NHL Handicapping: Teams That Could Play Differently in Second Half of Season
by Trevor Whenham - 1/9/2015
The turn of the calendar in the NHL is significant each year not just because it marks a new year but also because the middle of the NHL season comes early in January for most teams. That means that early January is a good time not only to make resolutions you'll never keep but also to look at where teams are at and where they might be headed. Each year we see teams that look very different in the second half of the season than they have in the first. Spotting those teams in advance can obviously be nicely-profitable.
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Here are four teams that could be in for a different fate in the second half:
Nashville Predators: If you had told me before the season that the Predators would be in second in the NHL right now, I would have suggested that you sleep off whatever you were on. Peter Laviolette is a solid coach, but Barry Trotz was the only coach this franchise had ever known until this year, and it seemed like there would be growing pains. Laviolette also inherited a roster that had some nice pieces but one which wasn't exactly an all-star squad. It wasn't tough to imagine them as a potential playoff contender, but a fringe one - not a division leader. It would be hard to argue that the Preds aren't overachieving right now or that they aren't vulnerable. There are two concerns above all others in my eyes. First, goalie Pekka Rinne has been brilliant, but if he were to cool off or to get hurt then the team would be in real trouble because their backup situation is scary. Second, the strong start has been driven in large part by the stunning play of rookie Filip Forsberg, who has an incredible 38 points in 39 games. It's hard to believe that he can maintain that pace the rest of the way, and this team doesn't have an excess of offense to make up for a shortage from him. At this point I am very confident that Nashville is a playoff team, but they are likely to find some struggles in their path the rest of the way this year.
Boston Bruins: Surely a team this talented can't waste a whole season, can they? A lot of people picked this team as the one to beat in the Eastern Conference before the season began. If the playoffs began today, though, the Bruins would just barely grab the eighth and final playoff spot. Their offense has been absent too often. The defense has been a patchwork, and the goaltending has been far from what it is expected to be. They faced some salary cap issues in the offseason, and the moves they made clearly affected chemistry far more than it would appear on paper that they should have. They have just six wins in the 16 games played since Nov. 22, so they certainly have not turned any corners yet. All the pieces are there to play much better, though, and front office pressure is certainly not going to let up. It would be far from a surprise to see this team find a stretch of strong play that stabilizes their playoff chase.
Toronto Maple Leafs: If you read much of what I write about the NHL, you know that I was very negative about this team coming into the season - and have been for much of the last decade. They are just a mess, and the ingredients are in place for things to get really ugly. They are just outside of the playoffs now and could play much worse in the second half. The firing of Randy Carlyle was probably overdue, but it is going to have a negative effect now that they have done it. They have named an interim but seem very unlikely to name a permanent choice because they still harbor a misguided belief that Mike Babcock would leave the Red Wings to take over in Toronto. This is a spoiled group of players that are just not designed to react well to a lame-duck coach. Add together a caustic dressing room, some talent issues in key spots, and two top players in Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf who have real attitude concerns, and you have the recipe for a team that could fall off a cliff in the second half.
Los Angeles Kings: Stop me if you have heard this one before - the Kings are off to a lackluster start to the season and haven't been sharp lately. They are 19-12-9 and have lost four of their last six. On Jan. 2, 2012 they were 19-14-7 and looked pretty lousy. They won the Cup that year. Last year their record was better at this time, but they were in the midst of a stretch of six losses in seven games. This team has a pattern of doing just enough to make the playoffs and then really waking up when things matter. Given that, and the talent they have, it would be very surprising if they didn't sharpen their game and play somewhat better in February and beyond.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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