It may feel like the season has just started, but we're already 147 games in — 12 per cent — and many are drawing some early conclusions about where the 2009-10 season is headed.
It's still far too early for me to believe that some teams are as good (Colorado, Phoenix) or as bad (Toronto, Minnesota) as they currently look, but here's a look at the standings in both conferences along with a few thoughts on what's happened to this point:
There actually hasn't been a ton in the East that's all that shocking. The Rangers and Senators are mild surprises to me, with New York getting some strong performances from their rookie blueliners and Ottawa getting solid goaltending from Pascal Leclaire.
The Bruins are probably in trouble trying to keep pace given their injuries, although they could very well be one of the many bubble teams the East will have this year. Toronto, on the other hand, has to worry about just getting out of the basement; the playoffs are likely already out of reach for the Leafs. Phil Kessel will help.
Almost every prediction I saw in preseason had the Avs in dead last in the West, so good on them — and Craig Anderson — for this showing. If they do make the playoffs, that'll be one of the stories of the season, and I expect the Joe Sacco for coach of the year talk to start up shortly.
It's worth keeping in mind, however, that we've seen plenty of teams well in playoff position at midseason fall apart down the stretch, when the pace picks up and younger players have difficulty keeping up (see: 2008-09 Coyotes). Anderson can't play like this all season, just as the Kings can't remain the highest scoring team in the league long term, not when they were the NHL's lowest scoring team at even strength a year ago.
Good (or bad) 10- or 12-game stretches are pretty commonplace, but they seem to gain more significance at the beginning of the season.
That's a big part of the reason why I still see Detroit turning things around. If Chris Osgood continues to struggle and Jim Howard can't step in, they may be another team looking for a goaltender. The blueline is essentially unchanged from a year ago and should be able to bring that goals against figure down, however, even if goal scoring is hard to come by.
Where I'd be worried is in Columbus, Anaheim, Nashville and Minnesota. Steve Mason has really struggled for the Blue Jackets lately, and may give up far more starts to Mathieu Garon than anyone predicted. The Ducks, meanwhile, are having serious issues with depth on the blueline and have been asking too much from their top three.
The Predators can't seem to score and are weak beyond their big three on the back end, while the Todd Richards experiment in Minnesota has thus far resulted in a real mess. For the first time I can remember, the Wild look disorganized.
Something tells me the Western Conference playoff race is going to be something to watch this season.