So here are the 2021 NHL ballots for all 31 teams, including our class president’s choice, which students might miss before the end of the semester.
Statistics are collected on sites like Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference and Evolving Hockey.
Message: Emily Kaplan scored for the East and Central teams, and Greg Wyszynski scored for the North and West teams.
Join the team:
ANA | ARI | BOS | BUF | CGY | CAR | CHI
COL | CBJ | DAL | DET | EDM | FLA
LA | MIN | MTL | NSH | NJ | NYI
NYR | OTT | PHI | PIT | SJ | STL
TB | TOR | VAN | VGS | WSH | WPG
Players: B. The biggest surprise is how excellent the defense is despite losing key veterans like Zdeno-Char and Torey Circle. Charlie McAvoy is the new #1, but the young players have adapted well to their new roles. Boston’s best hitters put on a show as usual, but GM Don Sweeney explained it well to reporters this week: The 5-on-5 offense is not what it should be, and scoring – especially scoring at the base – is a serious problem. Boston ranks 27th in 5-for-5 hitting this season. Overall, the Bruins have kept the race close in the Eastern Division and are now in a comfortable fourth place.
Coach: B. Bruce Cassidy is considered one of the best coaches in the NHL. He scrambled the lines to find a more aggressive sequence, but he hasn’t found one yet. Cassidy isn’t afraid to yell at his team for a poor performance – as he did last week after the 4-0 loss against Rangers – and he usually gets the right reaction.
GENERAL MOTORS : B+. General manager Don Sweeney seems smarter to let Chara and the pitcher go – even if it was hard on the players and the fans. The young blue line has held up, but the GM can still get defensive reinforcements at the deadline. Craig Smith was a good cultural figure, but not as good as I would have liked. That’s one of the reasons the Bruins always buy offensive help.
Class Representative: Brad Marchand. He led the Bruins with 33 points in 26 games, and his coach says he should get some Selke Trophy love – just like the Hart Trophy for league MVP. Says Cassidy: I think there are probably other players in the league with better numbers that people focus on, but if you look at what Marchi brings to this team in terms of offensive ability, goals, penalties, power play, 4-on-4, overtime, and he has an A on his jersey, he has become much more of a leader in terms of leading by example during practice and in games. I think he should be in the conversation.
Risk of failure: Jake DeBrusk was a fan favorite target and was demoted to healthy this month. Everyone seems to think I’ve had enough, he said. He will wear the chip on his shoulder for at least the rest of the season. DeBrusk, 24, said he accepted the honor ball personally – and responded by scoring on the next play.
General Assessment: B. The Bruins are an experienced team, but with the changes this season, they need more time than usual to get going. So far so good, as long as they push for the playoffs.
Players: F. The Sabres were expected to take a step forward this season – especially with improved center depth and a hungry Taylor Hall on the Jack Eichel wing. Instead, the team took two steps backwards. It’s not just that the higher paid players (Eichel, Hall, Jeff Skinner) haven’t delivered production. Eichel, the emotional heart of the team, played injured and is now permanently out of action. The legs of some young defenders (Henri Jokiharju, Rasmus Dahlin) have not been left alone. The Sabres have scored the fewest 5-on-5 goals of any team midway through the season and are in second place.
Coach: F. The Sabres fired coach Ralph Krueger in the middle of the season, and rightfully so. The team has lost its way. His drafting decisions were misleading, the players didn’t work well in his system, and the regressions (especially Skinner) were hard to ignore. Mr Krueger attributed his difficulties to a loss of self-confidence, but unfortunately this too backfired; it should be noted that he literally wrote a bestseller on motivation: Team life: Behind the barriers to success.
GENERAL MOTORS : F. The Sabres’ dismissal of Kruger is merely a cover for the larger problems that have crippled the organization over the past decade. After all, this is the third coach they’ve had since 2017, after the team also struggled with Dan Bylsma and Phil Housley. Kevin Adams, longtime Sabres staff member, is in his first year as GM, and he’s in a tough spot. His team needs to be rebuilt, he may need to trade players, and due to the massive layoffs during the pandemic, the team still doesn’t have a full scouting team.
Class Representative: When healthy, Linus Ulmark (15-4-2 record and .919 winning percentage) was the Sabres’ best player. Offensively, Sam Reinhart (11 goals in 26 games) has taken a hit. He will be a restricted free agent this summer.
Risk of failure: That’s it. The Sabres, in danger of missing the Major League playoffs for the 10th consecutive season, are expected to be sellers at the trade deadline. It seems like every player on the roster – yes, even Eichel – has the potential to be drafted out of town.
General Assessment: F. In the middle of the season, Buffalo is the team everyone feels sorry for. There is no clear path for the Sabres, and fans are frustrated even though they are used to the lack of progress.
Players: C-plus. The Devils have had a promising start, with several young players reaching their developmental milestones. The 5-on-5 game was an improvement over last season. Things have come back to square one in recent weeks after COVID broke out in the team. It was an inconsistent effort, night after night, and even period after period. The Devils are hoping for better play from some of their veterans, especially Kyle Palmieri, who hasn’t been as effective as usual. As Mackenzie Blackwood goes through growing pains, remember why New Jersey wanted Corey Crawford to shoulder some of that burden this season; instead, he resigned right before the season.
Coach: C-plus. No matter how many combinations the Devils try, nothing works on the power play. The penalties have gotten worse since last season, but New Jersey may be able to turn things around. The defense has some serious flaws. With the roster he inherited from Lindy Ruff, it would be very difficult for him to field a playoff team. Ruff’s main goal this season is to move up the ranks, and it’s a good sign that Paul Zaha is finally getting going, while Jack Hughes, Ty Smith and Damon Severson are all making progress too.
GENERAL MOTORS : B-minus. Tom Fitzgerald said the team won’t spend much money until their two key players, Hughes and Nico Hisher, are ready. We still can’t see the light in the tunnel. The roster is still paying for past mistakes, and Fitzgerald will have to be patient. That figure could change depending on how he handles the trade deadline next month, as the Devils should be sellers.
Class Representative: Jack Hughes. In his first season, Hughes showed why it’s so hard to go straight from the U.S. National Team program to the NHL – or any teenager, really. Hughes seems much more comfortable and dominant in his second season, showing that he really is a player worth building around.
Risk of failure: Nikita Gusev. The Devils had high hopes when they traded for a winger in 2019 – the former KHL scoring leader. But he has yet to find consistency or a consistent role on the team. Again, this is questionable use.
General Assessment: C-plus. Although expectations for the Devils this season were not high, he is preparing for another forgettable season in New Jersey. At least there were some positives.
Players: A-minus. Veteran Matt Martin summed up the first half like this: We had some difficulties in the beginning of the year, but in the meantime we have found our place. They always have been. After a difficult first month, the Islanders have picked up steam, especially offensively. The Islanders, as always, move comfortably on all four lines and get contributions from everywhere. New York has 12 attackers who have played in at least 10 games and are averaging 10 minutes per game at 5-on-5. You’ll also see top candidates (Noah Dobson, Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows) grow into perennial favorites.
Coach: A-minus. You know what you get from Barry Trotz’s team. He guided the players through a tumultuous first month and helped them adjust to the team’s defensive structure. But the Islanders are also becoming more dangerous offensively. They are the second best team in the league in terms of goals scored, while last season they were 15th in this category.
GENERAL MOTORS : B+. The Islanders had a tough summer against the salary cap, forcing them to make tough decisions like selling Devon Toews. Lou Lamoriello is a man of conviction, and he loves what he loves. One of those players is Martin, who was important to re-contract. It worked, as Martin is having an outstanding season (scoring more goals in 60 minutes at 5-on-5 than Alex Ovechkin).
Class Representative: The answer is Anders Lee, the captain, who will unfortunately be out for the rest of the season following surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament. Lee has been fantastic, scoring 12 goals in 27 games and is one of the best goalkeepers in the league. Another strong candidate is Semyon Varlamov (0.923% econ.).
Risk of failure: Thankfully, this is Thomas Hickey’s last season as an Islander, after not being paid to play in the last two campaigns. The Isles would welcome anyone to accept their contract early.
General Assessment: A. East was recognized as one of the most competitive divisions at the beginning of the season. The Islanders lead at the halfway point of the season. It’s an automatic A.
Players: C-plus. The Rangers have dumped all of their veterans (except Chris Kreider) from their last competitive team, and their lack of experience may be showing. Many young players are dealing with growing pains. Neither goalkeeper has lived up to expectations, Mika Zibanejad has failed to match last season’s success (aside from his six-point game this week, of course), and it doesn’t help that their best player, Artemi Panarin, has missed 11 games. There were some bright spots, like Pavel Buchnevich, Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller and Philip Cheat (before his injury).
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Coach: C-minus. Many in the league say David Quinn’s days in New York are numbered. He was hired to lead Rangers through the rebuild, but the stagnant development of some of its best young players is a concern. The Rangers let themselves get off too easily, and the power play was terrible. To be fair, Quinn also had to lead the team off the ice through some distractions, which wasn’t ideal.
GENERAL MOTORS : C-plus. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook and forget where the Rangers are in their recovery – they’re not quite back yet. As MSG analyst Dave Maloney said earlier this season: Expectations didn’t quite match reality. This explains why the Rangers are unlikely to be a playoff team. General Manager Jeff Gorton is not without criticism, however. Contracting Jack Johnson in the offseason failed as expected. 2020 No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere and 2019 No. 2 pick Kaapo Kakko acclimated slower than anyone had hoped.
Class Representative: Chris Kreider, the longest serving veteran on the team, was voted MVP. Kreider leads the team in scoring (14-27 games) and is second behind Panarin (65.39%) in expected field goal percentage.
Risk of failure: Johnson. He was signed to a $1.15 million cheap contract to complete the veteran blue line following the departure of Mark Staal. The signing seemed like a mistake when it happened, and it was as bad as expected. Johnson, 34, currently works in the taxi industry and has an unlikely Corsi percentage of 38.89, according to Natural Stat Trick.
General Assessment: C. Were the Rangers there early last season, now they are in danger of falling behind. A strong second half is needed to stay on track.
Players: B-minus. The Flyers are mixed. The obvious disappointment is Carter Hart, who according to Natural Stat Trick ranks second in the league in above-average saves. Other young players were also hesitant. There have been enough consistent performances to keep this team afloat, but not where we expected them to be in the season.
Coach: C-plus. Alain Vigneault likes to hand out healthy scratches and use them as tools to reset players or start the game. This has worked to varying degrees. The Flyers have a bad tendency to let opponents score early and need to work on defensive mistakes.
GENERAL MOTORS : B-minus. The Flyers were rocked this season by the unexpected departure of Matt Niskanen. General manager Chuck Fletcher was overwhelmed by the change and was unable (or unwilling) to adequately replace Niskanen’s role in the top pair alongside Ivan Provorov, which had an early impact on the team. Other than that, it’s hard to blame the Philadelphia GM for a disappointing season so far. This team is on the rise… …soon to reap the benefits of years of good design work.
Class Representative: Sean Couturier missed 10 games due to injury, but is arguably the best player on the team. His even-strength Corsi percentage (61.22) is more than 10 points higher than the team average. James van Riemsdyk is enjoying a renaissance and leads the team in scoring, while Joel Farabee (12 goals, 24 points in 25 games) has become a fixture.
Risk of failure: The Flyers aren’t panicking, and they certainly won’t sell their Jumpers cheap. Philip Myers has not taken the step forward that some had hoped for, and has struggled especially since his return from COVID-19. Hart is having a bad season, but the Flyers haven’t lost confidence.
General Assessment: B-minus. Philadelphia was a popular choice for the Stanley Cup for the season. It’s deep and talented, just a little disjointed right now, but it has all the tools for a strong second half (just like last season).
Players: B. The Penguins were led by their best players. Sidney Crosby, Brian Rust and Jake Guentzel have been excellent, and Evgeni Malkin has really stood out lately. The blue line is in good shape thanks to strong performances from rookies Mike Matheson and especially Cody Ceci, although John Marino and Marcus Pettersson have both fallen back a bit. Goalies have come a long way. Line 4 still needs to be amended.
Coach: A-plus. Pittsburgh is plagued by bad luck again, but coach Mike Sullivan is sticking with his team. The resilience of the Penguins – they lead the NHL in comeback victories – has been the story of their season. Pittsburgh has regained its reputation as a place for defenders to rest their careers. Special teams are a problem.
GENERAL MOTORS : Incomplete. Ron Hextall and Brian Burke were hired by the Penguins’ hockey department in February after Jim Rutherford abruptly retired from the GM Hall of Fame. Although the Penguins started winning when Burke and Hextall came to town, it is too early to attribute success to that event and they have yet to make their mark on the team. The trade deadline is interesting for them because they have to balance the pressure to win now, an already tight choice, and a supply of prospectors they probably don’t want to sink further into.
Class Representative: It’s been a slow start for many Penguins. Not Sidney Crosby, who also played in his 33rd game. The season is always the best player and the heart of the team. Despite his fewest points of his career, Crosby still has plenty of power, scoring seven points during his recent five-game winning streak.
Risk of failure: Special orders. The Penguins are in the league’s last 10 in terms of shots on goal and power play. The Penguins have a new assistant coach in Mike Vellucci to lead the penalty kill team. The Pittsburgh Payers seem to have taken a while to get used to Vellucci’s aggressive style, but they have made progress lately.
General Assessment: B. It has been a slow start for the Penguins, but they are slowly finding their game. The organization wants to win and get the last bit of the Crosby era out for the rebuild, so it’s all about clicking at the right time.
Players: A-minus. The Caps ran into trouble early in the season when Alex Ovechkin and three other key players were suspended for violating COVID-19 protocols. Washington scored seven of a possible eight points due to the absence of their captain. There have been a lot of good performances on the Caps’ roster, from Nick Jensen to Nicklas Backstrom to Vitek Vanechek. And players overcame their second month of no action to get back into the swing of things.
Coach: A-minus. Peter Laviolette came in with no real training camp, no real exposure, and implemented a whole new system and philosophy on a team that is now expected to win. The players buy in, and the results are as follows. As T.J. Oshie said on ESPN earlier this season: He has been very open about what he expects and how he expects us to play and why he wants us to play that way. And I think it’s because of some guys in the past who didn’t want to play an easier game or go deep on the pucks.
GENERAL MOTORS : A-minus. General Manager Brian McLellan will keep an eye on his goaltending situation to see if they need to add a veteran (especially since we only have a small example of what Ilya Samsonov can bring as a healthy #1 starter). In a recent interview with reporters, McLellan said he saw no glaring weaknesses in the Capitals’ team, and it’s hard to disagree with that assessment.
Class Representative: Nicklas Backstrom is used to being underrated and staying under the radar. With that in mind, 2021 is completely marked for him. Backstrom leads the team to its 33rd start in his career. season in the scoring column and has its best goals and points per game average in a decade.
Risk of failure: Ilya Samsonov. The Capitals still see him as their goalie of the future. But Samsonov, 24, missed the bubble this summer due to injuries from an ATV accident, and then had a tough battle with KOVID-19 this season from which he was slow to recover. Although Vanecek was the hero during his absence, the Caps might see the need to bring in reinforcements.
General Assessment: A-minus. Laviolette was hired because the Caps were jaded after winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. Washington seems alive and well and could be a major threat; now it just needs to come out on top at the right time.
Players: A. The Canes look like one of the most dangerous teams in the league. They were the first team to have four players score in double figures, and (when healthy) they had an enviable blue line. This summer they will have to figure out an extension for Dougie Hamilton and determine which of their defenders will not participate in the expansion draft. But this is a long-term problem.
Coach: A. Rod Brind’Amour is a demanding coach, but he always involves his players. Under the tutelage of Brind’Amour, we see a man like Martin Necas blossom before our eyes. The team struggled to let the lead slip away in the third period, but Brind’Amour isn’t worried about that. The other team gets a lot of money, he said after one such game this month. And they come out and play hard in the third. It’s hard to argue that cane always ends up in the winning column.
GENERAL MOTORS : A-minus. Don Waddell was very lucky that Alex Nedeljkovic was released earlier this year. The goalkeeper is an excellent replacement for the injured Petr Mrazek (he plays for veteran James Reimer). It was risky not to attract a goalkeeper when the market was flooded this season, but it paid off. Jesper Fast got off to a slow start, but is starting to find his niche in Carolina. And last season’s big decision (sending several players to Florida for Vincent Trocheck) seems to be working in Carolina’s favor.
Class Representative: Vincent Trocheck. For the first time in his career, he is averaging points per game and leads the team with 13 goals. After struggling with the aftermath of a broken leg for the past two years, he has finally regained his looks. Oh, and he was a revelation as a network presenter. I think he has found a home, Brind’Amour said. It’s no different than any other job. I think when you are comfortable and where you are comfortable, you succeed. We obviously don’t expect him to score goals at this rate, but we’ll take him while we can.
Risk of failure: Jake Gardiner. The defender is in the second half of a four-year, $16.2 million contract – and that’s not good. He got a flex stand in March. Her tenure was not a total disaster, but Caroline had probably hoped for more.
General Assessment: A. The Canes are a top-five team in the NHL in terms of points, although they play in the same division as the two teams that made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020 and the surprisingly good Florida Panthers. You start with the top 25. game in the history of the franchise. There’s nothing to complain about.
Players: B+. Chicago’s best players shine. Patrick Kane is a legitimate MVP candidate, and Alex Debrincat is scoring again like he did himself in 2018-19. But the Blackhawks are determined to use younger players – six have made their NHL debuts so far this season – and many are contributing early. While there was a big question mark behind Corey Crawford’s goalkeeping performance, Kevin Lankinen’s breakthrough calmed any fears.
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Coach: A-plus. On the eve of the season, the Blackhawks threw a few curls. Captain Jonathan Toews has taken a leave of absence due to a mysterious illness. Kirby Dach, perhaps the star of the Chicago bubble, will be out for a while. So did Alex Nylander, while the health of veterans Andrew Shaw and Brent Seabrook remained uncertain. Oh, and the team finally admitted that their rebuild didn’t look good with all those veterans. This season, most people thought Chicago was a popular city. Somehow, he made the playoffs. Compliments to Jeremy Colliton for helping to keep it all intact.
GENERAL MOTORS : B. Although Crawford’s departure was difficult, Stan Bowman deserves credit for foreseeing that one of his young goalies needed a chance. He also mentioned some good role players. But for the Blackhawks, it’s still a huge rebuild on the roster where Bowman’s work will be scrutinized the most.
Class Representative: Patrick Kane. Two years ago, when he was having another season at MVP level, I talked to Kane about his new training regime, which emphasizes agility and strength training. Honestly, I think I feel better now than I did when I was 20. Really, he said. Two years later, the proof is there. Kane has the best scoring average of his career while playing a lot of minutes. He can still be a top player when the rebuild is over.
Risk of failure: Lucas Wallmark. He wasn’t the most well-known free agent (he signed a one-year deal for $905,000), but the Blackhawks were hoping to contract the 25-year-old forward. The fight against COVID-19 was tough, and he already had several healthy streaks.
General Assessment: B. The Blackhawks are much more competitive than expected. If they make the playoffs, it will be a pleasant surprise, but there are still fundamental weaknesses in this team that will take time to correct.
Players: C-minus. Columbus doesn’t have the same solid goaltending as it did in 2019-20, but that’s partly due to a defense that is significantly less than last season. There are a handful of players with the Blue Jackets whose performances are not up to expectations, and unity and consistency are the two biggest problems. While there have been some highlights (Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Michael Del Zotto), the Blue Jackets lack a strong team identity, and that’s nothing for them.
Coach: C-minus. The Blue Jackets haven’t won more than two games (and won back-to-back games against the same team), and they’re constantly juggling lines in search of something magical. Some of that has to come from the coach, and you begin to wonder if John Tortorella’s style is still effective, especially after he continually benched the team’s most talented players.
GENERAL MOTORS : C. Jarmo Kekalainen hasn’t had it easy in recent seasons, and he always seems to make the most of it. The two transfers made this summer to strengthen the center (Max Domi, Mikko Koivu) haven’t really worked out, and Domi is still finding his way in Columbus, as is Koivu, who quit abruptly last month.
Class Representative: Cam Atkinson. Bjorkstrand should probably be the team’s MVP at this point, but his effort remains questionable. Atkinson, meanwhile, has recovered from his disappointing 2019-20 season. The 31-year-old winger proved that he is still capable of scoring goals and is the most consistent attacking producer.
Risk of failure: Mikhail Grigorenko. The 26-year-old forward signed with Columbus this season, looking for another chance in the NHL (he played for the Sabres and Avs from 2012-2017 before signing with the KHL). Grigorenko, who regularly played in the center in Russia, has been used as a winger – but not at all lately. Grigorenko’s second stay in the NHL might be short-lived as he struggles to stay in the lineup or produce.
General Assessment: C-minus. The Blue Jackets have made the playoffs each of the past four seasons, and that streak is likely to end. Columbus has been one of the biggest disappointments in the NHL this season.
Players: B-minus. The Stars aren’t as bad as their record suggests, as they can play reasonably well even in a tie (they’re in the top ten of the Corsi rankings for 5-on-5 percentage, per round with natural stats). But they still rely on a few players to generate offense. Dallas has been dealing with significant injuries early in the season, including the absence of its two best attackers: Tyler Seguin (whose hip surgery kept him sidelined all season) and Alexander Radulov (who recently returned from 15 games off).
Coach: B-minus. Although the Stars faced some adversity early in the season – including injuries and playing as few games as possible due to two breaks in the schedule – they managed to maintain their defensive identity. A slow start could be a problem for Rick Bohness’ team. In 13 games in which the opponent scored first, Dallas has won just once. The power play was very good early in the season, but it has cooled off. At the other end, Bowness did a good job on potential mismatches in goal, and Jake Ottinger outplayed Anton Khudobin.
GENERAL MOTORS : B-minus. General manager Jim Nill didn’t have to do much with the team that reached the Stanley Cup Final last year. He is also unlikely to make changes and let this group run its course and try to recover from a slow start. The Stars will have their own acquisitions at the deadline, with Ben Bishop and Seguin expected to return in the coming weeks.
Class Representative: While other stars are on the sidelines, 36-year-old Joe Pavelski is carrying the load. He continued his excellent performance on the field by scoring 14 goals in his first 25 games, twice as many as any of his teammates and as many as he scored in the entire previous season.
Risk of failure: Denis Gurianov, 23, is one of the rising stars on the bubble court and has shown he can be a reliable and dangerous offensive force. But after scoring four goals in his first seven games, Gurianov has since scored just one goal in 18 games. Dallas hopes for more, for everything, from the beginning.
General Assessment: C-plus. While it’s hard to blame the players, coach and general manager, the truth is that the Stars just aren’t where they need to be. But of all the teams that disappointed in the first half, Dallas did best in the second.
Players: C-minus. We know the Red Wings don’t have the talent and depth that other teams have because they are in the midst of a rebuild. You won’t see the Red Wings put on a great performance. But it has also become much harder to play against him. The captain, Dylan Larkin, gives everything he has every night, but he is not rewarded (and more importantly, not recognized) by the mostly mediocre team.
Coach: C. The Red Wings have improved from last season, and competition has increased – but there are still too many weak performances. Coach Jeff Blashill suffered a setback the week before the season opener when the team suffered a COWID-19 fall after a promising start. It took a while, but it feels like they are back on track (with their development).
GENERAL MOTORS : C-plus. Steve Yzerman is known to be very secretive about the timing of his recovery, but we know he doesn’t expect the team to be competitive again as early as this season. We still have hope for the honeymoon, so we’ll be patient and let the former Tampa Bay architect do his thing. Yzerman didn’t bring in every free agent this summer, but you can hardly argue that Troy Stecker, John Merrill, Vladislav Namestnikov and Bobby Ryan didn’t make Detroit a better team.
Class Representative: Jonathan Bernier. Detroit signed veteran Thomas Greiss as a free agent, which should give the team more goalie depth. But Greiss struggled in his first season in Barry Trotz’s system, and Bernier was often the better option. He has a save percentage of .918 and has kept the Red Wings in check in many games. However, we will see what happens to the 32-year-old, who is a free agent at the end of the season.
Risk of failure: Frans Nielsen, Valtteri Filppula, Darren Helm. The NHL careers of all three veterans may be over, especially Nielsen and Philpool, who are both 36 and have been on healthy or taxi teams for a while. All three players’ contracts expire this summer, giving Yzerman much-needed flexibility.
General Assessment: C. The bar was very low for the Red Wings (they finished last season with a goal differential of minus-122), and they have improved significantly. They are not yet ready to compete regularly with most teams in this league.
Players: A. The Panthers were an entertaining team with several players taking their game to new heights. Alexander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau look like they’re having fun and scoring a lot of points. When favorite goalie Sergei Bobrovsky got off to a bad start, Chris Driedger stepped in. Defender Aaron Ekblad is experiencing a renaissance. In the Midson, Florida ranks second in expected goals according to Natural Stat Trick, while the Panthers trail only the defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning in goals per game.
Coach: A. Joel Quenneville is under contract for two of the five years for $30 million, and the players seem much more at ease under him this season. He gets the best out of his players, takes the right notes (like reducing training time) and the acceptance is clear. The team isn’t going away either, as Florida has won 14 of its first 19 at one point.
GENERAL MOTORS : A. Even Bill Zito, in his first year at the helm, is somewhat surprised by the team’s success. As Zito told me last month: I think if someone had told me before the season, without looking at our group, that the record would look like this after  games where we had 29 points, I would have said: Wow. While many players and coaches are on the chopping block, Zito has contracted some solid newcomers, including Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaeg, Patrick Hornqvist and Alexander Wennberg.
Class Representative: Captain Barkov is Florida’s biggest star (although Huberdeau is right behind him with 34 points in the first 28 games). I think [Barkov] is the best player in the world, teammate Mackenzie Wieger said this month. Seeing him give it his all every night and lead by example is truly inspiring.
Risk of failure: Brett Connolly was part of the Panthers’ great 2019 free agency. The veteran forward (who helped the Caps win the 2018 Stanley Cup) is in the second year of a four-year contract that pays him $3.5 million a year, but he was forced out of the lineup and is currently in the locker room.
General Assessment: A. During the first quarter of the season, the NHL guys wondered if the Panthers were really serious. Since then, Florida has been so consistent that it has attracted attention…. and emerged as a real contender.
Players: C-minus. It wasn’t quite dark in Nashville. Just a little dark. The team knows how to flash performance and how to grind. There were a few nice surprises, like the appearance of Eli Tolvanen. But it was mostly a misfire from the Preds. Players hoping for a good season (Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen) want more. The goalie is surprisingly weak. Injuries noted. The same goes for the Predators potential trade list; Nashville’s poor play has officially made them sellers for the next month.
Coach: D-plus. John Hines will likely keep his job until the end of the season, and we have sympathy for his situation; he was not prepared to succeed. The Predators have made some changes to their forecheck, in-and-out and penalty kill this season, and the execution just hasn’t been smooth. Predator players often seem paralyzed by decisions and make the wrong ones.
GENERAL MOTORS : D. General manager David Poile kept promising rejuvenation, but the Predators looked like the old team again at the beginning of the season. The Predators have fallen further and further behind since their 2018 Stanley Cup Finals appearance and could have better prepared for this misstep. First, he’s out of contract with Kyle Terris this summer. On the other hand, his four signings this offseason to bolster the position are nonsensical and nothing more than a bracelet.
Class Representative: Filip Forsberg has led the way for the Predators, scoring 27 points in his first 28 games. He also leads the league with three winning goals (no one else has more than one). Of all of Nashville’s attackers, he will be the most in demand in the transfer market.
Risk of failure: Matt Duchene. Poile was able to recover from Turris’ mistake, but the Predators have another disappointing contract in Duchene. In 89 games in Nashville, he averaged 0.18 goals per game (compared to 0.42 in two campaigns in Ottawa) and 0.56 points per game (compared to 0.91 in Ottawa). The problem is that he has $8 million in debt through 2025-26, which makes it very difficult to trade him.
General Assessment: D. The Predators’ relegation, while inevitable, has hit particularly hard this season. After 12 months, the list may look very different.
Players: A. There is no team in the league like the Lightning. Six players scored at least two winning goals. Tampa Bay returned with essentially the same Stanley Cup-winning team, but without their top gunner Nikita Kucherov (hip surgery) and several injured starters. Steven Stamkos is back in top form and Ondrej Palata is having an excellent season. The right side of the blue line is always a problem, but few teams can match the 1-2-3 of Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev on the left side (backed by the best goalie in the world right now, Andrei Vasilevskiy).
Coach: A. There was almost no Stanley Cup hangover, despite the quick turnaround. Congratulations to John Cooper for keeping his players motivated and fresh. His task is also to integrate young players into the team this season. Although Cal Foote is still in hiding, he seems to be doing pretty well.
GENERAL MOTORS : A-minus. Here, general manager Julien Brise-Brois gets credit for the team he (and former general manager Steve Yzerman) created. While a player like Carter Verhege has had success elsewhere, the Lightning have failed to give him the same role this season. The only controversy in Tampa Bay so far has been what to do with Tyler Johnson, who is no longer financially viable – both with Tampa Bay and with the teams that didn’t claim him via waivers. But he persevered and rediscovered his role and played again at his natural position as a center.
Class Representative: Andrei Vasilevsky. He has been a finalist (or winner) of the Vezina Trophy for three consecutive seasons, and is favourite to win the award again in mid-2021. According to Natural Stat Trick, the 26-year-old leads all goalkeepers in save percentage at even strength and above-average high-risk saves. He is one of the main reasons we are the team we are, Hedman said recently. We’ve seen him make stops that shouldn’t have been made, and he makes it look easy.
Risk of failure: None. Tyler Johnson threatened to drop out when he was brought to rest by a lightning strike. But he has found a second life with the team this season. Despite the back and forth on the line, he found a way to be effective.
General Assessment: A. Lightning is deep, experienced and dangerous. They have the potential to become the next NHL dynasty.
Players: C. The flame was very irregular and generally predominant. Elias Lindholm (27 points), Johnny Gaudreau (24 points) and Matthew Tkachuk (24 points) all excelled, but were quiet in other areas as well. Andrew Mangiapane (17 points) keeps getting better. Chris Tanev, who was contracted as a free agent, formed the team’s best defensive unit with Noah Hanifin. But while Sean Monahan was better in the shadows than last season, he has yet to find his form and the days of defender Mark Giordano’s massive point production are behind him. They could use a few more stops from free agents Jacob Markstrom and David Rittich.
Coach: Incomplete. Jeff Ward paid for an 11-11-2 start as a center for the Flames when the team convinced former coach and general manager Darryl Sutter to come off the farm and take a seat on the bench. Ultimately, this team is going to play Darryl Sutter’s hockey – lots of possession, few occurrences, taking care of their own zone instead of swarming the opponent’s zone. But in the first few games, the two-time Stanley Cup winner saw firsthand the inconsistency that cost Ward his job.
GENERAL MOTORS : C-minus. You never want to fire a man you just hired. General manager Brad Treliving made Jeff Ward the team’s permanent coach after Ward had served as interim coach following the firing of Bill Peters. That consistency only lasted 24 games. It’s a symptom of the fact that a lot of salary cap space was injected into the team last season in the form of free agents like Tanev and Markstrom. The last player is a little worried: He dominated the Canadiens (3-0, .975 save percentage) and the Habs (4-2, .935), but looked average against everyone else. Last season in Vancouver, Markstrom put up a porous defensive line. He couldn’t do it in Calgary either.
Class Representative: Andrew Mangiapane. Of the Flames’ five most frequent 5-on-5 lines this season, the 24-year-old forward has played in three of them. This is a testament not only to its effectiveness, but also to its adaptability: Calgary has consistently scored more than him in the lineup, and he is the team’s second top scorer (7.7).
Risk of failure: Sam Bennett. The centre has six points in 27 games this season, and his business manager has raised the possibility that Bennett wants to leave Calgary. But even though his grades are down this semester, the hope is that Sutter can calm things down and get more out of him.
General Assessment: C-minus. Earlier this season, Ward best defined the collection of players that Treliving brought together in Calgary: It’s not that the team doesn’t care. This is something we need to work on consistently. The entire season, and likely the general manager’s job, depends on Darryl Sutter’s ability to build that momentum and help the Flames find a level of consistency in their play.
Players: B. Connor McDavid Shaw (56 points in 32 games) and Leon Draisait (49 points) once against the Oilers, who is the NHL’s fourth top scorer this season (3.44 goals per game). Coach Dave Tippett played them separately – McDavid with Jesse Puljujarvi and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (25 points), Draisaitl with regular teammate Kyler Yamamoto – and on a line when needed. Needless to say, a supporting striker is a level below a six; any line without a big two will struggle to stay on the positive side of the goal difference.
Defensively, Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barry have spent a lot of time together, with the latter making a smart move by signing a one-year contract with the Oilers in which he scored 28 points in 32 games. But after that, it’s a big drop. Goalie Mike Smith has shut up the critics (again) with a strong goal-against percentage this season (.920 save percentage, .714 save percentage), while the critics’ favorite, Mikko Koskinen, is struggling (.901).
Coach: A-plus. Tippett has a team capable of scoring a lot of goals, especially on the power play, where the Oilers have been automatic the past two seasons. His task is twofold: Find a way to keep the puck out of your own goal and cleverly put two of the best hockey players in the world in your lineup. The first task is a work in progress: Edmonton has improved slightly defensively, but still ranks 23rd in the league in goals against expectations (2.29). The second… Well, that’s McDavid and Draisaitl. You can give them the dreaded Oilers mascot and they’ll still get their points.
GENERAL MOTORS : B. Ken Holland is in his second season as Edmonton’s GM, and he still has a team that isn’t deep enough to support his superstars. The addition of Barry was great. Kyle Terris’ experience, not so much. New acquisitions like Dominic Cahoon and Slater Kekkoek were mediocre at best.
Class Representative: Connor McDavid has reached a new level of dominance this season, and that’s saying something. His average of 1.75 points per game would be a career high and would be good for a 144 point campaign in an 82 game season. He was also better defensively than he was in the last five seasons. Again, a certain MVP leader.
Risk of failure: Kyle Turris has just four points in 21 games, his season shortened by staying on KOVID’s no-show list. In his last 11 appearances, Turris has had less than 10:00 of ice time in five of them.
General Assessment: B+. The Oilers are halfway through the playoff race. As long as Connor and Leon are their driving force, there’s no reason to think they won’t reach their goal in the postseason.
Players: B+. Who scored Tyler Toffoli’s 18 goals in 29 games? Anyone? The free agent leads the Habs in goals and points (27) this season with a variety of linemen. Josh Anderson, the other big acquisition of the preseason, scored 11 goals. He skated primarily with Jonathan Drouin (20 points) and Nick Suzuki (18 points), the sophomore center who went cold late in the game. The trio of Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Dano and Thomas Tatar was inconsistent and recently broke up. As a unit they were not achieved and the expected result rate was 67.98. But while Gallagher has produced consistently, Danault and Tatar have failed to find an attacking rhythm. Junior Jesperi Kotkaniemi has let his game slack off since the coach change at the Habs.
The highlight of the defense is Jeff Petry, who is having an outstanding year. Joel Edmundson saw time with him and Shea Weber. Newcomer Jake Allen (.922 save percentage) has outperformed incumbent Cary Price (.907) at the leadoff position on the season, and that’s not how it should work.
Coach: B/b min. Claude Julien started the season 7-1-2 and everyone was very happy. They were 9-5-4 when he was fired after the loss in Ottawa. Assistant coach Dominique Ducharme took over and posted a 4-3-4 record in his first 11 games. For those keeping score at home: Julien hit .611 and his replacement hit .545. Ducharme’s grade could improve if his lineup gets some of the usual players in it.
GENERAL MOTORS : B+. He would have been a 10 to Marc Bergevin had it not been for the dubious and reactionary dismissal of Julien and the election of Ducharme as a neophyte in his place. But otherwise, his additions to the season have paid off just as well: Toffoli, Anderson, veteran winger Corey Perry, defender Edmundson and especially Allen in goal.
Class Representative: Jeff Petry scored 25 points in 29 games with a plus-15, the best year so far in the 33-year-old’s career. The spotlight that fell on him for playing in the All-Canadian division rightfully placed him in the conversation for the Norris Trophy.
Risk of failure: Artturi Lehkonen. What happened here? The 25-year-old attacker has two goals and two assists in 21 games, while cutting his ice time by more than two minutes to 13:07 per game. That is, if he plays at all, because he’s been dropped from the roster at times.
General Assessment: A-plus. Canadians currently top the A-minus. They could have done with a better season from Price, and if they weren’t 0-8 in games that lasted longer than regulation.
Players: D-plus. Little was expected of the Senators this season. Sometimes expectations match reality. There were a few special things: Brady Tkachuk (22 points) has continued to improve, Drake Batterson (21 points) leads the Sens in opponents’ shooting percentage (8.4), and fellow freshman Tim Stutzle (18 points) may be the best freshman forward this season not named Kirill Kaprizov. Josh Norris and Connor Brown were good. But in 20 games, Derek Stepan scored just one goal before undergoing surgery that ended the season, and free agent forward Evgeny Dadonov had no impact on the team’s power play despite scoring nine goals to tie.
Thomas Chabot (20 points) was again the best player on his blue line, but rookie Artem Zub played better than expected. In my head… That brings us to the D-plus, as Matt Murray, Marcus Hogberg and Joey Daccord have combined to be the worst goalies in the NHL this season.
– Who will be the best choice this summer?
– Early ranking of the top 32
prospects – The impact of COVID-19 on ranking.
Coach: C-minus. D.J. Smith is in his second season and the Senators are a worse team (348 points) than they were in 2019-20. Despite mostly failing to score, Ottawa still ranks third in the league in expected goals after 60 minutes (2.44). He leads a very young team and makes drastic decisions, such as sending top defender Erik Brennstrom to the penalty box. Say it for Ottawa: When they’re properly motivated, they can be tough.
GENERAL MOTORS : D. We try not to be too harsh here, as GM Pierre Dorion has done a great job during the Senators’ long renovation. The contract and signing of Matt Murray – four years with a $6.25 million AAV – may be the worst deal for a team this season. Murray’s target of minus 9.5 remains above average and 0.880 percent.
Class Representative: Brady Tkachuk. He is the team’s top scorer, is consistently good and gets 20 minutes of ice time with some regularity. He is still one of the NHL’s most prolific scorers, leading the league with 141 shots on goal in 33 games.
Risk of failure: Team defense. In 33 games, the Senators have the best goal-scoring average on the team at 3.91. No NHL team has had a GAA over 4.00 since the San Jose Sharks in 1995-96 (4.35). Given the offensive teams in the Northern Division, this is what the Senators could look like.
General Assessment: D-plus. Ottawa is in the midst of a rebuilding process, and the growing pains are obvious. But the Senators have had their moments: They beat Montreal to the point of firing their coach and overcame a 1-5 deficit to get one of their three wins over Toronto. (The less said about their 0-7-0 record against Edmonton, the better.) It’s a tough trip, but at least the Nuts like it.
Players: A-minus. The stars are shining for the Leafs this season. Mitchell Marner leads the team with 39 points in 30 games. Austin Matthews is right behind him (36 points). John Tavares may not have had a productive season in terms of points (nine), but he still has 26 points. William Nylander continues to satisfy critics with 24 points (and an underrated all-around game), while Zach Hyman also contributed offensively. The Leafs aren’t getting much production from their bottom six, and veterans Joe Thornton (12 points) and Wayne Simmonds (five goals) are often out of the lineup due to injuries.
On the blue line, Morgan Rielly (23 points) played big with T.J. Brody, while Jake Muzzin and Justin Hall formed a solid second pair. The Leafs would have gotten a 10 if Frederik Andersen hadn’t had such a rough go of it this season.
Coach: A-minus. The Leafs are fifth in goals per game (3.40) and ninth in goals against per game (2.63), with a strong power play offset by poor shot opportunities. Coach Sheldon Keefe is on a mission to improve Toronto’s defensive play and has seen some positive movement in that direction, despite the team’s inconsistent scoring. He also did a good job of keeping his team ready most nights, as every team in their division approaches every game against Toronto with playoff intensity.
GENERAL MOTORS : A-plus. General manager Kyle Dubas has done a good job acquiring Brodie, who is the Leafs’ second-best defenseman this season. Thornton played well… if they let him. Zach Bogosian wasn’t bad, but none of the Dubs’ faceoffs to depth players (striker Jimmy Vesey and defender Mikko Lehtonen) were successful. He said he would score a goal for Andersen in the postseason. Fortunately, Jack Campbell is on standby in case of emergency.
Class Representative: Austin Matthews scored 21 goals in 27 games, a career record. He was dominant, especially on the power play where he scored eight goals. A legitimate candidate for the Hart Trophy, even if he doesn’t lead his own team in points.
Risk of failure: Murder. Last season the Leafs ranked 21st in scoring, and this unit has dropped to 22nd with a 75.6% success rate. Andersen did his part by serving as an alternate in the shootout.
General Assessment: A. The Leafs are 19-9-2-30 this season and seem to be a class act in the North Division (Us) so far. In true Toronto sports fashion, the Leafs are treated like monsters a week later, and what happens to them? But Toronto looks like a real contender for the Stanley Cup if the defense and goalies improve.
Players: C. The good news starts with Brock Boeser, who has 15 goals and 30 points in 33 games this season. He continues: Bo Horvath (24 points) and J.T. Miller (27 points) are approaching his scoring pace from last season. Goalie Thatcher Demko has been outstanding the last few weeks and has a .920 save percentage this season.
It’s getting a little unclear for Quinn Hughes, who is declining offensively (25 points) but defensively, and Elias Pettersson, who is warming up but still can’t match the scoring pace he had in his first two seasons. Then the news got downright bad, as the supporting cast brought nothing and goalie Braden Holtby failed to find his form again after leaving the Capitals.
Coach: C-minus. Travis Green and his staff knew the Canucks needed to get better defensively, especially after the team lost goalie Jacob Markstrom in free agency. But until recently, they were one of the worst defensive teams in the league this season. They were 6-11-0 after losing six games in early February. Another series of four game losses followed. This team was so promising after last season, but they clearly weren’t ready for prime time – and Green, despite being a great coach, didn’t seem ready to turn things around after an early misstep.
GENERAL MOTORS : D-plus. Jim Benning added fullback Nate Schmidt, who was good, and Holtby, who was not. But the Canucks’ problem is one that Benning created over several seasons by issuing excessive contracts to depth players that hampered his ability to field a team – or even keep it competitive at a high level.
Class Representative: Nils Hoaglander. Depending on how things go, Demko will end up in the Oval Office, but let’s give the 20-year-old rookie some love. The Swede worked his way into the top six with excellent 5-on-5 play. His 13 points in 33 games is not a game statistic, but on a team that has had its share of poor performances, Hoaglander has become an undeniable force.
Risk of failure: Jake Virtanen. Shotgun Jake, who has a cult following among Canucks fans, has scored just three goals in the 28 games he has played this season and has been removed from the healthy list. Another Vancouver member who didn’t live up to standards.
General Assessment: C-minus. The Canucks have been one of the most disappointing teams in the NHL this season, despite their supposed emergence as playoff contenders. But this is an estimate for the first half of the season. Their recent 7-3-0 run, fueled by Demko’s performance, has led them in the right direction. But with a .485 on base percentage after 33 games, is it too late?
Players: B. Nikolai Ehlers is a revelation this season. He scored 31 points in 29 games – the best offensive performance of his career. He has done so with several teammates, including his recent trio of Kyle Connor (16 goals) and Pierre Luc Dubois, who has 10 points in 14 games since arriving from Columbus. Paul Stastny, formerly a second center, moved to the wing to join Mark Scheifele (37 points) and Blake Wheeler (26 points).
There aren’t many teams that can counter the Jets’ top six offense. Several of them offer better support, especially on the blue line, where Winnipeg has a thin defensive corps for goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who has been solid but far from the form of last season with which he won the Vezina Trophy. Congratulations to defender Neil Pionk, who was a rock.
Coach: B. Paul Maurice is right to make some decisions – the way Ehlers has played this season is no excuse that he has played only 1:35 per power play – but he has gotten more out of this team than expected. Bonus points for his harsh disapproval of analytics while defending Wheeler lately. Not that he was right, but we appreciate the candor.
GENERAL MOTORS : B+. We’ll have to wait a few years to find out if General Kevin Chevelday’s decision to sell Patrick Laine to the Blue Jackets for DuBois was a good one. We’ll have to see what DuBois does the rest of the season in Winnipeg. We’ll see if Lane can find a more complete game. We also have to be sure that buying a center for the Jets’ most coveted young player was smarter than, say, trading their version of Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones and buying a fullback instead. Moreover, the restoration of Stastny has been successful so far.
Class Representative: Connor Hellbeck. Despite all of the Jets’ offense, they rank second in the NHL in 5-on-5 defense, averaging 2.54 goals against per 60 minutes. Even with a finishing percentage of .911, Hellebuyck is a safety net for the failing defense, which is why the Jets remain in the hunt. It’s not as much as last season, but he played in 23 of 29 games.
Risk of failure: Here we go. The Jets have a minus-2 goal differential in the first period and lead in 11 of 29 games after the first period. They came after the first 12 times of the season.
General Assessment: A-minus. After 29 games, the Jets have the second-highest point total in the North Division (.655) and threaten the Leafs for the division lead. It may defy logic in many ways, but you can’t deny this early success for Winnipeg.
Players: D-Minus. Given their performance this season, it’s easy to see why this team has a .367 winning percentage in 30 games. The Ducks had the second worst offense in the league (2.20 goals per game), with only one player – Max Comtois with 19 points – improving from the 2019-20 season. Rickard Rakell (19 points) provided a respectable season with a nice game. They have found a good defensive duo with Cam Fowler and newcomer Jani Hakanpaa. But despite the injuries, the team has seen some not-so-good performances from veterans. Probably the most frustrating of all: Goalkeeper John Gibson, previously known only as a mediocre duck, is playing for the second consecutive season.
Coach: C. Dallas Eakins has a team that is nowhere near the playoffs. But one of his virtues as a head coach was to get close to the young players and let them realize their potential. But that didn’t happen dramatically enough with the Ducks’ supporting cast, despite some additional improvements.
GENERAL MOTORS : D-plus. Murray and Eakins have contracts through 2022. That’s the only possible reason to bring them back next season. Murray has been stuck with Randy Carlisle as head coach for too long and is stuck with a veteran lineup with diminishing returns. He may be one of those general managers who is looked upon favorably because he has shelved draft picks like Comtois, Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale, but it’s probably time for a change. Nevertheless, this estimate could be improved by judicious timing of transactions at the time of the sell-off.
Class Representative: Max Comtois. Almost standard, but we give the winger credit for leading the team in points in the first half.
Risk of failure: Ryan Getzlaf. The 35-year-old captain is in the final year of his contract and has full freedom of movement. We would love to see what he would do in a more competitive environment, as his 11 points in 28 games is the statistical low point of his stellar career.
General Assessment: D-Minus. Unsuccessful and directionless, Anaheim prepares to rebuild a new generation of Ducks.
Players: C. Conor Garland (22 points in 28 games) and Clayton Keller (0.72 points per game) have had an uptick of energy in the offense since last season. Center Nick Schmalz, forward Christian Dvorak and defenseman Jakob Cichrun were also solid. After that, it gets grim: Phil Kessel’s shell, Lawson Crouse’s three points in 26 games, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s season (no goals in 19 games) that doesn’t increase his market value – assuming he ever adds to his list of acceptable goals. Defensively, the Coyotes could not rely on their guards. Darcy Kuemper (.914) and Antti Raanta (.912) did their best despite mediocre defense and injuries, but neither was as good as they have been in recent years.
Coach: C. In Coach Rick Tockett’s four years, the Coyotes have been a team that has struggled to score consistently, but has had a great goalie. Offensively, this Arizona team has been perhaps the least convincing in this period. They are in the bottom third of the league averaging 2.34 goals per game and a field goal percentage of 2.34. The problem isn’t necessarily the coaching, but the Coyotes have become an even more ineffective team and seem lethargic in some key actions.
GENERAL MOTORS : D. New GM Bill Armstrong inherited from John Chayka an overpriced, inefficient team that offered little room for improvement. He did little to improve them, including not transferring Ekman-Larsson to one of his trade targets last season. But he deserves this review for his behavior off the ice: Armstrong had an absolutely terrible reaction to Katie Strang’s talk about the Coyotes for the Athletics, even threatening to tell the league’s general managers how she behaved professionally.
Class Representative: Jacob Chichran. While many of Chaika’s contracts haven’t worked out, the six-year, $27.6 million deal he gave Chaikun in November 2018 feels like a bargain. The 22-year-old is playing his best offensive season (0.66 points per game) and has handled the increased ice time well. Congratulations also go to the Coyotes for their 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues. The two teams have played seven consecutive games against each other due to a strange schedule change.
Risk of failure: His reputation. Let’s face it: Aside from the splendor of their retro uniforms, the only thing worth mentioning this season for the Coyotes is Strang’s history. She talked about the level of dysfunction in the organization, from owner Alex Meruelo to the hockey operations department. He describes toxic working conditions and financial problems far beyond what has been revealed so far. Of course, this isn’t the first time the Coyotes have been defined by off-the-ice issues.
General Assessment: C-minus. Arizona was expected to compete against Minnesota for the final playoff spot behind Vegas, Colorado and St. Louis. Louis. Instead, they’ve lost four out of five to Minnesota, and the playoffs seem far away.
Players: A-minus. Given the high expectations for the Avalanche this season, you have to admit that they are being ranked in a crooked way. Should they be punished because Nathan MacKinnon only scored 1.09 points per game in 23 games instead of 1.35? Wingers Mikko Rantanen (14 goals in 27 games), Nazem Kadri (24 points in 27 games), Brandon Saad (19 points in 26 games) and Andre Burakovsky (19 points in 24 games) are among the attackers with outstanding seasons. Devon Toews, a mid-season rookie, has blossomed on the blue line, along with Cale Makar (14 points in 15 games) and especially Samuel Girard, who is playing his best NHL season. The only downside, like last season, was the injuries.
Coach: A. At 5-on-5, Jared Bednar’s team is the best team in the NHL in terms of ball possession and the best defensive team in terms of expected goals per 60 minutes (1.77). The Avalanche have allowed just 24.9 shots per game in the league. He piloted the team through injuries for the second season in a row, and did so with great skill.
GENERAL MOTORS : A-plus. As we like to say to NHL general managers: If Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche call, don’t answer the phone. He traded Nikita Zadorov for Saad. He snatched Toews from the Islanders for a couple of draft picks. Combine that with the smart acquisitions and free trade deals that have shaped the team the past two seasons, and the Avalanche’s management is one of the best in the NHL. Now they just need a playoff win to confirm it.
Class Representative: Philip Grubauer. Since Paul Fransuz’s injury, Grubauer has played a lot and shown incredible statistics (.925 save percentage and 1.85 goals against average). He played in 24 of the team’s first 27 games this season.
Risk of failure: It’s a good start. The Avalanche are 23rd in the NHL in first period goals (20) and fifth in first period points. They led in 12 of 27 games after the first half.
General Assessment: A. Few teams can boast the depth the Avalanche have. Not many teams have an MVP like McKinnon or a game breaker like Makar. Few teams have as good a chance of winning the Stanley Cup as the Avalanche – if they can get out of this division.
Players: C-plus. To reinterpret the old South Park meme: The Kings are members of the NHL Berries. Hey Dick, since when is Anze Kopitar a top player? Well, he had 32 points in the first 27 games. Hey Dick, since when is Drew Doughty a point-plus player? He has 22 points in 27 games – 14 on the power play – and is currently on the right side of plus-minus. Dick, when was Dustin Brown an effective offensive player? His 13 goals in 26 games is a highlight of his career. Alex Iafallo and Adrian Kempe also contributed to a season in which the Kings returned to semi-relevance with their young collection of basketball prospects; but the learning curve was down.
Coach: Todd McLellan knows it’s always a long-shot game in Los Angeles, but he’s done a good job this season of challenging his players and getting the Kings to play a more consistent defense.
GENERAL MOTORS : B+. Rob Blake helped assemble the largest collection of prospects and has been incredibly patient in moving them forward. He faces another major trade deadline, and Yafallo is one of the players who could transfer.
Class Representative: Cal Petersen. The veterans are having their moment this season, but the Kings have played out their coverage, thanks in part to Petersen (921 save percentage and 2.64 goals against average). He ranks fourth in the NHL in goals scored (13.7) and has started more games than starter Jonathan Quick.
Risk of failure: Jeff Carter. He has two points in his last eight games and a goals-against average of minus-3.8. His 14 points in 27 games are better than his previous two seasons. How long can the 36-year-old hold out?
General Assessment: B. I wouldn’t say we’ll be 100% successful or anything like that, we still have a lot of work to do. But I see us going for third or fourth place, which is our goal, Doughty told ESPN. It’s nice to have goals, but the fact that they are flirting with the playoffs midway through the season is a win in itself.
Players: A. Kirill Kaprizov’s effect is real and spectacular. The rookie scored 25 points in his first 27 games and gave the Wild the ranger they’ve been missing since the arrival of their best player, Marian Gaborik. But his arrival has also boosted Mats Zuccarello, who is producing more than points, and Victor Rask, who is having a redemptive season. Two other breakthrough campaigns: Joel Eriksson Ek in discussion for the Selke Trophy and forward Jordan Greenway in his best offensive season. Substitutes Zach Parise, who has yet to score (minus-4.7), and Kevin Fiala, who could not match his performance from last year and received a three-point suspension for tackling Matt Roy, have underperformed.
On the blue line, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba formed the top pair, with Brodin being the unseen Norris Trophy candidate. Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter were also effective. If these two units play more than two-thirds of the game, you’re in good shape. Especially if the goalies are as good as rookie Kaapo Kahkonen (12-4-0, .927 save percentage) and Cam Talbot (.916).
Coach: A-minus. The changes made by Dean Evason as interim coach at the end of last season, after Bruce Boudreau was fired, have been applied to this season. The defense is more active. The offense is allowing more creativity and not playing as tight as it did under the previous coach. However, Boudreau also received the awards for best rookie and best rookie goalie in the league in the same season, something Evason does very well in both cases.
GENERAL MOTORS : B+. Bill Guerin is the first to admit that he is the beneficiary of the good selection and purchase of players that came his way with the hiring of the Wild as GM in 2019. His veterans – Nick Bonino, F Marcus Johansson, Nick Bjugstad, D Ian Cole – have had varying degrees of impact. But to his credit, he contracted Talbot as a free agent, gave Kaapo Kahkonen a two-year contract and, most importantly, retained Evason.
Class Representative: Kirill Kaprizov. A rock star on and off the ice, the Calder Trophy nominee inspired the team with his enthusiasm, will to win and undeniable offensive flair. Runner: This cute and retro clothing is in the style of the North Stars.
Risk of failure: The power play. It’s remarkable how many points Kaprizov has considering how bad Minnesota is with its power play, just 8.1% in 27 games after 18.5% last season. That’s the main reason why they only scored 0.03 goals per game more than last year, despite being the best attacking team.
General Assessment: A. The Wilds looked like a team that would make the playoffs. But this is a division contender playing one of the most exciting games in the league, something we never thought we could say about the Minnesota Wild.
Players: C. If the bar was set by last season’s performance, some Sharks have already surpassed it. Evander Kane (26 points), Logan Couture (22 points), Timo Meyer (19 points) and Kevin Labanque (18 points) improved their offensive numbers. Brent Burns has been more involved and effective. But the Sharks have many more players underperforming – only two starters (Kane and Couture) have had a plus-one on the ice in the first 27 games. Patrick Marleau has just one goal in 27 games and the worst goal against average on the team. Goalies Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk combined for an .891 save percentage.
Coach: D-plus. In Bob Boughner’s first full season at the helm of the West Division, the Sharks struggled to a .463 winning percentage. This is largely a design issue. Where the coach comes in is San Jose’s inability to defend. They are the second best team in the NHL in goals against (3.52). Some of them are clearly on the keeper substitutions. But Pete DeBoer was fired last season because of the team’s defensive problems, and the Sharks were the sixth-best team in terms of suppressing shots. Under Boehner, they now rank 29th (32.3 shots allowed per game). This is a bad team that allows the fourth most dangerous shot in the NHL at 5-on-5. It’s not just up to the head coach. But that’s enough.
GENERAL MOTORS : C-minus. Most of Doug Wilson’s sins are in the past, as bloated, non-removable contracts have made it difficult to prune this roster from its old core. Some of his recent recruits are interesting to watch, striker John Leonard and defender Mario Ferraro. Ryan Donato is producing more than he did last season. But while Dubnyk has been more respectable than his 3-7-2 record would suggest, Jones has been abysmal for his third consecutive season. Wilson hasn’t done enough to fix his team’s biggest problem in years.
Class Representative: Thomas Hertl. Despite a season shortened by the absence of COVID, Hertl has been consistent in his performance. He scored 16 points in 21 games and was better on defense than many of his teammates.
Risk of failure: Erik Karlsson. Every few games, Karlsson delivers a performance that whets the appetite of those hoping the 30-year-old two-time Norris Trophy winner can regain his form. But he cannot maintain this consistency and remains a shell of himself. He recently said he didn’t sign with San Jose to be part of the rebuilding effort. The Sharks certainly didn’t sign him for $11.5 million a year through 2027.
General Assessment: C-minus. The Sharks were one of those teams that seemed like a bubble in the West when they stayed healthy, had players returning over the years, and finally had a good defense and goalies. Two out of three ain’t bad.
Players: C-plus. The Blues have had a roller coaster ride, a team plagued by injuries and inconsistency. With David Perrone (29 points in 28 games), Ryan O’Reilly (27 points), Brayden Schenn (24 points) and Torey Krug (15 points), they had veterans who were expected to have great seasons. They got Jordan Keara back for an early start (21 points) and Justin Faulk for a strong comeback. But they also saw Colton Parayko get off to the worst start of his career before being sidelined with an injury. Oskar Sundqvist has had an unusually ineffective season. Moreover, Tyler Bozak, Robert Thomas and especially Vladimir Tarasenko missed a lot of time.
Coach: B. Craig Berube has had to practice like he had to play five games in a row with the same team (Arizona) because of severe injuries and strange schedules. That’s to his credit. But the team’s 5-on-5 attack wasn’t great, and the mental focus that has been the trademark of the Blues in recent years wasn’t always there. Note the disastrous start at home (minus-8 goal difference in the first half), which led to a 4-7-3 record in St. Louis. They’ve gotten off to a good start (plus 7) on the road, where they’re 10-2-2.
GENERAL MOTORS : B-minus. Doug Armstrong’s decision to let Alex Pietrangelo leave for the free agency circle worked….. to a certain extent. The fact is that the Blues’ new blue line doesn’t defend with the same ferocity as before, so much so that Berube called their play soft this week. But Armstrong has generally done good things. Free agent Mike Hoffman, for example, has 19 points in 27 games. If he gets hit, he’s in. Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso scored .892 percentage points. That’s not to say the Jake Allen trade shouldn’t have happened, but relying on Binnington as a rookie backup was a mistake.
Class Representative: Jordan to Kira. You have to love it when a longtime young talent gets a key role, increases his ice time by nearly five minutes per game, and takes full advantage of the opportunity. The 23-year-old leads the Blues’ forwards with an average of 5.1 goals in 28 games.
Risk of failure: Husso City. There’s nothing to complain about here, but the Blues’ rookie has a .879 save percentage and a 3.57 goals-against average in 10 appearances, while he has a minus-8.4 goals-against average. Oops.
General Assessment: B. The fact that the Blues are in the playoff zone despite all the setbacks is either a testament to the fact that their championship spirit shines through, or a commentary on the state of the West Division. The choice is yours.
Players: A. The Knights came out strong and showed class in the first half. The trio of Chandler Stephenson, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty has an expected winning percentage of 58.73%, with Stone leading the team in scoring (34 points in 26 games) and Pacioretty leading the team in scoring (14 goals in 27 games). Jonathan Marshaud, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson have a 57.62% success rate on 5 field goal attempts. Alex Tuch continues to develop into a solid attacker with 13 goals.
Defensively, the Knights have weathered the loss of Alex Pietrangelo (18 games) well with the continued dominance of Shea Theodore and Nicholas Hague and Zach Whitecloud, one of the most underrated duos in the league. But the Knights’ success can be attributed to Marc-Andre Fleury, who played a great season in the absence of Robin Lehner (concussion) and energized the team.
Coach: A-minus. There’s always room for improvement, as the Cavaliers rank 12th in expected field goal percentage (51.30) at 5-on-5, but Pete DeBoer knows which buttons to push and which pieces to move on this team.
GENERAL MOTORS : A-plus. Kelly McCrimmon has had a tough offseason, due to low payroll. He went from popular Knights Nate Schmidt and Paul Stastny to Pietrangelo to fit into the free agency team. Turns out the move he couldn’t make was his best: Fleury’s coming and going after the transfer failed after Lehner signed an extension. If there’s a problem with the roster at all, it’s that the Cavaliers don’t have a classic top-ranked striker.
Class Representative: Marc-André Fleury. After the last goalie drama in the postseason, no one was sure what to expect from Fleury this season and whether he was still a Golden Knight. But with Lehner sidelined, Fleury took over and absolutely dominated: 16-5-0, .933 save percentage, four shutouts and 18 above-average goals saved in his first 21 games.
Risk of failure: Control line. The trio of Ryan Reeves, Thomas Nosek and William Carrier have spent the most time together this season, but have not been as effective as the Demolition team has always been.
General Assessment: A. The Golden Knights are 20-6-1 after 27 games (.759 scoring percentage) and have excelled in almost every facet of the game. They will only get better if Pietrangelo and Lehner contribute regularly.
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