I can’t remember when we have seen such parody in the NHL where there are 28 of the 30 teams that are still in the playoff hunt. We are a week off of the All-Star break and there are teams that are trailing with games in hand, The Columbus Blue Jackets are a legitimate contender to make a playoff run, and the Detroit Red Wings are in jeopardy of breaking their historic run at making the playoffs for 26 straight years as they sit on the outside looking in. Needless to say it has made handicapping difficult, but it is exciting for the fans and healthy for the league.
We are still in the stretch that is referred to as the “grind” of the season where games are not as predictable as they typically become down the stretch; which is the last 20 games of the season. As the season winds down and teams jockey for playoff positioning I expect to see lower scoring games, which is always the case in the final month and during the playoffs. There is less room to maneuver which means less scoring chances and goaltenders tend to find that next level of play and save percentages go up.
Another thing that will affect teams and choices will be the March 1st trade deadline. There will be some big trades that go down with two clear sellers in the Colorado Avalanche and the Arizona Coyotes. Both of these teams have higher end movable players. The truth is though that seldom does a big name that is moved at the deadline go in, and have that huge impact that is required to take a team over the top and win it all.
Jarome Iginla went to the Penguins at the deadline in 2012 and didn’t have the affect needed to propel Pitt to post-season success. However, the following season when he joined the Bruins from the start of the year and he learned their systems from day 1 he was lights out netting 30 goals and went to Cup finals. It is a lot to ask of a highly skilled player to come in with a little over a month left in the regular season and make the impact required to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.
From a handicapping perspective it can be tough not to get caught up in the hype, but that will be my main objective while I continue make educated plays.
In the east the Caps look as though they are pulling away, but not the way they won the President’s trophy last year. This season it appears as though the Caps have been all about setting the foundation for a long playoff run. Anything less than a shot at the Cup will be a disappointment for this team who have had great regular season success, but have underachieved in the post-season. This appears to be their year and if they can shore up another solid blueliner they will be the favourites from the east.
The Maple Leafs look to have a monumental turnaround after placing dead last in the league in 2015/16 and now in the mix for a playoff position. This is a young dangerous team that has a high ceiling, but shouldn’t be considered a threat until they go out and get that stud physical defenseman they so desperately need.
What happened to the Florida teams? Tampa Bay was one game away from going to the Cup finals last season and the Panthers set a franchise record for points, but they both have been huge disappointments this time around.
The Rangers have been awesome and so so throughout this campaign, but as usual it will come down to what game the King will bring to the spring dance. They have improved their overall team speed, but traded away that offensive D-man in the off-season.
The west has some of the usual suspects and some new names to speak of. The Minnesota Wild are on the top of the list, even though Bruce Boudreau’s playoff record is questionable. He has had so much success during the regular season but the playoffs are another story. With Devan Dubnyk and the team playing great defense they have to be considered the favourites from the west.
The Sharks are a team that appear to be gearing up for another deep playoff run. They have added some speed after they were clearly a step behind last year against the Pens. Things could be different for the only California based team that hasn’t won a Cup if Thomas Hertl can stay healthy and the Norris leading candidate Brent Burns keeps the growth in his game going north.
It will be hard to count out the Blackhawks and the Kings who together have won 5 of the last 7 championships, but they have not looked the same leading up to the playoffs.
There will be desperate teams pulling off upsets as we race to the spring dance and veteran playoff teams fighting to stay on top. I look forward to the challenge and will work my hardest to make the best educated picks for my clients who have placed their faith in me.
Thank you for your vote of confidence. I don’t take it lightly.
Keep your sticks on the ice,
Enter the coupon code midseason at check out to receive Half Price! through The Stanley Cup Playoffs