Looking back at my 2010-11 season preview, I have 6 out of 8 playoff spots in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference correct. What surprises me is whose at the top or near it in each conference. Tampa Bay is second in the East and Nashville is fourth in the West. I had both of them making the playoffs, but not anywhere near those spots. Looking at what's happened so far this season there are only two elite teams and the rest are either just below 'elite' status or just above having to wait til next year. Here is the breakdown.
Philadelphia Flyers (33-12-5)
They are head and shoulders above everyone in the East. Mike Richards, Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter all have at least 44 points at the All-Star break. Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino are primed for career years. Defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Matt Carle have stepped up their game in the absence of Chris Pronger. Good news is Pronger is back and healthy for the stretch run to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They are doing all this with stability at the goaltender position as well. Sergei Bobrovsky has taken over and is well in line to have a fantastic postseason with his comparable veteran backup Brian Boucher putting up similar stats.
Vancouver Canucks (31-10-9)
The deepest team in the NHL is showing no signs of slowing down at the All-Star break. The Sedin twins (Daniel and Henrik) are both on pace to get 100 points each this season. Ryan Kesler could very well get near 50 goals scored when the season is over. Newcomers Raffi Torres and Manny Malhotra have been stable forces in the middle of their lines and defensively they are playing superb with the likes of Alexander Edler, Christian Ehrhoff, Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis. Goalie Roberto Luongo is playing superbly and his backup Cory Schneider has filled in nicely with 8 wins in 12 starts this year so far.
Above the Crowd
Pittsburgh Penguins (31-15-4)
They really miss Sidney Crosby (66 points) and Evgeni Malkin (37 points). However, like most teams with their depth, they can afford to be without them for a little while. There's no question that they will need Crosby and Malkin for the playoffs, but for now they have enough to keep pace atop the East. Defenseman Kris Letang is having a career year with 41 points at the break. Chris Kunitz has picked up the scoring with the injuries to their two star players. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will need to continue to keep the Penguins in low scoring games with his 2.19 GAA which is fifth in the league.
Tampa Bay Lightning (31-15-5)
It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that Tampa Bay is ahead of Washington in the Southeast Division. Steven Stamkos is the real deal and will easily be averaging 50 goals for most of his career. Martin St. Louis (60 points) is probably playing better hockey now than the teams Stanley Cup year of 2004. The one major flaw with the Lightning is in net. They recently acquired veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson from the New York Islanders to fix that. His 7-3 record with a 2.25 GAA and 3 shutouts just might have done that for this young up and coming team.
Washington Capitals (27-15-9)
Good things can't last forever, but Alex Ovechkin doesn't have at least 20 goals at the break? Something is wrong with that. Yes, 19 goals is just one shy, but it's Ovechkin. You would expect his scoring output to remain the same. Not to worry Capitals fans, he will have another great year and so will Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green. Alexander Semin is banged up, but he should back shortly after the break. It's been an inconsistent year for Washington goaltenders, but Semyon Varlamov has managed to salvage the position and he will have to hold it down going into the playoffs.
Detroit Red Wings (30-13-6)
I'm convinced that defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom (42 points) can play as long as Chris Chelios did. He never seems to lose any of his edge as he gains another year of experience. With him, Henrik Zetterberg and a healthy Johan Franzen they started out strong and haven't looked back. Their arch rival Chicago is ten points behind them in the standings. Jimmy Howard hasn't shown any signs of a sophomore slump in net for Detroit. Health is always a concern with them, but they should still be considered contenders until they are eliminated from the playoffs.
Dallas Stars (30-15-5)
I said that it wouldn't surprise me if every team in the Pacific Division made the playoffs. I just didn't expect Dallas to be on top. Credit to them for playing their game and not listening to anyone's expectations. Brad Richards (57 points) is playing lights out hockey. Loui Eriksson and Mike Ribeiro are setting up the offense with a combined 68 assists. Defensively Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas are playing perfect. Goalies Kari Lehtonen and Andrew Raycroft are doing just enough to keep Dallas ahead of the rest of their division rivals.
Anaheim Ducks (28-20-4)
The Ducks are starting to peak at the right time. Their captain Ryan Getzlaf is about to return to the lineup. Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry have picked up the scoring in his absence. Teemu Selanne can still play at an elite level. Lubomir Visnovsky is playing stellar defense. As is rookie Cam Fowler. Jonas Hiller is continuing the now expected tradition of great goalies in Anaheim. J.S. Giguere, Ilya Bryzgalov and now Hiller have blessed the Ducks with consistent play in the net. With a healthy Getzlaf, Anaheim will be a dangerous team down the stretch.
Middle of the Pack
New York Rangers (29-20-3)
It's been an up and down year for the Rangers. Marian Gaborik is having trouble staying healthy and yet he's second on the team in points scored with 31. Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Boyle and rookie Derek Stepan have been picking up the slack on offense with Gaborik's injuries. Marc Staal has been steady on defense and the sooner Dan Girardi gets healthy, the better. They are counting on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist a lot this season. More than usual it seems. He will have to continue to play stellar hockey to keep the Rangers in the playoff hunt.
Boston Bruins (28-15-7)
They don't have the same fire power they had two years ago when they were the crowned with the President's Trophy. The one thing they did have was Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas playing at an elite level. He's doing that again with a 1.87 GAA, .950 save percentage and 7 shutouts too. With his stellar play, offensively they haven't had to produce as much, but they have eight players with at least 25 points. Patrice Bergeron tops that list and is followed by Milan Lucic. Zdeno Chara continues to take over games on defense. Boston could easily pass Tampa Bay for the second spot in the East, but they should expect Thomas' production to drop just a bit down the stretch.
Montreal Canadiens (27-18-5)
With a year out of the limelight, goalie Carey Price has returned and is helping Montreal stay in contention. Michael Cammalleri and Brian Gionta are having a bit of a down year in the goal scoring department, but that should change rather quickly. Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez will have to continue to set up the goal scorers to take pressure off Price to win games for them. P.K. Subban has been the talk of this years rookie class. His high energy style and toughness are on full display after a short stint at the end of the season last year and in the playoffs. Look for Montreal to stay pace with Boston for the Northeast Division.
Atlanta Thrashers (24-19-9)
Defense has been the theme for Atlanta this year. The trade with Chicago is paying dividends this season. Dustin Byfuglien was moved to defense and has played at a higher level than at forward. Andrew Ladd is tied with Byfuglien (16 goals) in goals scored and are in the top three in points scored for Atlanta. Tobias Enstrom has been fantastic on defense with Byfuglien. Both are the reason for the quick turnaround. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec has been outstanding with a .930 save percentage and a GAA under 2.50. The Thrashers play in perhaps the toughest division in the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay and Washington will likely stay ahead, but Carolina is slowly creeping up.
Carolina Hurricanes (25-19-6)
Goalie Cam Ward is starting to show that magic again from their Stanley Cup run in 2006. He already has 22 wins and a .920 save percentage. Their top three are Eric Staal, Tuomo Ruutu and rookie Jeff Skinner. It's expected that Staal and Ruutu would be the top point scorers for Carolina, but Skinner too? He was a highly regarded prospect, but when he fell to Carolina at number seven, they were ecstatic. He is showing his value ten fold in his rookie season. The Hurricanes will need Joe Corvo and Joni Pitkanen to pick it up on defense if they are to pass Atlanta into the playoffs.
Nashville Predators (27-17-6)
As much as some would like to see Nashville fail and fall out of contention, they just won't. It starts with the defensive pairing of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Both are as good as any in the past decade. Goalie Pekka Rinne is the real deal with a 2.11 GAA and .930 save percentage. The defense and goaltender go along way in keeping a team in contention for many years. Patric Honrqvist has kept the pace on offense, but they will need a healthy Steve Sullivan to make a run in the playoffs.
Chicago Blackhawks (26-20-4)
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are doing their part on defense. Patrick Sharp is having another productive year. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are having down years, but they should bounce back soon. The over riding problem has been with their goalies. Marty Turco could not re-produce what Antti Niemi did for them last year. Corey Crawford might be able to do that, but it's a long shot. He will have to get Chicago out of the bottom of the West which is stacked this year.
Colorado Avalanche (25-19-6)
It wasn't out of the question to expect goalie Craig Anderson to have a down year after the career year he had last year. No one expected it to be as bad though. Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny are forming a formidable duo in Colorado. Chris Stewart returning to the lineup provides a big boost to their attack. John-Michael Liles and rookie Kevin Shattenkirk have been superb on defense, but they will need Anderson to regain some of his form from last year if Colorado is to survive the competitive Western Conference.
Minnesota Wild (25-19-5)
Martin Havlat is having a bounce back season for Minnesota. It's something they've needed since signing him before last season. Mikko Koivu continues to be their best playmaker on offense. Brent Burns is having a career year for the Wild on defense. He's tied for the team lead in goals scored (14). Niklas Backstrom is having a bounce back year as well in net for Minnesota. If everything continues to go their way, they might pass Colorado and a few others into the playoffs.
Phoenix Coyotes (25-17-9)
Ilya Bryzgalov is still capable of getting 30-40 wins for Phoenix. With that, it's still possible that Phoenix has another run in them to dominate the Western Conference. Keith Yandle is keeping them in line of defense. Shane Doan is healthy and with Ray Whitney and Lee Stempniak on the wing, the Coyotes still have enough to attack opposing defenses.
San Jose Sharks (25-19-6)
The expectations might be getting to San Jose during the regular season. Usually it's during the playoffs, but a lot isn't going their way. Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau will get their stats to their normal levels, but that's about it. Dan Boyle has been struggling on defense. Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi are having disappointing seasons. Logan Couture is the surprise leading the team with 22 goals. Antti Niemi has been struggling all year. It appears San Jose's reign has come to an end.
Los Angeles Kings (27-22-1)
The hot and cold streaks this year have taken their toll on them. They are too talented to not make the playoffs, but as of today they will miss the playoffs. Anze Kopitar will have to get on a hot streak fast to get them back on track. Justin Williams was hot to start the year, but has trailed off lately. Dustin Brown, Ryan Smyth and Jarret Stoll have been consistent for most of the year. All three need to be complements to Kopitar and Williams down the stretch. Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson are still capable of turning around their seasons. Both need to get more involved on offense. Goalie Jonathan Quick is doing everything to keep them in games, but I'm not sure how much longer he can keep it up.
Better Luck Next Year
New York Islanders (15-27-7)
It isn't all bad for the Long Island team. They probably have a good goalie in place for next year in Kevin Poulin. Rick DiPietro is not panning out like they had hoped when they re-signed him to a 15 year contract. Kyle Okposo recently returned from injury. Matt Moulson, John Tavares and Michael Grabner are a good group to build around. Their defense is in shambles and they were denied the acquisition of goalie Evgeni Nabokov off waivers when he refused to report. Time to wait another year.
New Jersey Devils (16-30-3)
The stigma of signing a 100 million dollar player has affected New Jersey a lot quicker than most had expected. New Jersey the entire offseason was bargaining against themselves with Ilya Kovalchuk. No one else was going to go near the asking price and New Jersey has seen Kovalchuk's production drop off. To go along with it goalie Martin Brodeur's run of dominance has come to an end. Early playoff exits were the early sign of trouble and now he's about to have a losing season.
Buffalo Sabres (23-21-5)
Ryan Miller is doing all he can in net for Buffalo. They just can't do much on offense. It doesn't help that they lost Derek Roy to a quad injury for the rest of the year. Tomas Vanek and Jason Pominville are doing the best they can. Rookie Tyler Ennis definitely has a promising future ahead of him. Buffalo's pride and joy is on defense. They haven't played up to par and Jordan Leopold might be dealt towards the trade deadline.
Toronto Maple Leafs (19-25-5)
The one good thing about Toronto is that they have some interesting trade pieces available. Goalie J.S. Giguere isn't opposed to a trade to a contender. Defenseman Tomas Kaberle probably would oppose a trade unless it was the right situation. Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf are untouchable going into next year. Toronto has amassed some good young talent to build around, but they continue to struggle finding an identity.
Ottawa Senators (17-25-8)
They made one big free agent acquisition signing defenseman Sergei Gonchar. It has panned out, but they don't have a goaltender. Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire are backups for most every other team. Erik Karlsson is a good complement on defense with Gonchar, but the offense has failed them. Daniel Alfredsson has regressed. Jason Spezza is hurt. Alex Kovalev has gotten old in a hurry. They will need to start over now rather than wait til the offseason.
Florida Panthers (22-22-5)
It wasn't expected that Florida would be in contention this year. They play in a tough division. All they have is goaltender Tomas Vokoun. They have stayed relatively healthy for the year. David Booth and Stephen Weiss are keeping the attack going on offense. Bryan McCabe and Dennis Wideman are doing a good job on defense. They have a good group going forward, but will they end up trading Vokoun at the deadline?
St. Louis Blues (22-20-7)
Jaroslav Halak can't help them by himself. Injuries have been a problem for them. Andy McDonald and David Perron are out with concussions. T.J. Oshie has missed a considerable portion of the season. David Backes and Alex Steen are playing fantastic hockey in St. Louis. They do need McDonald and Perron back to help carry the load. The defense has been up to par with Erik Johnson and Eric Brewer playing great. Youngster Alex Pietrangelo has done even better, but in a stacked conference the Blues will be looking in this year.
Columbus Blue Jackets (23-21-5)
Goalie Steve Mason is still trying to shake off that sophomore slump from last season. Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger are doing their part racking up points. Fedor Tyutin and Rostislav Klesla are playing stellar defense. That's about it for Columbus. Much of the production is limited and Columbus has limited options financially to make any moves to get into contention.
Calgary Flames (24-21-6)
Their general manager Darryl Sutter re-signed. That only means that head coach Brent Sutter will be out most likely when the season is over. Miikka Kiprusoff is doing his best to salvage this sinking ship. Jarome Iginla is still a productive player this late in his career. Alex Tanguay and Rene Bourque are having nice years. It would just be best that Calgary cut ties with some of the baggage and get a head start for next year.
Edmonton Oilers (15-26-8)
There is no goalie to speak of for the young Oilers. Taylor Hall is the future for Edmonton and they would be wise to continue to build around him. Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner provide a stable veteran presence along with another youngster Sam Gagner. Too bad Ryan Whitney is out for the year. He was on pace for a career year as the lone defenseman that was being a productive force. Edmonton still has a long way to go, but they have some nice pieces in place to get into contention quickly.