moves on with his day.
18. Buffalo Sabres (20-17-2) Anyone not named Tage or Rasmus could likely fit the bill in Buffalo, but ask yourself this: When is the last time you heard someone carp about Jeff Skinner’s contract? Playing at a 90-point pace will have that effect on the conversation around you. And don’t suggest he’s just riding shotgun with Thompson; Skinner’s cerebral game is part of what helped coax the most out of his centre last year to begin with.
19. Edmonton Oilers (22-18-3) He’ll always take a beating from certain parts of the fancy stats community, but Cody Ceci is giving Edmonton a pretty crucial 20 minutes a night, including his team-leading 3:06 of nightly penalty-killing duty.
20. St. Louis Blues (21-18-3) Like the team, starter Jordan Binnington has been all over the place this year. All the more critical, then, that the Blues have received strong goaltending from backup Thomas Greiss, who has a .917 save percentage since Nov. 17.
21. Calgary Flames (19-14-9) He’s not flashy, but Tyler Toffoli rarely makes a misstep on the ice. The right winger is on pace for 30 goals in his first full season with the Flames, a number he hasn’t hit since 2015-16 with the Los Angeles Kings.
22. Florida Panthers (19-19-4) A bit of a deep cut here, but Josh Mahura was a waiver claim who’s already set a career high by appearing in all 42 of Florida’s games. The 24-year-old isn’t seeing a ton of time, but he’s got good underlying numbers and is helping hold things down on the third pair.
23. Detroit Red Wings (17-15-7) Veteran David Perron was signed to be a steadying, scoring presence and he’s been exactly that for this young squad.
24. Philadelphia Flyers (17-18-7) His days in Philly may be coming to a close, so let’s credit Ivan Provorov for the fact he’s third in the league in terms of blocked shots, with 99.
25. Ottawa Senators (18-19-3) Artem Zub’s steady hand on the back end is huge for a team that needs to make blue-line upgrades. There’s a reason the Sens were happy to lock him up on a four-year extension just before Christmas.
26. Vancouver Canucks (17-20-3) Luke Schenn came into the league more than a decade ago and he never stopped throwing his Prairie Boy weight around; Schenn tops the NHL with 184 hits this season.
27. San Jose Sharks (13-22-8) Most of the chatter around the Sharks is about whether Erik Karlsson and/or Timo Meier could be moved as part of a rebuild. Those conversations have obscured the fact Tomas Hertl is having a career year.
28. Montreal Canadiens (16-22-3) Juraj Slafkovsky, the now-injured Kaiden Guhle, banger Arber Xhekaj; these are the rookies we tend to discuss on the Habs. Meanwhile, smooth-skating blue-liner Jordan Harris has looked like nothing but a reliable NHLer since the moment he stepped on the ice this year.
29. Anaheim Ducks (12-26-4) Troy Terry is the Ducks’ leading scorer, but it sometimes feels as though his name doesn’t come up as quickly as the really young Ducks, Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish and Jamie Drysdale. Terry, 25, is an RFA this summer and will be getting a monster raise on the $1.4 million he’s averaged the past three years.
30. Arizona Coyotes (13-22-5) Nick Bjugstad is tracking his first 20-goal season since 2014-15.
31. Chicago Blackhawks (10-25-2) Max Domi’s one-year deal in Chicago was an opportunity to rehabilitate his reputation as a guy who can, at the very least, help you in the offensive zone. Mission accomplished: Domi leads the Hawks with 28 points.
32. Columbus Blue Jackets (12-26-2) Kirill Marchenko has played just 17 games, but his 1.93 goals-per-60 at five-on-five ranks second in the league among players with 180 minutes played.