Giroux has rewarded management's faith in him. Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

Around The NHL: A Look Back At The First Half Of the Season

Well my friends, we’ve reached the halfway point of the 2011-12 NHL season, or what the league calls the halfway point anyway. You need only look in our own backyard to see how wild the season has been thus far as the Florida Panthers have shocked much of the hockey world with their first half. Despite a rough January, the Cats are tied for the lead in the Southeast Division (7th in the Eastern Conference thanks to the tiebreakers) thanks in part to an overhauled roster and the system implemented by new coach Kevin Dineen. But while it’s been big fun so far in Pantherland, here’s a somewhat whimsical look at what you may have missed around the rest of the league:

– The Philadelphia Flyers made a huge splash in the offseason when they traded away then-captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to Los Angeles and Columbus and choosing to hitch its wagon to Claude Giroux. Gone were two guys who produced but were said by some to be dressing room distractions because of their hard-partying ways. The move couldn’t have paid off more on the offensive side as Giroux leads the NHL in points so far and has become of the league’s dangerous scorers. Now if only GM Paul Holmgren had been so clairvoyant when it came to signing goaltenders to ‘humangous big’ contracts.

– Maybe the Columbus Blue Jackets should’ve rehired former coach Ken Hitchcock when they had the chance because what Hitch has done in St Louis for the Blues is nothing short of amazing. When he took over for the fired Davis Payne on November 6, the Blues were 6-7 with 12 points, good for 13th in the league. Now, at the break, St Louis sports a 29-13-7 record with 65 points, two behind the NHL best Detroit Red Wings.

– Speaking of the Columbus Blue Jackets, they finally got some good news on Saturday when the league announced the city will host next year’s All-Star Game, assuming there is no lockout, of course. Other than that, it’s been a bleak year for the Jackets as many of the moves GM Scott Howson made in the offseason haven’t panned out, to say the least. Jeff Carter, brought in to give Rick Nash a legitimate number one center to play with, has been injured and hasn’t produced much when he has been healthy. The situation doesn’t get any better when you realize Columbus is almost at the cap, and traded away a top 10 draft pick for Carter, whose contract might be the worst in hockey (and Nash’s and James Wisniewski’s is no picnic either). You can’t fault the intent but, at this point, Scott Howson is making people in Columbus really miss Doug Maclean. Ok, maybe it’s not that bad.

– So, let me see if I get this right: The teams you’ve put together have been bad enough to finish with the worst record for the past two season and your current team is heading in that direction once again. So why is Steve Tambellini expected to receive a contract extension to remain GM of the Edmonton Oilers? Making slam dunk picks at the top of the draft is easy but what else has he done to make the Oilers better today?

– Is everybody’s opinion of Tim Thomas the same this weekend as it was last weekend?

– So how’s that whole with great spending comes great expectations thing going in Buffalo? For the second straight year, the Sabres find themselves in a bad spot at the break. Last season, Lindy Ruff was able to right the ship in time for them to make a strong playoff push and capture the seventh spot. Can they do it again? If they can’t, it will probably end Ruff’s great run in Buffalo.

Bruce Boudreau finally has his Anaheim Ducks on the run everyone expected when he took over the offensively-talented team. They’re currently 12 points back of the 8th spot in the West but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ducks do what the Washington Capitals did their first season under Boudreau and make the playoffs. Ice cream for everybody!

– The Tampa Bay Lightning may not make the playoffs but, does anyone want to play them during this second half? There’s still way too much talent for this team not to make a run at things and at the very least, they’ll be the ultimate spoilers as things get closer to April. This makes me happy that the Panthers only have one game left against their in-state rival.

Thanks for reading! Any and all comments are greatly appreciated.

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Tags: All-star Game Anaheim Ducks Bruce Boudreau Buffalo Sabres Claude Giroux Columbus Blue Jackets Florida Panthers James Wisniewski Jeff Carter Kevin Dineen Lindy Ruff Mike Richards Philadelphia Flyers Rick Nash Scott Howson Steve Tambellini Tampa Bay Lightning Tim Thomas

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