NHL at the break: Ducks look like team to beat

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Best teams

Anaheim: The Ducks have failed in the playoffs the last two seasons, but they appear to have the mindset to change things this spring.

Nashville: This team looks completely different under coach Peter Laviolette: They're more offensive-minded and goalie Pekka Rinne can carry them.

Tampa Bay: The Lightning could be a year away from winning four rounds and the Stanley Cup — but they're probably good enough to win at least two. They're deep and talented.

Disappointing teams

Minnesota: Three seasons after signing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to massive free-agent contracts, the Wild don't look much different than before. Basically, a .500 team.

Colorado: The Avalanche aren't as bad as they were two seasons ago and not nearly as powerful as they were last season — they're average, as they are now.

Philadelphia: Injuries have been a key factor but the Flyers don't look as big, bold and competitive as they normally do. Not even close.

Surprise teams

Winnipeg: Despite injuries that have wracked the lineup the Jets have persevered through goaltending, coach Paul Maurice and young players coming of age.

Calgary: This was supposed to be a rebuild season. Someone forgot to tell the Flames, who out-work opponents regularly.

New York Islanders: It wouldn't be shocking to have seen the Islanders battle for a playoff berth, but it is eyebrow-raising to see them among the best in the league.

Hart Trophy (MVP)

Pekka Rinne, Nashville: As good as the Predators lineup is, Rinne has erased whatever mistakes that have occurred. Rinne has been irreplaceable, as the Preds have found since he injured his knee last week.

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim: The best player on the best team, Getzlaf has been a rock on and off the ice for the surging Ducks.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh: The Penguins have had their share of injuries this season and it's been Malkin, not Sidney Crosby, who has carried them.

Norris Trophy (defenseman)

Shea Weber, Nashville: One of these seasons Weber will win a Norris and maybe it's this season after leading the surprising Predators.

Mark Giordano, Calgary: This guy has been getting better every season and he's a career-best one this season, while providing ample leadership, too.

P.K. Subban, Montreal: Somewhat of a wild card in the past, even while winning one Norris in his career, Subban is maturing on and off the ice in a hockey-crazed market.

Vezina Trophy (goaltender)

Pekka Rinne, Nashville: The Predators are taking chances offensively and leaving Rinne more exposed but it doesn't matter — he's stopping nearly every puck.

Carey Price, Montreal: It's amazing how calm, cool and collected Price stays while under the spotlight in Montreal.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh: He still has to prove it in the playoffs, where he's floundered in recent seasons, but Fleury looks very confident currently.

Calder Trophy (rookie)

Filip Forsberg, Nashville: The Capitals have to be kicking themselves for trading this gem two years ago at the trade deadline.

Aaron Ekblad, Florida: Last summer's No. 1 overall pick plays as if he's been a quality NHL defenseman for many years. He'll be a Panthers cornerstone.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary: "Johnny Hockey" has had a much more successful rookie season than "Johnny Football" did.

Selke Trophy (defensive forward)

Jonathan Toews, Chicago: In what has become a star-studded category every season, Toews has a slight edge in an extremely competitive field.

Patrice Bergeron, Boston: Maybe not as dominant as the past few seasons, but Bergeron remains vital to the Bruins success.

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit: Statistically Datsyuk is on par with every other two-way star in this category, last season's injuries a thing of the past.

Jack Adams Trophy (coach)

Peter Laviolette, Nashville: The Predators claim yet another award, and why not? This is the guy who deserves a ton of credit for transforming the style of play of this deep and talented team.

Paul Maurice, Winnipeg: Maurice made the Jets a competitive team the moment he arrived, and the way they've thrived under some difficult circumstances has been incredibly impressive.

Bob Hartley, Calgary: The fact we're even discussing the Flames as a possible playoff team is mind-blowing. With this roster?

Most likely to be traded

Antoine Vermette, Arizona: A quality two-way center who'll be the top unrestricted free agent this summer, Vermette is coveted by several contenders.

Jeff Petry, Edmonton: Former Tigers pitcher Dan Petry's son is a right-handed shot who can help a team's depth. Would the Red Wings bring Petry home?

Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey: There likely isn't much left in the gas tank, but some contender will roll the dice and gamble Jagr can spark them.

First-half surprises

Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia: People have felt Voracek had more to offer — but to be leading the NHL in assists (39) and points (56)? It's a little shocking.

Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg: This career minor leaguer is 14-4-2 with a .935 save percentage. Michael who?

Mike Ribeiro, Nashville: The Coyotes cut him for detrimental conduct, and all he's done in Nashville is almost a point (39) per game with a plus-15 rating.

Keep an eye on ...

The Boston Bruins: The Bruins had things go wrong early on but slowly straightened themselves out lately. There's a feeling they could still get significantly better.

The trade deadline: With a limited number of useful players, and plenty of teams in playoff contention, this is likely to be another ho-hum trade deadline (March 2).

Tanking: Buffalo, Edmonton and Arizona are terrible (Carolina not as). It'll be interesting to watch who will be most terrible in landing top pick Connor McDavid.