NHL Midseason Expectations: Thriving or Barely Surviving?


Tom Pennington

The top three rookies on the Chicago Blackhawks: Ian Mitchell (left), Brandon Hagel (middle), and Pius Suter (right).

By Emily Chin, Staff Writer

The 2021 season has either been damaging or favoring toward certain teams. A lot has happened in the past month: suspensions, covid lists, debuts, and of course fighting. Due to the Covid list, teams have found it difficult to have a stable roster throughout the season. This week it has reached an all-time low of only three players being added to the two-week quarantine list. So which teams are a bust and which are doing well?

To start off, a team doing surprisingly well is the Chicago Blackhawks. Though they’ve lost some valuable players due to injuries, we’ve seen some rookies step up and really push through for the team. Both Pius Suter and Brandon Hagel are two younger additions to this team that has built quite an offensive side for the Hawks.

In the North, the Toronto Maple Leaf’s have exceeded their expectations by a lifetime. It was known they were going to be a rough team to play, but they’re absolutely dominating the Scotia North Division. Currently, they are leading the league with 36 points in 23 games with the Florida Panthers trailing 6 points behind. Two of the biggest factors in their success has been Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Matthews has 18 goals while Marner has 23 assists. That statistic clearly resonates to their strengths; while Marner creates opportunities at the net and blue line, Matthews carries out the task of scoring the goals.

Within the same division is the Calgary Flames and the Ottawa Senators who are barely surviving this season. Honestly, I expected more from the Senators since they have Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, and rookie Tim Stützle.

The Flames who has the other Tkachuk brother, Matthew, hasn’t been doing as bad as the Senators but not any better. If you’ve seen the video of the Flames warmup it pretty much sums up their season, bad. Out of the Flames series, the best games to watch are against the Edmonton Oilers since Tkachuk has a long time feud with winger, Zack Kassian. Somehow the two always end up fighting and since both teams are in the Scotia North Division, fans will be seeing a lot more of that.

In the West, the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings are on the lower ends of their division standings. It was expected that they weren’t going to be like the Leaf’s since they’re transitioning to a younger team. But 2021 might be the perfect season for them to test out their variety of new prospects and see where they stand with other teammates. In a few years, the Ducks and Kings may potentially be a cup contender if they continue on this path.

The East division has some serious talent which makes it hard to figure out which teams are doing well. The top five spots have been continuously alternating between the Capitals, Bruins, Islanders, Flyers, and Penguins.

The New York Islanders have slowly been making their way up to first place. A problem at the start of the season was goalie consistency. Although Ilya Sorokin is a strong backup goalie and is slowly proving his place on the team, Sorokin lacks the consistency the Islanders need. Also center, Mathew Barzal, has the talent when it comes to stick-handling and creating plays, but this season Barzal has taken too many penalties during third period and overtime resulting in losses. Other than that Barzal is a crucial piece along with Anders Lee and rising Isle’s star Oliver Wahlstrom. Adding to the offensive side, Wahlstrom has a “shoot first” mindset which makes him particularly important during power plays. Putting him on a line with Jean-Gabiel Pageau and Casey Cizikas is a scary sight to see especially it being Wahlstrom’s rookie year.

The other New York based team, the Rangers, had the most disappointing season. They came in with a powerhouse roster: Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Alexi Lafreniere, K’Andre Miller, and Kaapo Kakko. The start of the season was just sloppy. They gave away breakaways, unnecessary penalties, and seemed distracted during games. Zibanejad is currently going through a scoring drought, and on top of that they lost two of their highly offensive leadership players. Losing Jacob Trouba to injuries and Panarin needing to take a leave of absence due to a conflict with Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the team hasn’t seen any players able to step up and fill that void. If they can clean up their game and have younger prospects step up, they can reclaim their expectation of being one of the best teams in the 2021 season.

Even though we’re halfway through the season, it’s still hard to determine which teams are doing well. You have to factor in the idea that rosters are changing, not all teams have played the same amount of games due to delays, and teams are only playing within their divisions. As the season comes to its closer, fans will definitely be able to differentiate between the teams that are actually striving. Now, a slow transformation on bringing fans back to the arenas is happening, so there is a possibility that by May 8 fans can watch playoffs in-person.