Too Close To Call
Nobody wants to die. With three points separating six teams, and only three available spots, the combat for playoff berths in the Western Conference has turned into a remarkable race down in the final two weeks of the season.
Well, remarkable in the sense that the Sharks, Coyotes, Stars, Kings, Avalanche and Flames all still are teetering on the precipice. Not so remarkable if you're interested in the "races" for positions higher in the standings, but that's how the NHL works; the intrigue in the final weeks is always about seventh and eighth, not first and second. Plus you have the ridiculous situation of the third place team in the west having, as of this morning, nine fewer points than the fourth place team. They gotta fix that.
Be that as it may, another night in the west on Monday night shifted the drama a little more - easterners interested in Winnipeg's desperate but apparently ill-fated push in the east may not be looking past Manitoba's western border quite yet - and we can agree the stakes are excruciatingly high for all of these Western Conference teams.
in Calgary, the future looks dim and GM Jay Feaster, by his words and actions, has made it all about this season. San Jose, after so many playoff disappointments, should be the class of this sub-group, and certainly the management team led by Doug Wilson would be beleaguered to say the least if the playoffs began without the Sharks in them. In L.A., moves were made last spring and this winter to get this team of promise to a position where it can win a Cup, and now it may not make the playoffs at all.
In Dallas and Denver, buildings that used to be full to see strong teams are now often one-third or more empty. These are situations in which a post-season berth could make a big, big difference in the business picture, particularly in Texas where new owner Tom Gagliardi is endeavouring to get that once powerful franchise on the move again.
And then, of course, there's the Coyotes, who again are fighting for a playoff spot at the same time their future - or their relocation - is a hot topic. Surely the NHL can't again wait into May, and while the announcement of plans to break ground on a new rink in Quebec City in September adds to the picture, it doesn't yet really clarify things, either. One might have hoped the good teams organized by Don Maloney and Dave Tippett in the desert the past few seasons might have coaxed a few more customers to support the squad, but indifference remains.
Four more huge games loom on Wednesday, with the Calgary-L.A. tilt threatening to deal a knockout blow to the loser. The Avs, meanwhile, are in the unenviable position of needing to go into Vancouver and get a win after three straight losses have put Joe Sacco's club in desperate straits, particularly having played more games than the others. The good news for Colorado is with Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog they may have a 1-2 centre ice combo for years to come; the difficult news is that they may not be ready to win quite yet despite the fact the pre-deadline addition of Steve Downie has made a positive impact.
For an easterner, its about an investment in late-night viewing, and a willingness to sacrifice sleep. But this Western Conference stuff is gripping, both in the action and the nature of the franchise situations involved.
Being left on the outside could bring major consequences.