Turns out, I was wrong about the Columbus Blue Jackets. So very, very wrong.
Well, technically, I was right before I was wrong, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was wrong when it really mattered — my preseason standings predictions.
Ditto for the Anaheim Ducks. Swing and a miss there too.
I was down on both Columbus and Anaheim prior to the season — really, really down. As in draft-lottery, bottom-four in the league down.
Strangely, the reasoning was similar and had a lot to do with coaching.
John Tortorella was coming off an epic failure with the United States at the World Cup of Hockey and that totally changed my outlook on the Blue Jackets, who I had originally ranked as a playoff team in my offseason standings predictions.
Back in August, I had Columbus finishing third in the Metropolitan Division — behind only Washington and Pittsburgh — and posting the seventh-best record in the Eastern Conference. At that time, I liked the Blue Jackets’ roster more than most. But by October, largely because of Torts, I had turned on Columbus and wound up ranking the Blue Jackets seventh in the Metro and 15th in the East — ahead of only the New Jersey Devils.
Over in the West, I had Anaheim crashing and burning too. I didn’t like the decision to bring back Randy Carlyle as Bruce Boudreau’s replacement — I’m still not a big fan of that decision — and I thought the Ducks’ roster was significantly weaker on paper, while the rest of the Pacific Division, besides Vancouver, had improved substantially from last season.
Yet, at the midpoint of the regular season — through Thursday’s games — Anaheim was topping the Pacific Division standings and Columbus was shockingly leading the entire league. Yes, the Blue Jackets were the frontrunners for the Presidents’ Trophy thanks to their 16-game winning streak.
Nobody saw that coming, but there are still upwards of 600 games remaining in the regular season — roughly 40 for each of the 30 teams — so the current standings could change drastically over the second half.
There is plenty of parity in both conferences and every division will have its battles for playoff spots. The fun is just beginning and those post-season races are going to be as intense as ever this year.
In saying all that, it’s time to take my mulligan and share my midseason standings predictions. Let’s see if I can fare any better from here on out.
These were the official division standings and playoff matchups through Jan. 12 (with the variation from my preseason and offseason predictions in parenthesis):
1) Anaheim Ducks (+5) (+4)
2) San Jose Sharks (-1) (-1)
3) Edmonton Oilers (-1) (=)
4) Calgary Flames (=) (=)
5) Los Angeles Kings (-2) (-3)
6) Vancouver Canucks (+1) (+1)
7) Arizona Coyotes (-2) (-1)
1) Chicago Blackhawks (=) (=)
2) Minnesota Wild (+5) (+3)
3) St. Louis Blues (+2) (+1)
4) Nashville Predators (-2) (-2)
5) Dallas Stars (-1) (-2)
6) Winnipeg Jets (-3) (=)
7) Colorado Avalanche (-1) (=)
1) Columbus Blue Jackets (+6) (+2)
2) Washington Capitals (-1) (-1)
3) Pittsburgh Penguins (-1) (-1)
4) New York Rangers (+1) (+2)
5) Philadelphia Flyers (-2) (+2)
6) Carolina Hurricanes (=) (-1)
7) New Jersey Devils (+1) (+1)
8) New York Islanders (-4) (-4)
1) Montreal Canadiens (+1) (+1)
2) Boston Bruins (+6) (+6)
3) Ottawa Senators (=) (+1)
4) Florida Panthers (+3) (-1)
5) Toronto Maple Leafs (=) (+1)
6) Tampa Bay Lightning (-5) (-5)
7) Buffalo Sabres (-3) (-2)
8) Detroit Red Wings (-2) (-1)
Western Conference Playoff Picture
1) Chicago vs. WC2) Los Angeles
2) Anaheim vs. WC1) Calgary
C2) Minnesota vs. C3) St. Louis
P2) San Jose vs. P3) Edmonton
Eastern Conference Playoff Picture
1) Columbus vs. WC2) Philadelphia
2) Montreal vs. WC1) New York Rangers
M2) Washington vs. M3) Pittsburgh
A2) Boston vs. A3) Ottawa
And now, without further ado, my midseason standings predictions (variation from the current standings in parenthesis, followed by brief explanations):
1) San Jose Sharks (+1) — Still the team to beat, in my opinion, and the deepest roster in the division. Beard power will take them to the top.
2) Edmonton Oilers (+1) — Right where I predicted they would be, for real, and showing no signs of hitting the proverbial wall. Finding a way to reduce Cam Talbot’s workload while still winning will be crucial.
3) Anaheim Ducks (-2) — Exceeding my expectations, even with Ryan Getzlaf and especially Corey Perry fading from prominence. If they pick it up, the Ducks might go another long run.
4) Los Angeles Kings (+1) — Peter Budaj has been performing admirably, but Anze Kopitar needs to shake that captaincy curse. Dustin Brown actually has more goals and only three fewer points. Go figure. Still a playoff team, but just barely.
5) Calgary Flames (-1) — Their hot-and-cold goaltending will determine the Flames’ playoff fate and I don’t like their chances. That said, I wouldn’t bet against them either.
6) Vancouver Canucks (=) — They are hanging around and can’t be ruled out, but the Sedin twins would have to turn back the clock and turn up their offence to overtake a couple of these teams.
7) Arizona Coyotes (=) — Nothing to see here. John Chayka is building this team from the ground up and they will be tearing it down further at the trade deadline. It’s tank time.
1) Chicago Blackhawks (=) — Not as deep as years past, but still formidable. Glad I didn’t predict their demise and kept them on top.
2) Minnesota Wild (=) — All Boudreau does is win . . . in the regular season. Devan Dubnyk, Ryan Suter and a resurgent Eric Staal are taking this team to new heights.
3) Nashville Predators (+1) — Providing P.K. Subban and Roman Josi get healthy sooner than later, I see a second-half riser here. Certainly a playoff team on paper, but we shall see.
4) Dallas Stars (+1) — Another likely riser, now that they are finally getting healthy. Look for the Stars to really hit their stride and perhaps finish even higher. Worst-case scenario, they should salvage a wild-card split for the Central, avoiding the current Pacific sweep.
5) St. Louis Blues (-2) — Trending down in a hurry and don’t just blame Jake Allen. Would they move Kevin Shattenkirk to the Rangers at the deadline and risk missing the playoffs? Maybe. They might not make it with him anyways.
6) Winnipeg Jets (=) — It’s crazy how much they are missing Patrik Laine right now, but Paul Maurice could be on thin ice if his message is no longer resonating. Connor Hellebuyck needs to develop some consistency to have any hope of making the playoffs. Or perhaps Ondrej Pavelec gets the call for next game?
7) Colorado Avalanche (=) — What a train wreck, but don’t look away. Changes are coming.
1) Washington Capitals (+1) — Firing on all cylinders after blowing out Pittsburgh and Chicago in running their winning streak to eight. A strong bet to repeat as the Presidents’ Trophy winner.
2) Pittsburgh Penguins (+1) — Finally lost consecutive games for the first time in more than a calendar year, since December 2015. Very minor adversity for a very good team. Might be my favourite to repeat as Stanley Cup champion.
3) New York Rangers (+1) — Talk about reloading, the Rangers have been rejuvenated this season, with Alain Vigneault even reinventing himself as a coach. Shockingly fun team to watch and a dangerous one to face come playoffs.
4) Columbus Blue Jackets (-3) — They will fall back to earth, ever so slightly, but it’ll be enough to fall a few spots in this ultra-competitive division. Capable of a playoff upset, even as a wild-card team.
5) Philadelphia Flyers (=) — What happened here? A 10-game winning streak, then the wheels fall off? What next? Playoffs very much in jeopardy.
6) Carolina Hurricanes (=) — Wanting to root for an underdog? Lots of room left on this bandwagon. Enjoying a little surge lately, but just don’t have the horses to stay in the race.
7) New York Islanders (+1) — Could John Tavares be heating up? That hat trick helps, but he doesn’t have much help in terms of the supporting cast. Tough times in Brooklyn.
8) New Jersey Devils (-1) — Another non-factor already playing out the string. Sure, the standings suggest there’s still a chance, but it’s more like one in a million.
1) Montreal Canadiens (=) — Carey Price has been looking human again, but at least he’s not hurting. This team goes as he goes, and he’ll be going strong down the stretch.
2) Tampa Bay Lightning (+4) — They will turn it up at some point and reel off one of those lengthy winning streaks. They have a pretty West-heavy schedule for the next while, but look for a strong finishing kick, starting March 21 against Arizona. Tampa will get in and be a tough out again.
3) Toronto Maple Leafs (+2) — This was one of my bold predictions for 2017, but it might not be all that bold. The rebuild is ahead of schedule and this team is going to continue its climb in the second half.
4) Ottawa Senators (-1) — I’m on the fence about the Sens as a playoff team. It’s a toss-up for that second wild-card spot, between Ottawa and a Metro sweep for Philadelphia. It could depend on Craig Anderson’s form upon returning. Erik Karlsson always finishes strong, leading by example.
5) Boston Bruins (-3) — Still not sold on this team, still think the bottom falls out in the second half. Don Sweeney hasn’t exactly been giving Claude Julien a vote of confidence either. That said, coaching isn’t the problem in Boston.
6) Florida Panthers (-2) — Coaching wasn’t the problem here either. Injuries have been to blame, but it’ll be an uphill battle even with Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad back in the fold. Still the second-best team in the Sunshine State and it’s not really close despite what the standings say today.
7) Buffalo Sabres (=) — Goaltending is a real concern here, with Robin Lehner being so injury-prone. Potential landing spot for Ben Bishop or Marc-Andre Fleury, but not in time to save this season.
8) Detroit Red Wings (=) — The playoff streak is coming to a crashing halt after 25 seasons. This must feel like rock bottom for a franchise that hasn’t missed the postseason in a quarter-century. If the season ended today, this would be a draft-lottery team. It’ll definitely be strange seeing Detroit picking in the top 10, possibly the top five.
Western Conference Playoff Picture
1) Chicago vs. WC2) Los Angeles
2) San Jose vs. WC1) Dallas
C2) Minnesota vs. C3) Nashville
P2) Edmonton vs. P3) Anaheim
C1) Chicago vs. C2) Minnesota
P1) San Jose vs. P2) Edmonton
C1) Chicago vs. P1) San Jose
Eastern Conference Playoff Picture
1) Washington vs. WC2) Ottawa
2) Montreal vs. WC1) Columbus
M2) Pittsburgh vs. M3) New York Rangers
A2) Tampa Bay vs. A3) Toronto
M1) Washington vs. M2) Pittsburgh
A1) Montreal vs. A2) Tampa Bay
M2) Pittsburgh vs. A2) Tampa Bay
Stanley Cup Prediction
That would be quite the playoffs, albeit without any real upsets based on my seeding. That Tampa-Toronto series would be a ton of fun if it comes to fruition — especially if Steven Stamkos returns to take on his hometown team — and Todd McLellan’s upstart Oilers facing his former Sharks has the potential to produce some terrific hockey too. Another round of Sidney Crosby against Alex Ovechkin could certainly be in the offing. The fans would be the real winners if we get to see those matchups.
All things considered, I have a feeling that we’ll see a Stanley Cup rematch between Pittsburgh and San Jose, with much the same result. Penguins over Sharks in six, again.
For the record, my previous prediction — both in the offseason and preseason — was Washington over San Jose in seven.
Well, what do you think — agree or disagree? I’m always up for some debate, so make your voice heard in the comments section below.
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.