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The NHL At the Midway Point: Our Panel of NHL Scouts Speaks

TAMPA, Fla. — Most National Hockey League teams have either reached the 24-game mark or are just about to get there and during the first six weeks of this year’s condensed schedule we’ve learned a lot.

1. The Chicago Blackhawks have a load of depth and are clearly the best team in the game.

So fast: We're already at the midway point of the 2013 season.

So fast: We’re already at the midway point of the 2013 season.

2. Elite players are elite players. Period. Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis are the top three scorers in the game. So what else is new?

3. With virtually no training camp and too many games condensed into a short period of time, the number of injuries is epidemic. At one time this year, there were 125 players either on the injured list, going on or coming off. That was more than four per team.

This has already been an odd season. The lockout ended on the exact day we predicted it would end back in September. As a result, the shortened season has resulted in a lot more intensity, a lot more injuries and a lot more excitement. With the exception of places like Sunrise, Fla., Nassau County, N.Y. and Phoenix, the NHL has drawn some very large and very enthusiastic crowds this season. The shortened season and heightened importance of each game has made the NHL a lot more exciting for fans than it has been in years.

There might be a lesson in that. Too bad the owners don’t believe they can afford 82-game contracts over a 48-game schedule.

Anyway, we digress. We have passed the halfway point of the 2013 NHL season. It’s time to sit down with our semi-regular group of NHL scouts and take the pulse of the game. Fact is, everyone has learned a lot during the first half of this crazy year (we offered anonymity to all of our scouts because the last we want to do is cost anyone their job just for being forthright):

1. “The thing I’ve noticed is how taxing it’s been on the players this season,” offered our Winnipeg Jets scout. “The short schedule and the number of games – without any kind of training camp – has resulted in a far too many injuries. Right now, the teams that haven’t been affected by injuries and have the most depth, are the teams that have been successful.”

Roberto Luongo

Roberto Luongo

2. “The shortened schedule and the fact teams are playing only within their conference, have made the games much more intense,” said our Vancouver Canucks scout. “However, they’ve also made the games a lot sloppier.”

3. “I don’t have the numbers to prove it because I don’t think we’ve had a situation like this (a 48-game schedule beginning in January) in 20 years, but it appears there is a lot more fighting,” said our Pittsburgh Penguins scout. “With the intense games, four or five games a week, and so many games against your arch-rivals, there just seems to be an inordinate amount of fights.”

Toronto's Frazer McLaren in another battle.

Toronto’s Frazer McLaren in another battle.

4. “I think a lot of the fighting has emanated from Toronto,” added our Montreal Canadiens scout. “They have two very tough players in Orr and McLaren and they’re trying to re-establish themselves. They have a new coach and he’s looking for accountability and toughness. And they’re winning, so it’s working. I can’t imagine those two guys would be doing what they’re doing if the Leafs were losing.”

5. “It’s hard to deny that the Chicago Blackhawks are the best team in the league. That’s pretty obvious,” said our Jets scout. “They’re getting exceptional goaltending and they have the most depth. No team has as much depth on the bench as the Hawks. The next best teams are Pittsburgh, Boston and Anaheim. Pittsburgh and Boston have the most elite players. Both teams are loaded with talent. Anaheim hasn’t been affected too deeply by injury.”

6. “I’ve always loved the Red Wings and I love their head coach (Mike Babcock),” said our Calgary Flames scout. “But they don’t have Nicklas Lidstrom anymore and you can see how much his loss has negatively affected that club. We might have taken Lidstrom for granted a little when he was there. But that is not the same team without him.”

7. “If there is a team to watch, it’s Vancouver,” said our Jets scout. “They have great goaltending and they play the game at an extremely high tempo. Injuries have hurt them but if they stay healthy, they will be tough in the post-season.”

Sid the Kid wows 'em in Winnipeg (Photo by Shawn Coates).

Sid the Kid wows ’em in Winnipeg (Photo by Shawn Coates).

8. “I like the Penguins and Rangers,” said our Toronto Maple Leafs scout. “I have only been watching the East so I haven’t seen Chicago, but Pittsburgh plays a high-tempo game and they are very well coached. And the Rangers, if they get healthy, will be very good, even though they only have four front-line defensemen.”

Dustin Byfuglien scores an overtime game winner against Florida.

Dustin Byfuglien scores an overtime game winner against Florida.

9. “The most entertaining player in the NHL is Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets – when he wants to be,” said our Boston Bruins scout. “Too bad he so seldom wants to be.”

10. “The three teams that are out of the playoffs now, but could get there are Minnesota, St. Louis and Calgary in the West and Philadelphia, Winnipeg and Washington in the East,” said our Canucks scout. “The Rangers, Jersey and Ottawa are shaky in the east while Phoenix and Dallas can be caught in the West. With the importance of every game down the stretch – and we are into the stretch with only 24 or 25 games left – the best teams will start playing like the best teams. Right now, I like Chicago and either Boston or Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup final.”

 

Could Blake Wheeler and the Jets make the playoffs this year?

Could Blake Wheeler and the Jets make the playoffs this year?

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