WATCH LIVE: Sharks visit Avalanche on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Sharks and Avalanche meet for the first time this season in a matchup of teams that would each be in the playoffs if the season ended today but enter the new year on very different paths. San Jose won nine of 15 games in December (9-4-2) including a 7-2-2 stretch in its last 11. Colorado, on the other hand, is mired in a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) and has lost nine of its last 11 games (2-6-3).

San Jose has been streaky over the last five weeks or so, losing four straight at the end of November into December followed by winning seven of eight and then losing three straight prior to Christmas before winning two in-a-row ahead of Monday’s loss.

Sharks captain Joe Pavelski leads the Sharks with 23 goals. The 34-year-old finished with 22 goals last season in a full 82 games. Pavelski picked a good time to be on a career pace (on track for 46 goals – career high is 41 from 2013-14), since he will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

The Avs are led by their trio – what was known as the MGM line – of Landeskog, last year’s Hart Trophy runner-up in MacKinnon and rising star Rantanen. Like the team, the three of them have come a long way since Colorado’s disastrous 2016-17 season when they finished last in the NHL.

Rantanen ranks second in the NHL in points and MacKinnon sits third. Not since Evgeni Malkin (1st) and Sidney Crosby (3rd) in 2008-09 has a pair of teammates finished in the top three in scoring in the same season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: San Jose Sharks at Colorado Avalanche
Where: Pepsi Center
When: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Sharks-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Lukas RadilLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Marcus SorensenJoe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Evander KaneTomas HertlJoonas Donskoi
Kevin LabancBarclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard VlasicJustin Braun
Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden DillonErik Karlsson

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

AVALANCHE
Tyson JostNathan MacKinnonMikko Rantanen
Gabriel LandeskogAlex KerfootJ.T. Compher
Matt NietoCarl SoderbergMatt Calvert
Gabriel Bourque – Sheldon Dries – Logan O’Connor

Sam GirardErik Johnson
Ian ColeTyson Barrie
Patrik Nemeth – Ryan Graves

Starting goaliePhilipp Grubauer

John Forslund (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Sharks-Avalanche from Pepsi Center.

Domi’s been electric since trade, but don’t give up on Galchenyuk

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The Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes are set to play at Gila River Arena on Thursday, making it only natural to rehash the still-fascinating Max DomiAlex Galchenyuk trade.

There’s no denying that the immediate returns have been drastically one-sided. While Galchenyuk’s been a mixture of injured and inconsistent (three goals and 11 points, limited to 23 games played), Domi’s defied all but the wildest expectations in scoring almost a point per game (33 in 35).

Considering the very different results for each player, his team, and the very different hockey markets they play in, you’d expect some over-the-top reactions.

Yet, even some of the warmer takes still acknowledge that the differences are probably exaggerated. While the headline for Eric Engels’ Sportsnet story is a bit much, maybe, in deeming Montreal “already clear-cut winners” of the trade (I’d personally go with “currently” instead of “already”), there’s a nod to the possibility that both players may meet closer to the middle in the future:

Yes, we’ve considered that Galchenyuk, who has 11 points in 23 games, suffered an injury in training camp that required a minor procedure and forced him to the sidelines until the eighth game of the season; that he produced eight points in his first nine games at centre; that it’s still early in his tenure with the Coyotes; and that Domi, who’s producing at an unprecedented rate in his first full year at centre in the NHL, could be in for a course correction.

That “course correction” is crucial to understanding the potential longer-term effects of this trade, or how things could look considerably different down the line.

Whenever you’re looking for red flags about a player being too good to be true, or way too cold to predict future contributions, you’ll often find answers in uncanny shooting percentages, and that’s true here.

It’s almost too perfect that Alex Galchenyuk’s 6.8 shooting percentage this season is so comparable to Domi’s from 2017-18, when he only connected on six percent of his SOG (and that was with four empty-netters). Remarkably, Galchenyuk’s 17.5 shooting percentage this season matches his combined shooting percentage from last season and 18-goal rookie effort from 2015-16, when he shot at 11.5 percent.

So, a healthier, luckier Galchenyuk will probably score more often than he is now. And Domi might cool off a bit, causing the two to meet somewhere close to the middle … which isn’t that far off from where they were upon the trade. As TSN’s synopsis notes, they both had .61 point-per-game averages before the swap, with Galchenyuk being more of a sniper while Domi was a more prolific playmaker.

The key, then, is not to smear either forward. Instead, it’s far more interesting to consider some of the takeaways, and to ponder some of the talking points that might get emphasized too often.

Time will tell

Pat Brisson serves as an agent for both players, giving him a unique – if sympathetic – perspective on both Galchenyuk and Domi. So it’s interesting to see Brisson deliver a “pump the brakes” message on the trade, as he told Craig Morgan of The Athletic (sub required).

“I usually look back later, not after 30-some games,” Brisson said. “I wait and see. So far Max is happy, but the whole team in Montreal is going way better than anyone expected. They have a lot more wins and a lot of players on that team seem to have found themselves and it has a domino effect …”

There’s some recent history that points to maybe not jumping to too many conclusions.

Shortly after the landmark Kyle TurrisMatt Duchene – Sam Girardi – Ottawa’s future hopes and dreams trade, many were burying Duchene and lavishing Turris with praise as the two went through cold and hot streaks respectively. With more time and games under their belts, it’s clear that Duchene is fantastic, Turris is effective, and those early impressions were knee-jerk reactions.

(Also: we probably won’t truly know the impact of that trade until we find out what kind of pick the Senators cough up to the Avalanche.)

Considering their polar opposite shooting luck, the way their teams are playing, and health concerns, things look dramatically different now, but Galchenyuk has a decent chance of catching up to Domi, at least once he gets healthy.

Center of attention

It seems like every big hockey market has a narrative or two that just won’t go away.

With the Pittsburgh Penguins, rumors of Phil Kessel trades loom like Michael Myers creepily staring off from a distance, waiting to make us roll our eyes. When it comes to Galchenyuk, talk of center vs. wing seems inescapable, even now that he’s in Arizona.

Much has been made about Galchenyuk at least briefly moving back to the wing, while Domi’s had success at center, with Jonathan Drouin over on his wing. That’s worth noting, but the obsessiveness sometimes loses the big picture: good players can make a difference from various positions on the ice.

If Galchenyuk can flourish with fewer responsibilities playing on wing, much like Claude Giroux has with the Flyers, then who really cares? Many believe that the flow of modern hockey already obscures centers/wings to more generic “F1”-type designations, so such talk can often get overstated.

Not every mention of Galchenyuk’s perceived inability to play center is meant as a slight, yet sometimes it seems like a coy way of making a blanket insult, without explicitly making them.

Details that might matter

For teams all around the NHL, there are some potential lessons to take from these situations.

The first is one that’s hammered often: it can be very dangerous to trade a player suffering from a low shooting percentage, as you might be guilty of selling low. (Looking at you, Oilers, with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.)

But the Coyotes and Canadiens might have been right in merely identifying that two players simply weren’t fitting in properly, and making a logical-enough lateral move, with things working out undeniably better for Montreal so far through close to half of 2018-19.

Arpon Basu made an interesting point for The Athletic (again, sub required): during his years in Arizona, Max Domi rarely had the same linemate, let alone the same two.

It’s plausible that hockey-mad Montreal fits Domi’s personality better (just ask his dad), while Galchenyuk may get back on track in part because Arizona’s more laid back. But, perhaps the Coyotes might want to put Galchenyuk in less situations of upheaval?

You also wonder if there’s something systemic that’s making skill players struggle to score a bit more in Arizona, while Claude Julien’s done masterful work in optimizing Montreal to be a faster, more attacking team that many expected. After all, the Coyotes’ 2.45 goals-per-game ranks second-worst in the NHL this season, so you can’t pin that all on Galchenyuk.

***

Interestingly, Coyotes GM John Chayka is making virtually the same “potential”-related comments about Galchenyuk finding his game now that Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin made about Domi when he was acquired. Bergevin was vindicated, and it’s possible that Chayka will be too, although the Coyotes’ overall outlook seems bleak with crucial goalie Antti Raanta out indefinitely.

As of today, Domi’s been a smash success in Montreal, while Galchenyuk’s a mixed bag for the Coyotes.

It’s plausible that we’ll feel the same way about the trade in several months, and maybe years, but it’s too early to be sure right now.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Senators face long odds in ‘winning’ Erik Karlsson trade

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The Ottawa Senators needed to get rid of Mike Hoffman as soon as possible, even if they took a loss, which the Sharks and Panthers made sure of on Tuesday.

Maybe it’s a product of the bar plummeting incredibly low, but at least the Senators pulled off the Band-Aid quickly, by their poor standards. Losing the trade is akin to pulling off more skin than expected when removing that bandage.

[Senators land poor deal for Hoffman; Sharks then move him to Panthers]

On the scale of roster triage, the Hoffman situation was certainly important, but making the best of the Erik Karlsson situation is as close to “life or death” as it gets for an NHL franchise (beyond more straightforward issues such as bankruptcy and arena deals).

In virtually every situation, a team giving up a star player ends up losing a trade by a large margin. History frequently frowns on that side, even if context points to it being a no-win situation for the unfortunate GM in question.

Infinite crisis

This would be a desperate situation for any team, but the stakes seem downright terrifying for GM Pierre Dorion and the Ottawa Senators. Just consider the short version of their profound, gobsmacking organizational dysfunction.

  • They lost Mike Hoffman for quarters on the dollar, and he’ll still be in the Atlantic Division after the Sharks flipped him to Florida. The indication is that Ottawa was unwittingly part of a “three-team trade.”
  • Senators fans might become allergic to the phrase “three-team trade,” as the Matt Duchene swap looks awful already. Colorado made the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, got a first-rounder, and an intriguing player in Sam Girard. The Predators added Kyle Turris. Ottawa may only have Duchene for about a season and a half, as he’ll be up for a new contract after 2018-19. If you were Duchene, would you want any part of the Senators?
  • Assistant GM Randy Lee was suspended as a harassment investigation is underway. That story surfaced mere weeks before the Hoffman/Caryk/Karlssons fiasco forced Ottawa’s hand.
  • Fans really want Melnyk out as owner. Franchise icon Daniel Alfredsson feels the same way.
  • After an unlikely run to the 2017 Eastern Conference Final, the Senators endured a brutal season, and their future outlook is grim. Not great when you consider that the team is likely to send its 2019 first-rounder to Colorado.

Again, that’s the back-of-the-box summary of Ottawa’s woes. It doesn’t even touch on Guy Boucher’s strangely harsh treatment or the fairly reasonable worries that someone might actually send a rare offer sheet to excellent forward Mark Stone.

Amid all that turmoil, it’s well known that the Senators are in a bind with Karlsson, as it’s very difficult to imagine the superstar relenting and re-signing with Ottawa. They’re at a serious risk of losing him for nothing as he approaches UFA status next summer, and he’s under no obligation to sign an extension if a team trades for him. Karlsson also has some veto power via a limited no-trade clause.

So, while the Senators gain some advantages that come with trying to trade Karlsson during the off-season (possibly as soon as this week with the 2018 NHL Draft approaching), his trade value suffers because a team would only get one guaranteed run with the Swede rather than the two they would’ve landed via the trade deadline.

No doubt, Dorion balking during the trade deadline will be mentioned if this goes sour.

The Senators certainly could’ve landed a better package for Hoffman during that time, and Karlsson’s value may have been higher then, too.

Ryan only makes things more difficult

For those who scoff at there being any doubt at all about the Karlsson point, don’t forget just how much of a star he really is. Contenders may go all-out for Karlsson now that they have the room to work with, and maybe someone could even convince him to agree to terms (official or tentative) in a hypothetical deal. In that scenario, the Senators might actually land a strong deal for their crucial blueliner.

Much like during the trade deadline, there’s a major stumbling block beyond the other context clues: Bobby Ryan‘s contract.

TSN’s Frank Servalli ranks among those who report that a Karlsson deal may still need to include Ryan’s albatross deal ($7.25M cap hit through 2021-22).

No doubt, the Senators would like to get rid of Ryan’s lousy contract, but that’s where this situation could really get awkward. Ottawa could severely limit the returns for Karlsson if they attach the Ryan mistake to it. Would the Vegas Golden Knights even give up a package such as Shea Theodore plus “picks and prospects” at this point, as Servalli points to, especially if it includes Vegas’ original first-rounder Cody Glass? Is Theodore + Glass + picks good enough if it even landed Karlsson?

From a PR standpoint, the Senators would likely be wiser to get the best-looking deal for Karlsson, and then move some futures to a rebuilding team to house Ryan’s contract. One might “or they can just suck it up and deal with Ryan’s contract,” but … Melnyk.

Ultimately, it was almost inevitable for the Senators to “lose” in some way regarding Karlsson, unless they beat the odds and convinced him to sign an extension.

There are degrees of losing when it comes to managing these assets, though, and the Senators face a real risk of turning a tough situation into a full-fledged disaster. Dorion is in an extremely difficult spot here, and the Senators’ recent history points to more heartache and aggravation.

One way or another, we may find out soon if they can salvage this situation.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Kane dominates in playoff debut; Forsberg puts on a show

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Five games on the second night

Tampa Bay Lightning 5, New Jersey Devils 2 (Lightning lead series 1-0)

The good news for the Devils is Taylor Hall scored a goal in his first ever playoff game. That is pretty much where the good news stopped for them in Game 1 on Thursday night as the Lightning rolled to a 5-2 win thanks in large part to a three-point night from Ondrej Palat. There was a lot of concern about the Lightning heading into the playoffs based on the way they kind of backed into the postseason down the stretch, but maybe those concerns were a little premature. They are still a great team.

Boston Bruins 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 1 (Bruins lead series 1-0)

It was the Brad Marchand show in Boston as the Bruins completely demolished Toronto in Game 1 of their series. Marchand had a goal, an assist, and continued to try and get under the skin of Leo Komarov in a rather unconventional way. The Maple Leafs looked like they might keep it close when Zack Hyman tied the game, 1-1, with a great individual effort, but the Bruins just completely dominated this one.

Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Washington Capitals 3 (Blue Jackets lead series 1-0)

This was a violent game with an ejection, Tom Wilson taking out Alexander Wennberg, Nick Foligno taking a puck to the face, and Brooks Orpik hitting Ian Cole so hard that it sent his stick flying deep into the stands. The Blue Jackets also made sure that things get a little tense in Washington by jumping out to an early series lead thanks to Artemi Panarin‘s overtime goal to help them overcome an early two-goal deficit to pick up the 4-3 win.

Nashville Predators 5, Colorado Avalanche 2 (Predators lead series 1-0)

This one was the Filip Forsberg show thanks to his two third period goals. His first goal goes in the books as the game-winner. His second goal is going to give Avalanche rookie defenseman Sam Girard nightmares.

San Jose Sharks 3, Anaheim Ducks 0 (Sharks lead series 1-0)

The Ducks were one of the best home teams in the NHL this season but it did not matter on Thursday night. Mostly because Evander Kane, playing in his first ever NHL playoff game, scored a pair of goals to help lead the Sharks to the win.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three stars

1. Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks. His production hasn’t always been consistent, but when he’s on he has been unstoppable at times for the Sharks. He had one of those games on Thursday night with a pair of goals in the Sharks win. This is his third multiple-goal game since arriving in San Jose at the trade deadline.

2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators. Rinne gave up a goal on the first shot he faced on Thursday night, but he rebounded nicely to stop 25 of the 27 shots he faced. Some of them were highlight reel saves. Like this one.

This season was by far the best of Rinne’s career and it is probably going to get him the Vezina Trophy nod. His first playoff game of the season showed he is ready to pick right up where he left off in the regular season.

3. Artemi Panarin, Columbus Blue Jackets. He has given the Columbus Blue Jackets the impact player they desperately needed, in his first playoff game with the team on Thursday night was sensational, scoring the first overtime goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it was one heck of an individual effort.

Factoid of the Night

That Columbus win was a big one and an historic one for the Blue Jackets.

Friday’s schedule

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 7 p.m. ET
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild, 7:30 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Kings vs. Vegas Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Midseason Report Card: Central Division

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Now that the All-Star break has arrived it’s time to look back at the first half of the 2017-18 NHL season. Our team-by-team report cards will look at the biggest surprises and disappointments for all 31 clubs and what their outlook is for the second half, including whether they should be a trade deadline buyer or seller.

  • Chicago Blackhawks

Season Review: They’ve dealt with Corey Crawford being injured twice and Jeff Glass has been one of the heartwarming stories this season. But sitting last in a notoriously tough Central Division is unfamiliar territory for the Blackhawks. They’ve simply underperformed given the talent they possess. Grade: D-

Biggest Surprise: Alex DeBrincat. The second-round pick in 2016 has been sensational in his rookie season with 17 goals and 32 points in 49 games played. His 17.2 percent shooting percentage is stellar, and he’s defying the (perceived) odds at 5-foot-7, 165 pounds.

Biggest Disappointment: Brent Seabrook has been a healthy scratch and Jonathan Toews is well off point-per-game production and Duncan Keith hasn’t scored a goal since last March. But Chicago’s biggest disappointment is a team effort. They’re simply too inconsistent. Scoring droughts have plagued this team this season and their power play is fourth-worst in the league.

Trade Deadline Strategy: The Blackhawks won’t have to worry about a disappointing first-round exit this year as they’re unlikely to get into the playoffs as it stands. It might be time to give that roster a small detonation. Stan Bowman has worked his genius to keep his team’s competitive in the past. Now he may have to work that genius to get his team back to that.

Second half outlook: The Blackhawks have all the talent to work their way out of the basement in the Central. They’re only four points adrift of a playoff spot, but that can seem like 10 in a division that is as stacked as it is. That success hinges on the health of Corey Crawford, who is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury. Until he’s able to return, things don’t look great.

  • Colorado Avalanche

Season Review: Early on, the Avs season seemed to go as expected. They hit the lowest of lows last season, so some improvement was expected, but to be in a playoff spot at the All-Star break was something anyone would have thought. Of course, 10-game winning streaks are helpful, as is the ridiculous play of Nathan MacKinnon. Grade: B

Biggest Surprise: Mikko Rantanen is a point-per-game player. Nathan MacKinnon is having that breakout season many had been waiting for (and should be up for the Hart Trophy). Alex Kerfoot has had a great rookie campaign. Sam Girard is turning bona fide NHL defenseman. But Jonathan Bernier has been integral to the team’s recent success, highlighted during their 10-game winning streak where Bernier collected nine straight wins. He’s sitting with a .919 save percentage and is looking like the Bernier that played for the 2013-14 Toronto Maple Leafs.

Biggest Disappointment: Matt Duchene is gone, and thus, so is the easy pick here. Some might point to Tyson Jost, but he’s been injured and thus is a little behind where some might have pegged him at the mid-way point. Nail Yakupov’s name could work here, but his career has been a disappointment.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Colorado is a young team that’s still rebuilding. They got a king’s ransom for Matt Duchene. If the Avs keep climbing up in the Division, it’s conceivable that Joe Sakic looks for some depth, but staying the course with a team that’s showing some positive signs should be the focus. The Avs aren’t winning the Cup this year.

Second Half Outlook: This team has found some much-needed chemistry and is gelling as a young squad. That bodes well for a good second half of the season if they can continue. But young teams can have young-team problems. Consistency down the stretch could be an issue and the Avs are by no means a lock for a playoff spot. A 10-game winning streak only got them to the second wildcard spot. The tough part now will be keeping it.

  • Dallas Stars

Season Review: The Stars have been a great home team this season, but have only begun to get things in order on the road, where they stumbled during the first two months of the season. Still, the Stars have worked their way into the first wildcard spot in the Western Conference thanks to improvements in team defense and goaltending.  Grade: C+

Biggest Surprise: John Klingberg is a good defenseman. We knew this coming into the season. But to be in the running for the Norris might have been a stretch back in September. But that’s where Klingberg is at the moment, leading NHL defenseman in points (and sitting second on the Stars, behind Alexander Radulov and ahead of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin).

Biggest Disappointment: This one is easy: Jason Spezza. Spezza is forging a path to a career-worst year in terms of production. Early this month, he was made a healthy scratch, a coach’s decision by Ken Hitchcock stemming then from a five-game spell with no points and low ice time. Factor in that he’s counting $7.5 million toward the cap and the picture becomes even more clear.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Buy if it makes sense, but don’t sell assets. The Stars have a goalie in Ben Bishop and other talents they can build around going forward.

Second half outlook: The Stars play 11 games (including a six-game road trip) away from American Airlines arena in March and April. Given their position at the moment and coupled with their away record, it would appear that will be their biggest test in the second half if they can maintain where they are at the moment.

  • Minnesota Wild

Season Review: Spinning the tires. The Wild could be given a pass after some of the injuries they’ve dealt with – Devan Dubnyk and Zach Parise come to mind. It is a team that finished second in the division with, largely, the same roster, so the talent is there. Grade: D

Biggest surprise: Matt Dumba makes some bone-headed plays. And then he makes some plays that leave you scratching your head, in a good way. He sits only behind Ryan Suter in terms of points and he’s averaging nearly 23 minutes per night. If he keeps it up, he’ll record a career-year in goals and assists.

Biggest disappointment: Marcus Foligno. He’s played better as of late, but that doesn’t excuse a rocky first half that saw him in the press box in December. The 26-year-old was supposed to bring depth to the lineup when the Wild acquired him in a four-player deal on the eve of free agency last year.

Trade Deadline Strategy: So many teams on the cusp of a playoff spot in this division that it’s hard to sort out which teams should buy and which should sell. The Wild have the talent to be much better than they are. We saw that last season. Perhaps a depth player or two on the cheap would help.

Second half outlook: Getting better away would certainly help. The Wild are one of four teams tied on 57 points and tied for the second wildcard spot, with Colorado holding the tiebreaker at the moment). The Wild have eight home games in February, which bodes well given their 17-4-4 record at Xcel Energy Center. But they have two big road games to start the month in Dallas and St. Louis and play Colorado twice in March. Those will be pivotal. The Wild are getting healthy and that could spell trouble for other teams around them on the bubble.

  • Nashville Predators

Season Review: The Stanley Cup finalists from last year have picked up where they left off, currently trailing the Winnipeg Jets by one point for tops in the division. They’re playing great at home (16-4-3) and have picked up points in 17 of 24 road games (13-7-4), a drastic change from this team a year ago. They have Pekka Rinne playing great along with the litany of talent in front of him, which is scoring at a better pace than last season. Grade: A-

Biggest Surprise: Kevin Fiala had 16 points in his rookie season last year. This year, he’s nearly doubled that in eight fewer games. The addition of Kyle Turris has certainly helped, making that line (with Craig Smith) a potent option that’s providing a secondary scoring threat. Fiala’s season including a nine-game point streak in December.

Biggest Disappointment: Perhaps the only disappointment on this Preds team is that Ryan Ellis has only been limited to nine games after offseason knee surgery. He returned earlier this month.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Bolster. The Preds Stanley Cup window is still wide open. Perhaps another player for bottom six depth. Not much needed on a team this good.

Second half outlook: More of the same. The Preds have been solid against their own division with a 10-3-2 record and just need to stay the course.

  • St. Louis Blues

Season Review: Man, did this team every navigate some tough injury problems to start the season, something that speaks to the depth in St. Louis.  Grade: B-.

Biggest Surprise: Brayden Schenn has been nothing short of spectacular since getting traded last year. Schenn, currently at the NHL All-Star Game, leads the Blues with 50 points and is tied for the team lead with 21 goals. Schenn hit 59 points in 80 games a couple years back. He looks set to smash that career-high.

Biggest Disappointment: The team waived Magnus Paajarvi this week, so scratch that idea. Jake Allen deserves a mention. Carter Hutton is sitting on a .943 save percentage this season while Allen is only sporting a .909. Hutton is the backup and producing numbers that Blues’ fans hoped Allen would. Also, where is Alexander Steen?

Trade Deadline Strategy: With all their injury problems, a couple of depth players wouldn’t hurt just in case.

Second half outlook: Jaden Schwartz’s return after missing two months is a huge boon for the Blues. Schwartz had 35 points in 30 games before busting his ankle. Now, with the line of Schenn, Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko back together, domination could ensue once again.

  • Winnipeg Jets

Season Review: The best team heading in the to All-Star break. Yes, the Winnipeg Jets. What’s got them there? Great goaltending, for starters. A season worthy of a Hart Trophy nod for Blake Wheeler as well. And they’re just finding ways to win games, especially ones that, in the past, they would find ways to lose. Grade: A

Biggest Surprise: Undoubtedly Connor Hellebuyck. The Jets went out and got what they thought would be their No. 1 netminder in Steve Mason during free agency. Yeah. Not in Hellebuyck’s house. The second-year starter is in the Vezina conversation and is at the NHL All-Star Game along with Pekka Rinne. Who in Winnipeg thought the former would be the same conversation as the latter at the end of last season?

Biggest Disappointment: Dustin Byfuglien. It took him nearly half the season to score his first goal and has just two at the All-Star break. Couple that with some interesting defensive decisions and you have the makings of one of his worst seasons of his career, statistically speaking and otherwise.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Buy. The Jets have a legitimate shot at making a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They seemingly have all the tools: a rededication to team defense, a high-scoring offense, great netminding and one of the best power plays in the league. They could probably use some depth on their fourth line and perhaps a seventh defenseman with playoff experience.

Second half outlook: Keep on keeping on. The Jets haven’t strung together a big losing streak this season, something that’s derailed them in the past. They basically play all of February at home at Bell MTS Place, which has become a fortress for them this season. The Jets just need to keep doing what got them to the summit of the division in the second half. Oh, and they’ll get Mark Scheifele back sometime next month. 

Previous: Atlantic Division / Metropolitan Division

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck