NHL Network Radio’s Mick Kern on the state of the NHL at All-Star Break time
The 2022 NHL All-Star Break is upon us, the traditional halfway mark of the hockey season.
So far, the 2021-22 National Hockey League regular season has been one for the books. And that’s saying something, after we made it through the 2020 Bubble, not to mention the late start to the 2021 season.
As the league gets ready for the All-Star Game in Las Vegas, let’s take a quick look back at a crazy, kooky, wonderful first half of the season.
COVID. Darn COVID. It certainly has had its say in things, with 98 games having to be postponed, and only now has the league been able to begin to shoehorn back in those missed contests. Due to differing health regulations in states and provinces, some teams have played to empty buildings, while other teams have played in front of packed houses of rabid hockey fans thankful to be back at the rink.
The big teams are still the big teams. The two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning are making a good case that they’ll become the first franchise to win three Cups in a row since the early ’80s New York Islanders.
Not so fast…the Hurricanes, Golden Knights, and Avalanche haven’t signed off on that. Nor have the upstart Rangers, or Wild. What about the Maple Leafs, who always seem to have a good team, but haven’t been able to put it together in the post-season, not having won a playoff series since 2004?
Then there’s the Pittsburgh Penguins, who began the season without superstar forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, yet hung around anyhow, and once the dynamic duo were back, the Pens now have designs on first place in the contentious Metropolitan Division.
The Nashville Predators have also been a pleasant surprise, the Florida Panthers have made it known they’re now a power in the league, and the St. Louis Blues quietly keep racking up the points.
Okay, but where there are good stories, there have to be disappointments. Take your pick. Oilers, Flyers, Islanders? The depleted Montreal Canadiens? The constantly rebuilding Sabres? The lost in the desert without a home arena Coyotes?
Edmonton got off to a smokin’ hot start, and at one point in early December led the league. Since then, it’s been a mess, and they’ve fallen out of a playoff spot in the jammed packed Western Conference playoff race.
The Islanders were a couple of goals away from probably winning the Stanley Cup this past July. Now? They’re miles away from the final playoff slot in the East. A 13-game road trip to open the season (while they waited for their palatial digs to be completed) didn‘t help things, but this team also got old quickly, and still can’t score enough goals.
Okay, then what’s up with the Flyers? Many prognosticators picked Philly to be a wildcard team in the East. Not even close. Not even close to the point the team’s holding press conference with no actual news to discuss. And will they trade veteran forward Claude Giroux, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer?
Montreal enjoyed a fairytale run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, before the clock resoundingly struck midnight in Tampa. The Habs then lost Carey Price, Shea Weber, Joel Edmundson, Phillip Danault, Corey Perry, and the team that wasn’t quite good enough is now the worst team in the entire league. They are vying to finish with the worst record in the 100 plus year history of the franchise. COVID really hit Les Canadiens hard, but they weren’t the only team laid low by the pesky virus.
The league has a new ironman; defenceman Keith Yandle now wears the impenetrable suite of armour that Doug Jarvis wore with distinction for the past few decades.
Chris Kreider is scoring at an impressive rate, the first player to hit the 30-goal mark this season. Right behind him is the ageless wonder, Alex Ovechkin.
It appears goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is the one everybody wants to take to the prom, considering all the trade rumours swirling around the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, currently plying his trade with the out-of-the-playoff picture Chicago Blackhawks.
We’re still waiting on Jack Eichel to make his debut with the powerhouse Vegas Golden Knights. Evander Kane wore out his welcome in San Jose, but landed in Edmonton, and scored a goal in his Oilers’ debut.
Coaches have been fired, because that’s just what happens to coaches, and most likely there are more firings to follow. Bruce Boudreau got the gig in Vancouver, and got the moribund Canucks off to a great restart, but recently they’re returned to their so-so ways.
Are the eight playoff spots in the Eastwern Conference already decided? Do the New York Islanders have a realistic shot at crashing that party? How about the young Detroit Red Wings’ team? Probably more likely next season.
The Western Conference is a wonderful mess, with a number of teams all vying for the final playoff spots. The Avalanche appear to be running way with the Conference, even though some still question their goaltending.
So we find ourselves at the 2022 NHL All-Star Break, with (most) of the best players in the leaguer congregating in Vegas for a few days of fun, skills, conversation, and a quick breather before the second half of the season gets underway.
SiriusXM NHL Network Radio (Channel 91 and on the SXM app) is your one stop shopping destination for all the All-Star Festivities. We’ll be all over Media Day (1 pm Eastern) on Friday, February 4th, as you get to hear the biggest names in the game let down their hair a little bit. That evening, the Skills Competition will get underway at 7 pm Eastern, and includes some out-on-the-streets of Vegas challenges.
This is followed by the All-Star Game at 3 pm Eastern on Saturday, February 5th, and then an off-day that Sunday. Followinf that, the second half of the 2021-22 NHL regular season is underway. There’s still a lot to be determined in the league, keeping in mind the NHL Trade Deadline this time around is Monday, March 21st. Enjoy the games.