The FLORIDA PANTHERS still sit comfortably at the top of the Atlantic Division. Florida added some depth before the deadline in Claude Giroux and Ben Chariot, but the injury to Aaron Ekblad could pose a serious threat to the Panthers’ long term run. He should be back before the playoffs and hopefully not repeat on missing out like last season. Lightning, Bruins, and the Maple Leafs all hang around a point differential and sitting a couple wins away from touching Florida.
Tampa Bay is looking like they are ready for a 3-peat as they gear up for another deep playoff run. Everybody is healthy and clicking, while Vasilevsky looks like another strong Vezina candidate. Boston acquired a top defenseman in Hampus Lindholm and locked him up in a nice long-term extension. Bruins were already getting hot just before the deadline, but with more firepower and healthy bodies, they are looking pretty fierce. Toronto said we are sticking with our goalies but lets snag veteran defenseman Mark Giordano to beef up the back end leaving Colin Blackwell to shore up the bottom 6 on the front end. Jake Muzzin is trending towards a recovery well before playoffs, which is great news for a Toronto team desperate for a round 2 appearance.
Detroit, Buffalo, Ottawa, and Montreal are all pretty much out of the playoffs at this point with Detroit and Ottawa the only ones doing just bad enough to be in contention for the #1 overall pick. Montreal was doomed from the start, but with Martin St. Louis coaching this last regular season push, the team looks to scrap whatever they can. Ottawa never got a decent goalie in net, nor could they string together consistent high level play while selling a good bit at the deadline. Buffalo is led by Tage Thompson on a comeback campaign that is inspiring but was ultimately doomed by injuries alongside no identity with upper management. Detroit have a strong core in Bertuzzi, Zadina, Larkin, Raymong, and Seider who will continue to grow and be incredible hockey to watch. Steve Yzerman has plans for this team and Detroit fans should be happy, mostly, with what they have seen so far, minus all the goals against.
Carolina Hurricanes continue to stay king in the Metropolitan as they have yet to give up the top seed all season it seems. They acquired Max Domi to help keep intensity and speed with some skill in the already high flying offense. DeAngelo is back and, with Frederick Anderson in net playing very well, this team is ready for the big tournament. Rangers and Penguins are in a very close back-and-forth duel for second. Igor Shesterkin is in the zone this year and continues to be sharp while Mika, Panarin, and Fox continue to lead the Rangers as they light up the scoreboard every game. Crosby, Malkin, and Letang are hoping to cool off the New York Rangers as they push for another playoff run. Jarry has been living up to the expectations this season and after acquiring Rickard Rakell, the Penguins have the firepower to not only match but push past all Metropolitan competition.
Safely in the 4th spot is the Washington Capitals whose playoff push comes down to goaltending which has been lacking this season. Ovechkin, with his 42 goals, leads a solid offensive unit while John Carlson solidifies the defense. But again, without a strong goalie, they wont make it far. Long shots Columbus and Islanders need a lot to go their way in hopes of making the playoffs. Islanders were ravaged with injuries and covid protocols throughout the first half of the season and it looks a little too late for the rally. Columbus lacked the elite goaltending this season while some of their stars have taken awhile to find their comfort zone.
The New Jersey Devils are a young and exciting team that can score on any given night. The defense and the goaltending need to be addressed if there is to be more promise with this young offensive power. A healthy Dougie Hamilton will be a huge boost to this team as well as he missed a good chunk of time with an upper body injury. Philadelphia shipped long time captain Claude Giroux to Florida and with Carter Hart hurt, it looks like the team is in cruise control for the last quarter of the season. Only 2 people finished with more than 30+ points on offense, Ryan Ellis injured for all but 4 games, and poor defense as a whole in front of an aspiring young goalie did not produce a good season.
The top dog Colorado Avalanche lead the league and Central in points and have not had a hiccup on their amazing regular season so far. A couple bottom 6 forward acquisitions and nabbing Josh Manson from Anaheim were a couple savvy moves to help the team in their weaker areas. Makar is likely a Norris winner and you can even give him next year’s award too with how awesome this guy is out on the ice. I don’t see this team wavering as they approach the big tournament as favorites.
5 teams are within 10 points of each other so it’s a pretty tense and heated division. Minnesota got Marc-Andre Fleury to really bolster this team and with some of the best 5 on 5 stats in hockey. This team is ready for playoffs. Kyril “The Thrill” Kaprizov is such a great player in this league and perfect for this gritty, tough, yet very fast and skillful team. Still trying to get some consistent goalie play from Jordan Bennington is the St. Louis Blues and they need it sooner rather than later. Same can be said for Nashville who have Roman Josi as he has been incredible. If only the rest of the team could keep him clicking while giving up a few less goals, this team is a wagon.
Then you have the Dallas Stars which are defense first while also showcasing youth and speed. Jamie Benn has been on the third line playing a comfortable role, while Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson continue to click with Joe Pavelski. Miro Heiskanen being back in the lineup is huge after a brief injury set him out. Hopefully their young stud in Jake Oettinger can find another gear and propel this team into playoff mode as he’s shown he can be a #1 goaltender. Just on the outside looking in is Winnipeg, who are a Connor Hellebuyck getting streaky away from a late regular season push. Kyle Connor is still one of the most underrated players in this league as his skill and speed are a rare sight. Jets need some strong offense to make up for a weak defense so nobody getting hurt and consistent play are a must.
It has always been Calgary at the top of the league led by Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk as these young bucks combine grit, grind, and elite level scoring. You can safely say Jakob Markstrom is the future and the Calgary deal looks like a great idea. This team may not have the names that pop out to you on paper, but this team not only loves to play hockey, but seem to click well and are tough as nails any given day.
The Kings are brewing something up over in Los Angelas. Doughty’s injury sucks, but hopefully they have him back for the playoffs as this team has been getting stronger and stronger. Peterson and Quick have held the wall so far, but we’ll see how they do as this race gets more intense down the stretch.
Edmonton Oilers are 3rd by a mere 3 points and they have not looked any different since day 1 of this season. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl continue to be absolute comets on the ice while the team desperately tries to keep up. They are a cannon shooting fireworks, but need some more danger to their game to make a serious Stanley Cup push because it’s got to be so frustrating for them at this point. Vegas is right behind them as Eichel leads the injury plagued Golden Knights into another playoff run. This team has had one setback after another so even if they make the playoffs, I do not like the odds of them unless they’re able to overcome this poor health wave. Vancouver, behind Bruce Boudreau, has really rallied and grown the confidence needed be a playoff caliber team after a dismal start. Elias Pettersson finding his game has been massive, while JT Miller has continued for be a point per game stallion.
I was delighted to see the Canucks hold onto their players because I think they have the right formula over there that needs some more seasoning. This offseason will be especially fun to watch for this team. On the contrary, though, San Jose just cant bring everything together for some consistent wins. Hopefully they can get healthy and play a little better before the end of the season as guys like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns would be amazing to see in the playoffs. Anaheim can safely say they are not in the playoff mix, but what looked like a dismal season has actually been some exciting and somewhat competitive hockey. This young group will be great in 2-3 years, but it may be with another goalie besides Gipson.
Seattle had a decent inaugural season and selling at the deadline helped build their future as they have like 15+ picks in the next 2 years. Yanni Gourde will lead this team in the future and Jared McCann was a bright spot as well for this exciting Kraken team. Hopefully Grubauer or Driedger can do something to rekindle some of their game and help this team become competitive in the league moving forward.