by Mike Chen on 02/07/09 at 03:57 PM ET
With all apologies to Florida, Carolina, and Pittsburgh, I find myself tuning into a Western Conference match up every night. In just a matter of days, the playoff race turns itself on its head. Coming off the All-Star break, Wayne Gretzky’s Phoenix Coyotes were sitting with a slim lead in fifth while the Dallas Stars were still begging to get in the dance.
And now? After handing fifth off to Columbus for a brief moment, both the Yotes and the Blue Jackets fell out of the playoffs while Dallas’ post-Sean Avery (don’t say it, don’t say it) sloppy seconds found motivation to get consistency and rocket into fifth. (Damn you, temptation).
There are about 30 games left for each team, but no one, even longshot St. Louis, can be totally counted out yet. A quick snapshot tells us a few things though:
-Anaheim’s played the most out of any team in the west, which means that they will absorb those days off while other teams have a chance to gain ground. Considering that the next eight teams behind the Ducks are only trailing by up to six points, some with up to five games in hand, this could be a big problem for Anaheim.
-Either luckily or unluckily for all the teams that shifted around the playoff standings, Minnesota and Edmonton stood their ground. At least there was a constant for the competition.
-Nashville, once lost in the rearview mirror traffic, has crept into two points out of a playoff spot.
-The scary thing is that conference-leading San Jose has played the fewest games out west. In the case of the Pacific Division title, that’s two fewer games than Dallas and six fewer games than Anaheim.
The really interesting part will be seeing how all of these races affect trade-deadline movement. Will teams that are still in the hunt for eighth place sell off some assets regardless? Even a fifth- or sixth-place team is barely holding on to its playoff spot; is it worth it to make major moves that disrupt the chemistry of the squad?
We’ve got about a month to see how everything shakes out before the deadline madness. Right now, the separation between fifth and 15th is nine points. If the Blues go on a hot run and win five in a row, suddenly they’ll be hovering around the 8/9/10 spot and then everything goes topsy-turvy.
My not-so-bold prediction? Look for two teams to fall out of playoff contention by the deadline and I’m also guessing that the fierce competition, along with cap issues, will limit inter-conference trading this season. On the other hand, the New York Islanders probably already have ebay entries for Bill Guerin and Mike Comrie (Buy It Now for a Hillary Duff bonus).
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