The NHL West: Wacky and Wild
One of the NHL's biggest surprises this season is found DeepInTheHearta.
The Dallas Stars are the league's overall leader.
They weren't even in the playoff field last year.
No wonder they're handing out a five-year contract extension to GM Jim Nill, and two distinctly different reasons why are showcased in this one play:
Drawing from lessons learned in the Red Wings' front office, Nill's done a skillful job of blending known quantities -- trading for Tyler Seguin and signing Stanley Cup winners Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya as free agents -- while bringing the likes of John Klingberg up through the ranks.
Toss in a solid goalie tandem in Finns Antti Niemi and Kari Lethonen, and the Stars could be a major talking point deep into the spring.
The rest of the Central Division is at least ten points behind the Stars but all are in playoff position.
The Blues have been up and down all year, but with Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen leading the way, St Louis may finally get over the hump and make a run in the playoffs. The Blackhawks are ... well ... the Blackhawks, and as long as they get in the playoffs, anything can happen as long as Patrick Kane and Jeff Toews stay healthy.
Minnesota and Nashville are teams that would love to get over the hump and into the conference finals. Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek lead the way for the Wild, while Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne will keep the Predators in the hunt.
Nashville's blockbuster trade with Columbus -- Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones -- may well change the dynamic of this race for the Preds. The Blue Jackets are already a lost cause this season, but again, this deal was made for the long term.
Los Angeles missed the playoffs last season, but they've started fast in pursuit of their third Stanley Cup in five years.
The Kings are running away with the Pacific Division, led by Jonathan Quick and Tyler Toffoli. They've also been fortified in a surprising trade with Philadelphia, picking up veterans Vincent Lecavalier and Jamie Schenn.
Like Chicago, if the Kings get into the playoffs, watch out.
The suprising second-place team in the Pacific Division is Arizona, even with goalie Mike Smith on the injured list. Louis Domingue is living the dream:
The Coyotes are a true team with their leading goal scorer, Shane Doan, tallying only 13 goals so far.
Second through last place in the Pacific is separated by only seven points, so don't count anyone out yet.