McKeon: Parity, youth defining NHL season
Half of the NHL season is in the books, and several positive story lines have emerged. The league certainly couldn’t have counted on all this good fortune.
While it may not be everyone’s preference, the NHL loves parity. Almost half of the season’s first-half games (48.8 percent) were decided by a single goal. And 23 of the 30 teams are within five points of a playoff spot.
Better still, from a fan perspective, is that the postseason is not the domain of the same 15 or 16 teams year in and year out. Last season, the Sharks were among five teams to reach the playoffs after having missed the postseason in 2014-15 — a growing trend. In nine of the past 11 seasons, at least five teams that didn’t make the Stanley Cup playoffs one season have qualified for them the next.
So the league is getting what the salary cap promised to deliver — a reasonable amount of parity and the feeling that none of the 30 markets are going to be out of playoff contention for too long.
A look at some of the on-ice highlights from the first half: Blistering streaks: Upstart Columbus comes within one of the league’s longest winning streak with 16 in a row. Minnesota wins 12 straight. Montreal starts 13-1-1. Philadelphia wins 10 in a row. The Rangers win 13 of their first 17. Youth served: Rookies Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk and Zach Werenski — in addition to second-year star Connor McDavid — have made huge impacts for their teams, not to mention legitimizing the league’s promotion of its young stars even before the season started. Stars are the stars: Atop the league’s scoring leaders sit McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Brent Burns and Vladimir Tarasenko. The players the league hopes will be front and center are putting up the points and making each of their teams winners. Outdoor success: It was a full house and good weather Oct. 23 in Winnipeg as the Oilers beat the Jets 3-0 in the Heritage Classic. It was clear and cold on Jan. 1 for the Centennial Classic won by the host Maple Leafs in overtime over the Red Wings. And while rain was forecast the next day in St. Louis, the Blues beat their rival Blackhawks 4-1 in a Winter Classic match-up that ended less than an hour before it started to pour. 1,000-point club: Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin reached the career 1,000-point level Wednesday. Florida’s Jaromir Jagr is the only active player to reach the milestone faster than the Capitals’ captain, doing it in 763 games, compared with Ovechkin’s 880. Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin needs three points to become the first Canuck with 1,000, and Crosby is 17 points shy of the mark.
In keeping with the parity theme, it hasn’t been all good news: Injuries: Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is battling another multimonth injury. Sharks defenseman Dylan DeMelo is out at least eight weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a broken wrist he suffered in Edmonton on Tuesday. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick has played once (Oct. 12 against the Sharks). Hurricanes forward Bryan Bickell faces an uncertain future with the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in November. Goalie Craig Anderson has been unavailable to the Senators since early last month to be by the side of his wife, Nicholle, who is receiving treatment for throat cancer. Red Wings’ run imperiled: Detroit’s run of 25 playoff appearances — the longest current streak in major pro sports — is in jeopardy. The Red Wings were 6-2 on Oct. 27, but have been beset by injuries since and — with losses in five of six games in 2017 — have dropped to 17-19-6. They don’t appear to have even a fighting chance. Olympic conundrum: The league has yet to say whether it will take another three-week break to participate in the Winter Olympics — 13 months from now in South Korea. The players and International Olympic Committee want the NHL to make its players available, but league owners are balking with no hard deadline in sight. Briefly: Ex-Shark and current Panthers defenseman Jason Demers reached a career high with his eighth goal by midseason. … Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson, who scored a career-high 27 goals in 81 games last season, has 20 in his first 41 this season . ... Martin St. Louis’ No. 26 jersey was retired Friday, the first sent to the rafters by the Lightning in team history.
Oilers forward Connor McDavid (left) leads the NHL in scoring with 50 points, ahead of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane and Brent Burns.
Dynamic Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews has 21 goals and 15 assists in 40 games this season.