With the All-Star break in the rear-view mirror, players have returned to camps and teams across the league and settled in for the second half of the NHL season. Although not the literal half-way point of the season, the All-Star break has long been used to separate the season into ‘halves.’ At this point, most teams have around 28 games remaining from their 82 game-schedule before playoffs begin, and the race between the 31 clubs for the 16 open slots is beginning to heat up.
As of now, the top-four teams in the league (in terms of points) hail from the Eastern conference. Second on this list are the Washington Capitals, with a record of 36-14-5. Two points behind the Caps sit the Tampa Bay Lightning, boasting an impressive record of 35-15-5 just a season after setting the all-time record for most points in a season (128). Both of these teams will be looking to make a push over the next few months, as the team with the best record at the end of the season will have-guaranteed home-ice advantage throughout the entirety of the playoffs.
However, the team at the top of this list is the Boston Bruins, boasting an impressive 34-11-12 record for a total of 80 points. The Bruins may be even more motivated than the Caps and Lightning, as they are coming off of a season that ended in every hockey players worst nightmare.
Last year, the Bruins came up just short of hockey’s ultimate prize, losing a heartbreaker in game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. And it wasn’t the first time in recent memory that the Bruins pulled up just short. Over the last decade, the Bruins have made it to the finals on three separate occasions, but have won Lord Stanley’s cup just once.
In order to change their course, the Bruins will be looking to bolster their already talent-packed lineup as buyers at the upcoming trade-deadline. The deadline is set for Feb. 24, and it is likely that some big names will be moved before the date approaches. Atop this list is NY Ranger’s forward Chris Kreider. Kreider, a speedy, physical winger approaching unrestricted free agency, has posted 35 points in 50 games so far this season. Kreider, a Massachusetts native, would likely be a good fit for the Bruins, but he will demand a significant return.
Other notable names that are likely to be moved include Evgenii Dadonov, the 30-year old winger of the Florida Panthers who has put up 40 points so far this season; Alec Martinez, the lefty-defensemen of the LA Kings; and Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen, one of the NHL’s brightest up-and-coming defensemen.
Another team likely to be buyers at the upcoming deadline are the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche are coming off of a loss in game seven in the second round of last year’s playoffs at the hands of the San Jose Sharks; but this year the team has all the right pieces to make a deep run into the playoffs. The team is led by captain Gabriel Landeskog, and the lineup is bolstered by stars like Andre Burakovsky, Nathan MacKinnon and the sensational 21-year old defensemen Cale Makar. Currently, the Avalanche sit at second place in the Western Conference with 70 points and boast the third-best point differential in the entire league. Expect the Avalanche to go after a defenseman to play on their second line before the trade-deadline passes.
But while the Bruins, Capitals and Lightning make up the top three spots in the league today, where teams sit as of now may not be the best indication as to who will be hoisting the cup come June.
On Jan. 1 of last year, the St. Louis Blues sat dead last in the entire league in terms of points. A month later, on February 1st, the soon-to-be Stanley Cup Champions featured a dismal record of 22-22-5, tying them with Edmonton for the third to worst record in the entirety of the Western Conference. Over the course of the next 3 months, however, the team won 23 of their last 33 games. The Blues entered the playoffs as the third seed in the Central Division, and the rest is history.
If there is one key takeaway from the Blues campaign a year ago, it is that with so many games left to play, the race for the Stanley Cup is wide-open. Mathematically speaking, of the 31 teams in the league, 22 teams have as many points, or more, as the Blues did at this point last season. It truly is anyone’s race.