1 Word to Describe Every NHL Team's First Half

Sara CivianJanuary 25, 2023

1 Word to Describe Every NHL Team's First Half

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 24: Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Sidney Crosby #87 after scoring a goal in the first period during the game against the Florida Panthers at PPG PAINTS Arena on January 24, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
    Justin Berl/Getty Images

    The first half of the NHL season is officially behind us.

    There were some big surprises—the Seattle Kraken are for real, the Boston Bruins are smashing league records, the Ottawa Senators are not yet who we thought they could be.

    There was also some unsurprising developments, like the Blackhawks, Coyotes and Canadiens all being in the mix in the tank for Connor Bedard movement.

    Let's take a look back and describe each team's first half in one word before we move on to the All-Star Game and trade-deadline chatter.

Metropolitan Division

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    Carolina Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho (20) celebrates with center Seth Jarvis (24) after scoring against the New York Islanders during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
    AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

    Hurricanes: Cohesive

    The Canes have been so well-constructed and so well-coached ever since Don Waddell and Rod Brind'Amour took over. What you're seeing now is the product of that discipline. They never have individual players putting up top-10 scoring numbers around the league, and part of that has been their refusal to overpay non-home-grown players and/or compromise too much of the future for a big splash. But the front office has been elite at both drafting and finding sneaky-great trades, and no coach in the league is better at squeezing out the best in every player than Brind'Amour.

    One stat I always look for when it comes to the Canes is shots against per game, and just as expected, they've got the fewest in the league at 26.52. This team always controls what it can control, and it's no surprise Carolina is back on top of the Metropolitan Division at the halfway mark.

    Blue Jackets: Yikes

    No one expected Columbus to be Cup contenders this year, and yes, there have been injuries to key players throughout the season, but they also weren't expected to own a 14-30-3 record and be in last place in the Eastern Conference halfway through the season. Are they underperforming? Are they tanking? Was the Johnny Gaudreau acquisition a lovely surprise but still not enough to fix depth issues on this team?

    Seems like all of the above.

    Devils: Fun

    Every year we get an unexpected regular-season darling who goes on a whirlwind run we can simply sit back and enjoy for what it is. No expectations, just vibes. Shoutout to the Devils for giving that to us right out of the gate. They've had their rough patches like any other team (except for the 2022-23 Bruins, I guess), but they're shaping up to look like the real deal now, and it's been fun to watch Jack Hughes grow into the player we knew he could be.

    Islanders: Regression

    Many of us were pleasantly surprised with the Islanders at the beginning of the season. They started out strong after leaguewide criticism for lack of offseason moves. Ilya Sorokin absolutely rocked in net. Sorokin still rocks, and a few off games aren't going to change that, but it appears the team as a whole is coming back down to earth.

    Rangers: Roller coaster

    I can't think of a team more fun to watch than the Rangers when they're on, but I can imagine the inconsistency and silly mistakes have been frustrating for Rangers fans. They've been getting it together recently, though—they're sitting in a playoff spot and are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. This is a roller coaster I'll gladly strap into to experience the highs, and I feel like there are many more to come in the postseason.

    Flyers: Sad

    The vibes are horrendous in Philadelphia this season, and not even Gritty can turn it around.

    Penguins: Twilight

    Is this the last kick at the can for the 17-year-strong trio of Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin? Who knows, so we'd better appreciate the big three while they're still together. The Penguins have been frustrating to watch at some points in the season—the losses have been piling up, and easy wins have been slipping away.

    But they're still in the wild-card race, and I'm not counting out a Crosby-led team. Ever. Tuesday night's 7-6 win led with a two-goal, four-point Letang performance and multipoint evenings from Crosby and Malkin speaks for itself.

    Alex Micheletti @AlexMicheletti

    Kris Letang OT winner, you love to see it, everything about it is right <a href="https://t.co/5yWnnit3Fx">pic.twitter.com/5yWnnit3Fx</a> <a href="https://t.co/PXDTuehL7s">https://t.co/PXDTuehL7s</a>

    Capitals: Fine

    Despite arguably the worst injury luck this season and a few other obstacles, it appears the Capitals will be just fine. And by "just fine," I mean, "They'll make the playoffs…I think." They've been way too inconsistent to warrant too much confidence, but I'm here for the rise of goaltender Charlie Lindgren and the return of stablemate Darcy Kuemper. Washington needs to develop more consistency as players return from injury and the regular season dwindles down, but if they can keep chipping away, they're fine. This is fine. Everything's fine.

Atlantic Division

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    Boston, MA - January 22: Boston Bruins goalies Linus Ullmark, left and Jeremy Swayman both played in the 4-0 shutout victory over the San Jose Sharks. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
    Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

    Bruins: Iconic

    The 2022-23 Bruins, 38-5-4 record, +83 goal differential and all, are doing something special in real time. As of Tuesday, they became the quickest team to 80 points in NHL history, and they're on pace to shatter more records. The 1995-96 Red Wings hold the regular-season wins record with 62, and the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens own the regular-season points record with 132. These Bruins are on pace to break both marks with a projected 66 wins and 139 points.

    Now, of course it's unrealistic to expect them to maintain this pace for the rest of the season, but we've been saying that every 10 games since opening night and they've yet to slow down. Between the record-breaking play, the Winter Classic, coach Jim Montgomery making the most of his second chance, the returns of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci and special seasons from Linus Ullmark and David Pastrnak, this season has iconic potential.

    Sabres: Cinderella

    If the Devils are the unexpected feel-good team of the season, the Sabres are the expected Cinderellas we can't help but root for. They get our hopes up every year and usually end up slowly crushing those hopes, but (sigh) it feels different this time around. They've got a budding star in Tage Thompson and a lot of heart. If this isn't the year they break their league-high playoff drought, I don't know what to tell you.

    Red Wings: Patience

    It's looking more like "they won't" on the Red Wings' "will-they-won't-they" scale this season, but that's perfectly fine if you trust the Yzerplan. We've been treated to glimpses of what this team could be in a few years, and the Red Wings are showing steady improvement, albeit too slow for some eager fans. For me, the steady improvement over the past few seasons is enough to still trust in the Yzerplan. Give it another season, folks.

    Panthers: Confusing

    The Panthers have been teetering between confusing and disappointing since winning the Presidents' Trophy and getting swept in the second round last season. They've had to adjust to several big offseason changes, and they've strung together a few convincing streaks as of late, but I never know what I'm going to get when I watch them (except for at least one sloppy defensive play per night), and that's a problem.

    Canadiens: Expected

    The Canadiens were expected to be bad this year, and they're meeting those expectations at 20-25-3, good for last place in the Atlantic Division. Nothing to see here, although I wonder if they might start cranking up the tank in light of how effortlessly worse some other teams are currently playing.

    Senators: Disappointing

    The "We're not mad, we're just disappointed" trophy of the year goes to the Ottawa Senators. They had such a good offseason, highlighted by signing hometown kid Claude Giroux, not to mention the youth movement was right on schedule to excel. A few injuries, bad luck and bad vibes later and this team isn't going anywhere near the playoffs. Luckily they've still got plenty talented, young players, and Ryan Reynolds seems very interested in buying the team.

    Brighter days ahead.

    Lightning: Meh

    People always say the regular season doesn't matter when it comes to the Maple Leafs, but I believe that's more accurate for the Lightning. Tampa Bay has been good but quiet through the first half of this season (30-15-1), but if any team can crank it up for the playoffs, it's the Lightning. It'll be interesting to see how they approach the second half of the season, whether they continue to fly under the radar or not.

    Maple Leafs: Optimistic

    Do I dare say that things look optimistic in Leafs Land? I know, I know, nothing matters until the playoffs. But you don't just wake up one day and make a deep run. You develop good habits, good vibes and consistent tools along the way.

    It looks like the Leafs have figured that out this year, and even if the fans are racing to the postseason, the team has been building some mental and physical strength throughout the season. Mitch Marner is quieting the haters. Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov are winning doubters over in net. It's also looking like the Leafs have played their way out of facing the Bruins in the first round. So yeah, the first half of the regular season actually does matter, and the Leafs crushed it this time.

Central Division

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    DALLAS, TEXAS - JANUARY 21: Jake Oettinger #29 of the Dallas Stars is congratulated by Jason Robertson #21 following the game against the Arizona Coyotes at American Airlines Center on January 21, 2023 in Dallas, Texas. Dallas won 4-0. (Photo by Sam Hodde/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Sam Hodde/NHLI via Getty Images

    Coyotes: Casual

    This is obviously a tanking year for the Mullett Arena dwellers, so I appreciate their casual dress code at least gave us some fun fashion content through the first half of the season.

    Blackhawks: Ugh

    They're as bad as they're supposed to be, and we're all waiting for the end of an era at the trade deadline.

    Avalanche: Inconsistent

    Cup hangovers are to be expected, but the extent to which the Avalanche fell off through the first half of this season was jarring. They're still in the mix at 26-17-3, and things have been looking much better since a few of their many injured players have returned, but I never thought they'd be fighting for a playoff spot at this point.

    It looks like they're cleaning it up on this six-game winning streak, though, so this could be the turning point. Battle-tested teams are pretty good at turning it on when they absolutely must.

    Stars: Underrated

    Yes, the Stars are leading the West with their 64 points (they've also got eight overtime losses, shoutout to the loser point). But yes, they are still somehow underrated. It might just be the small-market Central Division curse, but the Stars might sneak up on those of us not paying enough attention when the playoffs roll around. Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski have been the best line in the league at times and deserve more credit.

    Wild: Sneaky

    Well, well, well, your Minnesota Wild are suddenly 25-17-4 and knocking on the door of a playoff spot. The record isn't outstanding, but the team is on the right track after some pretty brutal stretches this season. They do find themselves in the middle of a three-game losing streak, but they have the perfect opportunity to right the ship against the Flyers on Thursday. If they can go on a solid run, they just might sneak into the playoffs and surprise us all.

    Predators: Annoying

    Please stop stringing us along and just start the rebuild, or at least decide who you really are. The last two wins against the Jets and the Kings are giving me too much hope, but the Predators have played up to good competition and down to bad competition all season. Who are you? What are you?

    Blues: Prolonging

    Part of me wants to wait and see how the rest of the season could play out if the Blues just put their noses down and try really hard, but the other part of me feels like the playoffs are slipping away. At this point, maybe they should stop prolonging the inevitable and trade Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko for some first-round picks. We don't want another Vancouver Canucks situation on our hands. Please don't do that to us, St. Louis.

    Jets: Contenders

    Rick Bowness has led the formerly middling Jets to second in the Central Division at 31-17-1. They've got great goaltending and the fundamentals down. I'd love to see a trade for a playoff veteran who can score to give them a little boost, but the first half of the season convinced me Winnipeg could be the real deal this time.

Pacific Division

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    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - JANUARY 21: Matty Beniers #10 of the Seattle Kraken skates in overtime against the Colorado Avalanche at Climate Pledge Arena on January 21, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
    Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    Ducks: Astonishing (derogatory)

    Folks, before Tuesday's 5-2 win over the Coyotes, the Anaheim Ducks had an minus-86 goal differential. Not only did you read that right, but take a glance at their game-by-game results this season, and the goal differential might not even do this situation justice.

    The defense is astonishingly weak in Anaheim, and the goals are not goaling the way they should be. It's like a performance art exaggerated version of what tanking is, so hopefully they're actually intending to tank. My thoughts and prayers are with you all regardless.

    Flames: Potential

    It's hard to get a great read on the wishy-washy Flames. Goaltending certainly hasn't been up to snuff, and there have been a few underperforming forwards. But the team's play has been trending in the right direction as of late, and those patterns are what it's all about when you're in the middle of the playoff pack.

    Oilers: Anticipation

    Much of this Oilers season has been spent wondering if Evander Kane's return will be enough to lift this team up to where it needs to be. With the way Edmonton's been playing recently (consistently well!), Kane's return is an added boost that could prolong the momentum.

    Kings: Exciting

    The Kings could really use another defenseman at the trade deadline, but other than that they've followed up their exciting seven-game playoff run last season with what feels like the next necessary step. They seem to be setting themselves up for long-term success a few years down the line.

    Sharks: Bait

    Did you see what I did there? Anyway, this was always going to be a bad season for the Sharks by design, if it wasn't for one pesky rascal named Erik Karlsson. In all seriousness, his Norris favorite-level resurgence this season has created some fantastic trade bait for a team that's looking to build for the future. This should be a slam dunk as the trade deadline approaches, but we'll see...

    Kraken: Darkhorse

    Where did these Kraken come from? A mix of the youth movement taking off, depth, goaltending improvements and patience have the 2022-23 Kraken looking almost unrecognizable from their inaugural season.

    They've far exceeded expectations this season at 27-14-5 and with the best point percentage in the Pacific, and it makes you wonder just how far they can take it.

    Canucks: Depressing

    This Canucks season has felt more like a season of a bad reality TV show than that of a National Hockey League team. With three head coaches currently on the payroll, it's like everyone except management knows the issue isn't and never has been the head coach. Then again, I can't claim to know what's going on behind closed doors out there, but I'll be first in line at the movie theatre for the documentary.

    Golden Knights: Package

    Vegas got healthy headed into this season, save for goaltender Robin Lehner. But rookie Logan Thompson has stepped up and impressed, meanwhile offensive production has been great with a deep top six and 3.22 goals per game. The Golden Knights are good-to-great at every single facet of the game, and it's come together for the full package and a consistent No. 1 spot in the Pacific Division.