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Monday, January 9, 2012
Updated: January 11, 6:13 PM ET
Grades: Where all 30 teams stand

By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

With the first half of the season in the books, Scott Burnside (East) and Pierre LeBrun (West) evaluate each team's performance:

Eastern Conference

New York Rangers

Grade: A-plus
Summary: At the time of this writing, the Rangers had the best winning percentage in the NHL and, with the return of Marc Staal to the blue line, look to be even tougher to play against in the second half of the season.
Trending: Up.

Boston Bruins

Grade: A-plus
Summary: The Bruins lead the NHL by a wide margin in goal differential, which means they're getting it done at both ends of the ice. Best team in the league five-on-five and leading the NHL in goals allowed per game. "'Repeat" is definitely in the Bruins' playbook.
Trending: Up.

Philadelphia Flyers

Grade: A-minus
Summary: No Chris Pronger and saddled now with a No. 1 netminder who appears to be suffering a crisis of confidence, the Flyers remain very much in the discussion when it comes to the creme de la creme of the conference. What will GM Paul Holmgren do come trade deadline day to improve his team's chances?
Trending: Neutral.

Florida Panthers

Grade: B-plus
Summary: The surprising Panthers hit the midpoint of the season in first place in the Southeast Division. Now the question is whether they can stay there in spite of injuries and the weight of being, well, the Florida Panthers.
Trending: Neutral.

New Jersey Devils

Grade: B-plus
Summary: The Devils have overcome slow starts by Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise and received unlikely contributions from rookie of the year candidate Adam Henrique to stay in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. Parise's future, though, remains uncertain, as are the team's playoff aspirations.
Trending: Neutral.

Ottawa Senators

Grade: B
Summary: The Senators still rank 28th in goals allowed per game. Guess what? Who cares? A never-say-die attitude has the Sens overcoming defensive flaws, and the talented young crew (with a few graybeards like Daniel Alfredsson mixed in for good measure) has the Sens bidding for an unexpected playoff berth.
Trending: Up.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Grade: B-minus
Summary: The Penguins continue to sink under the weight of crippling injuries to top players. Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby are now all gone for the foreseeable future. So, too, it would seem, is a playoff berth.
Trending: Down.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Grade: B-minus
Summary: Every time you want to count the Leafs out, they win a few and continue to hang around the bottom end of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Their penalty kill ranks dead last in the NHL, which suggests coach Ron Wilson's contract extension is meaningless if the team falls out of the playoff race in the second half.
Trending: Neutral.

Winnipeg Jets

Grade: B-minus
Summary: The fact the Jets are hanging around the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference and are actually only a handful of points out of first place in the Southeast Division after a lousy start to the season is a credit to coach Claude Noel and a quietly maturing Jets squad.
Trending: Neutral.

Washington Capitals

Grade: C
Summary: The Caps have been a huge disappointment this season and, although they've played better under new head coach Dale Hunter and could still end up at the top of the Southeast Division, this is no longer a team about whom Stanley Cup tales are foretold.
Trending: Neutral.

Buffalo Sabres

Grade: C-minus
Summary: Mediocre isn't exactly what owner Terry Pegula thought he was getting for all his millions, but that's what he's ended up with. Just goes to show you money can't buy you a playoff berth, let alone happiness.
Trending: Down.

Montreal Canadiens

Grade: C-minus
Summary: An unpleasant season has veered into parody with recent issues over language and how that fits into a coach's worthiness. Bottom line is this is a poorly constructed team playing exactly as its roster suggests.
Trending: Down.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Grade: C-minus
Summary: Even if the Lightning overachieved in advancing to the Eastern Conference final last spring, few predicted a step back might mean this kind of descent through the standings this season. Dwayne Roloson has struggled his way out of the lineup and the team lacks much in the way of scoring balance.
Trending: Down.

New York Islanders

Grade: D-plus
Summary: Yet another season of disappointing fumbling on Long Island. Few bright spots. Fewer people who care.
Trending: Down.

Carolina Hurricanes

Grade: D
Summary: If it could go wrong in Raleigh this season, it has. Kirk Muller has his hands full not just this season but moving forward in getting the Canes back to respectability.
Trending: Down.

Western Conference

St. Louis Blues

Grade: A-plus
Summary: From non-playoff team to battling Detroit and Chicago for the Central Division title, not to mention having a shot at the Western Conference title. Ken Hitchcock, get ready for another Jack Adams Award nomination.
Trending: Up.

Vancouver Canucks

Grade: A
Summary: Hard to believe I gave them only a C-minus at the first-quarter mark. Of course, they've done nothing but win since then. The Canucks are legitimately back to being their Cup-contending selves.
Trending: Up.

Detroit Red Wings

Grade: A
Summary: Ho-hum, year in and year out, the Wings just do their thing. Sometimes you wonder if people realize just how extraordinary it is that this team has been able to stay among the elite all these years without ever bottoming out and rebuilding.
Trending: Up.

San Jose Sharks

Grade: A-minus
Summary: The Sharks have surged in December and January to move atop the Pacific Division, where they will end up yet again by the time the regular season wraps up.
Trending: Up.

Chicago Blackhawks

Grade: B-plus
Summary: Only Anaheim and Columbus have allowed more goals against. Luckily, the Hawks can score like no one's business. Still, this is a team that could use another defenseman.
Trending: Neutral.

Colorado Avalanche

Grade: B
Summary:The young Avs have picked themselves off the mat and are legitimately challenging for a playoff berth. You can forget all those Joe Sacco firing rumors.
Trending: Up.

Dallas Stars

Grade: B
Summary: They survived the injury to goalie Kari Lehtonen. Jamie Benn is quietly having a career year with 41 points in 40 games. Did we mention he needs a new contract?
Trending: Neutral.

Phoenix Coyotes

Grade: C
Summary: They've dipped a bit over the past month, but given where most people had them last September, just the fact they're battling for a playoff spot deserves some recognition. The league's 29th-ranked power play needs to improve.
Trending: Neutral.

Los Angeles Kings

Grade: C-plus
Summary: A slow start to the season became a full-out, prolonged malaise, which led to Terry Murray's firing as head coach. Darryl Sutter's hiring reenergized the Kings, but they still struggle to score goals. Still, there's more discipline in their team game under Sutter, and the team's confidence is being repaired.
Trending: Up.

Nashville Predators

Grade: C-plus
Summary: Give them credit for surviving without Shea Weber the way they did. They're middle of the pack in both goals for and goals against. It's only the latter that's surprising.
Trending: Neutral.

Minnesota Wild

Grade: C-minus
Summary: Talk about a fall from grace. I had planted an "A" as their first-quarter grade. The Wild were the most surprising story in the West through the opening few weeks of the season. But December and January have not been kind to the Wild, who lost their confidence and their mojo and must now spend the second half of the season battling for their playoff lives.
Trending: Down. It doesn't feel like the Wild have hit rock bottom quite yet.

Edmonton Oilers

Grade: D
Summary: They got an A-minus for their first-quarter grade. Since then, reality struck on the rebuilding Oilers, plus massive injuries to key players.
Trending: Down. Another lottery pick on the way, which isn't so bad.

Calgary Flames

Grade: D
Summary: Same grade as the first quarter. There's just no reason to believe the current version of this squad will figure it out.
Trending: Down. Blow it up!

Anaheim Ducks

Grade: F
Summary: A coaching change has had very little effect. The core players on this team are underperforming, and then some. The GM has seen enough and he's going to make changes both at the trade deadline and in the offseason.
Trending: Down.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Grade: F
Summary: Where to begin? Scott Arniel finally bit the bullet Monday, but the problems run so much deeper. Look for this roster to be shaken up between now and Feb. 27.
Trending: Down.

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com.