All of a sudden, the Colorado Avalanche don’t need to settle for being a feel-good story and solid playoff team. With other teams either slipping or staying in neutral, the Avs could very well win their division and even the top spot in the Western Conference.
The door went from slightly ajar to quite a bit more open on Thursday, as Colorado jumped over St. Louis for the lead in the Central Division. Both the Avalanche and Blues finished Thursday with identical records (52-21-7, 111 points, two games left), but the Avalanche have a significant advantage in regulation/overtime wins (47-43). Here is an updated look at the standings:
Here are some highlights of the Blues’ tough loss, their fourth in a row (easily their worst streak of the season):
Take a quick look at closing schedules for Colorado and St. Louis:
Colorado: Friday – at San Jose, Sunday – at Anaheim
St. Louis: Friday – at Dallas, Sunday – vs. Detroit
Chicago is too far behind from a tiebreaker standpoint to catch the Avalanche or Blues, so the Central Division race is straightforward. Out in the Pacific, the Anaheim Ducks are clearly at the top while the San Jose Sharks will host the Los Angeles Kings.
Ultimately, the two races to watch out West are the Avalanche vs. the Blues and the Dallas Stars vs. the Phoenix Coyotes.
For the sake of comprehensiveness, here’s a look at the East standings, too:
There’s another Raffl in the NHL.
On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.
Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.
“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.
With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.
For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.
Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.
Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.
Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)
Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.
But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.
They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.
Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.
Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.
Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?
So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.