The outlook for the 'rest' of the West

redwingsthrash.jpgEarlier this evening I discussed the five Eastern Conference teams who are battling for the last three playoff spots. The Western Conference has a similar situation in its bottom playoff ranks, although those teams are notably stronger. (Also, Calgary is the only squad with a realistic chance to make the four Western underdogs sweat for a playoff spot)

Much like that last post, I’ll break down each team’s advantages, upcoming schedule and how well they’ve been playing lately. Just to be friendly, I’ll even throw in the long shot Flames for good measure. The teams are listed in order of current (9:50 pm ET) playoff position.

Nashville

Notes: The Predators have the most wins among the five teams (43). They have played 76 games, though, so they may risk being leapfrogged by Detroit and Los Angeles. Current points: 92

Thoughts on their schedule: They have a fairly reasonable schedule: three games at home and three on the road with one back-to-back set of games. They will also have one game against Detroit and one against Los Angeles, so they can “control their destiny” to some point.

Streak: Hot. They are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and even had a six game winning streak recently. The team just won’t take “snore” for an answer.

Detroit

Notes: Have you ever seen that moment in “The Thing” (the awesome ’80s version that is) in which everyone is having their blood tested to see who isn’t human? I think that Chicago, San Jose and Vancouver are encountering similar emotions when considering the possibility of a first round tilt with Detroit. Then again, I guess losing in the first round of the playoffs isn’t as bad as dealing with … this (warning: ridiculous horror movie gore in that video).

Current points: 91

Thoughts on their schedule: The Red Wings face a relatively easy schedule, with two games against Columbus, one against Edmonton and four out of seven at home.

Streak: Red Hot. Since March 11, the Red Wings collected a staggering 17 out of 18 possible points. They are currently on 5 game winning streak.

The rest on the other West lower seed hopefuls can be found after the jump.


avskings.jpgLos Angeles

Notes: The Kings are sliding quite a bit right now, but they have a fairly safe lead over the Flames. We’ll have to wait and see if they can keep the seventh seed from Colorado; who knows, though, they’re not that far behind Nashville and Detroit either. Current points: 90

Thoughts on their schedule: The Kings have four out of eight games on the road with two back-to-backs. They play once in Nashville and once in Colorado. Despite some tough patches, they get two games against Anaheim (not a cakewalk but the Ducks are struggling), one against Edmonton and one against Minnesota. I’d say that is a nice amount of “winnable” games.

Streak: Cold. They’ve lost three in a row and have generally been looking a little out of sorts lately. You have to wonder if they’re wearing Jonathan Quick out since he rarely gets more than one game off per month.

Colorado

Notes: The Avalanche are running into their own issues of possibly over-extending a starting goalie. They’ve leaned heavily on Craig Anderson all year and you have to wonder if the first-time No. 1 can handle such a huge workload. He’s played all but one game since January 9, 2009.

Current points: 89

Thoughts on their schedule: It’s a mixed bag. The good news is that they are playing five of their last seven games in Colorado. The bad news is that they will play against powerhouse teams like San Jose, Vancouver and Chicago.

Streak: Lukewarm. They are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games and lost four of their last five.

Calgary

Notes: The Flames’ playoff hopes are on life support right now. They only have six games left this year and are four points behind eighth-seed Colorado.

Thoughts on their schedule: While the road/home split is even at 3 of six for both, they play 5 playoff caliber teams plus Minnesota to finish the year. That’s not good at all.

Streak: Their last ten games’ record is 5-5. That record might be a microcosm for Calgary’s entire season; it’s just been a series of frustrations for the Flames. 

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    Keep your head up: Hurricanes reportedly hand Raffi Torres a PTO

    VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 3:  Raffi Torres #13 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks for a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, May 03, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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    From opting against fighting the NHL’s 41-game suspension to seeing his season derailed by knee issues, there was the feeling that the league had seen the last of controversial forward Raffi Torres.

    Perhaps not.

    The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly handed the 34-year-old a PTO, according to former Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward.

    It’s something the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander also mentioned on Monday.

    With Bryan Bickell added to the mix during this off-season, the Hurricanes seem interesting in adding some beef. It’s unclear if Torres is really in the sort of condition to make a mark, but Carolina’s going to at least take a look at him.

    Beware, pre-season opponents and training camp teammates.

    Capitals bump Todd Reirden up to associate coach

    PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Assistant coach Todd Reirden of the Washington Capitals talks to the power play unit during a time-out against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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    The Washington Capitals announced that Todd Reirden (pictured) was promoted from assistant to associate coach on Monday.

    What does that mean, exactly? Well, most directly, the team shared word that he’ll run Capitals training camp while Barry Trotz works with Team Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

    Giving Reirden a promotion makes sense, as he’s been linked to some head coaching searches. The Washington Post compiled some of his opportunities:

    In the past two years, Reirden has been a serious candidate for two NHL head-coaching gigs. According to the Calgary Sun, Reirden was a finalist to coach the Flames before they settled on Glen Gulutzan, and he was considered for the New Jersey Devils’ vacancy last summer, too. Lane Lambert, another Capitals assistant, was a finalist for the Colorado Avalanche head-coaching job earlier this month, according to the Denver Post.

    The Capitals have a pretty well-regarded coaching group, as many credit goaltending coach Mitch Korn with some of Braden Holtby‘s improvement since Trotz took over.

    Maybe we’ll see Reirden and Lambert get head coaching gigs at some point, but for now, Trotz’s “coaching tree” stays intact.

    Penguins believe Kessel, others can heal up by start of next season

    SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Going deep enough into the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup often comes with the cost of stacking up injuries, and the Pittsburgh Penguins paid the price.

    As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others report, Phil Kessel (wrist) and others aren’t guaranteed to be healthy to start the 2016-17 regular season.

    “All the injured guys are tracking in the right direction,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “Until they all get here, we won’t know 100 percent where they’re at, but it sounds like all the guys should be ready for camp.”

    The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review runs down a significant list of players who likely accrued bumps and bruises that may carry over:

    Defenseman Trevor Daley, for instance, suffered a broken ankle on May 20. Kris Letang (foot), Nick Bonino (elbow infection), Bryan Rust (hand), Patric Hornqvist (hand) and Evgeni Malkin (elbow), among others, dealt with physical problems of varying severity at times.

    If recent history is any indication, Kessel will probably fight hard not to miss time.

    For all the weird criticisms he receives, he’s been remarkably durable, playing in every game during the past six seasons.

    That’s impressive stuff, but the Penguins would be wise to keep an eye on the big picture. If it comes down to making Kessel and others swallow a little pride to limit the odds of aggravating injuries, they need to do it.

    Even if it means a bumpy start to their title defense.

    Win now, worry later: Why the Lightning should go all-in

    CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08:  Ben Bishop #30 celebrates with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in Game Three of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on June 8, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    This is part of Lightning day at PHT …

    The Chicago Blackhawks employed some great teams in winning three championships so far during the Jonathan ToewsPatrick Kane era, but there was something special about that first group.

    For one thing, Toews and Kane were playing out the final years of their entry-level contracts. Those CBA-powered savings gave the Blackhawks a surplus of players who would eventually be too expensive to retain, most notably Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Brian Campbell.

    That fantastic group never faced elimination during an overpowering run to the 2010 Stanley Cup.

    Thanks to deft maneuvering by GM Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks were able to reload and put together other strong supporting casts even after big losses, and that could be a profound lesson for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    It might be tempting for the Bolts to merely keep their window open as long as possible. Instead, they should take a big swing in 2016-17 and then trust management to recover from any fallout.

    Bishop’s expiring contract

    The safe move would be to trade away some of the expiring contracts on Tampa Bay’s roster instead of risking getting nothing when they leave.

    Many believe that Ben Bishop is on his way out. With one year left on a contract that carries about a $6 million cap hit and Andrei Vasilevskiy getting the Jake Allen-style “you’re the man” extension, it seems like a matter of time.

    Keeping Bishop around for one more season might just pay off, though.

    For one thing, Vasilevskiy’s shown signs of brilliance, yet his current NHL numbers aren’t overwhelmingly strong. Bishop, meanwhile, kept the Bolts afloat during some tough times in 2015-16.

    Even if the Lightning feel like Vasy is the guy, what if he gets hurt? They’ve already seen goalies get injured at inopportune times, and the reigning champion Penguins provide another reminder.

    (For more on the Bishop situation, click here.)

    Win low, worry later

    GM Steve Yzerman deserves ample credit for signing Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman to relative bargain deals, but those are still expensive contracts. The squeeze is coming.

    That said, the Lightning may want to identify their own Byfugliens and Ladds and go for broke in 2016-17. Let’s not forget how close they were to a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance even with Stamkos on the shelf.

    It’s tough to imagine the Bolts managing to keep all of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin. On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine many opponents managing to contain an attack that features Stamkos, Johnson, Palat, Drouin and other dangerous attackers.

    (Plus, another year of evaluation would give Yzerman time to determine who is truly a core member.)

    ***

    It’s a challenging situation, but the Lightning easily rank alongside the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and maybe a few other select teams as the cream of the East crop.

    They’re positioned to jostle with the elites for some time, but why not take their best shot in 2016-17 and then make the best of things later on?

    Sometimes the difference between really good and truly great comes down to having the courage to make these tough calls.