Over the past few NHL seasons, the Western Conference has been perennially tight when it comes to those final few playoff spots. Last season it was Chicago, fighting off Dallas and coming within a Patty Kane right hook of ending up in 9th place. Of course, the Blackhawks went on to come within a similarly slim margin of knocking off the President’s Trophy winners, but a Burrows one-timer wrote the ending to that story in favour of the hometown Canucks.
This season, just after the All Star break, the schedule resumes with no less than five, (ok sure, maybe six), teams in the hunt for the evermore elusive 8th and final.
Starting from the Top
Darryl Sutter might as well have rode an Alberta-bred stallion into town, because that’s the effect he has had on the previously disorganized Kings. Since taking over from Terry Murray before Christmas, a refreshed Sutter squad as gone 9-2-6 and currently sits in 7th place in the West. Sutter teams don’t typically falter down the stretch, and I don’t see that happening here, which is why the Kings are loosely included in this conversation.
End of season projection: 7th or better
Collective sigh on behalf of the Avs when it comes to goaltending. I mean, Varlamov is young and no doubt adjusting to the starting role, but there’s no leniency in the Wild West. With a sub 900 save percentage and a GAA that usually sits around a big ugly trois, the nets has to be the biggest focus here. What I do think is that this core group of younger players has been to this party before, and knows what they’ll need to do to avoid missing the post-season. The only question that’s left is can they. I like the Colorado group and if anyone emerges late season, it’s going to be the Avalanche.
End of season projection: 8th
Welcoming The Squid to town, ok pause, isn’t that what they should call him? Cammalleri > Calamari. My almost seventy year-old pops and lover of the game, can’t pronounce hockey names worth a darn. In Cammalleri’s last stint with the Flames, my Dad almost always said Calamari. “Why doesn’t that Michael Calamari score more!?” God forbid when Sven Baertschi finally cracks the line up. Anyways, The Squid was a good call, but the Flames will need more than tough angle one-timers to play past the regular season. How about a decent power play? They’ll also need to catch a fast track on some current injuries including David Moss and Curtis Glencross.
End of season projection: 9th
Can I just say that I wish I was a hockey fan in the desert? Upon cruising to the ‘Yotes site, there’s an ad for their Feb 4th tilt against the Sharks: $1.00 hot dogs. One dollar!? You could almost take the whole family out for a game AND dinner for less than a single ticket inside Rogers Arena or the Scotiabank Saddledome. Haha, but I digress. This is a really aging squad, doesn’t mean they can’t pull it off but sitting on the wrong end of the bubble is bad news for anyone paying attention to the plight of the Desert Dogs.
End of season projection: 10th
After starting the season looking like a serious contender, the Wild have slowed up big time. A second losing skid, (3-6-1 in their last 10), finds them planted in 8th spot, although they did get four out of four points against Dallas and Colorado before the break. Honestly, this team plays games in a confusing fashion, without consistency. There doesn’t seem to be a fluid offensive system and when the defense breaks down in their zone, it gets ugly. Bright spot alert! Mikko Koivu is skating. If he gets back in the line up it will definitely help.
End of season projection: 11th
Jaaaamie Benn. Ok, got that out of my system. Kid can snipe. Definitely an NHL heavyweight if not already. However, I’m not sure if Benn’s emergence in the last season or so is enough to push his team into some extra April ice time. Dallas is tremendously streaky, right? Despite kicking off the campaign 11-4-0, since Nov 12, the team has gone 14-17-2. Winning or losing in little packets of twos and threes. With Brendan Morrow out, (although apparently close to return), they’ll have to win consistently to have a chance. Meh, I don’t see that happening.
End of season projection: 12th
But what about the Anaheim Ducks…?
C’mon, who are you Jamie McLennan? Haha, no way…