School’s out for the holidays, or at least it will be soon. NHL teams will play through the holiday break – with the exception of a three-day hiatus from Dec. 24th to the 26th – but that doesn’t mean we can’t hand out grades for their efforts so far.
Grades are based on each team’s performance as well as how they’ve fared versus to pre-season expectations.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts have been at the head of the NHL class since opening day. They could have a player up for every major individual award, not to mention the inside track on the Presidents’ Trophy and Stanley Cup.
Vegas Golden Knights: No team in the league has overachieved more than the Knights. A first-year expansion team that was reduced to playing its fourth-string goalie for most of the first two months, and they’re within sight of top spot in the West. Amazing.
Columbus Blue Jackets: They’ve played three playoff rounds in the franchise’s 17-year history. They could go four rounds this spring.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings aren’t dead. Long live Kopitar, Doughty and Quick.
New Jersey Devils: Instead of draining the swamp, the Devils froze it and skate around like demons on it. They’re the biggest surprise of any team not named Vegas.
Nashville Predators: Somebody wants to get back to the Cup final as soon as possible.
St. Louis Blues: Slowed by injuries recently, but they’ve got the pieces for a powerhouse.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Going through some growing pains at the moment, but when they’re clicking they can take down any team in the league and look very impressive doing it.
San Jose Sharks: Experienced, defensive, dangerous.
Washington Capitals: They’re not the heavyweight hopefuls they’ve been the past several seasons. But Ovechkin’s still scoring, Holtby’s still stopping, and the Caps are still winning.
Winnipeg Jets: We have liftoff.
New York Islanders: Why win 1-0 when you can win 6-5?
New York Rangers: A perennial playoff team in the NHL’s post-lockout era, they’ve recovered from a staggering start.
Boston Bruins: A one-line team, but few units are better than Pastrnak-Bergeron-Marchand.
Dallas Stars: They have higher hopes than middle-of-the-pack.
Minnesota Wild: Team Dad Bod? Sure. But don’t underestimate their old-man strength.
Vancouver Canucks: They’re competitive and there’s hope for the future, which is about the best-case scenario.
Colorado Avalanche: Way better than last year, not that the bar was set very high.
Calgary Flames: Plenty of great pieces, but they haven’t figured out how to put it all together yet.
Chicago Blackhawks: Even with Crawford playing like a Vezina Trophy candidate, the hollowed-out Hawks are more bubble team than bona fide contender.
Detroit Red Wings: They got off to a great start, but the harsh reality of a less-than lineup might be setting in.
Anaheim Ducks: If it walks like a Duck, quacks like a Duck and gets injured like a Duck, it’s a Duck.
Carolina Hurricanes: The reports of their arise were greatly exaggerated.
Montreal Canadiens: Help the Habs, Carey Price, you’re their only hope.
Philadelphia Flyers: Too top-heavy and too streaky.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The two-time defending champs need to secure a playoff position before they start worrying about a three-peat.
Edmonton Oilers: The most disappointing team in the league this season.
Florida Panthers: See what happens when you ditch Jagr?
Arizona Coyotes: Not to pile on, but they’re the worst team in the league.
Buffalo Sabres: Wide right.
Ottawa Senators: You know it’s bad when Karlsson stops scoring.