Top four cream of the crop for East and West

Many hockey bloggers, fans and writers are aware of the fact that there’s a considerable gulf between the Western Conference and the East. Simply put, the West is a sturdier group even though they have to deal with more travel and other hurdles.

Still, I noticed something interesting when I was peering at each conference’s standings today: there is a clear division between the top four teams and the rest of the pack in both the West and the East. Let’s take a look at the seedings in a simplistic way to illustrate my point.

West top four: 1. Chicago (97 points); 2. Phoenix (97); 3. Vancouver (92); 4. San Jose (96). Next team(s): 5. Nashville (89); 6. Los Angeles (87).

East top four: 1. Washington (106); 2. Pittsburgh (98); 3. Buffalo (88); 4. New Jersey (88). Next team(s): Ottawa, Philadelphia and Montreal (79)

There are times when I feel like at least one of the top three in a conference gets there simply because they have a weak division to milk. That doesn’t really seem that way this year, even if Buffalo and Vancouver might be slightly less impressive than the fourth seeds in New Jersey and San Jose.

It could be that this scenario changes and there’s more playoff parity, but it’s been a while since there was a good chance that every single team with home ice advantage might also be the odds-on winner. Perhaps the “smart” teams are beginning to distance themselves from the herd now that the league has had a few years to adapt to the salary cap?

Feel free to share your feedback on this finding.

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    Ducks set to debut Kerdiles, another talented prospect

    PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 23:  Nicolas Kerdiles, drafted 36th overall by the Anaheim Ducks, poses for a portrait during Day Two of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center on June 23, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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    Another day, another Anaheim rookie ready to make the leap.

    Nic Kerdiles, the 36th overall pick in 2012, looks primed to make his NHL debut tonight when the Ducks host the Bruins. Kerdiles was recalled yesterday and, at this morning’s skate, worked on a line with Corey Perry and leading goalscorer Rickard Rakell, a good indicator he’ll be in the lineup.

    Exciting times for both him and the club.

    A former University of Wisconsin standout, Kerdiles’ debut was delayed due to a lengthy concussion battle that cost him most of this season. He’s only recently returned to action with AHL San Diego, but didn’t miss a beat — he has four goals and nine points through 10 games, this following a ’15-16 campaign in which he scored 27 points in 45 games (a year also marred by injuries, including broken ribs and a bruised kidney.)

    This opportunity comes with Antoine Vermette serving a 10-game suspension for abuse of an official, and veteran journeyman Corey Tropp having been returned to the minors.

    At 23, Kerdiles is actually one of the older prospects to join the big club this season:

    — Jacob Larsson, the 19-year-old Swedish defender taken 27th overall in ’15, cracked the roster out of camp and played four games before getting returned to Frolunda.

    — 21-year-old Ondrej Kase, a seventh-round pick in ’14, has become a lineup fixture, with 12 points in 43 games.

    — Nick Sorensen, 22, is a Danish winger taken 45th overall in 13. He made his debut in October and appeared in five games.

    — Defenseman Brandon Montour, an AHL All-Star at the center of trade rumors, got called up in January and has 12 contests under his belt.

    With all this young talent — especially on defense — it’s not surprising Anaheim’s been in the middle of major trade rumblings leading up to the March 1 deadline. GM Bob Murray’s on record saying he won’t trade blueline prospects for rentals but, with all the talent at his disposal, one wonders if he’ll make a move to avoid losing a prized asset at this June’s expansion draft.

    This could be why Anaheim’s debuted all these youngsters. The organization needs to see what they can do at the NHL level, and evaluate who will be in their long-term plans.

    Five team stats you may find interesting

    Washington Capitals' Matt Niskanen (2) and T.J. Oshie (77) celebrate with Alex Ovechkin (8) after Ovechkin scored against the Dallas Stars during the third period an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Dallas. Stars' Jamie Benn (14) skates back to the bench. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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    +50 — That’s the Washington Capitals’ goal differential in 2017. No, not for the entire season. Just for the 23 games they’ve played since Jan. 1. Over that stretch, they’ve scored 98 goals and allowed just 48, for an average score of 4.3 to 2.1. In rather stark contrast, the Colorado Avalanche are minus-30 in 2017, with just 40 goals scored against 70 surrendered.

    18 — Regulation wins for the Los Angeles Kings. That’s all they’ve managed in 59 games. Yet the Kings are only two points back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot, with one game in hand. How have they done it? With a league-high 10 overtime victories, against just one OT defeat, that’s how.

    53.6 — The faceoff win percentage of the Avalanche, the second-highest percentage in the league. Meanwhile, the three worst faceoff teams are the Penguins (47.8), Rangers (47.6), and Oilers (47.1), all three of which are on pace to make the playoffs. The lesson? Faceoff stats are overrated.

    25-0-0 — The Penguins’ record when leading after two periods, making them the only team with a perfect record in that situation. Even more impressive? The Pens finished a perfect 39-0-0 last year, meaning they’ve yet to lose a regular-season game in that situation under head coach Mike Sullivan. (They went 12-2-0 in the playoffs.)

    3.47 — Goals per game by the Penguins, putting them on pace to become the highest-scoring team since the 2009-10 Capitals (3.82). That Capitals team, by the way, was the highest-scoring team of the salary-cap era.

    stats

    Canucks’ Miller, agent to discuss trade possibilities

    MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 02:  Ryan Miller #30 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from his crease during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 2, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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    Vancouver’s in the midst of its bye week, and won’t play again until Saturday, but still figures to be very active next over the few days.

    GM Jim Benning said he’d talk with players possessing no-trade clauses during the break, and one of those, veteran netminder Ryan Miller, will have additional discussions as well.

    Per News 1130, the pending UFA will talk with agent Mike Liut about trade deadline possibilities. Liut added his client has yet to decide anything regarding his future.

    More on this, from Pierre LeBrun on TSN’s Insider Trading:

    Ryan Miller has a no-trade with only five teams on it, and of those five teams to go to, three are in the state of California. He spends his offseason, as most people know, in the L.A. area.

    The L.A. Kings are, to me, the only real team that potentially makes sense. If they get news on Jonathan Quick in the next week that they’re not sure about him, then perhaps they have to go out and trade for a goalie — and Ryan Miller, that could be of interest.

    On the flip side? The Canucks are not against Ryan Miller coming back next year at a lower salary, and being a mentor of sorts.

    Miller’s in the last of a three-year, $18 million deal with a $6M cap hit. Pricey, but one that could be mitigated by salary retention.

    As for potential suitors?

    Today, the Kings waived current backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff, a move many have linked to Quick’s pending return. So that would (theoretically) rule out the Miller-to-L.A. idea.

    In a recent radio hit, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman floated the idea of Anaheim acquiring Miller. John Gibson has been terrific and is the unquestioned No. 1, but the situation behind him is dicey. Jonathan Bernier, himself a pending UFA, has just a .901 save percentage on the year with a 2.93 GAA, and isn’t playing much. Bernier’s made just two starts this month and in his last one, he was hooked after allowing three goals on just six shots.

    Then there’s San Jose.

    The club has history of upgrading the backup goalie position at the deadline, most notably last year when James Reimer was acquired to replace the ineffective Alex Stalock. There have been rumblings GM Doug Wilson might try it again this season, but head coach Peter DeBoer recently gave current No. 2 Aaron Dell a vote of confidence.

    “There’s probably only one or two teams in the league with the luxury that if their starter goes down they feel very confident,” DeBoer said, per the Mercury News. “At the same time, our group has a real confidence in Deller, I think he’s earned that.”

    In the end, an extension in Vancouver might be the most likely outcome. Miller’s been solid, posting a .917 save percentage for a sub-.500 team with one of the league’s worst goal differentials (minus-30). Jacob Markstrom hasn’t proven he’s a legitimate full-time starter, and the goalie market could be flooded this summer with the likes of Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, Steve Mason, Michal Neuvirth, Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson all potentially available.

    Related: What does the future hold for Ryan Miller?

    Kings place Zatkoff on waivers

    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Jeff Zatkoff #37 of the Los Angeles Kings looks on after allowing a goal during the second  period of a game against Philadelphia Flyers  at Staples Center on October 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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    The Los Angeles Kings have placed goalie Jeff Zatkoff on waivers.

    With Jonathan Quick not expected back until next month, it’s possible that the Kings intend to recall Jack Campbell from the AHL. (They had reportedly been considering it.)

    Zatkoff has had a tough time in his first season with the club. The 29-year-old is 2-7-1 with an .879 save percentage. He hasn’t made a start since Jan. 23, leaving all the work to 34-year-old Peter Budaj.

    Campbell has a .913 save percentage in 38 games for AHL Ontario this season.

    The Kings host the Bruins tomorrow.