The NHL kicks off it’s final stretch and some thinking out loud
GRANDVIEW… The NHL All Star weekend has come and gone and if not for a fairly miserable sinus infection I would have been in the stands. I had my eye on a ticket for a couple of months preceding the event and the ducats were priced in the upper levels, But just days before the event they began to drop substantially. But with no voice, and sinuses that had the floodgates open along with other assorted misery, I surmised it wouldn’t have been too enjoyable to sit through the event. I did consume the entire weekend on the tube though and I have to say it was thoroughly entertaining. The skills competition was fantastic, the USA versus Canada Women’s 3 on 3 event was epic, and I must confess that I recorded the All Star game itself to view later in lieu of some college hockey action going that night. I did view it later and it was good viewing. Props to the league for rescuing this event from it’s own abyss in the recent past. It was becoming unwatchable to all but the diehard hockey maniacs such as myself.
Our Minnesota Wild don’t resume play until Saturday evening against their eastern nemesis, the Boston Bruins, but with the league resuming action this evening, I was able to take in a couple of tilts. I saw Montreal go against the Capitals, and the Blues take on the surging Vancouver Canucks. Much like the Wild, the Canadiens are in desperation mode and came out on the short end tonight against the Alex Ovechkin-less Caps 4-2. Without the big Russian in the lineup I gave the Habs a chance for two points, but it was a no go. Montreal is still 10 points removed from a playoff spot and that’s like making up 5 wins in 32 games on the team in that position. I don’t see them making it in this year, so do they become sellers at the impending trade deadline?
St. Louis lost to the Canucks 3-1 in the Terminal City. They scored early in the 1st on a Zach Sanford tally but the Canucks JT Miller got 2 in the 2nd for the win, which was completed with an ENG late in the 3rd frame for the 2 points. This isn’t a typo folks, Vancouver is in 1st place in the Pacific right now, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them there at the conclusion of the regular season. They can defend and they can play offense. In a handful of games I saw them in earlier in the campaign, they got leads and couldn’t hold them and have suffered from a handful of blowout type losses. They have corrected course on that. They could be a club you would want to avoid in the playoffs if they continue on their current path of improvement.
Another contest I was wanting to see was the Maple Leafs versus Nashville. After a score check I saw that they were up 4-1 at the end of two, so I didn’t bother. It ended at a 5-2F. The Leafs are still on the hunt for some defensive upgrades and the Wild are still a rumored trade partner. Does Wild GM Bill Guerin pull the trigger on any deals soon? And what in the Holy Hades happens in Toronto if the Leafs do NOT make the tournament? Does the “Shan-a-Plan” get nuked? Does boy wonder GM Kyle Dubas get hit with the fallout that would likely ensue? At this very moment they sit 2 points out of a Wild Card spot and have been on a hockey roller coaster for the better part of the year. They should have maybe kept “Uncle” Lou Lamoriello in the fold for a bit longer eh? Who is in better stead right now, Lou’s Islanders or Brendan Shanahan’s Leafs? And with Nashville at 6 points out of a spot and getting bombed tonight, what happens at the conclusion of their year? I do not see them making it in and on a need to know basis, was John Hynes really an upgrade over Coach Peter Laviolette? Had Lavi lost the room? What in the H-E-double hockey sticks was GM David Poile thinking there?
At the ASG break I broke the league into some groups, and here are my thoughts; obviously, the NHL has achieved a competitive parity. On any given night one team can beat another. In a playoff series where you have to do that 4 out of 7 times, there is separation. At my current “elite” level, that is of the teams that I think have a legit shot at a Cup win I have WAS, TAM, STL & PIT. In the next tier which I believe are some pretty good teams that if they had some puck luck, no injuries, extraordinary netminding, etc, these teams could make a serious run, I have; DAL, COL, BOS & FLA. Rounding out the rest of the Cup entrants I see in the East the NYI, CBJ & PHI, and if not the Flyers squeaking in, CAR will hang on to their current WC position. In the West I see VAN, CAL, EDM, ARI & VGK. I’d like to say that WINN gets in but they are faltering right now, and I don’t see a way for them to make a major course correction. They are beginning to pay (3-6-1 L10) for last summer’s roster losses. I also see CHI making some serious improvement, and if ARI or Vegas stumble and Hawks tender Robin Lehner goes on a serious run, CHI could surprise everyone and sneak in. I say Lehner because I would give him the nod right now over Hawks vet Corey Crawford. Just my opinion.
For the WILD, their fate doesn’t rest solely in their hands, but in assessing their remaining schedule and in calculating their seasons trends, they will have to vastly exceed their play to date to have a chance. A certain projection model I examine frequently has EDM as the 8th club to get a playoff berth in the West with 92 points. The Wild sit at 52 points at the 50 GP marker. With 32 games left the Wild would have to get 41 points to pass them based on that. That’s the equivalent of 20 wins and a tie or a combination thereof. They need to play at a .640 win percentage. Thus far they have played at a .520 pace. Yeah I know, the rough start and so on and so forth. But ask yourself, can this team win 20 of their remaining 32 contests? If I’m the Great Carnac I’m already on my porch with envelope to forehead scanning for that answer from the Hockey Gods. There is hope, and then there is reality. And in regard to between now and February 24th on trade deadline day; Hey Billy, are you holding em’ or folding em’? PEACE