There are four points during the season when we can take stock of the League as a whole.
The first time is at the quarter-mark, once most teams have played at least 20 games, which usually is right around U.S. Thanksgiving. Then we look at the progression of the regular season at the halfway point, which is usually shortly after the Winter Classic.
The third time is right now, at the All-Star break.
With that in mind, Trending this Week, which usually is reserved for seven newsworthy topics in the NHL that week, instead is going to hashtag six broader-view topics as a way to look back at what already has happened in the 2011-12 season and look ahead to what we could be in store for during the next 2.5 months until the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.
The fourth and final time we take stock of the season is right after the trade deadline, which is 32 days away and is addressed below:
Center - PIT
GOALS: 26 | ASST: 32 | PTS: 58
SOG: 202 | +/-: 12
Block the net with a pane of Plexiglas, but carve a hole into it just big enough for the puck to fit. Now put 10 skaters in the defensive zone, and give each of them two sticks. It's still 50-50 if Malkin would score on his first shot. He's been unstoppable and he's starting to run away from the field in the Hart Trophy race. Malkin leads the NHL with 58 points (26 goals, 32 assists). He has 34 points in the 21 games since Sidney Crosby
went out of the lineup.
NHL.com's Hart Trophy winner at the quarter-mark and the halfway point of the season, he's struggled to keep pace with Malkin, but he's nonetheless having a phenomenal, breakout season. Giroux is second to Malkin with 55 points in 44 games. He has battled a concussion and a current goal-scoring slump, but he's going to the All-Star Game as one of the League's newest stars.
This guy is such a wizard with the puck that you'd think he was created by free-spirited thinkers in some hockey artist colony. Datsyuk again is doing some otherworldly things this season and he's led the Detroit Red Wings
to the top of the standings at the All-Star break. He has 53 points and his defensive game hasn't lapsed one bit. He conceivably could win the Art Ross
, Selke, Hart and Lady Byng trophies all in the same year.
Playing alongside Phil Kessel
has done wonders for Lupul, whose 52 points in 49 games are one short of a career-high he set in 81 games in 2005-06. Lupul came to Toronto last season after being traded by the Anaheim Ducks
for the second time in his career. He's struggled with consistency and injuries in his first seven seasons, but this season, he's in the running for the Art Ross
Goalie - STL
GAA: 1.69 | SVP: 0.938
The ex-Senators goalie is back in Ottawa this weekend as the Blues' lone representative at All-Star Weekend. Elliott signed a one-year, two-way contract over the summer with the hopes of beating out Ben Bishop
and securing the backup job to Jaroslav Halak
. Not only did he do that, but for a large chunk of time this season he was the Blues' No. 1. He's no worse than 1A, and he's earned himself a nice two-year contract extension. Elliott leads the NHL with a 1.69 goals-against average and .938 save percentage, and he's second with five shutouts.
He earned his way into the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game with his 25 goals and 44 points after a brutal start to the season -- two assists and limited ice time in the first seven games. But he's found a home on a line with fellow All-Star Claude Giroux
and Jaromir Jagr
, and in the past week he's scored 5 goals, including a hat trick, and was named an All-Star for the first time.
For the first time in a long time, the Red Wings have some cap space to use at the trade deadline; approximately $5.7 million, according to Capgeek.com. They could use some depth up front; not necessarily a star, but a forward who can contribute in a third- or fourth-line role. If they could find someone like Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu
-- a scoring forward who can play in a third-line role -- that would be even better.
Similar to the Red Wings, the Blackhawks also have some cap space available. Their needs include a center and a defenseman, and they've got about $4.5 million to spend, according to Capgeek.com. That's not to say they'll use it all, but the right move could be key considering how tight the Central Division race is.
The loss of Chris Pronger
has been obvious against the top teams in the League, such as the Bruins and the Rangers and even the Predators and Senators. The Flyers won't be able to replace Pronger, but they do need to look into adding a defenseman. It's unlikely (though not out of the realm of possibility) that Nashville's Ryan Suter
will be available, but someone like Carolina's Tim Gleason
would be interesting in a Flyers uniform.
GM Jim Rutherford already has shown he's ready to pull the trigger on the right deals as long as he's not just giving players away because they're heading into unrestricted free agency after the season. Nevertheless, the candidates to depart Raleigh are UFA-bound veterans such as Ruutu, Gleason, Jaroslav Spacek
and Bryan Allen
. The playoffs look unlikely for the Hurricanes this season, so it is only right for Rutherford to try to rebuild through some trades.
Blue Jackets: Rick Nash
Right Wing - CBJ
GOALS: 17 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 33
SOG: 193 | +/-: -21
said he would waive his no-trade clause if the team said they could move him for a deal that would help the organization. If Nash gets dealt, it'll send shock waves through the NHL. Odds are it won't happen. However, Derrick Brassard, who still has two years and $6.4 million left on his deal after this season, could hear his name popping up in the trade rumor mill. Samuel Pahlsson
and Vinny Prospal
will be UFAs after the season, and they could become popular targets for contending teams.
Sabres: Brad Boyes
and Paul Gaustad
are forwards that could help a contending club, and they're scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after the season. The Sabres will hold out hope that they can get back in the race in the Eastern Conference, but GM Darcy Regier
shouldn't be hanging up on anyone that comes calling. Boyes and Gaustad are not having great seasons by any means, but perhaps a contending team can rejuvenate them.
Ken Hitchcock is the frontrunner for the Jack Adams
Award because he has made the Blues do a complete 180 since taking over Nov. 6. The Blues were just 6-7-0 and struggling on special teams when Davis Payne
was fired and Hitchcock hired. They've gone 23-6-7 under Hitchcock to head into the break fourth in the Western Conference, and the only team in the West with more points than the Blues' 65 is the conference-leading Red Wings with 67. St. Louis has become one of the League's most feared opponents under Hitchcock.
If David Poile gets his wish, he'll have Pekka Rinne
, Shea Weber
and Ryan Suter
in Nashville for a long, long time. That's for later, though. Right now, the trio is leading the streaking Predators toward yet another playoff berth. The great news is the Predators enter the break playing their best hockey, and since they're one of the youngest teams in the League, you know they still have plenty left to give. They've gone 9-1-0 in their last 10 games and are one point behind the Blues with 64 points.
On record alone, the Ducks (18-23-7) have been a tremendous disappointment in 2011-12. However, it appears coach Bruce Boudreau
has clicked with his new team and the response he's getting has launched Anaheim right back into the playoff discussion. The Ducks still have a ways to go, but they enter the break having won eight of their last 10 games. They're still 12 points behind eighth in the Western Conference, but they're climbing.
Just like they were as the Thrashers a year ago, they provide their fans some hope and then start succumbing to their maddeningly inconsistent ways. The Jets have won only three times in their past 12 games and have fallen to 10th in the Eastern Conference. All-Star defenseman Dustin Byfuglien
and Evander Kane
, who was starting to put up some All-Star numbers, are injured. And with six of their first seven games coming out of the break on the road, the path back to a playoff spot could be a bumpy one.
They want to believe they're a contender, but then they lose 4-1 to the Bruins and the Flyers in back-to-back games. They still believe, but then they score only one goal against the Sabres and lose in a shootout. The Devils have played well in spurts, but they're just 8-9-1 against the teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. That includes a 3-7-0 record against the Rangers, Bruins, Flyers and Penguins. In the East, only the Canadiens, Islanders and Sabres have fewer non-shootout wins than New Jersey.
They've got to start winning one-goal games or else it's going to be difficult for the Panthers to even make the playoffs, let alone win the Southeast Division. They're just 4-6-5 in their last 15 games. The Capitals haven't been all that much better, but they've been good enough to take over first place in the division based on the fact that they have six more non-shootout wins. Florida is 4-11 in games that have gone to overtime or a shootout. That's too many points to be giving up in a tight race.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl