We tackled the East on Saturday, so let's take a look at how things will shake down in the mighty West over the next six weeks.
San Jose and Chicago
- Only two teams have enough breathing room to look over their shoulder at this point.
Edmonton and Columbus
- Let the firesale begin for the Oilers and Jackets as they look ahead to draft day and next season.
While the math leaves us with 11 teams and 6 playoff spots, don't expect the final participants to look too much different than they do today. The cream has started to rise in the West. There will be plenty of jockeying for position, but don't look for an overhaul in the players come April. We'll take it by Division:
The power in the West has slowly returned to the Pacific Division, at least in terms of numbers. There will be at least three, probably four, and there's a remote shot at all five teams making the cut this season.
Los Angeles (IN)
- A few wins out of the break should put the Kings into the lock status. They entered the break red hot, going 8-1-1. Would take a seismic event to keep them from getting back to the post-season for the first time since the lockout.
- If any team deserves a break this season, it's the Coyotes. They've worked harder to get to where they are than any team, and it appears it's going to pay off. They also went into the Olympic Break on a high note. While they'll most likely slide a bit from fourth place, where they currently sit, they won't fall far. Welcome back to the post-season, Shane Doan.
- Last season, the Ducks rallied down the stretch to qualify and then did plenty of damage in the playoffs. Don't be shocked if the story repeats itself. We'll find out tomorrow if the Ducks believe it can happen again. I believe they'll hold on to their assets and make another run at it.
- With all the divisional games down the stretch, somebody has to lose some games in this group. Look for it to be the Stars. They're currently just one point of the final spot, but there's not a great deal of evidence to indicate they'll rise above that. This team is still struggling to find an identity, other than the most difficult franchise to predict from season to season.
It was less than a year ago that this division was considered the up and coming power in the NHL. Things haven't gone to plan. It's quite realistic to think that only one team could qualify this year, and all five nearly made it in 09.
- As of today, they're in. Check back tomorrow and it may be another story. The Predators are playing mediocre hockey going into the break. While they'll have the fortune of feasting on their divisional rivals down the stretch, it will come down to the final few games to decide their fate, as it has for the last several seasons. They just missed last season and they'll just miss again.
- That's right. Detroit's reign of terror may finally be coming to an end. I hesitate to write those words, as such silly predictions have a tendency to prove false when the Wings are involved. After all, the boys from MoTown are finally healthy, Lidstrom has regained his form after a slow start, and Howard is playing well in the net. But nothing lasts forever, including their streak of 2 decades in the post-season.
St. Louis (OUT)
- Once again the Blues find themselves within a good win streak of qualifying for the playoffs. Last season, they pulled off the unlikely and made it happen. While they'll probably make a good go at it, they'll ultimately fall short this time around. Look for them to miss the dance by a tie breaker.
The past few years have been a wild ride in the Northwest, with all 5 teams typically being within a game or two of each other until the bitter end. The group seperated early this season, with the Oilers dropping out months ago, and the Avalanche storming out of the gate. Look for three teams to make the cut.
- The Avalanche have been the team to beat in this division from the start of the season, and no reason to think they're going to slide now. Colorado pretty much owned the divisional crown for nearly a decade, and it appears they're ready to reclaim their title, much earlier than anyone expected.
- The Flames were picked by many at the start of the season to challenge for the Cup. After a freefall in January, they were being picked to miss the cut altogether. Look for neither one to happen at this point. The team has had time to absorb the big trade and should settle down into above .500 hockey down the stretch. It won't be enough to challenge for the division title, but should be sufficient to land in the playoffs.
- I originally picked the Canucks to miss the playoffs this year, given the insane schedule they were up against, and the perceived lack of scoring. The team has managed it better than expected, and is currently tied for first in the division. However, they're only half way through their huge road trip and the next couple weeks will likely determine their fate. Look for them to make the playoffs, but just barely.
- Perhaps the least surprising of the disappointments in this West, the Wild have little chance of turning things around in time this year. The team was supposed to have a whole new look and exciting style of play. The problem is that good marketing doesn't mean much when you haven't built a roster to play that way. Even if Havlat catches fire and Bouchard miraculously heals, it's going it's going to be a good while before this team is a threat in the West.
So here is my prediction for the Final Standings in the West:
2. San Jose
9. St. Louis
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