We're now into mid-December, and teams are beginning to separate themselves from the pack in both conferences.
The trouble is, the teams that are separating are going the wrong way. The bottom is falling out for some teams, making their focus on health and the 2012 Draft while other teams try to position themselves for an honest run at the Stanley Cup.
What follows is our odds of every team winning the Cup.
It's pretty simple with Columbus. On paper, in the standings and projecting forward, they're on the very short list to be considered the worst team in the NHL. Frankly, 400/1 could be the odds that they make the playoffs this year, and Vegas would make money on every Buckeye putting a ticket in.
Unfortunately for Rick Nash and company, their defense is weak, they don't have a goalie and they're in the hardest division in the game. These odds are being kind.
They're already buried in the Eastern Conference and now have to wonder when they'll have Jeff Skinner back on the ice (and for how long).
You can't take arguably the best scorer off a team that's already struggling to put the puck in the net and expect them to contend. They have a good goalie, and some very good players, but no chance of winning the Cup this year. Some of their players might get a ring, elsewhere, but the franchise will not.
The Islanders have a lot of talent but continue to be a confusing group of underachievers. They're battling Carolina for the bottom spot in the Eastern Conference. As was the case of the teams before the Isles, the real odds should read "none."
There's a lot of talent there, but there's something missing. If it's chemistry, effort or lack of depth, they're currently 14th in the Western Conference and are a long-shot to even make the playoffs.
If you're a betting person and want to put a wager on something, pick the odds that Bobby Ryan or Ryan Getzlaf are still in Anaheim in March. There's more money to be made there.
Right now, Ottawa is within a win of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. But with their leading scorer now a question mark, and the roster having clear weaknesses, the likelihood that they will get into the postseason and make a run are getting longer with each game.
As we said with Carolina, there might be players on the Sens roster that win a ring this year, but it won't be in Ottawa.
I honestly feel bad for Jarome Iginla and hope he waives his no trade clause.
The mix has been wrong in Calgary for years, and they're once again a long-shot to make the playoffs. They currently sit in 12th in the Western Conference and aren't making a move in the right direction with any consistency.
Winnipeg is on the cusp of the postseason, but don't have the fire power to win the Eastern Conference. Are they a playoff team? Maybe. They certainly have great experience in their two-time championship-winning captain and some other pieces on the roster, but there are too many teams in their conference that are better standing in the way.
The talent is absolutely there for the Avs to make a run and get into the postseason this year. And they have enough speed to give a team fits in the first round. But winning it all?
Part of being a young team is the streaks that come with age. Colorado is only 8-9-0 at home, and have been outscored by 12 goals in 31 games this year. Those numbers are concerns for any team with championship aspirations.
There's a lot to like in Edmonton, and watching them up close reminds many of the 2007-08 Blackhawks. The Western Conference is loaded at the top, though, and those that see a lot of those Blackhawks in these Oilers should also remember that the 2008 postseason didn't include the Hawks.
A Cup might not be very far away from the Oilers, but it isn't coming in June 2012.
It's hard to believe that the injury to Mike Richards is the entire cause for the unreal collapse in LA, but the offense has completely disappeared for the Kings. There is too much talent—and money being spent—for them to be among the worst scoring teams in the league.
They're skating for their second coach in the first half of the season, and might have a third before Christmas. But will they be among the top eight teams in the West when the regular season ends? They're going to need to be a lot more consistent to be there.
Phoenix is standing in position to take advantage of an underwhelming division behind consistent leadership and steady play.
The problem is they just don't have enough fire power to get out of the West. Mike Smith isn't going to get it done, and they don't have the horses to score with teams like the Canucks, Blackhawks and Red Wings.
With 28 points in 31 games, the Bolts are puzzling to anyone who looks at the raw talent on their roster. A smart gamble might on the odds that they join the parade of coaching changes before the end of the year, but the postseason isn't in the cards the way they're playing now.
There is still time, and they might make a move to bring in a legitimate number one netminder, but there are five teams between the Bolts and the postseason today.
Dallas got off to a hot start, and are still leading their division, but they suffer from the same reality as the Coyotes. There is some skill there, but the Stars just don't have enough fire power to keep up with the top teams in the Western Conference.
Yes, a look at the conference standings today shows the Stars in third (as a division leader), but their 37 points are behind Detroit, St. Louis and Vancouver.
There is a very important reason for the odds on Philadelphia being as long as they are here: health.
If you go to Vegas today, the odds on the Flyers are significantly better than this. But there are two players that aren't on the ice tonight—Chris Pronger and Claude Giroux—that carry enormous weight with the long-term aspirations of the Flyers.
Reports now are that Pronger is done for the year because of a concussion, and the most feared word in hockey has been used regarding Giroux: "indefinite." The Flyers need these two players to win a Cup. Without them, they're a good team in the East, but not good enough to win it all.
Right now, New Jersey is a middle-of-the-pack team in the Eastern Conference.
But if they get Travis Zajac back to 100 percent and clicking in their top six, there's enough offense on the Devils roster to make some serious noise this year. The major questions will be on their blue line and with Brodeur's health, but the scoring will certainly be there.
Today, the Preds are team that will give one of the top three seeds in the Western Conference fits in the first round of the playoffs.
But what we don't know is what the Preds will look like after the deadline. Will they make a decision and pull the trigger on moving either Shea Weber or Ryan Suter, or will that wait for the postseason? It's doubtful that they're deep enough to win it all as-is, but they're as well-coached as any team in the game.
The problem with the Habs is...wait for it...their inability to score. Carey Price continues to be solid, and their group of defensemen is good and deep, but they have as much trouble putting it in the net as anyone in the league.
Montreal will be an intriguing team to watch as the coming weeks approach. Will they make a coaching change? Or a major trade? Or will they be content to stay healthy and let things work themselves out on the ice?
As talented as any team in the league, the Caps have also been as frustrating as any. Will Ovechkin get back on the horse and be a 40-goal guy? Will Mike Green ever be seen again? And will Alex Semin be in Washington in March? All of these questions bear enormous weight on the hopes of the Caps.
Buffalo spent a lot of money this summer, but their MVP to date has been the medical staff. They need their better players, especially Ryan Miller, to be on the ice if they have any chance of winning a Cup.
Right now, Buffalo is eighth in the Eastern Conference, but they're 3-4-3 in their last 10. Consistency needs to improve for Buffalo to be taken seriously.
The Rangers have been on fire lately, jumping into the top four in the Eastern Conference and chasing the top three. They have outstanding defense and a game-changer between the pipes, and the addition of Brad Richards gives them a much more potent offense.
If they can sustain their scoring and stay healthy, they could be a player in the Eastern Conference.
San Jose is trending in the wrong direction right now. The moves they made this summer, especially hoping that Martin Havlat would in any way replace Dany Heatley and/or Devin Setoguchi, have been a bust so far. They're 3-5-2 in their last 10 games and are struggling to keep their fins above water in the Western Conference playoff picture.
A move might need to happen for the Sharks to be a legitimate contender for a deep run this year, and it might be at the expense of a third coach in California.
As we stated with the Philadelphia Flyers, health is the major concern with the Pens. If you can guarantee today that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang will be 100 percent for the postseason, the odds of Pittsburgh winning the Cup are better than any team in the league.
But if you take one of those away from the picture—especially Crosby—and there are any questions with the rest of the roster's health, the Pens are "reduced" to being a very good team with a shot to win the Eastern Conference.
The Panthers are taking advantage of a division that's been asleep for the first couple months of the season and have been one of the great stories in the league. If they have home ice "advantage," if only for one round, it will make things a lot easier.
One thing Florida has on their side is experience. They might not have an all-world netminder, but the influx of players from Chicago's Cup team and the blending they've done with Dale Tallon's other summer additions have been the reason for the turnaround in Florida.
Toronto certainly has enough depth all over the ice to make a run this year, and they have a GM that won't be afraid to do something bold to put them in position to go all the way. The problem, though, continues to be between the pipes. The Leafs will need a legitimate netminder to win a Cup, and there are good questions about all of the options they have available right now.
If San Jose's moves have been a bust this year, the Wild should be sending a nice gift basket to Doug Wilson's house for Christmas. Minnesota is the surprise team in the Western Conference this year and have shown that, though they might not wow anyone on paper, they have enough to make things interesting with the top teams in the conference.
There have been consistency issues all year in Vancouver. They're 7-2-1 in their last 10, but they were only 11-9-1 before that.
Health is a major concern as well. Ryan Kesler missed the beginning of the season, Roberto Luongo has missed time and David Booth has also been injured. They boast the second-highest team plus-minus in the Western Conference and have a good chance of getting out of the West.
With Schneider needing a new deal next summer, they need to make a decision in net. Will they, like the Preds, wait until summer, or will they pull the trigger on moving one of them during the year? That could be a game-changer for Vancouver.
St. Louis is 8-1-1 in their last 10 and have been a force since making the first coaching change of the season. They're an incredible 12-3-1 at home and now sit tied with Detroit for second in the Central and fourth in the Western Conference with 39 points in 30 games.
If they can get Jaroslav Halak to play like the playoff hero he was in Montreal, and get consistent offense (meaning better than their current pace of 75 goals in 30 games), they're a legitimate Cup contender.
With a shootout win in Minnesota on Wednesday night, the Blackhawks stayed on top of the Central and in the mix for the top spot in the conference. Their young core has been there, and there isn't a more dynamic group of forwards in the league right now than Toews-Kane-Hossa-Sharp, all four of whom have at least 31 points already.
The question in Chicago is if they have the right goaltender to make a run. They did it with an untested Antti Niemi a couple years ago, but will Ray Emery take the top spot away from Corey Crawford?
Jimmy Howard is proving to be every bit an All-Star, and the slow start from their top forwards has quickly disappeared. They need to stay healthy, but this Detroit team is as good and deep as any in the league. As long as they have Mr. Lidstrom taking care of the blue line and Mr. Datsyuk controlling the puck at will, they're dangerous.
They did it last year, have most of the same team back, and have wiped off a rough October to be sitting on top of the NHL again. With a fantastic tandem in net and enough depth to cover for an injury or two, the Bruins are just as much of a threat this year as they were 12 months ago.