As the National Hockey League moves into the second half of its long, long season, congratulations are due coaches Mike Keenan of Philadelphia, Doug Carpenter of New Jersey, Jacques Lemaire of Montreal, Jacques Demers of St. Louis, Barry Long of Winnipeg and Pat Quinn of Los Angeles.
Condolences are the lot of Vancouver's Bill Laforge and Minnesota's Bill Mahoney, neither of whom lasted until the halfway mark. Herb Brooks of the New York Rangers and Gerry Cheevers of Boston still are on the job, but they deserve some sympathy. Meanwhile, Toronto's Dan Maloney seems to be paying a just penalty for all the elbows he threw as a player.
Philadelphia ranks as the major positive surprise of the season. With Bob Clarke retiring as a player to become general manager, Bill Barber disabled and Darryl Sittler traded, the Flyers began the season with many eager youngsters and little in the way of experience.
Few rated Philadelphia higher than fourth in the Patrick Division. Some questioned whether the Flyers could hold off Pittsburgh and its battery of high draft choices for the fourth playoff spot. But Keenan got the club off to a fast start and, following a brief December slump, the Flyers moved back into a first-place battle with Washington by winning four of their last five on a tough western road trip.
Tim Kerr, with 31 goals, has shown that last season's total of 54 was no fluke, and Pelle Lindbergh has emerged as one of the NHL's leading goaltenders.
Although New Jersey still ranks last in the Patrick Division, it has been competitive right from the start, when it opened with a 7-2 rout of the New York Islanders.
The Devils have nobody with more than 32 points. Usually reliable goalie Chico Resch has been less than impressive, so it is apparent Carpenter deserves credit for the team's disciplined play.
Montreal jumped to the front of the Adams Division in the second week and has stayed there, thanks to Steve Penney's consistent goaltending and a physical style keyed by Craig Ludwig and Chris Nilan.
The days of the Flying Frenchmen are over, with Guy Lafleur's retirement, but as a couple of recent 18,000-plus crowds in the Forum have indicated, grinding can provide sufficient excitement if it results in victories.
Leading the Canadiens' resurgence are three young defensemen from the United States -- Chris Chelios, Tom Kurvers and Ludwig. Top honors go, however, to Lemaire, who withstood considerable criticism of the team's new style.
Demers has used similar tactics to guide the Blues to a challenging position in the Norris Division. He also has gotten the club at an emotional high for key Norris games; the Blues are unbeaten in their last eight meetings with divisional rivals.
Although St. Louis would appear to possess less talent than Chicago or Minnesota, it is rarely blown out and has a knack for pulling out close games.
Winnipeg is winless in its last seven. Nevertheless, if Long can regain his winning touch of November, the Jets remain in good position to challenge Calgary for second place in the Smythe Division.
Despite the overall slowdown, captain Dale Hawerchuk continues to enjoy his finest NHL season, with 24 goals and 37 assists.
Los Angeles is right on Winnipeg's heels, after Quinn patiently drilled a group of largely undisciplined players who did not win this season until the 10th game. The surge of the Jets and Kings from the mediocrity of a year ago has the once-sorry Smythe challenging the Adams for the title of strongest overall division.
The obstacle to such status is the presence of Vancouver, seemingly out of playoff contention following a 4-21-2 start that cost Laforge his job less than six weeks into the season and produced embarrassing 13-2 and 12-1 defeats.
Another major disappointment is Minnesota, the Norris champion of last season, which is assured a playoff spot only because it plays in the same division as Toronto.
The North Stars have been changing coaches, captains and personnel regularly over the last few seasons and seem destined to struggle until they achieve stability.
That might begin next season, if prevailing rumor comes true and Brooks leaves the Rangers after this season to guide the North Stars' fortunes. For the moment, however, Brooks' team is the most injury-riddled in NHL history.
Most preseason forecasts had the Rangers battling the Islanders and Washington for the Patrick lead. Instead, they are struggling to hold off Pittsburgh for the last playoff berth, a scenario few could have foreseen after they ended 55 points ahead of the Penguins a year ago. If the Rangers ever get their injured players back, however, they could be a tough opponent in the playoffs.
One can only wonder where Boston would be if it had not obtained Charlie Simmer from Los Angeles for a future draft choice. Simmer has scored 23 goals in 34 games with the Bruins, who have by no means assured themselves of a playoff spot over Hartford.
Boston's big problem is the slippage of Rick Middleton and Barry Pederson. Middleton, who has scored 40 or more goals each of the last five seasons, has 15. Pederson, troubled by injuries, had four, after totaling 130 in his first three NHL seasons, and now has been declared out the rest of the season with a tumor on his upper right arm.
Toronto cannot be categorized as a disappointment because it was expected to finish last. But 6-29-5? The last time the Maple Leafs won fewer than 19 games was in 1929-30, with a 44-game schedule.