The NHL trade deadline has passed and the
long regular season has entered its final quarter; no team has more than 20
games remaining on their schedule. The chase for playoff places is heating up
in both conferences. However, the action is particularly tight out West where
only the Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers are completely out of the race.
Sports Jerseys Canada breaks down the current state of play.
Locks: Nashville, St Louis, Anaheim and Chicago
The Nashville Predators, St Louis Blues and
Anaheim Ducks are in positions where it’s just about inconceivable that they
wouldn’t make the playoffs. It’s reasonable to lock them. We’ll also make the
slightly more contestable decision to place the Chicago Blackhawks into “lock “
status. Chicago will only be seven points ahead of the conference’s eighth
seed, but the Blackhawks have a deep and talented lineup and they’d make the
playoffs if they played only .500 hockey over their final 18 games.
Teams Hold Wildcard Spots
Jets – 76 points (4th - Central)
The Jets are pursuing their first
postseason appearance since returning to Manitoba. This team is in the middle
of the pack in every statistical category and they’ve actually been playing
some of their best hockey of the season. Head coach Paul Maurice has brought
NHL experience to this organization and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has added some pieces to make this
team deeper. Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak aren’t ground breaking additions,
but they give Maurice experience and a few more line-up options.
can take encouragement from a strong group of defensemen led by a top four that
features Tobias Enstrom, Tyler Myers, Mark Stuart and Jacob Trouba. The Jets
also have the benefit of Michael Hutchinson between the pipes. The 25-year old
has gradually developed from a solid rotation option alongside Ondrej Pavelec
to being the starting option. Hutchinson has a competitiveness and fight in his
game that is beginning to also be the identity of Maurice’s team.
have the toughest remaining schedule in the NHL (based on winning percentage)
and they don’t have a huge amount playoff experience among their core players.
Predicted Finish: 5th Central -
outside of Wildcard spots
Minnesota Wild – 75 points (5th -
A period of progress that started two
summers ago when they signed top free agent duo Ryan Suter and Zach Parise
appeared to have stalled earlier this season. A 7-2 hammering at the hands of
the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan 13 dropped the Wild to a record below .500
(18-19-5). Head coach Mike Yeo’s job was looking less secure and the Wild were
in serious danger of missing out on the playoffs altogether. Since reaching
near rock bottom, Minnesota has rocketed back up the standings starting on Jan
15 with a 7-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. They’ve posted a 16-3-2 record
since that big loss to the Penguins.
Few teams can ice a fourth line featuring
Kyle Brodziak, Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine, and while some of the team’s
stars haven’t managed production worthy of their contracts, they’ve got a lot
of high quality scoring depth. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk’s strong form has been a
significant factor as the trio of Dubnyk, Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom
all struggled in the early months of the season.
Finish: 4th Central – first Wildcard spot
The complicating factor in the NHL’s
playoff qualification set up is that both division and conference standings
impact who gets a postseason berth. Anaheim and two other teams from the
division will reach the postseason, and two other teams could theoretically
qualify as Wildcards.
Canucks – 75 points (2nd – Pacific)
The Canucks ended up standing pat as the
NHL trade deadline. This team is at an interesting point where they have an
opportunity to put some distance between themselves and their rivals, but it
might be just as easy to drop down the standings and out of a playoff place
altogether. The Canucks have a ton of injuries right now with Ryan Miller,
Alexander Edler, Alex Burrows, Christopher Tanev and Kevin Bieksa all currently
sidelined. However, they play eight of their next 12 games on home ice and,
based on winning percentage of opposition, have the easiest remaining schedule
in the Western conference.
GM Jim Benning and head coach Willie
Desjardins have constructed a different kind of team compared to the one that
missed out on the playoffs altogether in 2013-14 and even the team that managed
to win just one game in the two previous playoffs combined. These Canucks play
with a little extra grit and are finding ways to overachieve.
Finish: 2nd Pacific
Flames – 72 points (3rd – Pacific)
It has been five seasons since the Flames
last made the postseason and Bob Hartley’s group still has a lot of work to do
before they break that streak. It starts by continuing to compete on their
current seven-game Eastern road-swing (2-2 so far) and it will involve
surviving without captain and important defenseman Mark Giordano. As Calgary’s
former core gradually departed Alberta during a period where the franchise was
in decline, Giordano remained and his role has grown. He has emerged as the
leader and a genuine #1 blue liner during a difficult period for the Flames. He
is second on the team in scoring and has played a lot of the team’s critical
minutes over the past two seasons.
It’s not going to be easy to replace
Giordano. T.J. Brodie assumes more responsibility, while Hartley will be hoping
that he can get experienced stay-at-home defenseman Ladislav Smid back into the
lineup sooner rather than later. The forward group will also have to pick up
some of the slack. Youngsters Johnny Gadreau, Sean Monahan, Lance Bouma, Joe
Colborne and Josh Joories will have to face that pressure and raise their games
in the last two months.
Finish: 5th Pacific – outside of Wildcard spots
Angeles Kings – 72 points (4th in Pacific)
Are the LA Kings coming or are they
slumping? It appeared that the Kings had finally worked things out after an
erratic first four months when they reeled off eight straight wins in February.
However, they then lost three straight before snapping that skid with a 5-2 win
over the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night.
The defending champions are a difficult
team to figure out. They have experience, talent, depth and goaltending, but
all season long they’ve struggled to establish themselves. They won’t be overly
concerned about playoff seeding after twice winning the Stanley Cup as a lower
seed. However, maybe they should be a little more worried about getting into
the playoffs at all.
Head coach Darryl Sutter will know that
there are two players in particular who can help get this team moving in the
right direction – Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. Kopitar has just 13 goals and
48 points through 60 games - the worst scoring pace of his career. After
managing just two assist in the previous five games, he had an explosion of
sorts on Tuesday with a three-point night against the Oilers. Meanwhile,
Doughty is the spark plug that connects LA’s stingy defense to its occasionally
anemic offense; the importance of his play is increase by the absence of Slava
Voynov, though the addition of Andrej Sekera will help.
Finish: 4th Pacific – second Wildcard spot
Jose Sharks – 72 points (5th in Pacific)
After an era of consistently reaching the
postseason, but never making it to the Stanley Cup finals, Sharks’ GM Doug
Wilson suggested that he was ready to overhaul his team last offseason. Those
plans were rapidly aborted for a somewhat “tamer” set of adjustments. He may
yet regret not following through on his initial promise if San Jose doesn’t
find a way to at least sneak into the playoffs.
The next week will be an important one for
the Sharks. They play Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Nashville and Chicago at home (all
tough games) before embarking on a seven-game road trip that takes them into
April. Todd McLellan’s team have oddly been a little better away from the Shark
Tank this team posting a 17-11-3 record and they’ll need to keep that level of
play up to continue their push towards the postseason.
The Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars are
still potentially in contention, so we don’t want to rule them out. Both have
young rosters, slightly porous defenses and would need to win a huge proportion
of their games, or require the complete collapse of multiple teams. Neither of
those scenarios feel particularly likely and the Avalanche and Stars are not
serious contenders in the Western conference playoff picture.
Labels: Written by Sebastian Egerton-Read - @Seb_Read