With the All-Star weekend behind us, we are at the unofficial halfway point of the hockey season. For the next two days, I am going to preview the second half of the season. Tomorrow I am going to be looking at things that I like and don’t like for players and teams going forward. Today’s article will be looking at things to watch for the rest of the season. Let’s get right to it!
The Calder Trophy Race – This is shaping up to be one of the best trophy races in quite some time. Right now, Dylan Larkin and Artemi Panarin are the two front runners. Larkin showcased his brilliant speed at the skills challenge on Saturday and has been a key component of the Red Wings’ push towards another playoff berth. Panarin has been loving life on a line with Patrick Kane. Coming from the KHL, Panarin is used to playing a longer season which could give him a potential edge over Larkin. It’s a long shot, but don’t sleep on Jack Eichel either. The wunderkind has 20 points in his last 18 games and is starting to look dangerous on almost every shift. In dynasties, I would rank them Eichel, Larkin, Panarin with Eichel a borderline top 5 asset, Larkin in the top 20 and Panarin closer to 50 since he’s already 24 years old. And while it won’t matter for the Calder race, it will be nice to see Connor McDavid back soon. He was outstanding the first month of the season before his injury.
Vezina Race – You could argue the Vezina battle is just as good as the Calder battle. Braden Holtby is the front runner at this point but there are a bunch of guys who could push him with a big second half. Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider, Corey Crawford, Ben Bishop and Jonathan Quick are all having outstanding seasons that are would be worthy of winning in some years. My guess is that Holtby holds on and wins because his numbers, especially wins, are going to be gaudy but watch out for Schneider. If he can get the Devils into the playoffs, he has a real shot.
Impact of the Trade Deadline – So many teams are in the playoff hunt that it should make it a seller’s market. While we obviously don’t know who is going to move, there will be massive value shifts for both players traded and others who are affected. We saw with the Ryan Johansen and Seth Jones swap how big of a impact a trade can have. Both of them along with Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Alexander Wennberg and Brandon Dubinsky have all benefited from the move. My plan is to have a live blog the day of the trade deadline giving immediate reactions to the trades so everyone can make the necessary moves as quickly as possible.
Can the top busts save their season? – There are quite a few players, even guys who went in the first couple rounds of drafts, who have been major disappointments this year. Sidney Crosby was a top 2 pick virtually everywhere but he’s only on pace for 70 points while being -5. He only has 25 points at even strength which is horrible by Crosby’s lofty standards. Ryan Getzlaf has a whopping 3 goals on the season with only two shots per game. Phil Kessel is on pace for only 25 goals and 55 points despite the move to Pittsburgh. John Tavares has also fallen off quite a bit as he’s on pace for around 30 assists. All of these guys were top 20 picks and certainly have the ability to bounce back. Will they? Only time will tell. Crosby has already started to turn it around and I’m on record saying he gets 50 points in the second half. The other three can go either way so hopefully they show why they’re all-world talents.
Is this real? – On the other side of things, there are plenty of players who came out of nowhere to have great seasons. Kyle Palmieri has set career highs already 50 games into the season, Leo Komarov earned an all-star appearance, James Reimer has the second best save percentage in the league and Jannik Hansen already has 15 goals without any on the power play. All of these guys have been in the league for years and had their breakout. Is it real or just a great stretch? I would expect them all to regress a bit; Komarov has the best chance of sustaining his production.
Kane ends with… – In a time when scoring is at its lowest point in years, Patrick Kane is destroying teams on a nightly basis. He’s on pace for 113 points; nobody has had more since Sidney Crosby had 120 in 2006-07 when the game was much more open. Barring injury, he should run away with the Art Ross trophy since he’s up 15 on the closest player, Jamie Benn. He also leads the league in both goals and assists which would be an amazing accomplishment. My guess is that he gets over 100 points and leads the league in assists but somebody beats him in goals, probably Alex Ovechkin.
Who else will breakout? – We’ve seen plenty of young players have their breakout this season outside of the rookies. Just to name a few, Evgeny Kuznetsov is 5th in the league in points, Leon Draisaitl is over a point per game, Mike Hoffman and Tyler Toffoli are both in the top 10 in goals while John Gibson and Connor Hellebuyck have been outstanding between the pipes. There will certainly be other young players who will have a big second half as they finally hit their stride. Some of the top options in my mind are Sam Bennett, Ryan Strome, Bo Horvat and Valeri Nichushkin.
Defensemen Scoring – Despite scoring being down, plenty of defensemen are having incredible seasons. Erik Karlsson is 4th in the league in scoring and would be my pick for the best player in the league right now. Brent Burns is second in the league in shots on goal and is on pace for 30 goals. John Klingberg is on pace for 65 points despite a poor January. Justin Faulk and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are killing it on the power play. There’s upside for more too as P.K. Subban is due for a massive regression in shooting percentage, Mark Giordano has been on fire for two months and Kris Letang is close to a point per game on the season despite a putrid start. This is the best we’ve seen from a group of defensemen in a long time.
That’s all for now guys. Tomorrow’s article will be focused on my thoughts on the rest of the season solely from a fantasy perspective. As always, feel free to ask me any questions or leave any comments below. Take care everyone!