The unofficial second-half of the season starts, even though many teams have played over 50 games. Yet, there's a lot to be settled, especially in the Western Conference; as five points separate 8th and 14th place, so there's going to be a shootout towards the end of the season. Plus, not only that-- but the shuffle for the top-spot and the shuffle to get out of the cellar (or stay in it) will be happening. For me....here's the storylines:
WILD WEST RACE
Obviously, this is going to be the biggest thing going down the pike. With so many teams close enough together for the last playoff spot, the pressure on those teams will be immense. Could the Calgary Flames, who were written off in the first months, actually make the playoffs against all odds?? Will the Blues finally get the Jaroslav Halak that made him the folk hero in Montreal last playoffs?? Do the Blackhawks have what it takes to hang onto the last spots in the playoffs or will they be a one-and-done champion?? The West is always a conference for parity and this year continues that trend.
There's a high possibility that four of the teams in the Southeast Division could make the playoffs, which could put the halt on the dismissiveness against this division. Granted, the Thrashers and Hurricanes are battling it out for the last playoff spot and it'll be likely for only three teams-- but still, it's much better than the division winner only getting in. The talent is finally showing in the Southeast Division and this could be the year it takes everyone by the ear.
The Philadelphia Flyers and Vancouver Canucks are tied up in points for tops in the NHL. While there may not have been many questions about the Canucks, who just seemed to falter in the playoffs when playing the Blackhawks; but the Flyers could be the surprise, if only because there were questions about the goaltending (since answered by Sergei Bobrovsky) and dealing with injuries. They've done just fine and the Flyers could be the team to beat out of the East and in the NHL when the second-season comes.
WHO FLINCHES FIRST??
The Trade Deadline is 27 days away and it's all a matter of who is going to be what the first domino is going to be. The fact of the matter is that the salary cap has hamstrung a lot of teams and maybe some parts will go unfixed because the money doesn't allow it. Who knows if we're going to see a lot of movement (especially on the chicken fingers), but the posturing between everyone could be the real thrill to watch.
FUTURE LOOK: ALL BLUE EVERYTHING
This isn't much of a second-half of the season story, but one to kick it off. The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to ditch the black and go simple and blue with their new logo and jersey for next season. The logo is very simplistic, with a nice touch of having "Tampa Bay" only on the away jerseys. It's a downer because their look was pretty solid with the black, blue, silver, and white-- plus they had their "BOLTS" jersey debuting last year, too. Plus, while it's nice to change, going along with the ownership shift-- I don't think going with all-blue is the right way; because lightning doesn't happen when there's all-blue skies. That should fun to see, as that's the first of what could be many changes, if you listen to rumors.
That's how I see the second-half as we restart the games that matter now. After this month is when we'll know the contenders and pretenders. Plus, we all know that even if teams make wholesale changes-- the chemistry may not be there and may do more to hinder than help. Drop the puck and let's get going.