The All-Star weekend has come to an end and appears successful on several levels. First, congratulations to Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers for winning MVP and to the Metropolitan Division on winning the 3v3 challenge. Over the weekend, we saw hockey legends like Wayne Gretzky behind the bench once again. We saw celebrities like Justin Bieber getting into the action on the ice. We even saw rival players like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin bonding together during such a fun and exciting time.
TIME TO GET SERIOUS
However, now comes the second half of the season. Now comes time for the playoff push. Now comes gut-check time for teams and players across the league. Let’s take a look at the Western Conference standings as of Monday January 30th.
Unlike the other side of the league, the Western Conference appears to be a little easier to see “who’s in” and “who’s out.” First, we have two teams that are wishing the season would end now in the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes. With a mere 28 and 38 points respectively, you could combine their total points (66) and they still would not have the most points in the NHL. It is very clear neither of these two teams will be making the playoffs and major changes will need to be made for both squads.
CHICAGO CONTINUES DOMINANCE]
On a more positive note, let’s take a look at the Central Division. The second best team in the NHL, the Minnesota Wild, lead the division with 69 points. This also puts them first in the conference and safe to say they will find themselves in the playoffs for the fifth season in a row. Next, the Chicago Blackhawks. They sit three points behind the Wild, with three extra games played. As the most represented team during the All-Star weekend with four players (Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford, and Jonathan Toews) Chicago is another shoe-in to have a playoff spot coming out of the division. With three Stanley Cup finishes in the past seven seasons, and a playoff appearance in the last eight, a long post-season run is nothing new to the Blackhawks.
Looking at the rest of the division, three teams come to mind: Nashville, St. Louis, and Dallas. All three teams made the playoffs last season and will be fighting once again for the remaining spots. Currently, Nashville claims the last divisional playoff spot with 56 points in 49 games. St. Louis has claim to the first wild-card spot with 53 points in 49 games. Dallas finds themselves on the outside looking in with only 50 points in 50 games. However, they are by no means out of playoff contention with a turn-around after this break. The Winnipeg Jets may have the same amount of points as Dallas coming back from the break, but they have played two more games. While the Jets may not be out of it statistically, I believe they just don’t have “it” and what is needed to make the post season in the West this year.
A “WILD” PACIFIC DIVISION
I say “wild” because as it looks now, the wild card may be the only option for some of these teams to make a post-season run. The top of the division is controlled by defending Western Conference champions San Jose Sharks. They have 64 points, in 50 games, ranking third overall in the West and seventh in the league. Led by defenseman and Norris Trophy candidate Brent Burns, the Sharks can set their eyes on another post season appearance, followed by Edmonton and Anaheim. Both teams played 51 games prior to the break and have 64 and 63 points respectively. Edmonton may be a surprise to some. But with a new “face of the league” star McDavid leading the way, there is no question the Oilers belong in the playoff talk.
Calgary sits in the second wild-card spot with the Kings and Canucks nipping at their heels. While these three teams are battling for a wild-card spot, a divisional position will be an uphill battle. There is a 10-point difference between the Ducks and Flames. With such a large gap, bearing an epic slowdown by some of the top teams, these three will be battling for the wild-card spot and post season appearance.