The NHL has a joke of a playoff system in the way that sixteen out of thirty teams make it into the postseason. That being said, you have to be a good team to make the playoffs. Even an eight-seeded team will look dangerous going into the postseason, that’s what makes the games so damn exciting.
The playoff picture in the East is uncertain. There are six teams (Flyers, Bruins, Thrashers, Rangers, and Canadians) fighting over two spots and separated by only eight points. The West is even more of a cluster. The Anaheim Ducks (13th in the West) and the Calgary Flames (8th in the West) are separated by seven points. This means six teams (Flames, Blues, Stars, Ducks, Red Wings, and Wild) will be fighting to make the playoffs. It’s going to be a tight squeeze for bubble teams heading into the last fifteen games of the season but there is still plenty of time and thirty-plus points to be handed out over fifteen games. Really there is no way of knowing how this playoff situation is going to turn out but we can always guess……
This is how I see the NHL Playoffs looking once all the games have been played:
1. Washington Capitals: As of March 11th the Caps are the top team in the NHL (with ninety-nine points) and lead the East by fifteen standings points. The Washington Capitals are an almost sure bet to take the top seed in the East.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens look like the favorite to win the Atlantic but they are not out of the woods yet. The New Jersey Devils are only three points away from the Penguins in the standings.
3. Buffalo Sabres: Ryan Miller has looked rejuvenated since the Olympics (where he was named the player of the tournament, not too shabby) and so have the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres need to watch out for two division rivals, the Ottawa Senators who will be looking to take the division and the Montreal Canadians who will be fighting for a playoff spot.
4. New Jersey Devils: The New Jersey Devils are always a dangerous team and will be as long as they have Marty in net. Right now it looks to me like the Devils could end up third in the standings in terms of points but will not win the division unless they can win some head to head games with Pittsburgh. Wins against the Pens would be huge if New Jersey plans on winning the Atlantic.
5. Ottawa Senators: Ottawa is a real strong team and definitely has a shot of winning their division. Their goaltending is a little suspect but all the core players are there. Ottawa could really end up anywhere from the third seed to the sixth seed, it all depends on how they fair in these last fifteen or so games.
6. Montreal Canadians: The Canadians look strong. They have not looked strong all year but they look strong right now. They have won three straight and I think will be a force in the playoffs. The Canadians are the Yankees of hockey (they have won twenty-three Stanley Cups) but they have not won a cup in seventeen years. For Canadians fans it will be Stanley Cup or Bust come playoffs.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers will be one of three teams from the Atlantic to make the playoffs. Anchored by Mike Richards and Jeff Carter the Flyers will be a scrappy (and sometimes dirty) team going into the playoffs.
8. Atlanta Thrashers: Atlanta will slip into the playoffs for just the second time in the franchise’s history. Although the young core of players Atlanta has will make them a playoff contender for years to come this year they will be one and done.
1. San Jose Sharks: The San Jose Sharks are a real good team this year. The real question for this Sharks team; will they be a disappointment come playoff time? Probably.
2. Chicago Blackhawks: The Chicago Blackhawks might be the most exciting team in the West. Kane and Toews are two young superstars that make Chicago’s offensive machine run. And let’s not forget Marian Hossa, who has had resurgence in Chicago. Detroit has struggled this season and Chicago has jumped at the chance to finally win the Central (which they lead by sixteen points.)
3. Vancouver Canucks: I’m not sure any team looks better than the Canucks right now. They are rolling on all cylinders and goaltender Roberto Luongo looks stellar. This team is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason.
4. Los Angeles Kings: Where did this LA team come from? The Kings have not been to the playoffs since the 2001-2002 season but it looks like their postseason drought has come to an end. In fact the Kings will have a cushy four or five seed in the playoffs and a strong chance to move on into the next round.
5. Phoenix Coyotes: Man! Who knew going bankrupt would work so well? The Phoenix Coyotes are another beast team coming out of this Western Conference. Ilya Bryzgalov may be my pick for the Vezina this year and has made himself a case for MVP this season.
6. Colorado Avalanche: This is not your “slightly older than you” father’s Colorado Avalanche but they are a pretty good squad. Do I think the Avs are an elite team in the west? No, but they are real solid and could surprise a few teams.
7. Calgary Flames: The Flames look like a team on a mission. They started the season in not so great form but look like a well put together team now after a couple of trades. Things just seem to jell and Jarome Iginla is more often than not the best player on the ice.
8. Detroit Red Wings: I can’t imagine the playoffs without the Detroit Red Wings. They are too good a team (historically and presently) to miss the playoffs. And plus, we need to see an octopus being thrown onto the ice. It’s good for hockey.