The NHL main season has reached the half-way point which allows for making far reaching conclusions. There have already been 104 postponed matches because of the pandemic and that number is slowly increasing.
So, it makes sense that NHL has announced that there will be no breaks in games for the duration of the Olympic Games. The time will be used to the fullest – to play the postponed games so sports fans should be pleased. Some have even booked vacations to enjoy the Olympics and NHL at the same time! As predicted, NHL will not allow their big shots to participate in the Olympics, which in turn lowers the Games’ level.
That means the hottest topic is the NHL All-Star Weekend. The divisions will clash in a 3 vs 3 format, which has been the case since the 2015/2016 season. The Pacific has 3 titles and the Metropolitan 2.
The All-Star game has gone through many experiments – All-Stars vs. the reigning Stanley Cup winner, Canadian All-Stars vs. USA All-Stars, North America vs. the World etc. One of the most legendary series have been the 1979 and 1987 ones, where NHL All-Stars clashed against USSR stars. The prevailing game, prior to the current transition, was the Western vs. Eastern Conference. The current format seems to satisfy all parties so don’t expect it to change any time soon.
The fans took a vote on the captains and the teams will be headed by Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals, Metropolitan Division), Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs, Atlantic Division), Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche, Central Division) and Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers, Pacific Division).
In addition to the old masters and stars, there are also 18 first-timers, which is partially due to the event having been cancelled last year. This means that we see the likes of Kirill Kaprizov for the first time in the given format.
The All-Star weekend takes place at the beginning of February. The skills competition will be held on February 4th and the cup games between the divisions on February 5th. Refer to your local OlyBet site for the best odds.
Tampa Bay Lightning crowns the top of the league
NHL’s main season has reached the half-way point which facilitates for drawing some conclusions. Tampa Bay Lightning has managed to shake off their Cup hangover and once again they are at the top of the league table.
Even if the start of the season was a little weaker, there is no need to worry. Stamkos is in full swing and the league’s best defender Victor Hedman shoots as he desires. League’s best goalie, Vasilevskiy, covers the back and Nikita Kucherov has returned from a long injury break to rustle the opponents’ nets.
Hockey capital in shame
The current underdog is the most successful franchise ever – 24-time Stanley Cup winner and last season’s finalist – the Montreal Canadiens. The hockey capital is in shambles. The club that is claimed to have the most devoted fan community has no place to hide. Ex-general manager Marc Bergevin was fired already in November and Jeff Gorton was brought on board which hasn’t helped their case as they still sit at the very bottom of the table, even behind Arizona.
Jeff Gorton has now been moved to be the Vice President of the club and the next general manager is Kent Hughes. Most of the blame still falls on the weak roster as Philip Danault, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Corey Perry, Eric Staal and Tomas Tatar have left as free agents. Their replacements have not been capable of filling the empty boots.
Nic Suzuki is not really on the level he showed last season, alongside Cole Caufield who has trouble sorting his feet out and the veterans have also underperformed. One of the most efficient top lines of the league that consisted of Brendan Gallagher, Danault and Tatar, was lost with the exiting players.
The 21-year-old young talent, Kotkaniemi, has made things even more embarrassing, who in the two seasons with the Canadiens showed weak shape and through moving on to Carolina has shown good statistics there – 18 points in 36 games. The Hurricanes see him as a high potential investment.
NHL fans are also mourning the loss of Shea Weber who is even rumoured to have plans to call his career to an end. The Habs nor any other team would be capable of easily replacing a player of such magnitude. Last season’s top performing Carey Price who carried Montreal to the NHL Cup final has failed to even put on his game shirt this season. There have also been talks about a possible transfer. All of this starts to sound like the hometown of hockey has thrown in the towel for the season and is looking towards a long term reconstruction.
NHL outcomes are still hard to predict if you leave out a few bulletproof things like Tampa’s strength and the fact that Ovi will soon break Jagr’s record – only 10 more goals. Fun fact, the Great8 is leading in goals, power play goals, minority goals and on points. Regular hits should’ve been named after Ovechkin a long time ago as he is miles ahead of everyone else.
Despite the amazing start of the season, Edmonton haven’t shown that they have what it takes to be a true title contender. Currently they don’t even have a spot in the play-offs! Flyers are also close to breaking their franchise longest losing streak record. The main team to bet on is Florida and hey, maybe even the Calgary Flames.
Author: Kaarel Kose, musician and life-long ice hockey fanboy.
*OlyBet is the official NHL sports betting partner in Europe.