Winners and Losers From the 1st Half of the 2022-23 NHL Season

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 2, 2023

Winners and Losers From the 1st Half of the 2022-23 NHL Season

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    Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid (left) and goaltender Jack Campbell
    Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid (left) and goaltender Jack CampbellJeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

    The 2022-23 NHL season officially surpassed its halfway point on Jan. 11. Before looking ahead to the March 3 trade deadline and the playoffs, let's go back and determine the winners and the losers from the first half of the season.

    The Boston Bruins dominated the standings at what could be a record-setting pace. Meanwhile, several teams floundered near the bottom of the standings for various reasons.

    Well-established stars such as the Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid is on pace for what could be the best regular season of his career. On the other hand, several players expected to perform well, like McDavid's teammate Jack Campbell, struggled through the opening half of the schedule.

    The following are our picks for the notable winners and losers from the first half of the season. Express your views in the comments section if you agree or disagree or believe we've missed a player or team.

Winner: Breakout Players

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    Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens
    Buffalo Sabres center Dylan CozensBill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

    Every NHL season sees its share of promising youngsters blossom into stars. Over halfway through 2022-23, four notable players are enjoying breakout performances.

    Dylan Cozens showed potential as a sophomore center last season with the Buffalo Sabres, netting 38 points in 79 games. Centering the Sabres' second line, the 21-year-old has 43 points in 48 games this season. He's a vital part of the promising young Sabres and is on pace for at least 70 points.

    After Kirby Dach spent three difficult seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Montreal Canadiens acquired him last summer. The 21-year-old forward is receiving top-six minutes with the rebuilding Canadiens, earning more playing time as injuries deplete their lineup. With 33 points in 51 games, the 22-year-old is on pace to reach 50 points for the first time.

    Martin Necas reached 41 points in the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season followed by 40 points in 2021-22. This season, the versatile Carolina Hurricanes forward has already exceeded those numbers with a career-high 46 points in 50 games. The 24-year-old could reach 65 points by season's end.

    Injuries and inconsistency threatened to derail Gabriel Vilardi's chances of becoming a roster regular for the Los Angeles Kings. However, the 23-year-old winger has 17 goals and 31 points in 45 games. He's currently sidelined by an upper-body injury, but he could reach 50 points if he picks up where he left off once he returns following the All-Star break.

Loser: The Trade Market

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    The Vancouver Canucks traded Bo Horvat to the New York Islanders on Jan. 30.
    The Vancouver Canucks traded Bo Horvat to the New York Islanders on Jan. 30.Derek Cain/Getty Images

    A number of NHL teams are sitting well above the $82.5 million salary cap at the midseason marks. Seventeen of the 32 teams are using long-term injury reserve to legally circumvent the ceiling as of Feb. 1. Only five teams have $10 million plus in cap space, while 10 others have between $1.6 million and $9.6 million.

    Since 2020-21, the salary cap has risen by only $1 million per season due to revenue restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every team felt that gradual increase over the last two seasons. However, it has had a noticeable effect this season with a much higher number of teams facing significant cap constraints.

    Those limitations have also affected the trade market. Clubs can accrue cap space leading up to the trade deadline, giving them sufficient wiggle room to acquire the remainder of a player's average annual salary for the season. However, many clubs still have such limited space that it is hampering their ability to improve their rosters via trades.

    That would account for why there were only three trades in January 2023. Since the start of the regular season, all but one trade involved players carrying $2.7 million or less in salary. The sole exception was the Canucks trading Bo Horvat ($5.5 million cap hit) to the New York Islanders, with the Canucks retaining 25 percent.

Winner: Seattle Kraken

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    Seattle Kraken
    Seattle KrakenChristopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images

    Finishing near the bottom of the 2021-22 Western Conference standings, the Seattle Kraken weren't an overnight success like the Vegas Golden Knights in their inaugural season. However, their sophomore campaign has been a different story. Entering the All-Star break, they are jockeying for first place in the Pacific Division.

    Improved goaltending has been a key factor for the Kraken. In 2021-22, the trio of Philipp Grubauer, Joey Daccord and Chris Driedger combined for a goals-against per game of 3.46. This season, Grubauer and offseason addition Martin Jones are allowing only 3.04.

    Rookie center Matty Beniers and offseason signing AndrΓ© Burakovsky bolstered their offense. They're benefiting from a healthy Yanni Gourde, Daniel Sprong already has a career-best 15 goals, and midseason addition Eeli Tolvanen has found his scoring touch. Meanwhile, defenseman Vince Dunn is on pace for a career-best 50-point performance.

    The Kraken also showed character by overcoming a shaky start. They won only three of their first nine games and went through a December slump where they won just three of 11 games.

    Seattle is growing more confident and cohesive as this season rolls along. The Kraken should remain a legitimate playoff contender.

Loser: Bottom-Feeding Teams

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    Columbus Blue Jackets
    Columbus Blue JacketsGraham Stokes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    In a 32-team league, there will be clubs that fail to reach the postseason. A handful, however, has been mired at the bottom of the overall standings for most of this season. They'll have good odds to win the 2023 draft lottery and the right to draft top prospect Connor Bedard. Still, the constant losing has to be draining for the players and fans.

    The Columbus Blue Jackets entered this season with hope following a promising 80-point campaign in 2021-22 and the offseason signing of superstar winger Johnny Gaudreau. However, they've been undone by shaky goaltending and a rash of injuries to core players like Zach Werenski, Jakub Voracek, Patrik Laine and Boone Jenner.

    This is the first full season of a roster rebuild for the Chicago Blackhawks under general manager Kyle Davidson. Aging stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are the last link to Chicago's Stanley Cup championship years. This club still lacks skilled depth throughout its lineup as they transition toward a younger roster.

    Two of the NHL's three California franchises are near the bottom of the standings. The Anaheim Ducks have been rebuilding their roster since Pat Verbeek took over last February as general manager. Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks is a veteran-laden roster with a rookie GM in Mike Grier still charting this club's course for the future.

    The Arizona Coyotes continue to rebuild under former general manager Bill Armstrong. Meanwhile, their on-ice play has been overshadowed by their arena woes. They're skating in the 5,000-seat Mullett Arena as ownership attempts to wrangle out a deal to construct a new NHL venue in Tempe.

Winner: Boston Bruins

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    Boston Bruins
    Boston BruinsJosh Lavallee/NHLI via Getty Images

    By Jan. 11, the Toronto Maple Leafs (59 points), Carolina Hurricanes (57), Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings (56 points each) and New Jersey Devils (55 points) were locked in a tight contest between second and seventh place in the overall standings. They all sat well behind the Boston Bruins, who were first overall with 68 points.

    Three weeks later, the Bruins remain this season's dominant club. They entered Wednesday holding a seven-point lead over the second-place Hurricanes with 81 points in 50 games. At this pace, they could break their single-season franchise record of 57 wins, 14 losses and seven ties (121 points) set in 1970-71.

    The Bruins are powerful at both ends of the rink. They allow the fewest goals per game (2.12) and have the best penalty-kill percentage (86.2). They're also among the top teams in goals per game average (3.70), power-play percentage (25.3) and faceoff win percentage (55.3).

    Forwards Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and David Krejci as well as defenseman Hampus Lindholm and goaltender Linus Ullmark have stood out thus far for the Bruins this season. Their performances enabled the club to overcome the early-season absences of winger Brad Marchand and defenseman Charlie McAvoy to injuries.

Loser: Vancouver Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - NOVEMBER 29: J.T. Miller #9 of the Vancouver Canucks sprays himself with water during warm-up before their NHL game against the Washington Capitals at Rogers Arena November 29, 2022 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

    After the Vancouver Canucks hired Bruce Boudreau as head coach on Dec. 5, 2021, they went 32-15-10 over the remainder of the season to finish within five points of a wild-card berth. With leading scorer J.T. Miller signing a contract extension before training camp, Canucks fans had a reason for optimism entering 2022-23.

    Instead, it has turned into a season of misery. The Canucks went winless in their first seven games (0-5-2)and dropped 10 of 12 games after climbing back to 16-15-3.

    That slide cost Boudreau his job, but fans and media criticized Canucks management for its treatment of the popular coach prior to his firing. His replacement, Rick Tocchet, was booed by Canucks followers during his introduction for his first game at Rogers Arena.

    Various factors have cost the Canucks thus far. Miller isn't playing up to the level he did last season. Starting goalie Thatcher Demko struggled before suffering a lower-body injury in early December that has sidelined him ever since. Their defensive play is among the league's worst. Trade rumors dogged captain Bo Horvat before he was shipped to the New York Islanders on Jan. 30.

    Other potential playoff contenders such as the Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers and New York Islanders have disappointed this season. However, they still have a realistic shot at the postseason. Barring a major turnaround, the Canucks are on course to miss the playoffs for the eighth time in 10 seasons.

Winner: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

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    Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid
    Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavidDerek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Connor McDavid is well-established as the NHL's top player. A four-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy, three-time winner of the Ted Lindsay Award and two-time Hart Trophy winner, the 26-year-old Edmonton Oilers captain dominates the game with his dazzling speed and impressive offensive skills.

    Since his sophomore season in 2016-17, McDavid has reached or exceeded 100 points five times. An injury limited him to 64 games in 2019-20, but he still finished with 97 points that season. But through the first half of 2022-23, McDavid is scoring at a pace that could exceed his career-best 123 points from last season.

    At the midpoint of the season, McDavid led all skaters with 77 points in 42 games, sitting a full 15 points ahead of teammate Leon Draisaitl. He also led the league with 34 goals, sitting two up on Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak.

    Heading into Wednesday, McDavid had 41 goals and 92 points in 50 games. He could become the first player to reach 150 points in a single season since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in 1995-96. McDavid is on pace to win his fifth Art Ross Trophy and could also win the Maurice Richard Trophy as the top goal scorer for the first time in his career.

Loser: The Most Disappointing Stars

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    Edmonton Oilers goaltender Jack Campbell
    Edmonton Oilers goaltender Jack CampbellAndy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

    Several notable stars struggled to play up to expectations throughout the first half of the 2022-23 season for a variety of reasons.

    The Edmonton Oilers thought they were getting a reliable starting goaltender when they signed free agent Jack Campbell to a five-year, $25 million contract. It hasn't worked out as hoped thus far, as Stuart Skinner has been outplaying the 31-year-old. His 3.34 goals-against average and .887 save percentage rank among the league's worst.

    Jonathan Huberdeau was part of a blockbuster move last summer when the Florida Panthers sent him to the Calgary Flames for Matthew Tkachuk. While Tkachuk has 66 points in 49 games with his new club, Huberdeau has managed only 33 points in 47 games with the Flames. That's a significant drop-off from his career-best 115-point performance last season.

    St. Louis Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly has been among the league's elite two-way centers since 2011-12, netting 55 or more points 10 times in the past 11 seasons. Prior to suffering a broken foot on Dec. 31, the 31-year-old center had managed only 16 points in 37 games. Perhaps the wear-and-tear of his style of play is catching up with him.

    Signed to a one-year, $7 million contract with the Anaheim Ducks, John Klingberg was hoping to bolster his stock for the 2023 free-agent market after failing to land a lucrative long-term deal last summer. Having tallied 40-plus points six times in eight seasons, the 30-year-old defenseman has managed only 17 points through 42 games with the Ducks.


    Stats (as of Feb. 1, 2023) via NHL.com and Hockey-Reference.com. Salary info via Cap Friendly.

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