By Jack Hamrick
With the NHL season at the midway point, the top of the leaderboards are as bunched up as ever and the top of each division is extremely competitive, hopefully giving the fans some late-season playoff picture shakeups. As of right now, each division has at least one serious Cup contender; here’s how it looks!
Tampa Bay Lighting
The Lightning have been “lights” out this year, playing with speed and offensive flare. Lead by their captain, Steven Stamkos, the youthful Lightning have a lot of promise come playoff time. Their only concern… lack of experience.
Boston is one of the hottest teams in the NHL, maybe second to Philadelphia. Unlike the Lightning, Boston is one of the more experienced teams in the Eastern Conference. With Chara back on defense and Tukka Rask in net, the Bruins have a recipe for success.
Speaking of experience, the Pittsburgh Penguins are very well-seasoned. The captain, Sidney Crosby, accompanied by Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel is a dangerous attack. With almost their entire team back, the reigning Stanley Cup champs are looking better and better to repeat.
With and 9-0-1 record in their last ten, the Flyers are flying. Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Jakub Voracek all on one team is deadly, making the Flyers not just a streaky team.
Nashville, the runner up a season ago, started the season off slow. Just before the all-star break, their emotional leader, Mike Fisher, came out of retirement to rejoin the Preds. Pekka Rinne and P.K. Subban have Nashville right back where they should be.
The Jets are one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season. Being seeded in the top seven in the NHL power rankings all year, Winnipeg is a force to be reckoned with. Although their strong season, Winnipeg lacks experience also.
Vegas Golden Knights
The cinderella story of hockey: the team in it’s inaugural season with the best record in the NHL. With a group of all around good players, no true all stars, the Golden Knights have no weak links. Obviously no true experience, but Vegas has something brewing out West and could be a solid Cup contender for years to come.
San Jose Sharks
With probably the best defense in the league, the Sharks have one of the most balanced teams the NHL has to offer. Any team with the versatile Brent Burns will always have a chance and if you match him with Joe Pavelski, one of the league’s elite attackmen, gives the Sharks a great chance to get back to the finals.
I am extremely excited to watch how the rest of the season plays out and expect to see one of the most thrilling playoffs of the decade. Hopefully for my personal desires, the Jackets are able to pull something together and finally make a playoff run!