GLENDALE, Ariz. — As play resumes after a memorable All-Star weekend, the NHL is facing an unexpected crisis: How to fill the post-John Scott void.
As difficult as it seems, life must go on without the newest North American hero so we have compiled 10 compelling storylines to watch over the final 10 weeks of the season. Hopefully, they will help you through your withdrawals.
10. The return of Connor McDavid: Edmonton is 10 points out of a playoff spot in the Pacific Division, so it’s unlikely the Oilers will make up enough ground to end a nine-year playoff drought. With McDavid back, however, they could make things interesting in the mediocre division and even that would represent a step forward for this long-suffering fan base. Speaking of interesting, if McDavid can return and score at the near point-a-game pace he was on before he suffered a collarbone injury, he could win over a lot of voters in the Calder Trophy race for rookie of the year. Right now, it still looks like Artemi Panarin’s hardware to lose so McDavid will really have to wow the voters.
9. Which surprise teams will punch their playoff tickets? Of the 16 teams currently holding playoff spots, Florida, Arizona and Colorado are the biggest surprises. The Panthers currently lead the Atlantic Division by five points, giving them the best odds, while Arizona sits third in the Pacific Division and Colorado holds the Western Conference’s first wild card spot. Don’t count out New Jersey and Carolina, however. The Devils are one point out of the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot and Carolina is just two back after going 7-2-1 in its last 10.
8. Will Carey Price save the Montreal Canadiens? The reigning NHL MVP skated on Monday but he still hasn’t donned his equipment. Montreal needs its all-world goaltender desperately. With Price on the ice, the Habs are 10-2; without him they are 14-20-4 and sit now three points of the playoff pace. A prolonged Price absence after the break could keep the Canadiens out the postseason.
7. When will the trades commence? There are four weeks remaining before the NHL trade deadline and there has been little movement outside of that blockbuster Ryan Johansen-Seth Jones trade and a couple minor deals. While many analysts believe Winnipeg will be the linchpin of this year’s deadline deals, two NHL GMs said Monday that the Jets’ current negotiations with Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd aren’t the problem, they’re simply indicative of what other GMs are concentrating on before making additional moves. “There are a lot of teams looking to sign their own players first so they know where they stand before the deadline,” one GM said. Term has been a major sticking point.
6. Can the Blackhawks defend their crown despite massive roster turnover? Chicago lost 10 players off last season’s Stanley Cup winning team yet they sit in first place in the Western Conference standings and their goaltender, Corey Crawford, is having a Vezina Trophy-worthy season. The Hawks are perilously thin on their blue line — more so than last season — but the incomparable abilities of their core players have Chicago among a handful of serious Cup contenders once again. GM Stan Bowman has little left to deal from his farm system, but if he adds anything, we suspect he’ll get another defenseman.
5. Is Bruce Boudreau safe? A lackluster Pacific Division likely saved Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau from an early dismissal. The Ducks’ 7-3 run before the All-Star break stretched that stay of execution, but Anaheim can’t afford to falter out of the break. The Ducks were a Stanley Cup favorite at the start of the season. It’s time to start playing like one.
4. Will Canada be shut out of the playoffs? As play resumed this week, all seven of Canada’s teams were on the outside looking in at the playoffs. There has only been one NHL postseason without a Canadian team — in 1969-70 when there were only two: Toronto and Montreal. Has there been a season where every team’s prospects looked so dim?
3. Will the NHL ever expand? Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters at the All-Star Game that the league’s executive committee had not made a decision yet on expansion bids for franchises in Quebec City and Las Vegas. While Bettman did not provide a deadline for a decision, he said the committee would make a recommendation to the NHL’s Board of Governors “over the next few months” on whether to add teams. No team would begin play before the 2017-18 season.
2. How many games can the Vancouver Canucks lose and still remain in the playoff race? Seriously, it’s getting ridiculous. The Canucks have lost 30 of their 50 games (60 percent), yet they are only two points off the playoff pace. If Vancouver sneaks into this postseason we’re proposing a cap on loser points that we will introduce alongside our Draft Lottery legislation that keeps a team from winning the lottery too many times in a 10-year span — a rule we’re calling the Edmonton Adjustment.
1. Are the Caps for real? All of the numbers say Washington is this season’s best and most complete team. The Capitals are second in the NHL in goals scored, first in goals against and they have excellent special teams. Their possession numbers are good and they have one of the game’s best goaltenders. There really isn’t a reason to question the Caps except for that nagging history of playoff flops. Washington has never won a Stanley Cup and the Caps have only advanced as far as the conference finals twice. They were swept by Boston in 1990 and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998 where they were swept by Detroit.
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