With most teams having played at least half of their games to this point, the merry-go-round continues at the top. Chalk it up to superstition or the need for a new flavor of the month, but it doesn’t seem like any club truly wants the President’s Trophy. It’s like a hot potato that nobody wants to be holding onto when the music comes to a halt. Since its introduction by the Board of Governors in 1985-86, seven teams have won the Stanley Cup, most recent being the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings.
Earlier in the week I was talking with some friends and I threw it out there, asking the question when the New York Rangers became NHL points leaders, are they a Cup contender or the presumptive favorite? Well yes and no. Looking back on the first half of the regular season, it’s a revolving door and in some cases a trapped door. Now that’s not to say most of these teams won’t finish in the top eight or near the top, but it’s certainly worth noting that it’s one thing to conquer but quite another to command and conquer.
Other than obviously the Columbus Blue Jackets and maybe a few other clubs like the Anaheim Ducks, Carolina Hurricanes and aside from about a week, the New York Islanders, virtually every club seems to have made a run at the top.
It is pretty wild to me how some teams can yo-yo in the standings, in the span of a week. From first to eighth to third to sixth, it’s hard to keep track sometimes.
At the start of the year we had the Edmonton Oilers and their “Kids ‘n The Hall,” way up there in the standings. Not that the exciting young guns were expected to stick up there all year long, but nowadays it’s more like “Kids ‘n The Hospital,” with injuries to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Whitney, Cam Barker and Tom Hilbert. Hence the Oilers are now sitting in 13th in the Western Conference.
Early in the season a serious favorite and a surprise candidate were both at the top. Flash forward and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Dallas Stars are both ninth in their respective conferences.
We’ve had teams at the top (Minnesota Wild) who fell and the cream (Vancouver Canucks) rose to the top. Playing that role reversal game of leapfrog now are the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks. Just when it looked like the Blackhawks were elite again (and they may well be in the end) we now have to ask if the Blues are real or just this month’s version of the Wild? Or will the Blackhawks or perhaps the Detroit Red Wings, rise just as the Vancouver Canucks did and overtake the top spot?
Looking over at the Eastern Conference, we had a Boston Bruins club that looked destined to have a Cup hangover, much like their Original Six brethren Blackhawks, at one point only having three more points (8-to-5) than Columbus. Then the B’s went “November-0-1” and burst to the top of the standings. Also jumping up in the Northeast, along with the Bruins, were the Ottawa Senators. Their vets look rejuvenated, they have a lot of young guys who learned how to win on that Calder Cup Championship team last year in Binghamton in the AHL and they certainly have the confidence and staying power.
Conversely, the summer champion Buffalo Sabres have disappointed of late. The last time they sniffed first place was about the last time their football brethren did, around late October. Meanwhile Toronto seems to be hanging in there, while in Montreal everyone has seemingly been hung out to dry.
Remember back in the off-season when Washington was supposed to be up top in the Southeast and Tampa Bay was the best club in Florida? Not so at the moment, the Florida Panthers have 50 points, same as another bounce back team, the New Jersey Devils and both are currently ahead of the darling Caps and Pens in the East.
Finally in the Atlantic, where the Pens were up until they couldn’t fend off the cross-state rival Philadelphia Flyers. Then the Flyers found themselves chasing their Winter Classic foes, the New York Rangers.
Hence the Blueshirts are now at the top in the East, riding a hot streak of late. So of course now that they’re featured in this week’s Sports Illustrated, they’re due for a fall right?
Who’s destined to be at the top heading into the All-Star break? Ottawa? New Jersey? Nashville? Los Angeles?
Michael Gwizdala covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers. Michael is also an Associate Producer at WNYT NewsChannel 13. Additionally, Michael was once a Media Relations intern for the AHL Albany River Rats. Michael is a graduate of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.