The NHL seems to be becoming more and more like basketball. Though the playoff systems are different in the two leagues, gaps are becoming evident between the two conferences. In the NBA, the Western Conference is incredible. A team or two could win 50 games and not make the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, a team that doesn’t even win 40 games may make it.
It’s not the same in the NHL, but it is similar in a different way. So far this season, I’ve watched way more Western Conference NHL than Eastern. Why? It’s simply more interesting. It’s more fun to watch. I really don’t know why. But, I find the Western Conference teams better, more fun, and more pleasing to watch than the Eastern teams.
The West also has a more exciting playoff race setting up, like the NBA. In my opinion, right now, there are six possible teams in the West that could end up making the playoffs. Two are already in, that being Winnipeg and Calgary. My point: More teams look like playoff teams in the West than the East, setting up a better race at the end of season. The case: It’s exactly like the NBA. The West is more fun to watch and will leave someone out who’s deserving.
Unlike basketball, the Eastern Conference in hockey is good too. It’s not like it sucks, it’s just not as interesting, and probably won’t have a really exciting playoff race. That doesn’t mean there is some surprises.
Throughout this column, I’m going to go through who I’m taking seriously now, and will talk about what their playoff odds are. I’ll also survey each playoff race
New York Islanders
This has to be the best story of the year. Nobody saw this coming. This was a team that had been through pure misery in years past. They were desperate. They made a run in the 2013 playoffs, but had had a major drought in years before.
This year, the team is putting it together, thanks to a big and very underrated move they made prior to the season. The addition of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk was huge. It provided them much needed defense, yet they rank 23rd in goals against.
John Taveras has been great this year, finally breaking out. He has 24 goals, tied for 8th in the league. His play and leadership has only boosted this team.
I like the Islanders going forward. They can’t get cocky and let up though. The Capitals sit behind them, while the Rangers are in the Wild Card.
I don’t know yet whether they can make a deep playoff run, as they are a lot younger and don’t have as much experience as other teams, but they are talented, and that’s the key. It’d have to be an epic collapse for this team to fall out of the race. I expect this keep up. Let the fairytale continue.
Quick hits in the East:
- Trade everybody Toronto!
- The Red Wings are scary if they stay healthy
- Don’t look at where I put Tampa Bay in prediction column
I need more words for this. The Rangers and Bruins currently sit in the Wild Card spots in the East. This isn’t what I expected from either team, though New York (as I be homer) is the better team. Boston has struggled with injuries, but still have no reason to not make the playoffs.
Really, the Eastern Playoffs are set. I don’t see anybody hopping in or falling out. I think it just depends on seeding and matchups from here on out. Florida has been quite surprising this year, yet, well. It’s the Panthers. They’re moving in two years. C’mon.
Philadelphia can still not goal tend to save their playoff life. It’s going to keep them out of the playoffs if it can’t get better. And just I’m writing this, Steve Mason is hurt. OH, WAIT, HE HURT HIMSELF, ON A TV TIMEOUT!!!! LOL FLYERS. LOL.
Ah, now to the fun part. As I said above, it’s not that the West is better than the East. It’s simply more exciting, and has more playoff teams within contention. The West though, is also a lot more confusing. Given that there are more teams in contention, it makes it hard to evaluate.
First though, I want to talk about Nashville, who has overcome all their past issues and have put it together this season.
This team has been incredibly fun to watch. They haven’t been on national TV a whole lot, but when they are, it’s a delight to watch. The fun thing about Nashville is that they are smooth. They play so gracefully, and don’t turn the puck over to much. Their offense and defense has both been incredible, propelling them to the top spot.
The team is 5th in the NHL in points scored, averaging just under three a game. The Predators have been driven by this. Flip Forsberg has been huge, scoring 48 points and 18 goals.
The defense has also been outstanding, ranked 3rd in the league. Guys like Shea Weber and Anton Volchenkov have been lock down, and being a couple of the older guys on the team, they serve as leadership.
I really like this team. They’re young, yet have the right amount of leadership. This is a franchise that has gone through front office and coaching hell these past couple years. It seems like things have changed now. They finally have a solid crop of talent.
There is no way Nashville is going to collapse. They have 76 points coming into tonight. That’s first in the league. They’re really, really good. They play in a tough division, but have lots of talent to keep them up. I can’t say whether they’re built to make a playoff run, but I’m leaning towards the “yes”, rather than the “no”.
The rest of the Western Conference is super fun. While the Central division is tough, yet has stayed the same when it comes to the leaders, the Pacific always seems to be changing, due to the insane Wild Card Race. As of Monday afternoon, Vancouver owns the 3rd spot in the Pacific division. This has been constantly in change.
Besides the division race, the Wild Card will only be heating up till the end of the season. With Calgary and Winnipeg in the spots now, the two teams are going to have to play great hockey to keep it. As said above, four teams, in my opinion, have the possibility to jump them. Two certainly stick out.
I want to love this Dallas Stars team. I really do. Every time I watch them they’re flying around the ice. They’re an incredible offensive team. The defense though, has always been the problem. Ranking 27th, the team needs more help. They already made a trade with the Sharks, acquiring Jason Demers. The move was a great one for them, but it hasn’t been enough. The trade deadline is March 2nd. That gives Dallas plenty of time to make a move. They need to if they want to get into the playoff race. With a possible trade, this team could be lining up for a playoff push.
The Wild are the Pittsburgh Steelers of hockey. Nobody can figure them out. I live in the Twin Cities, am surrounded at school by hockey players and Wild fans, and nobody can figure them out. I can’t figure it out. It’s just odd. The problem all year has been the goaltending. Acquiring Devan Dubnyk has worked well, but injuries have still plagued the team. Dubnyk has been good, and the trade seems worth it. Other issues though have came up though. The defense that we expected to see from this team has dwindled, and it’s killed them. The young guys on the defense have to step, as I’ve been saying all year.
Watching this team almost every night and being a fan of them is becoming frustrating. Why? Well, they lose stinkers. They lose games they shouldn’t, then win games they shouldn’t. It’s impossible to figure out. It’s why I can’t see them making playoffs, yet it’s also why I think they could make a late season run and get in. It’s a mess! And yet, out of these six teams, Minnesota and Colorado seem to be the least likely to get in. What a cluster!
The defending champion Los Angeles Kings have not been living up to the expectation this year. It’s a strange phenomena. The Kings are still hanging in the race, but injuries and bad defense have killed them this year. The Kings can still make the playoffs, but better hockey has to be on the horizon. Like Minnesota, they lose really bad games. It hurts them in the standings. It can’t happen any longer.
Winnipeg and Calgary are both playing very well. The Flames have flickered in and out of the top three in the Pacific, but better teams sit above, and that’s okay. The Jets were my edge team at the beginning of the season. I wanted to like them, but had to wait until the season began. They’ve played great, and I honestly think this a team that could make a run. Winning division games will be key for them, as teams below will start to trend upwards.
Western Conference Quick Hits:
- There’s only two bad teams in the West: Arizona and Edmonton
- Expect the Coyotes to be big-time sellers at the deadline
- The Stars have to buy
- Chicago, honestly, looks like the best team in the West
- Don’t sleep on a rise of the Blues later this season