Race for the playoffs: Inside the stretch run for Anaheim, Chicago and Dallas

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

Western Conference playoff race

p – 1. Vancouver – 113 pts (3 GR)
y-2. San Jose – 103 pts (2 GR)
y-3. Detroit – 102 pts (2 GR)
4. Nashville – 97 pts (2 GR)
5. Los Angeles – 98 pts (2 GR)
6. Phoenix – 97 pts (2 GR)
7. Anaheim – 95 pts (2 GR)
8. Chicago – 95 pts (2 GR)
e-9. Calgary – 93 pts (1 GR)
10. Dallas – 91 pts (3 GR)

p- clinched Presidents’ Trophy
z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
e- eliminated from playoffs

Colorado @ Dallas – 7:00 pm ET

Being that it’s plainly obvious the Stars need to win this game and no other West teams play in important games (the Canucks play against the Wild), let’s instead take a look at the stretch run for the Stars, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks. To keep it reasonable, we’ll go in order of highest record to lowest.

7. Anaheim Ducks (45-30-5 for 95 pts with two games left)

Home vs. Los Angeles (Friday) and away vs. Los Angeles (Saturday).

Thoughts: All the Ducks need is two points – not even a win – to clinch a playoff spot because they already hold six more non-shootout wins than the Stars. The Kings will be slightly less motivated having already clinched a spot, although their final two games should have a big impact on their playoff seed.

Besides, they hate their division rivals, and spite is often a solid motivator. Back-to-back games will make this tough for the Ducks, although it will also encourage the Kings to take it easy and possibly even rest a player or two.

8. Chicago Blackhawks (43-28-9 for 95 pts with two games left)

Away game vs. Detroit Red Wings (Friday), then a home game against Detroit in the NBC Game of the Week on Sunday.

Thoughts: It’s exciting to see that both the Blackhawks and Ducks must make the playoffs by beating their hated division rivals. Much like the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference, the ‘Hawks could clinch a playoff spot by earning three points.

Then again, Chicago could also clinch the spot with one non-shootout win. One more would leave them with 38 regulation or overtime wins and 44 overall, while the Stars can only max out with 38 regulation or overtime wins and 43 overall.

If the ‘Hawks lose tomorrow – especially in regulation – and the Stars take care of business, then Chicago’s last game of the season might really be their first “playoff” game.

The ninth place Calgary Flames have been eliminated.

10. Dallas Stars (40-28-11 for 91 points with three games left)

Home vs. Colorado today, away against Colorado on Friday and away against Minnesota on Sunday.

Thoughts: On paper, this is a a pretty manageable group of games, but three games in four days isn’t exactly an effortless draw. It’s an interesting scheduling quirk that the Stars also face a home-and-home series against a hated rival, with back-to-back games against Colorado today or tomorrow. They might not be division rivals, but they don’t like each other either.

Again, Dallas needs to win every game (probably in regulation or overtime) and get some help from Detroit and/or Los Angeles to make a breathtaking gallop to the playoffs.

Obviously, the odds are against the Stars, but a late run remains possible. We’ll keep you informed as the last days of the season determine who will make the playoffs and who gets an early vacation.

Rebuild on hold? Red Wings reportedly eye Girardi, Hainsey, Daley

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For the first time in ages, the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs. To some, the sliver lining was that this might send a message to management to truly commit to a rebuild.

Perhaps GM Ken Holland & Co. aren’t quite ready for that.

Look, one or even a couple of potential free agent signings won’t disqualify the Red Wings from going younger. Still, the rumored defensemen they’re targeting aren’t exactly spring chickens.

Three names floating out there are Trevor Daley, Dan Girardi, and Ron Hainsey.

Daley was mentioned by The Athletic’s Craig Custance, MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, and the Detroit Free-Press’ Helene St. James. Khan and Custance both mention Hainsey and Girardi, too.

Even in one-case mentions, the “veteran” theme continues, with Brian Campbell‘s name coming up while forward Thomas Vanek seems like at least a remote possibility to return to Detroit.

Let’s look at the ages of the defensemen mentioned, noting that Daley is older than some might have expected.

Daley – 33
Girardi – 33
Hainsey – 36
Campbell – 38

In the case of Daley and Girardi, you could also argue that each blueliner also has a lot of “mileage” for their age. Girardi, in particular, plays the sort of grinding, shot-blocking style that might have accelerated his troubles with the Rangers.

As great as experience might be, even for a “final push,” this sends a troubling signal. In Mike Green (31), Jonathan Ericsson (33), and Niklas Kronwall (36), the Red Wings already have an aging group of defensemen. Kronwall and Ericsson are dealing with injuries that may hinder them for the remainder of their careers, too.

When you also note that Holland exposed 25-year-old goalie Petr Mrazek instead of 33-year-old Jimmy Howard, the picture isn’t especially pretty.

Maybe the Red Wings can have their cake (push for a playoff rebound) and eat it too (start to transition to youth), yet it’s not necessarily the aggressive move toward a rebuild that many likely hoped to see.

At least there’s time for Holland to prove these early worries wrong.

Note: In other Red Wings news, the team signed Ben Street to a one-year extension.

Blue Jackets sign Schroeder after trading for him

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Not long after acquiring him in a minor trade from the Minnesota Wild, the Columbus Blue Jackets signed Jordan Schroeder to a two-year contract.

The team confirms that it is a two-way deal for 2017-18 and then becomes one-way in 2018-19.

Schroeder is guaranteed $350K for the first year of that contract and then $650K in 2018-19, according to the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline.

The 22nd pick of the 2009 NHL Draft receives a fitting contract: he’s been a “tweener,” bouncing around the NHL and AHL. He hasn’t been able to make much of an impact, Schroeder at least provides some organizational depth.

That could come in handy, as Portzline indicates that Sam Gagner – not so surprisingly – is expected to garner a lot more attention this time around in free agency. Perhaps Schroeder could serve as insurance for Gagner?

NCAA star Spencer Foo chooses the Flames

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NCAA standout forward Spencer Foo decided to sign with the Calgary Flames, as The Sports Corporation and team confirmed. The signing might not be official until free agency kicks off on Saturday, July 1, but he apparently made his decision.

After managing 25 points in each of his first two seasons with Union College, Foo exploded in 2016-17, racking up 26 goals and 62 points. You can see some of his highlights in the video above.

He didn’t go drafted, so this could be a case of another scorer blossoming late.

Foo is an Edmonton native, so playing close to home in Calgary likely factored into his decision. He was connected to the Edmonton Oilers in earlier rumors while MLive.com’s Ansar Khan indicates that his final choice came down to the Flames or the Detroit Red Wings.

Calgary is already classifying him as a RW. Perhaps he’ll be that long-desired fit for Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan? There’s another positive aspect for the Flames, as this might help to soften the blow of giving up a bundle of assets in the Travis Hamonic deal.

The Sports Corporation tweeted out a photo of Foo, 23, in a Flames jersey:

Which NHL teams face toughest, easiest schedules in 2017-18?

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For NHL schedule nerds, Tuesday felt a bit like Christmas.*

On the Forecheck’s Dirk Hoag is mostly retired from hockey blogging, but he still puts out his beloved “super schedule,” and he combined with Alex Daugherty to do a 2017-18 version, which you should absolutely check out here.

Hoag and Daughtery listed all 31 teams’ total miles traveled and also their number of back-to-back games for next season.

Here are the top five teams for most miles:

1. Avalanche – 48,639
2. Flames – 47,931
3. Blackhawks – 47,926
4. Coyotes – 46,856
5. Oilers – 46,815

Note: the Panthers are the sixth-ranked team and face easily the most travel among East teams with 44,395, up from 41,891.

Now, here are the bottom five for travel time:

31: Penguins – 34,041
30: Devils – 34,052
29. Sabres – 34,175
28. Red Wings – 34,759
27. Maple Leafs – 35,689

The Los Angeles Kings tend to be frequent flyers, but not here; they face the least travel of any West team with 39,915.

That’s not the entire picture, however. These teams face the most back-to-back sets:

1 (tied) – Penguins and Senators with 19
3. Hurricanes – 18
4 (tied) Blackhawks, Blue Jackets – 17
6 (tied) Blues, Islanders, Sabres, and Devils – 16

While these teams face the fewest.

1. Jets – 9 (Winnipeg faces 43,296 miles of travel.)
2. Canucks – 10
3 (tied) – Avalanche, Oilers, Predators, Ducks, and Rangers – 11

Oh, and in their inaugural season, the Vegas Golden Knights travel 42,128 miles and must endure 12 back-to-back sets, so they deal with a pretty middle-of-the-road haul.

***

As you can see, plenty of teams see their low travel rates balanced out by high back-to-back game totals. The Penguins are a good example of that.

Then again, some teams just suffer tough draws. As much as conspiracy theorists love to harp on the Blackhawks, they face the third-most travel miles and deal with 17 back-to-back sets.

On The Forecheck’s full list can be seen here, yet they are not the only outlet to do some interesting schedule analysis. Hockey Viz’s Micah Blake McCurdy put together a list of rested/tired games for each team:

Though he also narrowed it down in a way that might make the biggest difference: a rested home team facing a tired road opponent.

Long story short, it’s difficult to really boil down who has the toughest schedule based on one metric. It’s a subjective matter, as you can weigh these “rest/tired” factors, go broad with sheer back-to-back sets, and even lean on jet lag more than anything else.

Still, if you’re the type to wear a tin foil hat, the lists above could really help you cook up some theories about the bad hand your team allegedly drew.

(Opinion: it does seem like Chicago faces more than just salary cap challenges next season, however.)

* – Or whatever holiday resonates. So, Festivus?