4 things we learned from the 1st half of the NHL season

by Jan 22, 9:00 AM
Lance Thomson / National Hockey League / Getty

The realest viral infection 

First-half take-home message: the mumps have more fight than the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Over a span of two months, the infectious, highly-contagious viral disease defied the odds of modern medicine, afflicting more than 20 players and two officials while producing more than 50 man games lost.

The Minnesota Wild were hit the hardest, having five players affected, but the epidemic came to a head when Sidney Crosby's cheek grew a cheek and damn near broke the Internet. 

Mercifully, the outbreak seems to be in the rearview mirror. Here's to hoping it doesn't have that Los Angeles Kings resolve. 

Patience is one helluva virtue

For fans of the New York Islanders, the seemingly endless exasperation is over. 

The same fans rocking Nassau Coliseum to the core of its decrepit foundation today are the same ones who endured bogus ownership, Mike Milbury, the trades of Zdeno Chara and Roberto Luongo, the forfeited rights to Jason Spezza and the doubling down on Rick DiPietro - all in the last two decades. 

Sorry Edmonton Oilers fans, the Islanders had it much worse. But boy, did they show you how to stage a rebuild. 

The Islanders' return to glory started with patience and success at the draft, and culminated with a signature summer, when they signed bona fide No. 1 netminder Jaroslav Halak and two possession darlings in Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski. They also snagged two established blue-liners at bargain-bin prices in Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy

New York is surging toward the top of the league standings thanks to stroke after stroke of sheer brilliance. Wow. I just typed those words.

An argument for 'compete level'

No two words can more effectively glaze over the eyes of the sport's consumer, but no matter how you slice it, the extent to which teams apply a collective exertion within a structured system just sorta correlates with that whole winning thing.

This season, the Winnipeg Jets, along with the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and even those Buffalo Sabres (for a few weeks), have lent credence to that vexing two-word phrase - despite how hard it is for some to stomach. 

The Jets were tabbed as contenders in the McEichel sweepstakes before the season, but have played into serious contention for their first playoff berth since their, well, rebirth. Now, this isn't because Winnipeg's young players "have finally matured" and have "taken the next step." You don't beat Chicago three (!!) times at the United Center with cliche, or a basic concept of human development. 

Much like the Predators and Flames, the Jets have bought into the scheme presented by the coaching staff, and are quite evidently winning games and seizing points they shouldn't by showing a greater will than their opponent. Also, good goaltending helps.

A crown in the balance

The self-sustainable defending champions have returned to power-save mode, utilizing minimal effort between stints at the beach to stay fresh (and tanned) ahead of another long postseason run.

But if you have been watching enough Kings hockey, you know the machine might have a defect. Here's a look at where the Kings stand through 47 games compared to their two Cup-winning campaigns:

YearRecordDivision Rank
201520-15-125
201428-14-53
201223-15-92

Unlike their typically resilient selves, the Kings have been unable to offset key losses, typified by the stress Drew Doughty has been under in the absence of Slava Voynov. To that, the cost of success has quite clearly caught up to the Kings, as they're saddled with nine long-term contracts of more than five seasons.

They are 16 points back in the division and are nipping at the final wild-card spot, but while it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Kings wake up from their midseason slumber, has the throne ever been more vulnerable?