West playoff picture: Canucks make it official, Predators win and Sharks crush Stars

Western Conference playoff race

p – 1. Vancouver – 113 pts (4 GR)
x- 2. San Jose – 99 pts (5 GR)
3. Detroit – 98 pts (5 GR)
4. Phoenix – 95 pts (4 GR)
5. Los Angeles – 94 pts (5 GR)
6. Nashville – 94 pts (4 GR)
7. Anaheim – 93 pts (5 GR)
8. Chicago – 90 pts (6 GR)
9. Dallas – 87 pts (6 GR)
10. Calgary – 87 pts (4 GR)

p – clinched conference title and Presidents’ Trophy
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
GR – Games Remaining

Nashville 3, Colorado 2

The Predators only have four games left, so some of their seeding fortunes will be out of their hands, but Nashville is taking care of business. The fact that the questions are drifting from “Will they make the playoffs?” to “Who will they face?” is a testament to their strong finish. Three of their last four games are at home and three of four against teams outside of the postseason, so they should be able to earn plenty of points (especially after their Saturday contest against the Red Wings).

Nashville built a 3-0 lead before the Avalanche showed a little pride in making in 3-2 in a decent third period finish, but the Predators were able to hold off Colorado in this one. Pekka Rinne made 27 saves and Martin Erat scored a goal and an assist in another nice win, as Nashville is 8-2-0 in their last 10 games.

Vancouver 3, Los Angeles 1

Before we get to the Canucks’ Presidents’ Trophy clinching win, let’s focus on the Kings’ loss for a second. With 94 points and five games remaining, Los Angeles isn’t likely to catch the Sharks for the Pacific Division crown. That being said, their playoff spot is fairly comfortable and they can make it even cozier by beating the Stars on Saturday. Their final five games are against Pacific teams, including a home-and-home against the Anaheim Ducks to finish the 2010-11 season. It isn’t panic time for the Kings, but failing to get a point hurts.

Then again, not many teams are earning points against the Canucks, who clinched the Presidents’ Trophy tonight. Here’s some of the big numbers from the NHL’s press release on the subject.

The Canucks, celebrating their 40th anniversary season in 2010-11, have claimed the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time. Tonight’s milestone victory caps a regular season in which the club already has set franchise records for most points (113), most wins (52) and most road wins (26). Their 17-1-2 run in games from Nov. 24 through Jan. 8 marked the best 20-game stretch in franchise history.

The Canucks have scored the most goals in the NHL (253), allowed the fewest (177) and have recorded the top power-play and penalty-killing percentages (24.7% and 86.6%, respectively). No club in the League’s ‘expansion era’ (since 1967-68) has finished first in each of these categories in a single season.

Yup, they’re pretty good.

San Jose 6, Dallas 0

Obviously, it’s not as fancy as clinching everything like the Canucks did, but the Sharks joined the Tampa Bay Lightning in guaranteeing a playoff bid tonight. They did so by absolutely humiliating the playoff-desperate Dallas Stars 6-0.

It’s interesting that former Blackhawks did so much damage tonight, considering how much this Sharks win helps Chicago. Antti Niemi earned a 29-save shutout while Ben Eager – yes, Ben Eager – scored what might be the Goal of the Night to help San Jose spank the Stars. Patrick Marleau scored twice while San Jose out-shot Dallas 52-29.

The Stars aren’t totally out of it, as they play four of their last six games against teams outside of the playoff picture, but this obviously hurts their chances by a great margin. They trail the Blackhawks by three points with both teams having six games left. Dallas might actually need four more points than the Blackhawks down the stretch because Chicago also has some win-related tiebreaker advantages right now.

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So the ultimate trend of tonight’s games was that the rich West teams got richer. Is this is for the Stars? We’ll have to wait and see, but there’s a good chance they’ll need to deal with San Jose or Vancouver if they manage to make the playoffs.

Looking to make the leap: Pierre-Luc Dubois

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Columbus surprised people when they took Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi with the third overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Now Dubois is tasked with showing that they made the right call.

While Puljujarvi did get his first taste of the NHL last season with Edmonton, Dubois spent the full campaign in the QMJHL. However, Dubois is entering training camp with a real shot of landing a job with Columbus.

His versatility should work in his favor throughout his battle for a roster spot. Dubois is capable of serving as a winger or center and while he’s offensively gifted, he’s also a physical force.

It doesn’t hurt that he took his additional season at the junior level as a learning experience. He was able to play a full campaign at center and work on his positioning. He was also dealt from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada during the season, which gave him the benefit of experiencing a different system.

“It was a little more of a defensive (style),” Dubois said of Blainville-Boisbriand’s system, per NHL.com. “That’s how we won our games, by scores of 2-1. It was a more pro-style game. I learned a lot from that.”

All that being said, he still has an uphill battle ahead of him. There’s a potential opening for him, but it’s not a given that he’ll secure that job and even if he does get a chance with Columbus, he’ll have to work hard to make his stint with them be more than just a nine-game trial.

The 19-year-old can’t play in the AHL yet either, so if he doesn’t find a role with the Blue Jackets then he’ll have to play in the QMJHL again. By contrast, Puljujarvi was able to be sent to the AHL last season and if he doesn’t play for Edmonton in 207-18 then he’ll at least be able to get ice time against men in the minors.

When PHT asked the question last year if the Blue Jackets were right in selecting Dubois over Puljujarvi roughly two-thirds of voters said no. Perhaps Dubois will be able to change some minds this season.

Related: Getting sent to junior made Blue Jackets prospect Dubois a ‘more mature’ player

Callahan (hip) will be fine for start of training camp

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Ryan Callahan could only play in 18 games last season and underwent two hip surgeries, but perhaps 2017-18 will be different. The news is certainly good so far.

“I’m full go, right from Day One,” Callahan told the NHL.com. “It’s going to be nice to be able to do a hard training camp this year.”

His statement was reinforced by the fact that he participated in the first day of voluntary workouts on Monday.

Tampa Bay signed him to a six-year, $34.8 million contract in the summer of 2014 and while he was great for the first year of the deal, he declined in 2015-16 and then of course barely played last season. That’s led to concerns that the 32-year-old’s contract might prove to be disastrous in its back half.

“I know there’s chatter and people doubt me — if I can come back and what I’ll be like when I come back,” Callahan said. “I’ve always tried to use it as motivation. That’s how they propelled me to the place I am right now in my career. I’m looking at this the same way. I’m excited to get going this year. I think it’s going to be one of the best years I’ve ever had.”

Tampa Bay could certainly use the help. The Lightning fell short of the playoffs last season, but also missed Steven Stamkos for much of the campaign as well as Callahan. If those two stay healthy and if Callahan bounces back then Tampa Bay could be one of the major contenders in 2017-18.

Report: Flames might have interest in Jagr

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We’re mere weeks away from the start of training camp, but Jaromir Jagr remains unsigned. Even at the age of 45 he can still contribute as he did last season with Florida, but is there a team out there that ultimately will pay the future Hall of Famer to extend his NHL career?

That remains to be seen, but it sounds like there is some interest out there for his services.

“I know some teams that have kind of talked and taken a look at it,” said Elliotte Friedman on the NHL Network (H/T to FanRag Sports). “I think Calgary has been one that has kind of looked at it. One of his former coaches, Glen Gulutzan, is coaching up there.”

Friedman also heard teams suggesting that Anaheim might be interested in Jagr, but based on his own investigation that doesn’t appear to be the case. Ultimately Jagr might end up starting the season in the Czech Republic and would have the option of playing in the Olympics if that happens, but even if he does begin the year in Europe, he could still re-sign with an NHL squad later on in the 2017-18 campaign.

Jagr is the second all-time player in terms of total points and third in goals behind Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. If he did play another season, the main statistical achievement that he could chase would be fourth place on the assists list as he’s 20 behind Ray Bourque.

He finished the 2016-17 campaign with 16 goals and 46 points in 82 contests.

Related: The case for Hurricanes signing Jaromir Jagr

Under Pressure: Ryan Murray

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

The Blue Jackets were naturally hoping for great things when they took Ryan Murray with the second overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but he’ll turn 24-years-old in September and so far he hasn’t consistently lived up to those early expectations.

To be sure, he’s had some bad luck along the way. He suffered a torn labrum while playing in the juniors during the 2012-13 campaign and in the years that’s followed he’s been limited at times by knee and ankle problems. Most recently he missed the last 15 games of the regular season and the Jackets’ playoff run due to a broken hand.

Injuries haven’t been Murray’s only issue though. While they’ve resulted in setbacks along the way, when he was healthy last season he still wasn’t living up to expectations. Seth Jones, David Savard, Jack Johnson, and rookie phenom Zach Werenski served as Columbus’ defensive core while Murray was relegated to more of a supporting role.

That top-four core isn’t particularly old either as Johnson is the most senior member at the age of 30. Johnson is on the final season of his contract, but unless the Blue Jackets can’t re-sign him, Murray has no simple path back into prominence. He’ll have to get there through merit alone and he’ll want to demonstrate his ability to do so this season given that he’ll be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2018.

“It’s a big summer for Ryan; for him and for us,” Blue Jackets president John Davidson noted to the Columbus Dispatch in April. “He knows it. We’ve had good talks with him. He’s had good talks with our strength and conditioning people, our doctors.

“He’s a good hockey player, and we’ve seen some good things from him. He’s had bad injury luck without question, but he’s going to overcome that. He’s at the age now where he’s not a young pup.”

Players at his age are still typically regarded as having upside, but also beginning to transition away from the point where they’re regarded as prospects. There won’t be many more years where Murray will be looked at as a potential top defenseman if he doesn’t force himself into that role soon.