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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.

Shaw (boarding) to have hearing after getting tossed in Habs debut

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 02:  Andrew Shaw #65 of the Chicago Blackhawks speaks during Media Day for the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 2, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Didn’t take long for Andrew Shaw to do Andrew Shaw things in Montreal.

The noted agitator, acquired from Chicago at the draft, will have the NHL’s first disciplinary hearing of the season on Thursday — today, the Department of Player Safety announced that Shaw will be called to the carpet after getting tossed for boarding Washington’s Connor Hobbs last night.

Shaw was quickly challenged by Caps forward Nathan Walker following the hit, and the two squared off. Shaw was then given a five-minute boarding major, a major for fighting, a misconduct and a game misconduct.

All told, 30 PIM.

This won’t be Shaw’s first visit with the DoPS. Far from it. He was suspended for making a homophobic slur during an opening-round playoff loss to St. Louis in the spring and, prior to that:

— Avoided suspension for a high hit on Francois Beauchemin.

— Allegedly bit Victor Hedman during the ’15 Stanley Cup Final.

— Was fined $2,000 for diving.

— Avoided suspension for charging Barret Jackman.

— Avoided suspension for headbutting Brock Nelson.

And those are just the infractions since 2015.

Report: Players still undecided on how to split World Cup profits

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Don Fehr, executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association meets with the media at the Marriott Marquis Times Square on September 13, 2012 in New York City. Joining him from left to right is Ruslan Fedotenko, Henrik Lundqvist, Zdeno Chara and Sidney Crosby.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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You’d think the NHLPA would’ve already decided how to split its share of World Cup profits among its membership.

But according to a report by TSN’s Rick Westhead, you’d be wrong:

While the accounting on the World Cup probably won’t be finished for several months – meaning the NHLPA doesn’t yet know exactly how much money there will be to split between its members – NHLPA staff and players discussed the concept of 50 per cent of the union’s share of profits being split between players in the World Cup, with the other 50 per cent being split by NHL players not in the event.

During a meeting with NHLPA divisional player representative Joe Reekie, some players on Team Russia said all World Cup profits should remain with players who are playing in the event, a source told TSN. Some players on Team Czech Republic suggested in a separate meeting that an 80/20 split (favoring players in the World Cup) should be considered, the source said.

Profits for the tournament have been pegged at around $65 million, split 50-50 between the league and the players’ association. So assuming those projections are correct, that’s around $32.5 million for the NHLPA to divvy up. Not a huge amount on a per-player basis, especially considering what the average player makes all by himself. But chances are, this is not going to be the only World Cup, so it could set a precedent for future events.

Kesler was ‘really disappointed’ with World Cup atmosphere

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 16:  Ryan Kesler #17 of Team USA skates with the puck during practice at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 16, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Check it out — a Team USA player talking about disappointment at the World Cup, yet not referencing his team’s lackluster effort!

“It was weird,” American forward Ryan Kesler said of the tournament’s atmosphere, per the O.C. Register. “I thought there’d be more of a buzz in Toronto. There wasn’t … It just didn’t seem like there was a buzz.

“If you didn’t know what was going on, you wouldn’t even know teams were playing. That’s the only thing I was really disappointed with.”

The World Cup reboot was always going to have issues in this regard.

The timing of the tournament — early September, when the sports landscape is dominated by NCAA football and the NFL — almost guaranteed it would be buried. That early September start also meant even the most hardcore hockey fans still viewed the World Cup as something of an exhibition, or glorified training camp.

Creating Team North America and Team Europe initially added an extra element of hokiness. While both eventually proved worthy competitors, that didn’t happen until the tournament was underway.

And yeah, Team Europe has been a remarkable story.

But it hasn’t helped the buzz factor.

In Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to Canada in the first of the best-of-three final, Europe didn’t exactly bring in the fans. Several pundits tweeted out the alarming number of empty seats at the Air Canada Centre (see here and here), and Canadian forward Steve Stamkos addressed how the rivalry — or lack thereof — with Europe translated into a muted affair.

“It’s tough just because there’s not that natural rivalry here,” Stamkos explained, per Yahoo. “In some of the other games, we had away fans that were creating some noise.

“This was probably the team that had the least amount of support, just because of the makeup of the team in the tournament to start with.”

Attendance issues have been a theme throughout the event. Several group games started at 3 p.m. ET — on weekdays, no less — which resulted in subpar crowd numbers at the ACC. The highly-anticipated USA-Canada grudge match never came to fruition, with the Americans sputtering out as one of the tournament’s biggest disappointments.

North America’s elimination didn’t help the buzz factor, either.

In the end, all of this will probably be chalked up to a learning experience for the NHL and NHLPA, which is fair. This tournament was filled with several major unknowns coming in, and predicting how those would play out was a near impossible task.

Now, both sides know what worked and what didn’t. And they’ve got plenty of time to make some changes.

Alexander Radulov is the x-factor for the Canadiens

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 16:  Alexander Radulov #47 of Russia celebrates after scoring a goal in a shoot out against Jan Laco #50 of Slovakia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day nine of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 16, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadiens just went through a potentially franchise altering offseason that saw them keep the coach and GM that presided over one of the biggest collapses in franchise history, trade the most popular player on the team (P.K. Subban), and then go all in on toughening up the lineup by trading for Andrew Shaw.

It was such a crazy offseason that the addition of Alexander Radulov, perhaps one of the most intriguing and fascinating moves of the offseason by any team in the league, has almost completely slid under the radar and been forgotten about. And he might be one of the most important players on the team when it comes to the Canadiens’ success this season.

Nearly a decade ago Radulov looked to be on his way to stardom in the NHL before he abruptly left for the KHL, a league he dominated for the better part of the past eight years minus his brief return to Nashville (that also had some controversy with it).

Now he is back for another run at the NHL.

While Shaw, one of the team’s other big offseason additions, was getting ejected from his preseason debut with his new team on Tuesday night, Radulov had a dramatically different night on the ice. He not only recorded a pair of points by scoring an early goal and then assisting on a Nathan Beaulieu goal, but he also looked like a top-line player.

Yes, it is only one preseason game. But it was at the very least a small glimpse at the potential that Radulov could bring to a team that so desperately needs what he could provide.

What’s especially amazing about all of this is that a player like Shaw is going to be the one that gets the bulk of the attention because of the way he plays and the energy he brings.

Beaulieu heaped a massive amount of praise on both Radulov and Shaw for the way the played on Tuesday, pointing out that both bring elements the team had lacked. But he seemed to be especially fired up by Shaw’s performance. He hit on all of the key points that come with a player like Shaw, especially when it came to his gesturing to the crowd for more noise during his fight with Nathan Walker.

“I love it. He is my favorite player,” said Beaulieu. “That was awesome. That’s also something we were probably missing the last couple of years, a little bit of emotion. That is something he brings. I absolutely love seeing that. He is instantly a fan favorite just from doing that. Although it’s a preseason game, he’s a physical guy, he’s passionate about hockey. I can guarantee you everyone in this room absolutely loved it.”

“He’s just such an emotional wrecking ball, he drove me absolutely crazy last year, for him to just step in he is so comfortable already. The way he can get 20,000 people behind him like that, he is a special individual.”

That is all well and good, and there is definitely an emotional element to all of this that Shaw does bring, and you can not completely toss things like that that out the window. But the No. 1 priority here is still putting the puck in the net and scoring goals. That is the big thing that has been missing for the Canadiens over the past two years, a window where the team only scored 430 goals. That number put them 20th in the league over that stretch. Of the nine teams below them, only two of them (Vancouver and Philadelphia) qualified for the playoffs in either those seasons (one appearance for each, with neither advancing beyond the first round).

The lesson here: You can not succeed being as punchless as the Canadiens have been offensively the past two years.

Even with players like Subban (before the trade), Max Pacioretty (one of the NHL’s best goal scorers) and Alex Galchenyuk (already a 30-goal scorer whose best days should still be ahead of him) offense has been a major struggle for the team. They need to score more, and you are not going to emotion the puck into the net. Whether it comes down to the system put in place by the coaching staff, the talent assembled by the front office, or some other intangible factor, the team has simply not scored enough goals and has fallen into a hole where it will only go as far as a healthy Carey Price can take it.

Fortunately for Montreal, Price looks ready to go after missing almost all of the 2015-16 season due to injury. But for as good as he is, he still should not need to be constantly put into a position where he has to be nearly perfect every night for his team to have a chance to win.

Even though Radulov might not be the player he was eight years ago (he is, after all, 30 years old instead of 22) or score the way he did against lesser competition in the KHL, he is still a big-time NHL talent that can be a top-line player.

He is still a player that brings a potential element that the Canadiens have lacked more than emotion and fire.

His ability to be that player (and he has to get the opportunity from the coach, and not get instantly glued to the bench the first time something goes wrong with him on the ice) might have a much bigger impact on the success of the Canadiens than almost anybody else not named Price.