It is Monday, 30 March and closer to season’s end than on Saturday when we said this would be posted one day later (see “How Does It Look, Really? (Part East)” here). It took extra time because this post-season is likely to introduce new organizations this year that are beyond the group of 10 who have been one of the Western Playoff teams since the Lockout. This is, of course, great for NHL fans because it is giving teams, fans, cities, the League, etc., etc. high drama each and every night as we close in on 82. You see, the Western Conference is a big, prickly thorn in the side of any prognosticator’s noggin.
So how does THIS group of teams look as of Monday morning against their post-Lockout average? As on Saturday, we will look at each team as they stand in the hunt for Stanley this season. Again, our numbers for each team are in relation to total Wins, and two OTLs equal one ‘W.’ Here is a look – with a suspicious, jaundiced eye – at the West…
The Western Conference
ANAHEIM – Case #1 of thorn in paw rests right here before we alphabetically proceed past “A”. Currently, the DUCKS have 41 Wins. Last year at this point they had 48. Their best season at this point was 2006/7 (the year they won THE Cup) when they had 52 Wins. This season, however, OGA called them at Tee Time – OUT of the Playoffs – on 18 February 2009. From Game 31-60, their play has been at or below .500 Hockey which, combined with their slow start, has combined to cause them the kind of problems that could see them at home in front of the HD TV after April 11th. There’s just one, small problem… They, like NASHVILLE and ST. LOUIS, have become resilient of late and are threatening to slide in the Playoff door before it shuts.
CALGARY – Right now, they possess 46 Wins. Last year they were at 45 Wins. In 2006/7, they were holding 47 wins, so this is all just about normal for the FLAMES. OGA called them Chasing Stanley – IN of the Playoffs – on 3 January 2009. One more win between now and 11 April should seal the deal although it would harm their confidence going into the Playoffs.
CHICAGO – CONGRATULATIONS, WINDY CITY! Holding 45.5 Wins, this is their best season since the Lockout by an average improvement of 28.2%. With an end-of-season surge, they were at 40 Wins this time last season. OGA called them Chasing Stanley on 22 November. They have been pretty solidly set in the #3 or #4 seed for weeks now, and will make their first Playoff appearance since the 2001-2002 season.
COLORADO – Currently holding an un-Avalanche-like 32 Wins, last season they had 45 which was their best effort since the Lockout. This injury-riddled crew was called at Tee Time by OGA on 27 January 2009. Reinforcing a pattern since the Lockout, they will miss the post-season this year for an in-one-and-out-the-other performance.
COLUMBUS – As with Chicago, congratulations are in order. The ‘JACKETS’ 43 Wins stand as their best performance since the Lockout and will see them in post-season play for the first time in franchise history. Last year they held 39.5 Wins at this point but were not in contention due to the strong play of the teams to their front. Just how far they can go on the hot glove and paddle of Steve Mason is history yet to be written.
DALLAS – Right now at 37.5 Wins, injuries to key personnel and the confusion that was Sean Avery in the Stars’ locker room have sunk this team’s battleship. Their previous best was 2005/6 where they sported 50.5 Wins at this point in the season. But OGA called them at Tee Time on 21 March. This season was undone in Games 11-20 when they only provided 3-in-10 Wins and Game 61-70 when they went 4.5-for-10. That, ladies and gentlemen, is all it takes, most especially when the West sits so close upon each other at the 7th – 11th positions.
DETROIT – Right now they have 53.5 Wins. Last year was their best at this point with 56.5 Wins. ‘Yawn’ – they were called Chasing Stanley by OGA on 29 October 2008 and have won 6.5 of their last 10 games. Are they not a little boring at this point in the season? It seems to non-Red Wing fans that they are at their most exciting once mid-April arrives. The interesting thing to watch at this point is whether or not they get through the second round of the 2009 Playoffs, the traditional time finalists from the previous season are knocked off.
EDMONTON – Still in the Playoff hunt with 40.5 Wins, they are not being helped by dropping four of their last five tilts. At this time last year they had 42 W’s, their best effort in both 2007/8 and their Stanley Cup Finals year in 2005/6. OGA has neither called them IN nor OUT of the Playoffs yet as they continue to battle with NASHVILLE, ST. LOUIS and ANAHEIM for the final Western Conference Playoff berths. Overall, this team has only played about 1.5 games below the average required to qualify for the Playoffs. They need to make up those W’s in order to render the PREDS, BLUES and DUCKS moot.
LOS ANGELES – This is a character team with its 36.5 Wins so far this season. This effort has only been surpassed by their 2005/6 season where at this moment in time they had earned 40.5 W’s. A total of 3.5 Wins in their first 10 games and only 4.5 in the Game 61-70 timeframe are the reason we are not talking about their battle for one of the remaining Playoff positions out West. But make no mistake – this team is being grown the hard, long way which will pay off in the next few years.
MINNESOTA – Believe it or not, with 40 Wins this team is in grave danger of losing their Playoff berth. Last year, they had 45.5 W’s, proving injuries to key, franchise players in relation to Capology hurts an entire team. Their best season was 2006/7 when they had 49 Wins but only went on to lose in five games to ANAHEIM in Round 1 of the Playoffs. As is usually the case, the WILD started off a House On Fire, winning 7.5 of their first 10 games and were called as Chasing Stanley on 1 November 2008. But games 21-30 and 61-70 have almost ended their season. They must reach down deep and find a way to be almost perfect the rest of the way to 82 or they are done.
NASHVILLE – “…I will not go quietly into the night…” is this team’s clarion call. Currently an injury-riddled, character driven 42 Wins, this is the lowest number of W’s they have had at this point in any season since the Lockout, but probably their most proud tally. Last year they held 43 Wins at this point, but their best was 52.5 in 2006/7. OGA called them at Tee Time on 6 January 2009, and they are doing everything in their power to have that call ring as a Shot Off The Post, or an incorrect call by OGA.
PHOENIX – This team only has 34.5 Wins and hung in the race for the post-season through Game 50. This time last year, they had 40 W’s which was their best since the Lockout. But a rough Game 11-20 and 51-60 where they only won 7-of-20 games was their undoing. It did not help losing seven games on top of those losses from Game 61-70. OGA called them at Tee Time on 12 February 2009.
SAN JOSE – As of Sunday night, they sat at a league-leading 54.5 Wins, their best since the Lockout. It took until the Game 61-70 period for injuries and other team preparation to catch up to this club where they “only” won 4.5-out-of-10. At this time last year, they had earned 52 Wins. They tend to finish the season strongly with an average of 9.17 Wins in their final 12 games. OGA called them at Chasing Stanley on 28 October 2008. Couple that with the projected return of their injured and this team is most likely to go deep into the Playoffs.
ST. LOUIS – This team has 41.5 Wins, their best since the Lockout and a reason why, despite OGA’s call of Tee Time on 16 December 2008, this team is threatening to earn their first Playoff berth since the 2003/4 post-season. This time last season, they sported 37 Wins but were not in contention because NASHVILLE, the 8th seed, had six more. They must continue to put out the ‘W,’ and it is a distinct possibility.
VANCOUVER – A solid 45.5 Wins, this team has recovered from key injuries and only 3 Wins in the Game 50 period to pull of 16.5 from Game 51-70. Last year they held 43 Wins at this point. Their best season was 2006/7 where they carried their total of 50.5 Wins into a second-Round loss to eventual Stanley Cup winning DUCKS. One man does not make a team in and of themselves, but this team feeds collectively off of the likes of Luongo, Sundin and the Sedin twins to name a few. OGA called them Chasing Stanley on 20 November 2008 and is glad they stood their ground with this call.
Keep watching this Conference, however, as the winningest teams are in the lower half of the standings – it remains to be seen who from that group advances and whether or not they are doing so well because they just hit their rhythm, or they are expending all their energy just to make it to mid-April.