The First Half's Top 5 Surprising Storylines
Source: NHL PR via Twitter
We're now a few days away from the NHL All Star weekend and there have been a ton of surprises from teams and players alike. This will be a two-part series, for now we’ll focus on the positive. So here we go, the top 5 (positive) surprising storylines from the first half of the NHL season.
First Place Canucks
It's crazy to think that the Vancouver Canucks are ahead of the Oilers, Flames, and even. The Canucks have sped up their rebuild with an unreal first half, and as such are atop the crowded Pacific Division.
The Canucks have 4 players in the 40 point range so far this season. Petterson, Boeser, Virtanaen, and captain Bo Horvat have all improved. JT Miller has been a solid pickup notching as many points so far this season as he did all of last year with Tampa. Young stud Quinn Hughes has been turning heads around the NHL and has shown that he's definitely not been showing his age on the ice. Tyler Myers and Chris Tanev have been vital pieces on the back end as well, and while they don't rake in the points, they play well enough with much needed physicality.
Last season Vancouver had 35 wins in 82 games, this year the Canucks have racked up 27 wins in 49 games. The Canucks look to be a year or two ahead of what they are supposed to be. The young core has made Vancouver become the dark horse in that tight Pacific division, making them a potential playoff team this season.
Carlson Hitting High Mark
The high scoring defenceman has been red hot and his first half reflects it. The Capitals D-man is 10th in scoring with a crazy 60 points, again he is a defender! That's more than Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, and last year's Art Ross winner Nikita Kucherov. He obviously leads all defencemen's in scoring and is tied for third in goals. Carlson is on the verge of setting career highs and we’re only half way through.
At this rate Carlson is projected to finish with just under 100 points, if he can continue his scoring pace he could be the first defenceman to hit 90 points since Al MacInnis. Nobody was expecting the longtime Washington defenceman to have the type of season that Carlson has been this season, especially by today's standards and it doesn't look like the former 2008 first round pick is heading towards any major slump.
No Bob, No Problem
The whole Columbus Blue Jackets team should be on this list and while I was considering they lost Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky to free agency last year. However, Korpisalo has picked up where Bob left off, in 31 starts he’s won 17 and only has lost 10 regulation games. He's recorded 2 shutouts and for the first time in his career was named an all-star. He won't play due to a torn meniscus but being named to the all-star team has to be a huge confidence boost for him and the team.
The Jackets are in the playoff spot grabbing the first wildcard spot and largely because of the play of their Finnish netminder, but Elvis Merzlikins has stepped in nicely winning 9 of his last 11 starts and has shutout teams in 3 of his last 5 starts. Merzlikins could potentially be an under the radar candidate for the Calder trophy if the Latvian can continue to put up amazing performances. The Jackets are in a playoff spot thanks to their goaltending tandem who have been the unsung heroes for Columbus in the first half.
Makar Shining Bright
The Hobey Baker winner has had a fantastic 41 games to start his career. Drafted in 2017 4th overall, Makar has posted 37 points, which is currently ranked 8th in the league among D-man. Impressively, Makar is second on the team in scoring behind MacKinnon. Makar has been one of the biggest young studs on the backend in the entire league. He's also leading all rookies in scoring and looking to be the front runner for the Calder Trophy.
Last November he was named rookie of the month and if Makar can stay healthy, and if he keeps this blazing pace he'd finish as one of the highest scoring rookie d-men in NHL history. Just like Quinn Hughes in Vancouver, Makar plays like a veteran defenceman, and is looking like a future Norris trophy candidate.
It's hard to believe that entering the all-star break seven Head Coaches have been let go. While most of the firings can be chalked up to bad starts, however, Bill Peters dismissal from Calgary was quite different. Peters used a racial slur towards a former player and physically abused players in his time in Carolina.
Just recently Gerard Gallant was the latest coach to lose his job behind the bench, and the Golden Knights haven been red hot since Peter DeBoer took over, but it's only been a handful of games. Gallant coached the expansion Knights team to the Stanley Cup Finals in his first year in Vegas so it seems odd for such a short leash. Although Mike Sullivan won the cup in Pittsburgh in his first two seasons, Craig Brebue took the last place Blues team to the team's first ever Stanley Cup. So maybe fresh starts are the way to go.
Winning makes the owners money and that’s the bottom line so they will tend to press the panic quickly. Still, seven coaches losing their jobs in less than a season seems to be mind boggling and one of the most surprising stories coming into the all-star break.