Monday, February 2, 2009

Prognosticating Playoff Participants - NHL Western Conference

Living by the credo of "it's never too early", let's take a look at the current NHL standings and see how that would translate to the 8 playoff teams in each conference (starting off with the West in this post).

Actually, granted... it is just the first week of Feb, but an interesting fact I heard on Hockey Night in Canada Radio the other day (love that Sirius) was that last season the only two teams to be out of the top 8 in their conference at the end of January and still make the playoffs were Washington and Nashville. So, in this case... past performance really does indicate future results, but I digress.

Western Conference Standings

1. San Jose - 77 points
2. Detroit - 71 points
3. Calgary - 64 points
4. Chicago - 62 points
5. Anaheim - 55 points
6. Dallas - 53 points
7. Minnesota - 53 points
8. Edmonton - 53 points
9. Columbus - 53 points
10. Phoenix - 53 points
11. Vancouver - 52 points
12. Los Angeles - 47 points
13. Nashville- 47 points
14. Colorado - 47 points
15. St. Louis - 45 points

Well, there's a bunch of numbers and teams... what to take from it? Here's some observations...

- Draw a line below Chicago at #4 because there's your clear delineation point between the elite and other. One interesting thing is that you'll likely not have the situation this season with a weak division champion taking the 3rd spot. Going with the assumption that Calgary isn't as good as San Jose, Detroit (or even Chicago)... I still would fear them in a playoff matchup.

- Seeds 5-11 separated by three points... yowzer.

- Anaheim has had an on and off season, but they're likely just too good, experienced and nasty to not make the playoffs.

- Dallas being in the situation they are (a playoff team as of right now) is amazing given the dire (i.e. Sean Avery still on the active roster) straights they were two months ago. I have to believe if they've pulled themselves out of the abyss, they'll likely not fall back in it. Count them in as a playoff team.

- LA and below in the standings are a combination of just too young and not quite good enough this season. Count these four teams out.

- Vancouver is in free fall mode right now (even with Roberto Luongo back and Mats Sundin getting a bunch of money from them). I think current status combined with the memory of falling flat the final week of last season will cause them to... do the same this season.

- This leaves four teams for two spots... Minnesota, Edmonton, Columbus and Phoenix.

- I think Phoenix has the toughest road of the four to the playoffs. They have a difficult division top to bottom and uncertainty about the viability of the franchise in Arizona (back to Winnipeg, anyone?). Definitely a good young team and I'd like to see them make the postseason, but I wouldn't predict it happening this season.

- Columbus benefits from having both Nashville and St. Louis in their division (even though the top of the division is pretty darn "top" with Detroit and Chicago). I think this combined with the magic of a hot rookie goaltender in Steve Mason will put them into the dance for the first time in franchise history.

- Final spot (but, not necessarily only the #8 seed)... Minnesota-Edmonton, Oilers-Wild... I gotta go with the better goaltender in Nicklas Backstrom and nicer arena in the Excel Energy Center. Minnesota makes the playoffs.

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