As NHL All-Star Weekend comes to a close, teams across the league will begin to make playoff pushes to try and earn a spot in the postseason.
While many of the league’s best showcased their skills at the festivities in St. Louis, the collective focus will shift towards the second half of the season and, ultimately, the playoffs.
Looking at each division, several teams are beginning to emerge as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and each has just as real of a shot at it as anyone.
Atlantic: Florida Panthers
Under the new leadership of former Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville, Florida has been able to put together one of the stronger squads in the Eastern Conference this season.
Specifically, seventh-year forward Jonathan Huberdeau has been electric for the Panthers, entering the All-Star break with 18 goals and 47 assists.
Huberdeau earned his first All-Star nod this season and will look to continue his strong play as the Panthers, currently in third place in the Atlantic Division with 61 points, aim to remain in playoff contention as one of the East’s top teams.
The key to Florida’s success this season seems to be contingent on the team’s consistent goal scoring. With 183 goals scored this season, the Panthers rank first in the NHL in terms of team scoring.
Their combination of established veterans like Huberdeau and defenseman Keith Yandle and young stars like forward Aleksander Barkov makes them a lethal offensively for any opponent. While this scoring pace may not be entirely feasible to maintain, the Panthers have nonetheless put themselves in prime position to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Metro: Columbus Blue Jackets
In what has easily been the most competitive division in hockey this season, the Blue Jackets have managed to remain afloat even following the offseason departure of star forward Artemi Panarin to the New York Rangers.
Columbus boasts a 27-16-8 record so far, good for fourth in the Metropolitan Division and sixth overall in the Eastern Conference. This commendable record can largely be attributed to the team’s 15-4 run leading up to the All-Star break, which boosted the Blue Jackets into playoff contention in the East.
Despite a solid record in an extremely tough division, Columbus does not have any one skater who can finish top ten in the league in scoring like a Connor McDavid.
Instead, the Blue Jackets have managed to compile a roster of solid, productive contributors, such as forwards Cam Atkinson and Oliver Bjorkstrand and defensemen Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, who can play and win together as a team.
Simply put, Columbus has found a way to be successful so far this season, so there is little reason to expect anything to change entering the second half of the season.
Central: Colorado Avalanche
Similar to the Panthers, Colorado has also been quite successful this season due to its offensive scoring prowess. Led by 2013 first overall draft pick Nathan MacKinnon, who currently leads the NHL in shots on goal and ranks third in total points with 72, the Avalanche have been able to remain hot on the heels of the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues for first place in the Central Division.
MacKinnon has been unbelievable this season, notching 30 goals and 42 helpers through 49 games.
With the absence of other key contributors like captain Gabriel Landeskog, MacKinnon has really seemed to step up into a leadership role for the organization, producing on the ice and setting a good example for the reason of the team. Colorado is one of the favorites coming out of the Western Conference this year, and rightfully so.
As long as MacKinnon can stay healthy for the second half of the season, the Avalanche should prove to be a formidable opponent for any potential playoff matchups.
Pacific: Calgary Flames
Following an impressive 2018-2019 campaign, the Calgary Flames have put together another solid season. Currently at 57 points, the Flames are tied for fifth in the Western Conference and are in an optimal position for a push to the playoffs.
Fueled by scoring contributions from forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm, as well as other intangibles like the resurgence of the team’s rivalry with the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary seems to have the momentum to carry them to the playoffs yet again.
Under interim head coach Geoff Ward, the Flames have strategically built up their lines to the point where very few weaknesses are apparent. The road to the playoffs will not be easy for Calgary, but Ward seems to have the team primed to take on division rivals and opposing superstars in hopes of making it to the postseason yet again.