The All-Star Break is now over and with everyone having about 30 games left, let’s see what will have to change for some teams’ playoff hopes. But first, the rankings . . .
#31 Chicago Blackhawks (18-24-9, -34, LW: 31)
#30 Anaheim Ducks (21-21-9, -33, LW: 28)
#29 Detroit Red Wings (19-25-7, -27, LW: 30)
#28 New Jersey Devils (18-23-7, -24, LW: 29)
#27 Edmonton Oilers (23-24-3, -19, LW: 23)
#26 Ottawa Senators (19-26-5, -31, LW: 25)
The rumors circling around Ottawa now is about center Matt Duchene. The two-time All-Star is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end and talks between the player and club have not led to anything significant. Several teams could be looking for his services to aid a playoff push and if negotiations do not lead to anything real, look for the 28-year old to be sent somewhere.
#25 Los Angeles Kings (20-26-4, -36, LW: 27)
#24 Colorado Avalanche (22-20-8, +7, LW: 17)
#23 Philadelphia Flyers (19-23-6, -30, LW: 24)
#22 New York Rangers (21-20-7, -25, LW: 21)
#21 Florida Panthers (20-20-8, -18, LW: 26)
#20 Buffalo Sabres (24-18-6, -4, LW: 22)
#19 Washington Capitals (27-17-6, +9, LW: 19)
#18 Arizona Coyotes (23-23-4, -10, LW: 18)
#17 Vancouver Canucks (23-22-6, -14, LW: 14)
#16 Dallas Stars (24-21-4, -2, LW: 20)
#15 St. Louis Blues (22-22-5, -10, LW: 15)
#14 Carolina Hurricanes (24-20-6, -9, LW: 13)
#13 Boston Bruins (27-17-5, +15, LW: 9)
#12 Vegas Golden Knights (29-19-4, +17, LW: 6)
#11 Pittsburgh Penguins (26-16-6, +23, LW: 11)
#10 Minnesota Wild (26-21-3, 0, LW: 16)
One of the many Jeckyl and Hyde teams in sports today, this team just exchanges winning streaks with losing streaks. One period they look unbeatable, the next they look like they belong in the ECHL. That’s not exactly the formula you want when you’re one of the league’s older teams (the team’s average age is almost 30, about two years older than the league average). For the most part I have them as an easy first round exit if they even qualify. But there is enough there to make some noise. It all depends . . .
#9 Columbus Blue Jackets (28-17-3, +8, LW: 8)
#8 San Jose Sharks (29-16-7, +20, LW: 5)
#7 Montreal Canadiens (28-18-5, +5, LW: 7)
#6 Toronto Maple Leafs (30-17-2, +34, LW: 12)
#5 Nashville Predators (30-18-4, +26, LW: 10)
#4 Winnipeg Jets (31-15-2, +33, LW: 4)
#3 New York Islanders (29-15-5, +25, LW: 3)
Do you think Mathew Barzal enjoyed his first All-Star Weekend? In leading the Metropolitan Division to the victory the 21-year old center had six points in the semi-final and championship game and finished third in the speed skate competition. The Isles’ leading scorer has combined with a strong goaltending tandum bring the once proud franchise to a place it hasn’t seen in a long time – atop their division with their former Patrick Division rivals all looking up at them.
#2 Calgary Flames (33-13-5, +45, LW: 2)
#1 Tampa Bay Lightning (37-10-2, +59, LW: 1)
OK, now to break down the playoff picture.
The Lightning are all but officially in as the division champion, leading by 13 points over Toronto. The Maple Leafs seem pretty comfortable at 63 points, four ahead of Montreal with two games in hand. Boston trials the Canadiens by two points, but like the Leafs they have two games more to play than the rival Habs. Buffalo may make some noise, but have not been the same since Christmas (4-7-1 in the 12 games since the holiday). Those top four all seem pretty secure as far as making the playoffs are concerned.
Nothing is for sure here. The top four teams are within five points of each other, with the surging Islanders leading the pack with 63 points. Seven straight losses have the Capitals reeling and sitting in second place, just one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are one point ahead of the Penguins.
East Wild Cards
Boston and Pittsburgh currently hold the two wild card spots and sit four points ahead of the Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes. That’s really the only serious competition for the postseason, as everyone else is nine or more points behind in the standings. The only real questions are not about who will make it, but where they will fit in.
Winnipeg and Nashville can start looking at what they need to get into Round 2. Both are nine points ahead of the third place Minnesota Wild and 12 points ahead of anyone else. The up and down Wild have a three point lead on the Stars and Avalanche. As for the Blues and Blackhawks, there is always next year
Talk about little drama. The Flames are well in front of the Sharks and Golden Knights, but both of those teams are 10+ points ahead of Vancouver for a top three spot.
West Wild Cards
Here is where things could be interesting. Currently the Stars, Avalanche, and Canucks are all tied with 52 points, separated only by points percentage (Dallas has played 49 games, Colorado 50, and Vancouver 51). After that the Ducks are at 51 points, the Coyotes 50, and the Blues and Oilers at 49 apiece. Sorry Blackhawks and Kings; your combined five Cups in six seasons was awesome to start the decade, but you guys now have to rebuild.
Personally I would like to see the the Oilers and Canucks make it – the more Canadian teams the better as far as I’m concerned – but realistically I think it will be Colorado and Vancouver who sneak in.
In a bigger picture, though, why am I already eliminating teams that are just 5-6 points behind? Three words: Three point games.
Back in 1999 the NHL decided that overtime games were losing some luster or something like that because teams in overtime would sit back and not risk a loss and instead salvage a point for a tie. Now, a game could still end in a tie, which led to the Hurricanes being eliminated from the playoffs when Buffalo and Washington were tied AT THE END OF REGULATION. They didn’t even have to finish the game.
Well, after a few years and a lockout to cancel an entire season they came up with the ingenius idea to go to a shootout after overtime to determine a winner. As a result there have been 163 games in which three points were awarded.
What people saw as a good thing was just partly good; they didn’t see the end result. Up until 1999 when Team A was trailing Team B in the standings and Team A won while Team B lost, Team A gained two points. Now Team A might only gain one point. What that has meant is that while the three point games seem to keep teams in the playoff picture longer, they also prevent more exciting races for spots because it is much more difficult to catchup. Even in soccer they have wisened up and award three points for a win and just one for a tie. Personally I would prefer the old method of two for a win and one for a tie, but I know that won’t happen. I’ve proposed before to award three points for a regulation win, two for an overtime/shootout win, and one for an overtime/shootout loss, but who knows if that will ever gain steam.
Whatever the case, it’s a shame that what could be an exciting run to the end of the season will more likely be what we already see in the standings today.