Handing out midseason grades in a 56-game season presents its own sample-size challenges. Handing them out in a season in which some teams have yet to actually hit the midpoint, due to postponed and rescheduled games, only complicates things.
That established, here are the 2021 NHL midseason report cards for all 31 teams, including our picks for potential class president and which students might flunk out by the end of the term.
Note: Emily Kaplan graded the East and Central teams, while Greg Wyshynski graded the North and West clubs.
Players: B. The biggest surprise is how stellar the defense has been, despite losing key veterans in Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug. Charlie McAvoy has held down the fort as the new No. 1, but young players have fit nicely into new roles. Boston’s top forwards, as usual, are putting on a show, but GM Don Sweeney explained it well to reporters this week: The 5-on-5 offense is not where it needs to be, and scoring — specifically depth scoring — is “a major concern.” Boston is 27th in scoring goals at 5-on-5 this season. The Bruins, overall, have been slumping to lose their grip in the East Division race, now sitting comfortably in fourth place.
Coach: B. Bruce Cassidy is regarded as one of the best coaches in the NHL. He has shuffled lines to find more offensive consistency, but hasn’t been able to find it yet. Cassidy isn’t afraid to call out his team’s for poor effort — like he did after a 4-0 drubbing by the Rangers last week — and he typically gets the right response.
GM: B-plus. GM Don Sweeney is looking smarter for letting Chara and Krug walk — despite how difficult it was on the players, as well as the fan base. The young blue line has held up, but the GM might get defensive reinforcements at the trade deadline anyway. Craig Smith has been a good cultural fit, but isn’t chipping in as much productionwise as hoped. It’s one of the reasons the Bruins are still shopping for offensive help.
Class president: Brad Marchand. He has led the Bruins with 33 points in 26 games, and his coach says he should be getting love for the Selke Trophy — as well as the Hart Trophy for league MVP. Said Cassidy: “I think there’s probably other players in the league with better numbers that people will gravitate towards, but if you look at what Marchy brings to this team in terms of offensive ability, scoring, penalty kill, power play, 4-on-4, overtime and he’s got an ‘A’ on his sweater, he’s become much more of a leader in terms of setting an example in practice, in games. I think he should be in the conversation.”
In danger of failing: Jake DeBrusk has been a popular target for fans, and was demoted to healthy scratch this month. “Feels like everyone thinks I’m done around here,” he said. If nothing else, he’s carrying a chip on his shoulder for the rest of the season. DeBrusk, 24, said he took the scratching personally — and he responded by scoring a goal in his next game back.
Overall grade: B. The Bruins are a veteran-led team, but the changes this season mean it’s taking more time than usual to find their stride. It’s fine for now as long as they get clicking before the playoffs.