Mid-term report card

The first half of the NHL season was a gripping soap opera, filled with pleasant surprises and not-so-fabulous flops

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COLUMBUS -- The turbulence was extreme enough to jolt those yellow oxygen masks out of the panels above the passenger seats. And, as a result, there was a sense of real fear, mixed with anger and frustration.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/01/2015 (2801 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

COLUMBUS — The turbulence was extreme enough to jolt those yellow oxygen masks out of the panels above the passenger seats. And, as a result, there was a sense of real fear, mixed with anger and frustration.

We take you back to Oct. 19, 2014 when the Winnipeg Jets, by most accounts, were in an epic nosedive that threatened their season before it was even 10 games old. They had opened the season with a 6-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes and then dropped four straight to San Jose, Los Angeles, Nashville and Calgary by a combined score of 13-2.

It was at that point where four words — the ones we can print in the newspaper, at least — were already being used in the same sentence as the Jets:

John Woods / THE CANADIAN PRESS Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (33).

‘Connor McDavid’ and ‘Jack Eichel.’

So, here we are at the all-star break just over three months later and the Jets — having survived an outbreak of injuries to their defensive corps and a couple of sadistic scheduling nightmares — are not only in a playoff position, but are staring up at only eight teams with more points in the entire National Hockey League.

Surprise? Hell, yeah.

As the NHL pit stops for the all-star festivities, the Jets continue to make headlines across the loop for their transformation from afterthought to playoff contender. In fact, the two clubs most often mentioned as the biggest surprises through the first 45 games or so are also those most had pegged for last and second-last in the NHL’s Central Division — the Jets and Nashville Predators.

While the Anaheim Ducks sporting the best record or the Detroit Red Wings marching toward another playoff spot draw a collective shrug from across the league, the Jets and Preds have certainly raised some eyebrows.

With all that in mind, here’s one man’s scattered look at what’s in the rear-view mirror as the NHL takes a time out from their regular games to showcase its stars:

 

5 JUICIEST STORYLINES

1. THE MAPLE LEAFS SOAP OPERA: Randy Carlyle was whacked and the results since have been laughable — 1-7 under new coach Peter Horachek and just three wins in its last 17 games. A team in a free fall that, even worse, has shown little will to stop the slide.

2. NEW CONTENDERS?: At the break the four division leaders are Tampa Bay, the New York Islanders, Nashville and Anaheim. Two of those clubs — the Isles and Preds — were playoff spectators a year ago. The defending champion Los Angeles Kings, meanwhile, are currently out of a playoff spot at ninth in the Western Conference.

3. MCDAVID/EICHEL SWEEPSTAKES: The bonus for stinking this year is a shot at the next two “generational” talents available in the upcoming draft — Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters and Jack Eichel of Boston University.

4. WOE, CANADA? If the playoffs started tomorrow, three Canadian clubs — the Leafs, Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers — would be on the outside looking in while the Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks would all be attempting to end this country’s Cup drought.

5. SIN CITY EXPANSION: TSN’s Rick Westhead reported this week the expansion fee for an NHL team in Las Vegas could top a whopping $450 million. By comparison, the last two teams to pay expansion fees — the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild — forked over $80 million each to the league.

 

5 STORYLINES WE NEVER SAW COMING

1. BIG BUFF’S TRANSFORMATION: A year ago Dustin Byfuglien was moved from the blue-line to the wing. Now he’s back anchoring the Jets defence corps and, many believe, a legit Norris Trophy candidate.

2. STARS DON’T ALIGN: Dallas GM Jim Nill was getting a lot of love after the summer after landing Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky from Ottawa. But they are fifth in the Central and don’t look nearly as sexy now as they did in October.

3. MICHAEL ‘CLUTCHINSON’? Great story, Michael Hutchinson’s going from the ECHL to AHL to making the Jets this fall. The fact that he is now among the league leaders in goals-against average and save percentage and his name came up as a possible all-star replacement for Sergei Bobrovsky after he was injured — Brian Elliott of the Blues was selected — makes his tale even that much more compelling.

4. SO GOOD, SO FAST: How does this trade look now for the Washington Capitals? In April of 2013 they sent Filip Forsberg to Nashville for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. Forsberg, just 20, leads the Preds and all NHL rookies with 40 points. Erat has 19 points in 44 games for Arizona; Latta has four assists in 30 games with the Caps.

5. RICK NASH FINDS HIS TOUCH AGAIN: The big left-winger had seen his goal totals drop from 30 to 21 and then 26 over the last three seasons. He already has 28 goals and 43 points this year — eclipsing his numbers over the past two winters.

5 NUMBERS TO MAKE YOU GO ‘HMMM’

-78: The Sabres’ goal differential (89 goals for; 167 against). And they still have 35 games to make it even more gruesome. Just FYI, the NHL record for the worst goal differential is an astonishing -265, set by the 1974–75 Washington Capitals.

14-5-5: The Jets’ road record, best in NHL.

56: The Flyers’ Jakub Vorachek has carved out a reputation as a solid, skilled player. But he leads the NHL in scoring at the all-star break with 56 points (17 goals) after setting a career high in points last year with 62.

283: Man games lost to injury for the Blue Jackets. And if you caught the look of horror on the faces of Columbus president John Davidson and GM Jarmo Kekalainen when Bobrovsky was injured in the loss to the Jets Wednesday night, you could certainly feel their pain.

 

ODDS ARE…

A look at the Stanley Cup odds at the start of the season and currently:

TEAM OPENED CURRENT
Chicago Blackhawks 13/2 5/1
Anaheim Ducks 10/1 7/1
Montreal Canadiens 18/1 10/1
St. Louis Blues 12/1 10/1
Boston Bruins 10/1 11/1
Pittsburgh Penguins 12/1 11/1
Tampa Bay Lightning 14/1 12/1
New York Islanders 66/1 14/1
New York Rangers 20/1 14/1
Detroit Red Wings 22/1 16/1
Los Angeles Kings 10/1 18/1
Nashville Predators 100/1 18/1
San Jose Sharks 14/1 18/1
Vancouver Canucks 33/1 22/1
Washington Capitals 33/1 28/1
Calgary Flames 100/1 40/1
Winnipeg Jets 100/1 40/1
Minnesota Wild 14/1 66/1
Colorado Avalanche 18/1 75/1
Columbus Blue Jackets 33/1 75/1
Dallas Stars 20/1 75/1
Toronto Maple Leafs 40/1 75/1
Florida Panthers 75/1 100/1
New Jersey Devils 50/1 200/1
Ottawa Senators 66/1 200/1
Philadelphia Flyers 33/1 200/1
Arizona Coyotes 66/1 1000/1
Carolina Hurricanes 100/1 1000/1
Buffalo Sabres 100/1 2000/1
Edmonton Oilers 50/1 2000/1

 

WEIGHING IN

Free Press hockey writers Tim Campbell, Gary Lawless, Ed Tait and Paul Wiecek offer up their NHL takes through this weekend’s all-star festivities:

BIGGEST SURPRISE TEAM:

Campbell: Vancouver Canucks

Lawless: Calgary Flames

Tait: Nashville Predators

Wiecek: Nashville Predators

BIGGEST BUST:

Campbell: Edmonton Oilers

Lawless: Dallas Stars

Tait: Minnesota Wild

Wiecek: Boston Bruins

STANLEY CUP PICK:

Campbell: Anaheim Ducks

Lawless: St. Louis Blues

Tait: Anaheim Ducks

Wiecek: Chicago Blackhawks

SHREWDEST FREE-AGENT SIGNING:

Campbell: Ryan Miller, Vancouver

Lawless: Mathieu Perreault, Winnipeg Jets

Tait: Radim Vrbata, Vancouver

Wiecek: Mathieu Perreault, Winnipeg Jets

BUST FREE-AGENT SIGNING:

Campbell: Benoit Pouilot, Edmonton Oilers

Lawless: Dave Bolland, Florida Panthers

Tait: Olli Jokinen, Nashville

Wiecek: Benoit Pouliot, Edmonton

LEAGUE MVP:

Campbell: Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim

Lawless: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay

Tait: Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim

Wiecek: Pekka Rinne, Nashville

JETS MVP:

Campbell: Bryan Little

Lawless: Dustin Byfuglien

Tait: Dustin Byfuglien

Wiecek: Dustin Byfuglien

COACH OF THE YEAR:

Campbell: Peter Laviolette, Nashville

Lawless: Paul Maurice, Winnipeg

Tait: Peter Laviolette, Nashville

Wiecek: Paul Maurice, Winnipeg

NORRIS TROPHY (TOP DEFENCEMAN):

Campbell: Shea Weber, Nashville

Lawless: Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

Tait: Shea Weber, Nashville

Wiecek: Shea Weber, Nashville

CALDER TROPHY (TOP ROOKIE):

Campbell: Filip Forsberg, Nashville

Lawless: Filip Forsberg, Nashville

Tait: Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg

Wiecek: Filip Forsberg, Nashville

VEZINA TROPHY (TOP GOALTENDER):

Campbell: Pekka Rinne, Nashville

Lawless: Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

Tait: Carey Price, Montreal

Wiecek: Pekka Rinne, Nashville

DO THE JETS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?

Campbell: don’t know

Lawless: Yes

Tait: Yes

Wiecek: Yes

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

History

Updated on Friday, January 23, 2015 9:55 AM CST: adds missing text, fixes table

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