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Western Conference Playoff Spots



The battle for playoff spots in the West is always a little more intriguing when some unexpected teams blow up and have good seasons, and this is one of those years.  Phoenix, Nashville and LA are all better than I expected, and I think better than the rest of the West had hoped.

So without really any ado, here’s how I see the bubble teams finishing up:

4th, Vancouver Canucks, 52 games played, 66 points

The only reason the Canucks get a blurb in the “bubble teams” section at all is their upcoming road trip.  They set an NHL record by being gone for something like six weeks, and playing 14 straight road games (Olympic preparation in Vancouver).  They’re 22-7-1 at home, but below .500 at 10-11-1 on the road this year.  If they survive the trip at .500, they’ll be in great shape.

{Only Washington, Pittsburgh and San Jose have scored more goals than the Canucks this year, and only New Jersey, Buffalo and Chicago have given up less.  Not bad, VanCity.  Not bad.}

5th, Phoenix Coyotes, 52 games played, 63 points

The ‘Yotes have played the majority of their games to date at home in the friendly confines of Arena (29), where they’re a dominant 19-8-2.  On the road, the Coyotes are an even 10-10-3 (23 games), sort of how your record is supposed to look.  With a third of the season left to play, they’re in position to push for a quality playoff spot.

Have you noticed a trend in the teams that are “overachieving”?  The Coyotes, Sabres, and Avalanche all have similar team builds, to some extent.  They’re fast over big, mostly young over mostly old, they’ve got great goaltending and most importantly, their top six forwards are almost all interchangeable as ”first line” guys.  Instead of the NBA method – pay one player to be your star and build around him – they all seem to be deeper teams without “that guy” to watch out for (the top two scorers from the teams I just listed are Tim Connolly and Paul Stastny, both below a point a game at 48 points in 51 games).

The Coyotes are going to make playoffs this year, but to have any hope of moving beyond a quick round one exit, they need to finish in 5th or 6th – 7th or 8th (versus San Jose or Chicago) would be hopeless.

6th, Los Angeles Kings, 51 games played, 61 points

The Kings seem fragile, don’t they?  Points are always easier to come by before Christmas, just like wins.  When Anze Kopitar has Ryan Smyth to help him out, he’s useful, but his production has seriously slowed down.  He just doesn’t seem like a guy who can get it done when his opponents key on him, they way the real elite stars can.  That says to me he’s not ready to be “the guy” on a team that needs one.  They’re good enough to win even with him struggling, so they’ll hang on to playoffs, but you certainly get the impression they aren’t headed the right direction.

7th, Nashville Predators, 51 games played, 61 points

I almost included the Preds in the group of “overachieving teams with the same build” from the Coyotes paragraph, but in the end, I didn’t think their Dan Ellis or Pekka Rinne deserved to be in the same class as Bryzgalov, Miller and Anderson.  Nashville could be the best team to miss playoffs this year… and I see it happening.

8th, Detroit Red Wings, 51 games played, 58 points

The depressing part for the teams on the wrong side of the playoff cutoff line looking in right now is, you’re not trying to catch Detroit’s 58 points, you’re looking at Nashvilles 61.  Detroit has played with half a team all year.  They’re the best coached team in the league, with some of the best names in the entire NHL in their dressing room (even with all they lost from last year).  The Canucks and Avalanche can start stressing now about which one of them is going to get unfortunately stuck in a (4) vs. (5) battle with Detroit.

9th, Calgary Flames, 52 games played, 58 points

What the hell happened to the Flames?  I feel like I fell asleep for an hour and they dropped a half-dozen spots.  Hmm.  1-8-1 in their last ten, with six straight losses.  By all logic, the Flames should be okay:  great goaltender, maybe the best defensive trio in the league, and a couple of guys up front who can score.  For me, the major difference between their offensive firepower and the teams “overacheiving” this year, is that their goal scorers aren’t young and energetic.  They don’t have that legs churning, relentless effort type threat right now – they’re scary in the “HolyCrapDon’tLetHimShootFromThereAWww.  They scored.” type of way.

10th, Anaheim Ducks, 52 games played, 55 points

This is the difference between the Eastern and Western conference.  The 10th and 11th place teams in the West are still really good (so are the Isles, but um, I just…. crap).  The problem is, they can’t all make playoffs, and Anaheim didn’t get off to a great start.  I don’t think they’re good enough to have a huge second half and make up for it.

11th, Dallas Stars, 52 games played, 55 points

I was waiting for them to end up in this spot in the conference, and here they are.  Dallas is a good team, but when teams like Phoenix and LA are good too, it toughens up their usually soft division.

12th, Minnesota Wild, 52 games played, 54 points

I don’t know a lot about Minnesota this year, and that’s not a good sign.  I do know when you’ve pinned a chunk of your offensive hopes on Chuck Kobasew and Andrew Ebbett, you’re in a whole heap of trouble (both are good enough players, but very shutdownable.  Yep, I can make up words on my blog.)  I guess their go-to guy is Havlat, I’m just not sure what else they’ve got.  I’m sure my oddly heavy Wild readership can fill me in on them, but from what I can tell, they don’t have a hockey teams chance in Phoenix snowballs chance in an oven.

13th, St. Louis Blues, 52 games played, 54 points

I’m sticking to my guns on the Blues, especially with the addition of Davis Payne.  They’ve got good top six forwards, good goaltending, and hopefully enough D to get into contention during the last few weeks.  I still think they’ll make a push.



15 Responses to “Western Conference Playoff Spots”
  1. Dan n St Paul says:

    FYI….PM Bouchard has only played 1 game this year and probably will not play at all this year. Evidence that you don’t know much about the Wild this year. Brent Burns just came back from a concussion. We will see if that helps the team.

  2. jtbourne says:

    Yup, that was bound to happen – ammendment has been made, thanks. I gave the roster a scour for talent, and he certainly has it. My b.

  3. minnesotagirl71 says:

    The Wild are completely schizophrenic – they’ve beaten some teams no one thought they could beat and they’ve lost to some teams that no one thought could win. They tend to not skate or score in the first period so they are almost always playing from behind. They’ve had some HUGE comeback wins – so we can never jsut count them out.

    They don’t have “the guy” but they’ve got quite a few different guys who can score. I would have really liked to see this team with a healthy Bouchard. His scoring and ability to create scoring chances are much missed!

    I think you are heavy on the Wild fans because you get plugged on a Wild blog – Wild Nation.

  4. greg says:

    I would love to see the Kings meet the Coyotes in the first round…probably won’t happen, but since I’m from LA and my dad lives in Phoenix (one of the 5 season ticket holders the yotes have….), it would be a great thing to see. Lots of smack talking and bragging rights would ensue. Of course my Kings would prove victorious in the end!

  5. Jarick says:

    Wild fan here, love reading your articles. They have a few good guys up front, Koivu, Havlat, Brunette, and after that they drop off substantially. A couple years away from the playoffs IMO.

  6. Buddha says:

    Havlat is supposed to be “that guy,” but has yet to show it. That guy is still Mikko Koivu. The other big offensive weapon is turning out to be Latendresse. He is on fire since coming over to the Wild, and is the main reason why Sykora ended up on waivers. If Lats is not taken around the fifth round of fantasy drafts next year, people are not paying attention. The system is built perfectly for him.

    Beyond that, they are pretty weak for offense. Kobasew is out with a injured ACL. Ebbett is the fourth line center, so they are offensive non-factors by definition. Owen Nolan and Andrew Brunette help with the dirty work, but should not be counted on to be the leaders in scoring, despite fact that Bruno is second on the team in points. He is on the top line with Koivu, which makes everything easier.

    I don’t see the team being much of a factor for the playoff race. As has already been mentioned, they are so inconsistent tit would be difficult to make it. Even if they do they will fall in the first round, as the team just does not play team defense well enough to skate with high caliber playoff teams for that long.

  7. Tony says:

    Has anyone fingered precisely what’s wrong with the Flames? Really, this team is a lot better — on paper — than its record. Deal Phaneuf.

    Maven this morning, I agree. Phaneuf can’t even make my fantasy team.

  8. Blake says:

    The thing about the Wild is that they’re incredibly streaky.

    They’ll make you think that they’re a team that can play with anybody in the NHL for a few games in a row, then look like they can’t even compete with Minnetonka High School the next. They get it done by committee, though, which is good and bad news. Good news because they don’t count on one player to get it done and bad news because their committee doesn’t necessarily have a lot of talent past their top four or five forwards.

    If they get hot, though, they could be dangerous — especially if Backstrom gets hot.

  9. ms.conduct says:

    Three words: Guillaume Latendresse, bitches!

    Okay, maybe not, but the story for the Wild this season is more about purging the old regime than it is anything else. Chuck Fletcher has put together some really lovely pick-ups and trades, made some tough decisions (Sykora), and whatnot, that Doug Risebrough would never have had the dynamic decision making ability to pull off.

    They’re not going to make the playoffs, but they’re still in far better shape than they were last season.

  10. Sam says:

    Have to disagree on Kopitar. Every great player needs other great players to win and Kopitar’s game is at both ends of the ice. If anything he’s not figuring out how to be elite but figuring out how to play both defense and offense for Terry Murray. He scored a ton when he didn’t have to worry about defense and has been adjusting to a completely new style over the last two years. Plus he’s 22. He’s going to score his 100th NHL goal before he’s 23. I’d say he’s moving along just fine. And that Red Wing game on Saturday points to the ability. Jumbo Joe had Murray and Knuble to play with in Boston when he dominated. Kopitar had Williams and Smyth and dominated an elite conference against Getzlaf and Thornton. Having the need for good players on the wings of center isn’t something new or a knock on a player. Its just a fact.

  11. jtbourne says:

    I’ll give you that he’s making the adjustment to a more well-rounded player if that’s true. I can always respect that – in fact, part of my concern with him was that he was looking like an Alexi Kovalev great, not a guy you can win with.

    Still, I disagree with “it’s just a fact” – Chris Conner gets called up from the AHL with the Pens last night, plays on a line with Crosby and scores two goals. Doesn’t matter who they put Crosby with – he still gets his two assists. Its a matter of figuring out if he’s a guy who makes other players better, or if other players make him better. Also, I have Kopitar on my fantasy hockey team, so it was high time I call him out for slowing down after head-faking me with leading the league in points!

  12. Neil says:

    It’s weird to be a Canucks fan that actually likes the Flames too (their fans, meh), but at the beginning of this season I couldn’t believe that people were picking them to win the cup this year (the Hockey News had them right up there). Bouwmeester was being given Chris Pronger credit without ever pulling a team into the playoffs or playing in a serious division, and for some reason people thought a team that didn’t have enough offense when Cammalleri wore the red was going to have more than enough when he took his 40 goals and left and nobody replaced him. The Flames’s secondary scoring got way too much credit early on and now the truth is too obvious to ignore. Bouwmeester in my opinion is looking HUGELY overrated and half of their top 6 are arguably third line guys (Langkow went 0-14 in the circle the other night, Conroy is getting scoring line shifts, you gotta be kidding me). When Nigel Dawes is being pulled off the PP for Jamie Lundmark, you have a problem with your forward depth that sandpaper isn’t going to help. It will be interesting watching them try to trade some huge contracts on underperforming players before the deadline (Phaneuf long term at 6.5 cap hit?).

    Great point about Detroit, Kane had a great quote, something like “until we see otherwise, Detroit is still the team to beat in the playoffs this year”, love it.

    The Wild could definitely make a push here, lots of guys coming back, Havlat playing well, they could startle some people.

    Lots of question marks in the West, some really good teams playing poorly and it’s gonna be damn hard catching the top 8. Nice post, good analysis.

  13. Christianson10 says:

    Kopitar has had two solid back to back 3 point games…don’t trade him just yet justin…they’re trying him out on a new line when I watched in Detroit…yes I was at that gamew here the dude was on the rafters with binoculars and that guy had a rope around his neck ready to do a flying neck hanger…but back to kopitar…possible new line…he’s back on the rise I think

  14. Bomski17 says:

    Hey Bourny.

    Totally, totally off topic, but in reading about Kovalev it made me think about how crazy it is that Jonathan Cheechoo was once a top tier goal scorer. I know that he is probably one of the worse skaters in the last 10 years to make the Show, but do you have any insight into how a guy goes from scoring 56 to 37 to 23 to 12 to 5 goals in successive years??


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  1. [...] tastes like quantity over quality…. but really, they might be onto something.  During my assessment of the Western Conference, I discussed how a few teams are overachieving – which is, by being quick, young and deep [...]

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