Note: Adam is a Canes Country reader and avid hockey fan — I don't think there's anyone I know who watches more hockey and knows all the players around the NHL as well as him. He gave us some observations on the NHL heading into the brief Christmas break. — Cory
As we approach the halfway point of the season, I thought it would be fun to look at what may be the most disappointing and most surprising teams so far.
We all knew Tampa Bay and the Islanders would struggle, but who knew Ottawa would be this bad. They currently sit 12th in the conference and are two games under .500. The biggest question mark around this team has to be secondary scoring. The trio of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza, aka "The Capital Punishment line," have put up 36 goals and 43 assists for 79 points, and are plus-7 combined. They also also make up about $23.5 million in payroll. But the Sens' secondary tier of Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly and Antoine Vermette have combined for just 24 points and are a minus-19 at a cost of $11 million this season. That's obviously not enough production for the amount of money they are making. Coach Craig Hartsburg finally split up the big three to try to get the rest of the team going, but Alfredsson went down with an injury Sunday. While the Ottawa captain said he didn't think the injury was too serious, there's no word if he will miss any time. That makes another more hurdle for the Senators to leap over.
Out West, Chicago was expected to be much improved, but perhaps not this much. The Blackhawks sit fourth in the conference and are 12 games over .500. If you are bored one night and they are playing, be sure to watch this team. They are fast, fun, skilled and can play physical. The scariest part is that the average age of the players on their top four lines is about 24 years old, with the oldest of the bunch being former Carolina winger Craig Adams at 31. To compare the surging Hawks to the sliding Sens, Chicago's top three scorers (Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews) are a combined plus-12 with 43 goals and 51 assists for 94 points — all for less than $11 million in cap damage, about the same price tag as the three struggling secondary scorers from Ottawa mentioned above. The Blackhawks' second group of Kris Versteeg (keep your eyes on this kid), Martin Havlat and Andrew Ladd (another ex-Hurricane) have combined for 50 points, and their plus-41 — led by Ladd at plus-17 — makes them a bargain at just a touch more $8 million. Those numbers make it is pretty easy to see why this team is having so much success.