Traditionally, by Thanksgiving, enough NHL games have been played that you can feel good about making a public declaration of what a team is shaping up to be in a season. With Thanksgiving on the horizon and most teams closing in on 20 games, general managers and coaches have usually seen enough to make comfortable assessments about what they have on their rosters.
But the NHL is changing. The standings are more compressed. The difference between the best and the worst team is as small as it’s ever been. One injury can change things dramatically; so can a coaching change.
Looking at the standings on this date a year ago didn’t provide the clarity it might have in the past. Montreal was in first place, with a 16-4-2 record; ultimately, the Canadiens didn’t even make the playoffs. The Senators were 10-5-5; they didn't either. Pittsburgh was spinning its wheels at 12-8-0, not quite the powerhouse the Penguins would eventually become after Mike Sullivan took over as coach.
But there were also trends that ended up playing out over the course of the season. The Sharks were on top of the Pacific on this date last year and ended up winning the West. The Stars were on top in the Central and ended up winning it. The Blackhawks weren’t the dominant team they were in the past and ended up being knocked out in round one of the playoffs. The Oilers and Maple Leafs were last in their respective conferences and would stay that way.
So as Thanksgiving closes in, here’s a look at the preseason expectations of each team and what reality is proving they may be instead: