As we head into the final push of the NHL season, I think it’s time we evaluate where each team sits. Who’s season is practically over, who’s is just getting started, and who should be worried about being left out. With about 28 games left in the season for most teams, we have hit the stretch where every single point matters and one bad week can mean the difference between your season ending after 82 games or playing on.
All but dead: Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg. These are the teams that are essentially eliminated from playoff contention. The trend seems to be that they are young and have bright futures, they just might need to add another piece.
Edmonton thought signing Talbot after his breakout season between the pipes for the Rangers last year was going to be the missing piece. But with No. 1 overall draft pick Connor McDavid missing chunks of time due to injury, and Talbot struggling to stop the puck, their season was over before the All-Star Break.
Calgary was always one of those teams that continuously is “missing one or two guys”, its been the same narrative for the past decade. This season is no different. Johnny Gaudreau is a bonafide star in the NHL, but he’s the only guy there. In this case they really are just a body or two away from a playoff birth next season.
Winnipeg was that team you really thought was going to make a move this season. They traded away Evander Kane at the deadline last year to clear up some Cap space but also get rid of a guy who wanted out. They just gave Dustin Byfuglien a big boy extension and made it clear he is their veteran leader and probably their best player. Winnipeg’s problem is consistency, until they figure it out, they are pretenders.
Out and Not Getting In: Arizona, Vancouver. As of right now these two teams are on the outside of the playoffs looking in, and I believe they are going to keep looking in. Unfortunately they are just not built to make a late season push.
Arizona, a damn weird state to have a hockey team, but they seem to be getting better. Mike Smith hasn’t been the same goalie since he had his breakout season in ’11-’12, and not having a consistent battery has been the thorn in the side of the Coyotes. Add scoring troubles on top of that and its a recipe for failure.
Vancouver for a while was always that team that would light you up in the regular season but come playoff time would fold in the ones that matter. Fortunately they won’t be that team this season because they won’t be in the playoffs to begin win. Short and sweet: the Sedins have no help.
Pretenders Disguised as Contenders: Minnesota, Colorado, Nashville, Anaheim, San Jose. These guys are either in the top-8 or just on the outside looking in. However, they are not real contenders for the Cup and are most likely headed for an early exit from the playoffs, at least for the ones who get there.
Minnesota is the team from the state you’d think should dominate hockey, but they don’t. They have good pieces, including hometown hero Parise, but they just can’t seem to figure it out when it matters most. Not enough scoring to help out their solid goalie play is landing them in hot water. I think they miss the playoffs, despite a late season surge.
Colorado is the surprise playoff team of the bunch, but they have earned it. Patrick Roy has turned into a good NHL coach, their combination of youth and veteran presence makes them a well-balanced squad. Nate MacKinnon is going to be a great player, and if people aren’t scared of him now, they should be. However, I think they are headed for a first round departure from the Playoffs, mostly because they will finish in 8th and get matched up with Chicago.
Nashville is another one of those teams that are so intimidating on paper but can never seem to get it done when it matters most. Shea Weber, Mike Fisher and Pekka Rinne have been around a long time and you’d think they would have it all together by now. I give a lot of credit to Peter Laviolette for the job he has done, but they don’t have what it takes. First round KO for the boys in Music City.
Anaheim is becoming that team you learn to love come postseason play becuse they just can’t win. The last five seasons or so they compete for the Western Conference title and even the Presidents Trophy then seemingly collapse in the playoffs before the SCF. Another year of disappointment for Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.
San Jose is the NHL equivalent to the Cincinnati Bengals of the NFL. They will light you up in the regular season, hell they might even compete for the division title, but they absolutely suck in the playoffs. Betting on them in the postseason is a losing bet, every single year, and this season isn’t going to be different. The old trio of seasoned vets (Pavelski, Marleau, and Thorton) will continue to go without a Cup.
The Contenders: Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis, Los Angeles. These guys, n my opinion are the real teams to look out for going into the playoffs. Every team that makes it has a chance of course, but in a league dominated by those who have talent, these teams rise to the top.
Chicago is the undoubted favorite to win the Cup again this year. It seems like every year this team just gets better, even when it loses key players. Patrick Kane is having a Tom Brady- Like season after his offseason was marred by controversy, much like Brady’s. He is going to be the Hart Trophy and his line mate Artemi Panarin is deserving of the Calder, a winner that came out of nowhere. At this point, the question becomes, who is the team that can stop Chicago?
Dallas is an interesting team because they have some top talent on their roster with the likes of Jamie Benn and Tyler Segiun but every year they just can’t seem to stay consistent from start to finish. This year seems to be their year, they are second in the league in scoring, and Antti Niemi is playing well enough to keep them in games. I look for them to make a mini run in the playoffs, but I just can’t see them coming out of the West.
St. Louis intrigues me as well, they have a solid team this year, even after losing TJ Oshie to Washington. They might be the most well rounded team in the NHL, their PK, power play and goals against average are all in the top 10 of the league. Where they seem to struggle is scoring goals at even strength, and if you can’t do that in the playoffs, you’re in trouble. Contender, yes, Stanley Cup Final contender, no.
Los Angeles is the team that seemingly doesn’t go away, much like Chicago. They are the team that rolls out win after win. This is the team to watch coming out of the west, and possibly the only team that will be able to beat Chicago. Jonathan Quick in net and arguably one of the best defensemen in the game in Drew Doughty are some of the main reasons for success. Aside from St. Louis, they might be the most consistent team this season, ranking in the top 10 in Goals Against, Power Play, PK and even strength goals.
Western Conference Finals: Chicago v Los Angeles
Western Conference Champion: Chicago
Eastern Conference Coming Soon
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