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SportsPulse: NHL insider Kevin Allen breaks down the first half of the season and gives us his picks for best story line, MVP and rookie of the year.
USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports NHL columnist Kevin Allen (Western Conference) and NHL editor Jimmy Hascup (Eastern Conference) take out their red pens to provide progress reports on all 31 teams at the halfway point of the season.

Vegas Golden Knights — A+

General manager George McPhee did everything right to prepare this team for its first NHL season. He hired the right staff and the right coach in Gerard Gallant. He manipulated the expansion draft rules to create a roster that puts this team on a trajectory to be the best expansion team in NHL history. Right now, they will settle for being the best team in the Western Conference.

Nashville Predators — A

Opponents beware because this team has improved since reaching the Stanley Cup Final last season. They are more balanced offensively and play with more confidence. Their defense is as formidable and Pekka Rinne is still Pekka Rinne.

Los Angeles Kings — A

With Jonathan Quick healthy and John Stevens and his staff improving the team’s offense, the Kings are a factor again in the Western Conference.

St. Louis Blues — A

Even with a continuous run of injuries, the Blues have been one of the NHL’s best teams since the opening week of the season, thanks primarily to one of the best defensive groups. The Blues rank fourth in goals-against average (2.56).

Tampa Bay Lightning — A

Hard to find a fault. They are the class of the Eastern Conference, with a Stanley Cup Final appearance in their sights.

Winnipeg Jets — A

Connor Hellebuyck’s improved goaltending (2.36 goals-against average, .923 save percentage) and a continued development of younger players such as Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jacob Trouba and others have made the Jets a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

More: Team USA hockey Q&A with GM Jim Johannson: How good could Olympic team be?

More: Five teams that should move quickly to make a trade

Boston Bruins — A-

Darkhorse contender in the East whose whole might be greater than the sum of their parts. The Bruins not only rank sixth in offense and third in goals against, they are the top possession team and second in goals-for percentage at five-on-five behind the Lightning.

Colorado Avalanche — A-

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