We have skated by the midway point of the 2018-19 NHL season, a campaign that has included a bunch of highlights and a few surprises along the way as well.
Most hockey fans recognized that the Tampa Bay Lightning were going to be among the top teams in the league this year but who would have thought that the Bolts would be 10 points clear of the second best team in the overall standings?
At this rate, Tampa Bay will get close to the record for most points in a season (132) set by the 1976-77 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens. But as good as they are I don’t see the Lightning winning 30 of their final 37 games to get to 132 points.
Entering Sunday, Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov leads the league with 75 points and is a slam dunk Hart Trophy candidate as NHL MVP. If the award was handed out today, however, my vote would go to Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau. He’s among the league’s best point producers and has been a major catalyst of Calgary’s march toward the top of the Western Conference.
I’d hand the Norris Trophy (top defenceman) to San Jose’s Brent Burns by a nose over Toronto’s Morgan Rielly and Calgary’s Mark Giordano. Burns leads all blueliners in goals, assists and game-winning goals.
My mid-season Vezina Trophy winner is Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury who leads the NHL in wins, shutouts and sparkling smiles. Strangely enough, the 34-year-old Fleury has never won the league’s best goalie prize.
Despite being injured, Vancouver’s Elias Petterson is going to be the runaway winner of the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) having already amassed twice as many goals and almost 20 more points than the next closest first-year player.
Young hockey players live out a dream on Bell Centre ice
New York Islanders bench boss Barry Trotz is well on his way to claiming his second career Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. Trotz has gone from winning the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals last season to guiding the Isles into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race without having a true No. 1 goalie and after losing captain John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency.
As we’ve seen in the past, a lot can change between now and the end of the regular season in mid-April. There will be streaks, slumps, and injuries along the way that will hurt some and help others.
Barring a catastrophic collapse, the Maple Leafs will make the playoffs. They are two points ahead of the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division standings, meaning if the season ended today we would be sitting down to feast on another nail-biting Toronto-Boston first-round playoff series.
While catching Tampa Bay for first place in the division is out of the question, the Leafs and Bruins are focused on finishing second so they can at least enjoy home-ice advantage in round one. And given Toronto’s dark post-season past in Boston, gaining that No. 2 spot is imperative.