Breaking down the race for the West’s final playoff spots

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Earlier this week, the NBC Sports Network gang took a look at the Western Conference playoff picture, as you can watch in the following clip:

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Want a more detailed playoff picture? NBC’s standings page provides more in-depth numbers, from games played to full records.

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No one’s truly untouchable, but for the sake of this exercise, let’s say that the Vancouver Canucks and every Central Division team not named the Columbus Blue Jackets are safe for now. With that in mind, let’s look at the two most interesting races.

Kings, Sharks battle for Pacific

Much like the Southeast Division race, the top two Pacific teams could get a gift of a top-three seed if they win the division. The difference is that the gap between the San Jose Sharks (60 points in 47 games played) and the Los Angeles Kings (58 points in 50 games played) is larger than the one between the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers. Still, one must at least acknowledge the Kings’ chance to make a mini-run at take the Pacific.

Race for the bottom two spots

For the sake of the bigger picture, the Kings should be considered a part of the race for one of the bottom two spots. They’re generally in a good position, although they’ll have to survive on the road with 20 of their last 32 games away from home.

Wild vs. Avalanche

The next group one can notice is the eighth and ninth seeds are the Minnesota Wild (eighth place with 55 points in 49 contests) and Colorado Avalanche (ninth place with 54 points in 51 contests). This week’s Wild win gave them a nice buffer ahead of Colorado and it doesn’t stop there. The Wild play 19 of their last 33 games in Minnesota while the Avalanche only has one extra home game (16 in Colorado, 15 on the road).

Three at 52

The Dallas Stars, Calgary Flames and Phoenix Coyotes take spots 10-12 with 55 points apiece. The 10th place Stars are in a decent position to move up since they’ve only played 48 games and already piled up 25 wins. Sixteen of their final games are at home while 18 are on the road, so it’s not all great news.

Both Calgary and Phoenix reached 52 in 50 games with the Flames in the No. 11 spot because they have an extra victory. Calgary will play 19 games at home and 13 away while the Coyotes play 18 games in Phoenix and 14 on the road, so their dreams are far from dead.

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Overall, I’d guess that the Sharks have a great shot at the Pacific Division, the Kings should get a lower seed and Minnesota at least has a head start on eighth place. Colorado’s ninth spot might be inflated, the Stars have some games in hand and Phoenix/Calgary have enough home games to make some noise. We haven’t even discussed the Anaheim Ducks.

When it comes to the West, you never really know … unless you’re the Columbus Blue Jackets.

NCAA standout Foo leaving school, will sign NHL deal this summer

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Spencer Foo, who racked up a whopping 62 points in 38 games this year for Union College, is forgoing his senior season to achieve his “life long dream of playing in the NHL.”

Where that dream takes place remains to be seen.

Foo, 22, won’t be back at Union in the fall, but will complete his spring term at Union and not sign with a pro organization until summer, per the Daily Gazette. The decision comes after a banner three seasons in school, capped off with a junior campaign in which he was nominated for ECAC Hockey Player of the Year and shortlisted for the Hobey Baker.

Foo has reportedly drawn interest from the Flyers. There have also been rumblings of the Oilers being in the mix — Foo is an Edmonton native — but it appears nearly every team has some level of interest. Consider this, from LA Kings Insider:

The Kings are among the teams involved in [Foo’s] courtship, and asked where the stiffest competition was coming from, I was told, “about 29 other teams.”

Foo is an undrafted free agent, so there’s no real rush for him to make a decision. Sounds like NHL teams are more than willing to wait it out.

Announcing the Hobey Hat Trick: Aston-Reese, Butcher, Vecchione

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Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese, Denver’s Will Butcher, and Union’s Mike Vecchione are the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.

Aston-Reese, a 22-year-old forward, had 31 goals and 32 assists in 38 games this season. Undrafted, he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this month.

Butcher, a 22-year-old defenseman, had seven goals and 29 assists in 41 games for the Frozen Four-headed Pioneers. A fifth-round pick of the Avalanche in 2013, Butcher is still unsigned and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent Aug. 15. It remains to be seen if the Avs will offer him a contract, though it’s been reported they will.

Vecchione, a 24-year-old forward, had 29 goals and 34 assists in 38 games. Undrafted, he’s expected to sign with an NHL team shortly — possibly the Flyers or Wild.

Jimmy Vesey, Jack Eichel, and Johnny Gaudreau were the Hobey Baker winners in each of the last three years.

After 12-game absence, Boychuk back for Isles

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The New York Islanders, four points back of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and having lost their last two games, will get a huge boost tonight on the blueline.

Johnny Boychuk, who’s missed the last 12 games with a lower-body injury, will return to the lineup on Thursday when the Isles take on the Flyers in Philadelphia. It’ll mark the first time the veteran defenseman has played since getting hurt back on Mar. 3.

(Boychuk draws in at the expense of Thomas Hickey, who’ll sit tonight.)

Needless to say, this is a massive addition for the Isles. Boychuk was averaging close to 21 minutes per night and had 21 points through 59 games before his injury, and led all New York defensemen in shots on goal.

The Isles are going to be an interesting team to watch down the stretch. It’s tough sledding, with five of their final seven contests being played on the road, though that’s mitigated by the fact they’re playing a bunch of teams outside of the playoff picture (Philly, New Jersey x2, Buffalo and Carolina).

McAvoy has the talent to improve Bruins right now

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Charlie McAvoy could be in the Providence Bruins’ lineup as soon as Friday against Albany.

Providence also plays Saturday and Sunday, so even if it’s not Friday, the 19-year-old defenseman is expected to get his first taste of pro hockey sometime this weekend.

Of course, the real question is when his Boston Bruins debut may occur.

“He has the attributes to be able to play NHL games right now, absolutely,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, per the Providence Journal. 

McAvoy has yet to ink an NHL contract. He’s in Providence on an amateur tryout after making the decision to leave Boston University. If he plays an NHL game this season, the first year of the three-year entry-level contract he’ll sign would be burned.

Hence, Sweeney’s desire to see McAvoy in the AHL before making any decisions.

“This gives an opportunity for him, first and foremost, to get a chance to play professional games, which is another level for him. [We’ll] evaluate from there,” said Sweeney.

It’s certainly possible, given McAvoy’s talent, that he could help the NHL Bruins right now. The bar is essentially Kevan Miller, Boston’s third-pairing defenseman on the right side. (If McAvoy were a left shot, the bar would be slightly lower, with all due respect to John-Michael Liles.)

The NHL Bruins, who’ve yet to book a playoff spot, have six games left in their regular season. They host Dallas tonight, Florida Saturday, and then they’re in Chicago Sunday.

Assuming McAvoy stays with Providence all weekend, his first real chance to get into an NHL game would be Tuesday against Tampa Bay.

Stay tuned.

Read more: Bruins will leave door ajar for McAvoy