In some ways, it should be easier to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference even though there are 16 teams vying for a playoff spot as opposed to the Western Conference.
There are fewer dominant teams in the EC but, oddly enough, the playoff race there is almost over.
At the All Star break, there is only 1 team, the Florida Panthers, that still has a reasonable chance to beak into the current top 8.
The Panthers are 7 points back of Boston but they do have 4 games in hand so a winning streak could make things interesting.
Ottawa and Toronto are both 10 points out and, in the Bettman point era, that is almost impossible to make up with 35-36 games left to play.
However it’s a much different story in the WC.
Realistically, there are still 12 teams that have a shot…although, at 7 points back of the final wildcard spot, I would have to think Minnesota is a long shot.
If we consider that Anaheim, Nashville, St. Louis and Chicago are locks to make the playoffs, we’re still left with a contest among 8 teams for the final 4 spots.
Let’s handicap them in order of current points:
60- Winnipeg Jets (22GR)
The surprising Jets just keep winning. While they currently occupy the first wildcard spot, they are only 3 points out of second spot in the tough Central Division but goal differential (only +10) would indicate they won’t overtake either the Blues (+37) or the Blackhawks (+40)
56 – San Jose Sharks (22GR)
As I predicted pre-season, the Sharks are mediocre. The turmoil on the team has been a season long drag on their performance and I don’t see any end to their struggles.
55 – Vancouver Canucks (25GR)
The Canucks are very well positioned to move up since they have games in hand on everyone. The oddity here is the Canucks have one of the best road records in the league at 15-8-2 but are underwhelming at home at 11-8-1. If they can get their mojo going at Rogers Arena, they’ll easily be a playoff team.
53- Calgary Flames (23GR)
The Flames hold down the last wild card spot and have a better goal differential than the teams chasing them. It’s going to be close but they might make it.
52- Los Angeles Kings (23GR)
The Kings are stalled, going 2-3-5 in their last 10GP. A hot streak from anyone ahead of them kills their chances.
50 – Colorado Avalanche (22GR)
The Avalanche have been much better lately and, if their young guns light it up, could be in the mix.
49 – Dallas Stars (24GR)
Dallas is among the highest scoring teams in the league but have been let down by shoddy defensive play. I think Nill will make a deal to bring in a sold RH defenseman and that will help.
Cody Franson anyone?
46 – Minnesota Wild (24GR)
Goaltending has sewered the prospects for the best possession team in the league. Devan Dubnyk is not the answer. See you next season Stars.