NHL First-Half Grades
The puck drops on the second half of the NHL season tonight. So far, the season has been filled with lots of action and numerous surprises.
Not all of the surprises have been good, though. There have been many teams who have underachieved as well as overachieved. The grades I am giving each team are not necessarily based solely on their spots in the standings, but also based on whether the teams are overachieving or underachieving.
Here are the midseason grades for each team in the NHL.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils were not exactly spectacular in the first half of this NHL season, but they were not awful either. The team ended the first half on a three-game losing streak, which really hurt their chances to climb the playoff ladder.
For a team that missed the playoffs last year, they are in decent shape to make a playoff spot, as they currently hold the No. 8 seed.
New York Islanders
As expected, the Islanders have done very little this season. The team currently finds themselves tied for last place in the Eastern Conference, and they do not appear to be leaving that spot any time soon.
A hot start in the second half could propel the Islanders into a playoff spot, but it appears very unlikely right now.
New York Rangers
The Rangers have been outstanding, to say the least, in the first half of this NHL season. They currently hold the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and are one point out of first place in the entire NHL.
New York will need to get right back to their winning ways if they want to hold off Boston and Philadelphia for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers had a great first half to their 2011-12 season, but they will need to run down the Rangers if they want the Atlantic Division title.
The team has been extremely explosive when it comes to offense, but the defense needs to pick it up if they want to be considered the best. Overall, it was a very solid first half for the Flyers.
Despite the injuries to Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal, the Pittsburgh Penguins have maintained their position in the thick of the NHL's Eastern Conference race.
The team currently ranks fifth in the Eastern Conference, but will have a hard time moving up past Philadelphia and New York. The return of Sidney Crosby appears unlikely, but it would be at least nice for Pittsburgh to get Staal back to help their playoff run.
Many power rankings have the Rangers ranked over the Boston Bruins, but in my opinion, this is the best team in hockey.
The Bruins are the No. 1 scoring team in the NHL and the No. 4 defensive team in hockey. This will prove to be a deadly combination for the defending Stanley Cup Champions as they look to defend their title.
The Buffalo Sabres are the most disappointing team in the NHL this season.
The team currently cannot score and they cannot stop people from scoring either, a terrible combination. The Sabres will need a big hot streak in the second half if they want to make the playoffs for their third consecutive year.
The Montreal Canadiens have been fairly disappointing this season. Many people thought that this was a playoff-caliber team, but right now, they find themselves eight points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The team did show a major spark, though, as they hammered the Red Wings, 7-2, on the last day of the regular season before the All-Star break.
The Ottawa Senators have found themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt thanks to a solid first half of the season.
Ottawa struggled to close out the first half on a good note, as they lost their final three games. The team will need to pick up their defensive play in the second half if they want to hold their playoff spot.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto finished the first half of the season on a strong note and now find themselves tied for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.
The offense has been the strong point for the Leafs so far this season. The second-half schedule will be tough, though, as they open up with back-to-back games against Pittsburgh tonight and tomorrow.
The Hurricanes have been a huge disappointment this season.
Last year, Carolina missed the postseason by two points, but this year, the team finds themselves dead last in the Eastern Conference. It would take a drastic turnaround for Carolina to make anything out of their season.
What a turnaround the Florida Panthers have had so far this season. The Panthers have not made the playoffs in over a decade, but this might be the year for them.
There is still a long road ahead for Florida, but currently they are tied for the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and have a great chance to make postseason play.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay has quickly been dethroned as one of the elite teams in hockey, and it all comes down to their defense.
The Lightning are currently ranked dead last in goals against, allowing an outrageous 3.4 per game. If the defense can step up and start playing better, the team definitely has the offensive talent to make a run at the playoffs.
Contrary to popular belief, the Washington Capitals are not a very good hockey team. The team has been mediocre at best, and the only reason they are the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference is because they are currently leading the worst division in hockey.
The Capitals have the talent to be one of the premier teams in the NHL, but they need to start showing it or they could quickly find themselves out of the playoffs.
It seemed to me that the Winnipeg Jets were looked at as a joke of a team when the NHL season started.
Slowly, they have begun to turn heads and now find themselves five points out of a playoff spot. Although they are not playing great hockey, they are having a solid season for a team that was expected to do very little.
The Chicago Blackhawks are grinding it out in the best division in hockey, along with Detroit, St. Louis and Nashville.
These four teams are all ranked in the top seven teams in the NHL, and the race will be tight throughout. Chicago is going to need to fight hard to win the division if they want to have a high seed in the postseason this year.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets are just having a terrible season.
The Blue Jackets currently have 32 points and the next-closest team has 41 points. The Blue Jackets have a long road ahead, as they are part of the fiercely-competitive Central Division.
Detroit Red Wings
20-2-1. That is the Detroit Red Wings' home record.
Needless to say, you do not want to have to play at Joe Louis Arena. The Red Wings are currently the best team in the Western Conference and maybe the best in the NHL. The team was slightly exposed in a 7-2 loss to Montreal on the final day of the first half.
The Nashville Predators have found themselves in the thick of the Central Division race thanks to a strong first half of the season.
The Predators are definitely going to be a major playoff contender in the second half of the NHL season. The team is currently on a very hot streak with a 9-1 record over their last 10 games.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues have been a big surprise this season for most of the NHL. Many people believed the Blues were going to start making some noise this year because of all the young talent they have been hoarding.
No one expected this, though. The Blues are one of the premier teams in the NHL and will challenge for the No. 1 seed in all of hockey during the second half of the season.
The Calgary Flames are right where a lot of people expected them to be.
The Flames are currently three points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference and should be challenging for the playoffs until the end of the season. The return of Alex Tanguay will also greatly help the Flames offense.
The Avalanche really struggled last season, but have turned things around and now find themselves in the playoff hunt.
The Avalanche have kept themselves in games thanks to a strong power play, but they need to play better when both teams are at full strength. The Avalanche will need to have a strong second half to keep pace in the competitive NHL Western Conference.
The Oilers have not been very good this year, but that was to be expected. The team is showing improvement from their terrible year last year, but they still have a long way to go.
The playoffs are highly unlikely, but the Oilers still will look for a strong second half as they continue to slowly rebuild their franchise.
The Wild are struggling offensively, but the defense has been awesome for them and that is why Minnesota is currently holding a playoff spot.
The Wild have a long way to go before they can consider themselves in the playoffs, but they are definitely in the hunt. First-year head coach Mike Yeo has done a great job turning the Wild around so far.
Just like last year, the defending Western Conference Champions, the Vancouver Canucks, look like they will make another strong push in the Western Conference.
Right now, the Canucks are one of the most solid teams in the NHL from top to bottom. They have also showed the ability to go on the road and win big games.
The Anaheim Ducks have been a big disappointment so far this season. Last year, the Ducks made it to the postseason. But so far this year, they have been terrible on the road and it has hurt their playoff chances.
The Ducks could still make the playoffs, but it would take a supreme effort because of their terrible start to the season. In their last 10 games, the Ducks are 8-1-1, so maybe the supreme effort has begun.
The Dallas Stars fell just short of the playoffs last year, and they currently find themselves just outside the playoff picture right now.
The Stars offensive and defensive play has been extremely average and will need to step up more if they want to make the playoffs. Dallas will also need to step up and score more on a power play that ranks 26th in the league.
Los Angeles Kings
There was a lot of hype surrounding the Los Angeles Kings when this season started. So far, they have lived up to some of it.
The team currently finds themselves as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, but they have yet to establish themselves as one of the league's elite teams. The Kings currently rank last in the league in terms of goals scored per game and will need to start scoring more if they want to move up in the ranks of the NHL.
The Phoenix Coyotes found themselves in the playoffs last year, but so far this season, they are on the outside looking in. Phoenix has played well defensively, but will need to step up and score more on the offensive end if they want to be a contender.
Right now, their power play is ranked 29th in the league and will also have to step up for Phoenix.
San Jose Sharks
As always, the San Jose Sharks find themselves near the top of the Western Conference Standings. The Sharks feature strong defensive play, which has allowed them to win numerous games even though their offense is not extremely prolific.
The Sharks will need to win the Pacific Division if they want to have a high playoff seed and not fall behind the powerful teams in the Central Division.