On The Doorstep To The Greatest Stretch Of Every Hockey Season

Marc Elliott

   ST. PAUL… Folks, it’s that time of year. Everything that has been cooking in the proverbial hockey kettle is just about at that point where you can call it soup. The various youth leagues will be playing down soon to eventual State Champions. Likewise for the Boys & Girls State High School Championships, the Girls in fact should know all of their participants by this Friday. The Women’s NCAA tourney isn’t too far off and the Men’s Frozen Four entrants will be decided in the upcoming weeks and the greatest tourney of all, The Stanley Cup is at that point whereby some separation in the standings is occurring, and while we don’t know all of the teams yet, there are a handful who have already played themselves out of a spot.   In addition, the NHL trade deadline is looming and the list of possible buyers and sellers is beginning to crystallize a bit, but is still kind of muddled. Where does your team sit at this point? The Minnesota Wild announced last week that they would be entering a 3 week period before the March 1st deadline where they would do some lineup experimenting to see what was what and if they actually needed to make any deals to solidify the club prior to the playoffs. What do you think about that? Obviously there are a lot of factors to consider when making a deal at the deadline and quite a bit of the time they don’t favor the club looking to “buy” and the Wild would definitely be buyers not sellers.

  Obviously they will ride out the year with Devan Dubnyk as the number one net minder and I feel that they will keep Darcy Kuemper as the number two. Kuemps doesn’t have a deal beyond this year but I don’t see anyone looking at him as a number one and personally I would like him to stay. He and Dubs make a good one-two tandem. Do they need one more depth forward or ’D’ man? My overall thought is that the team is playing relatively well and there isn’t a need to tinker with anything. The chemistry appears to be solid and I would leave well enough alone. Rental players don’t always work out and usually force clubs to give up more then they get back. Some GM’s get pretty impatient though and can’t resist. They believe they are that one magic deal away from greatness and that isn’t how it usually ends.

  Wild GM Chuck Fletcher is a pretty smart and patient guy for the most part. The club has a volume of good prospects, but none of them are projected to be top enders as their careers progress. Most prospect ranking services have the Wild in the lower half of the 30 team league. In my opinion though, they do have a couple of players that could break through and become 1-6 forwards or 1-3 spot ’D’ men. The team is up against the cap so if they felt inclined to move someone prior to he trade deadline you might think it would be to obtain some cap space and if that’s the case who is the veteran with a contract you don’t like that you could move? That’s tricky and plays to the chemistry angle. Which clubs have already eliminated themselves from the tourney? In the West it’s a sure bet that neither Colorado or Arizona are getting in. Winnipeg, Dallas and Vancouver are in that territory where a 2 or 3 game losing streak effectively puts them out to the playoff pasture, leaving Calgary, Los Angeles, Nashville and St. Louis battling for the 6, 7, and 8th positions. The Blues are in 3rd in the Central as of right now, but are only a point ahead of the Preds. When the coaching change boost-up wears off of the Blues, will they be able to hold onto that spot? We’ll see. I feel that you can put this in ink that Minnesota, Chicago, San Jose, Anaheim and Edmonton, yes, Edmonton are going to the dance. It would be a feather in the Wilds cap to win the division and get the Conference top seed and home ice.

  Over in the East the Washington Capitals have been beast like going 17-3 in their last 20 tilts. If the SC began tomorrow they would have to be the hands down favorite to win. Of course, I’m hoping Wild all the way but this Caps team is in a robotic hockey trance as of right now and I just don’t see anyone stopping them. Of course that has been said before and what has occurred is that the Caps usually end up eliminating themselves. Will we see a repeat performance of that again? My pulse wouldn’t change one iota if it did. For Eastern clubs you can cross off of your SC list Detroit, (playoff streak ends this year) Carolina, Buffalo, New Jersey and Tampa Bay. Hanging on by a thread is Florida and then you will have the Islanders, Flyers, and Toronto scrapping it out for the 8th spot. The Rangers have amassed enough points to get in, but whether or not they get a 2nd or 3rd place finish in the Metropolitan depends on how Columbus (fading fast) and Pittsburgh do down the stretch. Boston and Ottawa could drop down as well and the Atlantic front runner, Montreal is going downhill fast and if they weren’t in the division they are in, would probably be fighting to get a Wildcard spot.

  Here are the current West positions; Central, MN, CHI, & STL. In the Pacific; SJ, ANA & EDM. NASH and LA hold the WC spots. In the East, Metro you have; WASH, PITT & CBJ. In the Atlantic you have; MON, OTT & BOS with NYR and TOR in the WC positions. I can see NASH knocking the Blues down to a WC spot and I can see the Isles elevating and knocking TOR out of their current WC spot. One other trend I am keenly aware of is that the Wild still aren’t getting a lot of respect from the expert analysts around the league. Oh, they get a lot of kudos for what they have accomplished thus far, but no one, make that no one has them pegged for the SC Final, let alone being the club that is the last one standing. Is that a fair assessment? I’m not sure about that! PEACE