Stevie Macgregor ’19, Sports Editor
We are quickly approaching the halfway point in another great season of hockey. Contenders are starting to separate themselves from the pack, and many teams are beginning to tank for a higher draft choice. In the Eastern Conference, the traditional powerhouses, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs, have dominated. Conversely, in the west their have been two emerging powers that have risen to the top. These teams, of course, are the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets. It promises to be an exciting season that will go down to the wire with many teams vying for a chance at the Stanley Cup.
Tampa Bay Lightning- Thus far the Tampa Bay Lightning have been the top team in the NHL and no team has really challenged their throne. There is a six point gap between them and the second best team. This season they have been led by outstanding play from their superstars Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Kucherov is having an MVP like season with a ridiculous 61 points through 38 games. They have also been defensively stout with the great play of their goalies Andrei Vasilevskiy and Louis Domingue. They have split duties and have led the Lightning to one of the top defensive records in the league only allowing only 2.76 goals per game. Always with the Lightning the emphasis is on the chase for a cup as they should cruise into the playoffs with the season they have had thus far.
Toronto Maple Leafs- The Maple Leafs are one of the NHL’s original six teams, and they have one of the most storied histories in the league. In recent years, however, they have not lived up to their past greatness. They stooped to the first overall pick and used it to select Auston Matthews. Senior Dani England said, “[Matthews] is a budding star”. In addition, in this offseason the Maple Leafs signed John Tavares a truly franchise-altering signing. Tavares has gelled with the young built over the past couple years and led them to the second best record in the NHL. Twenty-one year old winger Mitch Marner leads the team in points with 53 while Tavares has the most goals with 26. A blend of Tavares and the young guns hope to lead Toronto to its former glory.
Calgary Flames- Throughout the past couple of seasons the Flames have been treading water, consistently hovering around the .500 mark. However, this year they have broken into the upper class of the Western Conference. The team has really started to click with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, and Elias Lindholm all averaging over a point per game. While they may not have one ‘true star’, Calgary makes up for the lack of star power with excellent depth with even their third and fourth lines chipping with crucial points. The Flames will look to keep their hot start going in route to capturing their second Stanley Cup and first in 20 years.
Winnipeg Jets- The city of Winnipeg has been tortured, at least in a hockey sense, they lost their team in 1996, and it took until 2011 for the team to return to the city. Since their return, they have quickly established themselves as a quality team. They are led by winger Blake Wheeler and center Mark Scheifele chipping in 50 and 49 points respectively. Lets not forget that they have rising star Patrick Laine, a 20-year-old winger, who is beginning to reach his potential. If he does fulfill his potential then the sky becomes the limit for this team. A strong forward group is not the only thing that makes the Jets a contender. They also have Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit manning the pipes. This tandem gives Winnipeg a solid defensive presence at the back. All of these factors make the Winnipeg Jets strong contenders to capture their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Many teams have their sights set on the cup and more contenders should continue to emerge. It will be an exciting ride the rest of the way with a lot of hard hitting action, goals, and highlights still to come. The only thing we know for sure is we will not be seeing the hometown Red Wings in the playoffs as they currently sit in the 14th spot in the Eastern Conference.
Photo courtesy of WTSP.com