I have no clue what on God’s green earth St. Louis was thinking. Sure, they have been struggling as of late, but I didn’t think it warranted blowing up playoff hopes based on a sub-par last ten games. Whatever the case, the Blues decided to prematurely give up on the season and sent their #2 center off to Winnipeg for a pick and a prospect. Not only do they lose a 50-60 point player with no clear replacement, but the locker room has to be in chaos. Management pretty much sent the message that, despite being a mere point out of a playoff spot, this team as it was structured is simply not competitive.
Now, with the announcement that Jay Bouwmeester has been lost for the season, it’s pretty safe to say that the Blues are done, which means something for our Colorado Avalanche: the playoff race is blown wide open. Before the trade, St. Louis were a pretty safe bet to take up, at the least, one of the two wild card spots. Now there are a number of teams that could take up that vacancy, and the Avalanche has a decent shot to be the team that gets it done.
Let’s take a look at the remaining competition and see where things stack up now:
There are certainly a few teams that can be ruled from any sort of contention here: namely, Chicago, Edmonton, Vancouver, Arizona, and the newly spoiled St. Louis. There are also a few teams that are likely locks for the playoffs: Nashville, Winnipeg, “Vegas,” Dallas, San Jose (especially after the Evander Kane acquisition), and some stupid team named after a barren wasteland. That leaves Los Angeles, Anaheim, Calgary, and of course the Colorado Avalanche in contention for any remaining spots.
Basically, it’s easier for a Pacific team to leapfrog into the third divisional spot than secure the first playoff spot, given the overall competitiveness of the Central and Dallas’s stranglehold on that first wildcard spot. What that means is that at least one Pacific team must make the playoffs, leaving only one spot open.
Essentially, the Avs have to finish the season with more points than 2 of the 3 aforementioned teams. Here’s a breakdown of each of these teams and the reality of them making the playoffs:
This is a weird team. They started off the year looking like a top five team, but have since mightily struggled. They have regained their footing a bit, going 6-4 in their last 10, and there is certainly a lot of reason to believe in them. First off, their goal differential is +27, better than the Stars (+22), the Sharks (+12), the Ducks (+3), and the least spicy Taco Bell hot sauce (+14). All of these teams are currently sitting in a playoff spot. Their ROW is also a good 34 out of 36 wins, meaning they aren’t just getting lucky in the shootout, inflating the win column. All of this smacks of bad luck rather than bad overall play.
The team’s usual suspects are playing fairly well (Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty), and Anze Kopitar is having himself an unreal season with 71 points, good for 12th in the league. Dustin Brown is even putting in a solid season, with 45 points on the year. Not only that, but Jeff Carter, a solid player in his own right, just returned from injury and should certainly give his team a boost.
All things considered, this team is my surefire pick to make the playoffs and possibly even kick San Jose down to the third playoff spot. They are better than their record suggests, and this is a problem that will likely correct itself.
In one of the round-tables here at MHH, I picked Anaheim to finally achieve healthiness and get back in contention. They have gotten the two Ryans back, but they have ultimately been fairly uninspiring. Their powerplay sits at 23rd in the league, their offense is 22nd in goals for per game, and they give up the fifth most amount of shots in the NHL. Don’t forget their middling +3 goal differential either, as well as massively benefiting from the OT loss loser points, leading the league with a whopping 12 extra period losses. If you compare wins versus pure losses, you end up with a team that is 33-33.
Keep in mind too that Anaheim has played 64 games, more than 22 other teams in the NHL. The Ducks are on the literal knife’s edge. I have never been as happy to be so wrong. I’d like to be a little more wrong though
A team offensively led by Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, the Flames are a pretty top-heavy team. The drop off in points from Gaudreau to Monahan is 15, the drop from Monahan to Tkachuck is 9 points, and the drop from Tkachuck and Backlund is 9 points. That doesn’t exactly scream depth to me, but at least it’s not at Edmonton Oilers levels.
The point is that the team goes where Gaudreau goes, and if he struggles, the team struggles. Over the past three months, when Johnny Hockey scores at least one point, the Calgary Flames are 14-12-1, which isn’t terribly impressive. But when he doesn’t, the team is an absolutely anemic 3-12. Calgary is barely making past .500 when the star player is producing, and when he isn’t the team turns into the Arizona Coyotes.
They also hold a negative goal differential at -10, which doesn’t bode well for the team and shows them to be pretty mediocre at best. If anything, they’re worse than their record suggests. Mike Smith has also missed 6 games with no timetable on his return. Jon Gillies has proven himself to be serviceable with a .916, but they can’t ride him forever and David Rittich inspires no confidence with a .902. I don’t think this is a team that makes the playoffs, and even might be due for a slight regression.
Where do the Avalanche sit in all of this?
They have a good shot. Calgary seems to be dead in the water, and sinking fast. The Anaheim Ducks will likely be the team to beat, but it is not a task that seems insurmountable. LA is better than the Avs and will likely hold the third (or better) Pacific spot, but the Avs don’t even need to top them as I pointed out earlier.
Sitting one point out, all the Avs need to do is get healthy (especially Bernier and Johnson) and continue to have MacKinnon produce at Hart Trophy level.
All statistics and standings were pulled from nhl.com