The NHL schedule has but a couple weeks left to run, and there are some very interesting races that should come down to the wire. The following are my choices for the most interesting races and who’ll I think will win.
Incredibly, there are six teams, or one-fifth of the league, involved in the race to see who is the regular season champion. Of course, no one really cares because the Stanley Cup is what really matters, but it’s still a good race and is arguably at least an equal accomplishment – if not one people care about.
The Rangers and Ducks have 101 points, followed by the Canadiens and Preds at 100 and the Blues and Tampa at 99.
Now, the Rangers and Canadiens are two teams I just don’t believe in. Their goalies have been insane and have disguised two teams that are barely Playoff-worthy without them. The same can be said for Nashville, whose recent slide has been stopped by an even more recent three-game winning streak. These three teams have the highest PDO in the NHL and all of them seem to wither when the goaltending isn’t at an unsustainable level. Also, of them, only Nashville can be called a decent possession team, which does not bode well for the long-term success of either Montreal or New York.
My pick for the ultimate league points champion is the St. Louis Blues. They have good goaltending as well, but they don’t need it to be at a hall-of-fame level in order to win because they have a deep team capable of dominating anyone at any time.
Because of McDavid and Eichel, the race to last is almost as good as the race to first this year. On Thursday, the Sabres all but wrapped up last place by moving six points behind the Coyotes by losing to them in Overtime. The Sabres now will most likely have a 100% chance of getting one of the two best non-NHL players in the world and a 20% chance at McDavid.
What makes this race interesting is that the Leafs are suddenly only three points ahead of the Oilers and six points ahead of the Coyotes. Things could get very interesting as the season winds down if the Leafs keep losing.
Eichel would look amazing in Toronto, but if they finish second-last, the worst they can do is end up with Noah Hanifin, and that is pretty good. Hanifin and Morgan Rielly would make a spectacular pairing to build a team around.
This one most likely comes down the Senators and Bruins. Right now, the Bruins are technically behind Ottawa due to playing one more game, but the two teams both have 85 points. Florida still has a chance sitting three back of the Sens (and having played one more game) but it’s not looking good for them right now.
Two other wildcards in this Wildcard race are Detroit and Washington. It’s not exactly likely, but the Red Wings could lose third place in the Atlantic to the Senators if everything breaks the right way. They currently sit five points up on the Ottawa.
The other team is the Capitals. The Caps are at 90 points, but have played one more game that Ottawa and it is possible that if they slip, the Senators and Bruins could both make it. At 91 points the Pens should be a shoe in, but they haven’t played well lately and stranger things have happened. Technically, it is possible that the Caps could pass the Pens and that both the Bruins and Senators could get into the Playoffs ahead of the Penguins. That is EXTREMELY unlikely, however.
In the West, the Flames, Kings and Canucks are three teams battling for the two final Playoff spots in the Pacific Division. Vancouver have a three point lead, and L.A a one point lead, over the Flames who are currently not in a Playoff spot. Unfortunately for Calgary, both teams ahead of them have a game in hand.
In the Central, things have remained the same for a long time, but the Jets and Wild both have an outside chance of moving into one of the three divisional Playoff spots. They both hold the Wildcard spots for now, but even though the Hawks have a game in hand, either team could overcome them and force Chicago into a Wildcard.
As for the Wildcard itself, Dallas and San Jose are all but mathematically eliminated, and Calgary has an OK chance of catching the Jets who are three points ahead, but that’s getting more unlikely by the minute.
In truth, Calgary’s best chance is to catch either LA or Vancouver, but with today off after losing last night, if both the Kings and Canucks win today, Calgary can be considered a long-shot,at best, to make the Playoffs.
Too bad, because they were a nice story, but let’s face it: they’re a worse possession team than the Leafs and have been extremely lucky to be where they currently are. They’ve shown heart, but they just aren’t a legit Playoff team. If they do make it, they’ll be crushed in the first round.
The NHL has entered the home-stretch of its schedule and generously given its fans four good races to watch. My picks are as follows: Blues for the President’s Trophy, The Sabres for last with the Leafs surprisingly getting 29th, the Senators to make the Playoffs with the Bruins missing out and the Kings in, Flames out in the West.
Although, those aren’t really predictions as much as they are what I hope will happen.
Please feel free to tell me your picks in the comments section.
Thanks for reading.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.