This truncated NHL season has provided plenty of surprises in the first half of the 2012-13 campaign, but there are also plenty of storylines that were probably expected.
Now, trying to predict what is going to happen in the second half of this season is another matter. Injuries have played a huge part in where teams are in the standings, and to be certain some clubs will rise or fade based on health in the second half of March and in April.
With that caveat in mind, here are 12 predictions for the second half of the 2012-13 season:
1. The Anaheim Ducks will finish the season with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference
Chicago's run to start the season was amazing, but the Blackhawks won a lot of close games and they are going to miss Patrick Sharp for the next couple of weeks. Anaheim has had pretty solid luck with injuries, but the Ducks are clearly deeper than they've been the past couple of years.
Steven Stamkos will score 40 goals
Peter Bondra led the NHL with 34 goals in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, and Stamkos is on pace for 37 goals after netting 20 in 26 games. Stamkos has 11 of his final 22 games against teams not currently among the top eight in the Eastern Conference -- and nine against teams yielding three goals per contest or more.
3. Sidney Crosby will finish with at least 80 points
Crosby is currently on pace for 79.999 points, so it actually says here that he will improve a tick in Pittsburgh's final 21 games of the campaign. Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros led the League in 1994-95 with 70 points.
4. No team currently with less than 28 points will make the playoffs
That means no dice for the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Buffalo Sabres, Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference as well as the Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames in the West.
Winnipeg has a bunch of games left at MTS Centre. Don't pay attention to the Jets' early-season struggles at home. As the campaign wears on, trips to Manitoba will wear on opposing teams the way it did last season. Which Ontario team falls out of the top eight could come down to how quickly Craig Anderson and maybe Jason Spezza returns.
The Ducks have enough cap space in 2013-14 to accommodate Perry and Ryan Getzlaf with $8 million-plus cap hits and Bobby Ryan at $5.1 million, and Anaheim has a chance to win the Cup this season. General manager Bob Murray will get the distraction out of the way (see Nashville last season) and then worry later on about whether or not he can give Ryan a raise after next season.
The Flames have resisted "blowing it up" for years, but the team's poor play is making the choice easy for general manager Jay Feaster and the ownership group. It's one thing not to give up on a season when the team is in 10th place, but it is quite another when it is in 15th. People point to the Edmonton Oilers model, but the Flames should consider the Florida Panthers trajectory. GM Dale Tallon proved an NHL team can hold a fire sale at the deadline and be a playoff team the next season.
8. Speaking of Tallon, the Panthers will not make any drastic moves
Florida's only significant pending unrestricted free agents are Stephen Weiss and Jose Theodore. Weiss is out for the season, and Theodore is hurt now and wouldn't fetch much of a return anyway. Expect Tallon to see this year as a mulligan -- the Panthers emerged as a playoff team a year early and then injuries wrecked this group that was probably going to regress a little anyway. The future is still quite bright in South Florida, with more kids joining Jonathan Huberdeau and Jacob Markstrom soon.
9. Mike Ribeiro will be the highest-scoring player traded before the deadline
The Washington Capitals have major injury issues on the back end and scoring depth problems up front. Their chances of making the playoffs for a sixth straight season appear remote, and Ribeiro is a UFA in July. Washington has a brutal schedule the next couple of weeks, and if the Capitals can't make a push, GM George McPhee might have to see what he can acquire for a guy who is currently 12th in the League in points.
10. Pekka Rinne will be a Hart Trophy finalist
Rinne may not win the Vezina Trophy (though he should be in the mix) but the Nashville Predators will make the playoffs despite their epic struggles to score goals, and the narrative for Rinne as an MVP candidate will take shape.
11. The St. Louis Blues will make a second-half surge and cut Chicago's final margin in the Central Division by more than half
This is one for the advanced stats community: the Blues are near the bottom of the League in PDO and near the top in Fenwick when the game is close. Basically, St. Louis has been unlucky and still drives possession -- two reasons to believe they could be in for a big second half provided there is a little more stability in net. They will probably still end up with the fifth seed though because …
12. The Los Angeles Kings will end up with the fourth seed in the West and be the favorite to win the Cup
Advanced statistics showed the Kings weren't playing as poorly as it seemed early in the season, and they are performing up to expectations of late. GM Dean Lombardi has plenty of cap space if he wants to add (maybe another defenseman if Willie Mitchell can't get healthy), but expect to see a lot of experts predicting a repeat as Los Angeles rounds into form with the playoffs nearing.