Fifteen playoff and year end musings revolving around the Western Conference
Fantasy hockey leagues everywhere wrapped up this past weekend. Champions were crowned, trophies are ready to be engraved, and effective today we all stand together in mourning another regular season. Let’s be honest, even those lucky (and skilled) enough to win their leagues are already wondering how to pass the time. Various playoff pools and the Stanley Cup playoffs will serve as a nice distraction for now. Then we will count the days to the NHL entry draft and tell ourselves that July’s “free agency frenzy” will actually be more interesting than usual this year. Then the summer lull kicks in and fantasy hockey news becomes more of an endeavor for the desperate.
Rather than focusing on the summer lull, we have to acknowledge that the first lull is already upon us since the regular season ended last night and we are now on standby until Wednesday’s playoff opener. To help you pass the time over the next few days (ala Elliott Friedman’s 30 Thoughts, ala Jeff Angus’ 15 Prime Cuts) here are 15 random thoughts from out West to help fill that void.
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1. On March 13th the St. Louis Blues had 95 points and were four points clear of both Boston for the President’s Trophy and Colorado for the Central Division lead. One month and 17 games later and the Blues closed their season out with 111 points – taking only 16 of a possible 34 points. Does anyone else get that overwhelming feeling that we’re about to see a first round exit in Missouri?
2. The Ryan Miller trade appeared to be a genius move. Miller was 7-0-1 in his first eight games with his new team, but has since gone 3-8-1 to close out the year. In his last 11 games, Miller’s save percentage has only been above .900 three times. Not all of the blame can be put on Miller though – in yesterday afternoon’s 3-0 loss to Detroit he stopped a number of breakaways. The team isn’t playing very well in front of him.
3. Who led the Blues in plus/minus this year? Jaden Schwartz with plus-28. Another interesting note regarding another Blues’ youngster, Vladimir Tarasenko’s 43 points in 64 games prorates to 55 points – not bad.
7. Looking at the statistics, Drance is on to something and we may be in for a long and explosive series. The teams traded high scoring 6-3 wins and Dallas actually won the season series 2-1 when you include their 2-0 win in Anaheim in January.
8. In terms of first round match ups in the West and the season series comparisons, Colorado holds the biggest edge, having gone 4-0-1 versus Minnesota this year.
9. The bottom four teams in the Western Conference standings are the four Western Canadian franchises. This is the first time since 1976-1977 that no team from Western Canada has participated in the playoffs. Sadly, we could see this trend for another two years. Can we bring the Smythe Division back?
10. Name the four players in the Western Conference who played at least 60 games and averaged over a point per game this season? Hint: Patrick Kane is not one of them – he finished right on the mark with 69 points in 69 games. Matt Duchene also just missed with 70 points in 71 games – good for .99 points per game.
11. Shea Weber deserves a larger mention and more respect among Norris Trophy candidates. He led all defensemen in goals with 23 and plays against the best lines every night and is still only minus-3. When you consider the line combinations he plays against combined with how offensively challenged the Predators are, his minus-2 is quite an accomplishment. Interesting note about Weber, his shooting percentage this year is 11.4%, insanely high.
12. The four players in the West averaging over a point per game are Ryan Getzlaf (1.13), Taylor Hall (1.07), Tyler Seguin (1.06), and Corey Perry (1.01). Is this an opening for another “Hall versus Seguin” debate – my vote is for Taylor over Tyler, but it is close.
13. I really enjoyed watching Ryan Smyth last night. It sounded like he has known for at least six months that he would retire this season but waited until the very end to make the announcement. The Oilers did a great job of including his family in the festivities – watching his son take the pregame skate with him was priceless. An interesting debate in the forums about whether or not the Oilers will retire his jersey number.
14. What series in the West are you looking forward to the most? For me it’s a simple answer – the Blackhawks/Blues series is going to be an entertaining battle. My runner up would be San Jose versus Los Angeles.
15. Quick first round predictions. Chicago in six, Anaheim in six, Colorado in seven, and San Jose in 6. Chicago repeats as the Western Conference champions.