Five NHL questions you didn’t think you would have to ask at the Christmas break
The NHL started it’s Christmas break today. This year seems a bit odd for many reasons, from scoring to standings. Many things are not what anybody expected from this year’s league and there are a lot a questions to be asked.
What’s wrong with the Pacific Division?
The Central Division has held the title of “toughest division” for the past couple of years, with little disparity between first and last place. However, the Pacific Division was always considered to be the second strongest division out there, beating out the “weaker” Eastern Conference. That is not the case this year. Six of the seven teams have more losses (including overtime losses) than wins. The Kings have control of the division by six points. This is also strange because the Sharks, Coyotes and Oilers are all doing better than they did last year. There’s still time to turn it around and make those teams feared again, but the start of the season has indicated the opposite.
Can the Anaheim Ducks and Ryan Getzlaf turn it around?
Going along with the Pacific Division topic, the Ducks are currently sitting last in that division and second to last in the league, although they do have some games in hand. Last year’s Western Conference leaders have taken a significant drop off despite not making any major offseason moves outside of the Hagelin-for-Etem trade. Their captain Ryan Getzlaf has started cold and is continuing to be cold with one goal in 29 games, after scoring at least 25 in the two seasons prior. The Ducks are running out of time quick but may be saved by the poor play in their division.
How about them Panthers?
I had the Panthers as a bubble team this year, but so far they’ve blown away expectations. They are one point away from leading the Atlantic with a game in hand on Montreal. Jagr has continued his dominance, and the emergence of young players like Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov have fueled this team to make it to the top. The Panthers look to be in line to be players at the trade deadline this year. Radim Vrbata, anyone?
How will the Johansen situation solve itself?
Ryan Johansen and Columbus seemed to be on pretty good terms last year, despite missing the playoffs and having a lengthy and stressful contract situation during the offseason. It’s all gone downhill now, however. His relationship with new coach John Tortorella is strained to say the very least and has come with multiple benching incidents and even a healthy scratch. Rumblings around the league have suggested that Johansen is being shopped to some aggressive degree. Whether or not Columbus is willing to move him while his value is at an all time low is the quandary.
Can the Penguins correct themselves?
The Penguins were labeled a frontrunner for the Metropolitan Division in July when they acquired Phil Kessel, despite having suspect defense. This issue, along with a lack of production from players including Sidney Crosby, has pushed the Penguins to five points out of a playoff spot as of the morning of December 23rd. They fired Mike Johnston and brought in Mike Sullivan, but can he fix the sinking ship that is the Penguins?
Only time will tell how some of these stories play out, especially as we inch closer to the trade deadline. The league has gotten more and more competitive so as time goes on it’ll be tougher and tougher for teams like Pittsburgh and Anaheim to fix their issues and climb the standings. The midway point of the season is just around the corner, folks.