Final Week Final Thoughts
Heading into one of the better weeks in sports as the NHL regular season winds down and playoff spots are finalized, I thought I would give some thoughts on the season and things I look forward to heading into the playoffs.
Another disappointing season here in Calgary comes to an end this week as the Flames were officially eliminated with their OT loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. This will be the third consecutive season that the Flames will miss the post-season dance and much like the past couple of seasons the team was inconsistent and faltered down the stretch. It will be an off-season full of tough decisions as I expect major changes from top to bottom, starting with Ken King.
The Flames have a handful of UFA’s this summer, Olli Jokinen, Cory Sarich, Scott Hannan, David Moss, Tom Kostopoulos and Lee Stempniak. With major changes needed, it doesn’t make sense to me to re-sign any of these players. I get the worse feeling that GM Jay Feaster will re-sign Jokinen to a stupid contract; let’s hope he proves me wrong. Stay on TCL-West all summer long, for complete coverage on everything Flames.
The final week should be an exciting one as there are still playoff spots up for grabs in both Conferences. In the East just one spot is available, with the Caps hanging onto the 8th spot just two points ahead of the surging Sabres. The Ottawa Senators, one of the biggest surprises all season, clinched one of the eight spots with their victory over the Isles yesterday. The Sens have underdog written all over them but being one of the lower seeds, will have a tough road in front of them as it looks like they will have a first round match-up against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Boston Bruins. Whoever ends up clinching the final spot between the Caps and Sabres also have a tough road and I don’t see them getting past the Rangers in the 1st round.
In the West things haven’t exactly got any clearer as only the Flames have bowed out of the now five team race for the last three playoff spots. The Kings have been the most consistent team of the bunch this past week and currently hold the Pacific Division lead. Saying that, the Kings are tied with the Coyotes with 91 points and are only a single point up on the San Jose Sharks and two up on the Dallas Stars. The Colorado Avalanche are the final team of the five but with only two games remaining, they need a lot of help to get in.
I think the Capitals will get the final spot in the East, while the Kings will win the Pacific and the Sharks and Coyotes will get the final two spots in the West.
Other thoughts from around the league:
Teemu Selanne potentially played his last game in Anaheim last night and went out with class, just like the rest of his career, with a goal and taking time to sign autographs after the game. Selanne, the ageless wonder, looks as though he will lead the Ducks in points this season with 65. Selanne could easily play another season but if he decides to hang them up, he would leave the game as one of the best players to ever play with 1,400+ points.
The Hurricanes, who should get another top 10 pick, have been rumored to be big players this off-season, potentially going after both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. GM Jim Rutherford has been reported he believes his team is close to being a Cup contender. Led by Eric Staal and Cam Ward along with their young talent, he believes they’re just a couple pieces away. It could be an interesting summer in Carolina as Canes ownership has given Rutherford the ‘go’ to spend money.
I predicted the Blackhawks to get to the Stanley Cup final at the start of the season and I still believe they could get there. It will all come down to their goaltending as Corey Crawford could solidify himself as the Hawks number one with a strong playoff performance. Crawford, who has been up and down all season, has a strong team in front of him, which will only get stronger heading into the playoffs, with a healthy Jonathan Toews and a rested Duncan Keith.
It’s all about Rick Nash heading into the off-season in Columbus. Nash will be the most sought after player as he will most likely be moved around the Draft in June.
After yesterday’s altercations in the Penguins, Flyers game, the 4-5 East playoff series can’t start soon enough. The two teams conclude the regular season against each other next Saturday, which could be the beginning of potentially eight straight between the clubs. I have a hard time seeing anyone beat the Penguins in the playoffs but if this series lives up to the hype, whichever team wins the best of seven could be too beat up to make it all the way. The Pens were my pick to win the Cup at the start of the season but I get that feeling that the Flyers could pull off the upset in the 1st round.
With the victory over our Flames on Saturday, the Canucks took over first place in the West, passing the Blues but are only one point ahead. I hope the Blues can regain the top spot as the Canucks are the last team I will be cheering for of the 16 playoff teams.
Finally, 5 of 7 Canadian teams will miss the playoffs this season, with the Canadiens, Oilers and Leafs all being in the Lottery for the top pick in June’s draft. The Oilers, who have to start taking steps up the standings next season as they enter their 4th season of their rebuild, are the least likely team in their position of the four. The Canadiens, Leafs and Flames have all been mis-managed in my mind and all should be making big changes this summer. Things are more positive in Winnipeg as the Jets stayed in the playoff race, longer than many expected. It was great to see hockey back in Winnipeg and the Jets took advantage of it, with a 23-13-4 record (as of today) at the MTS Centre.
I can’t wait for the playoffs to start as I will be glued to the TV all week, watching the teams fighting for the final spots and positioning. The last day is Saturday which will be just the being of a great sports weekend as the Masters also wraps up on Sunday.
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