Panthers on the prowl
Give Panthers general manager Dale Tallon props. The architect of the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup championship team brought in 11 new players and rookie coach Kevin Dineen to transform last year's Eastern Conference cellar-dwellers into the most surprising and aesthetically pleasing team in the NHL.
The Panthers, featuring blossoming scorer Kris Versteeg and rejuvenated goalie Jose Theodore, sit atop the Southeast Division, a perch they hadn't occupied this late since March 2000, coincidentally the last season they reached the playoffs.
Conversely, the Canucks and their six ex-Panthers have gone from Presidents Cup winners and Stanley Cup finalists to mediocrity.
Leafs on the rise
The Morning Call
The Maple Leafs, who have not made the playoffs since 2003-04, are the most surprising team behind the breakout year of Phil Kessel, who leads the league in points and goals. And the Maple Leafs, who lead the Northeast Division, are doing it without injured No. 1 goaltender James Reimer.
On the other end of the spectrum are the disappointing Blue Jackets, who despite a number of offseason moves dropped 10 of their first 11 games. New acquisition Jeff Carter missed 10 games because of an injury and had a six-game streak without a point. Meanwhile, Rick Nash, usually good for 35 goals per season, is on pace to net just 21.
Expect Columbus to eventually heat up, while Toronto should be in the hunt all season behind Kessel.
Leafs change colors
Los Angeles Times
The biggest surprise in the NHL is the Maple Leafs, who have been near the top of the Northeast Division on the strength of Phil Kessel's hot start. Kessel has 16 goals and 30 points, silencing some of the critics who ripped general manager Brian Burke for giving two first-round picks and a second-rounder to the Bruins for Kessel. Kessel has gone from the last player picked in the fantasy draft at last season's All-Star game to the league's scoring leader.
The biggest disappointment? The Ducks, without question. They figured to get ample production from their top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and reigning MVP Corey Perry, but the Big Three have been a big bust. Anaheim is in danger of falling out of contention before Christmas.
In a sunshine state
As the architect of the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup championship team, Dale Tallon knows how to build a winner. Now Tallon is plying his trade in South Florida, and the Panthers GM has put together a ragtag group that leads the Southeast Division.
Tallon snagged Kris Versteeg from the Flyers, Tomas Fleischmann from the Avalanche and puck-moving defenseman Brian Campbell from the Blackhawks to bolster the offense. He then plucked Jose Theodore off the scrapheap in Minnesota to take over in goal.. Tallon's group has come together quickly and is the surprise of the league.
Despite the talent of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne, the Ducks have struggled mightily. Expect a major roster shake-up unless things turn around in a hurry.