Little to Play For
Remember the final day of last year's baseball season with the Red Sox and Tampa involved in a wild couple of games to decide playoff berths?
Yeah, well, the NHL's getting none of that this spring.
Everything's decided with two days left of regular season competition. Okay, not everything. We still don't know who is playing who in the first round next week, although we do know the 16 clubs that will be playing for Lord Stanley's mug and the 14 that will be supplying players for the world championships in Finland.
All that was settled Thursday night, with Buffalo suffering a tragic fate and Dallas being eliminated with a loss to Nashville. We do know we'll have the Predators and Red Wings lock horns in the first round, while Pittsburgh will play Philly in a delicious series that is already ugly before a puck is dropped.
The other six series matchups will be decided over the next 48 hours.
At the other end of the spectrum, we also don't yet know the final order for Tuesday's draft lottery. All 14 non-playoff teams are in the lottery, but since no team can move up more than four positions, only the lowest five finishers can get the No. 1 pick. The dumbest part of the NHL lottery is that a team can win it, but not get the first pick. Dopey.
The Leafs, Wild and Ducks all won on Thursday, which for Toronto fans fearful that a late-season push will knock them out of a top draft pick, means nothing has changed and the 26th overall Leafs would still go in to the lottery with the fifth best chance of getting the first pick if the lottery was held today.
The Leafs can still get to No. 4 depending on how they do against Montreal and the Islanders fare in their final match in Columbus. If the Leafs beat the Habs in regulation, OT or a shootout, they also could yet move to No. 8, depending on how other games go.
Other playoff-bound clubs will be resting stars on Saturday. Should the injury-decimated Leafs give Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf the night off in Montreal? Don't bet on that happening.
Regardless, rest easy, Leaf fans, and don't pull out any more hair than you already have. In a draft year that includes as much uncertainty as any in recent memory, with a aosme key prospects - Alexander Galchenyuk, Morgan Rielly and Slater Koekkoek, among others - injured for much of the season, the final order will matter less than the ability of individual organizations to peer through the muck and identify the best youngsters. More than most drafts, this will be one for scouts to shine. The potential for getting it completely right or completely wrong is just as strong at No. 1 as at No. 10.
But that's hardly a "race" to keep you glued to your TV, is it? Pretty thin gruel overall for the final two days of the NHL regular season.