This NHL season, now almost at the midway point, has shown us some surprise contenders, such as the Devils, the Jets, and of course, the Vegas Golden Knights. Also, there have been teams that we are so used to seeing in the playoffs the past few years that have fallen short of expectations, including: the Blackhawks, the Penguins, and the Canadiens.
The Vegas Golden Knights: The Golden Knights are currently the second best team in the league, and are first overall in the western conference. They are playing at an amazing level, never seen before by a first year expansion franchise. Not only that, for a good part of the first eight weeks of the season, without their top goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury. The Golden Knights have embraced the city, playing with passion and flair.
The New Jersey Devils: Nico Hischier is the third best rookie in the NHL, behind Arizona’s Clayton Keller, and the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal. Behind Hischier’s rookie campaign and strong showings from veterans like Brian Boyle, Taylor Hall, and Goalie Cory Schneider, the Devils have a real chance of going far into the playoffs.
The Winnipeg Jets: Last year the Jets were fifth in the Central Division with a measly 87 points. This year, they are leading the Central Division with 52 points, not yet even at the midway point. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck has been very good this year, earning the NHL’s most recent first star of the week. Behind strong campaigns from Blake Wheeler, Patrick Laine and Dustin Byfugelin, the Jets can shake up the power rankings in the West.
The Pittsburgh Penguins: The back-to-back Stanley Cup defending Penguins are having a bad year. They are sitting in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, with 41 points, and are 4 points from a wildcard spot. While the Penguins will still likely be in the running for one of the two remaining wild card spots, they will not win the Stanley Cup. Sidney Crosby is on pace for about 73 points, one of his worst career seasons. Now the Penguins must ask themselves if their dynasty is over, or if this year is just a hangover from back-to-back short summers.
The Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks dynasty is over. They had their run, but it ended when they were swept in the first round of the playoffs last year by Nashville. Patrick Kane and Johnathan Toews aren’t going to get younger, and they no longer have the same spark as they used to. In a few years they will contend again, as soon as young players like Alex DeBrincat mature and get used to the league, but for this season, they will not win the Stanley Cup or even make the playoffs.
The Montreal Canadiens: Last year the Canadiens were one of the top teams in the east, totaling 103 points and the number one seed in the Atlantic Division. This year, they’ve dealt with tons of injuries, and the Habs, who are reliant on their goalie, Carey Price, have not seen great production from him this year. The Canadiens won’t make the playoffs this year, but they may have a chance in future seasons.