a.k.a., A Very Biased Look at the End of the 2014 NHL Regular Season from The Addison Recorder
Each NHL team has only 10 games or so left in their season, so the Recorder decided it was a good time to catch you up on anything you may have missed since the Olympics. Our resident kind-of-but-not-really-an-expert hockey expert look at what the likely playoff scenarios are, who’s peaking, who’s crashing, and… Teuvo.
Oh, yes, he will talk about Teuvo. Sweet Teuvo. Glorious Teuvo. Y’know what, why wait any longer?
The biggest story for final stretch of the Chicago Blackhawks’ season is easily Teuvo Teräväinen. The Finnish prospect is like the Hodor of the NHL, in that… Erm. Hm. Okay, he’s not like Hodor at all, aside from the fact that the only word he is capable of speaking is his name, over and over.
Um, well, uh… I may have made that up, too. Look, let’s just go with the Teuvo + Game of Thrones thing so I can throw in this picture of a My Little Pony-fied Teuvo riding a dragon into Westero… -side Chicago. We can get to analysis and other silly topics afterwards.
Now that the hyperbole is out of the way, let’s take a hard(-ish) look at the last few upcoming weeks of
Teuvo’s the Blackhawks’ season:
Teuvo wasn’t the only call-up: Chicago prospect Jeremy Morin also joined the team from the AHL affiliate in Rockford. Morin has some NHL experience under his belt, and enjoyed a rip-roaring late season in the AHL this year. With the injuries to Brandon Saad (now returned) and Patrick Kane (out for a few weeks), the two prospects should get into a few games. That said…
Teuvo is not Chicago’s savior: It’s fun to call him “the Finnish Patrick Kane” and dream our dreams of a center who just might — maybe — not be an albatross around the neck of the real Kane. But let’s also remember that Teuvo’s still a teenager and Morin’s not much older. By themselves, they aren’t going to carry us to another Cup victory this year.
But we’re still glad to see him (& Morin): While we ought to temper expectations, it doesn’t mean we can’t get excited. The Blackhawks have been scuffling lately, bleeding points since the Olympic break. Hossa and Saad were out, Kane still is, and we’ve ceded the Central lead to them damn Blues. It’s a team that needs a spark or two, so why not call up Teuvo & Morin? They get some high-stakes NHL games under their belt, maybe bring some excitement to Madison Ave, and we all cheer. Or maybe they stumble a bit, look lost for a few shifts, and instead watch the playoffs from the ‘healthy scratch’ box seats.
Even if it’s the latter, the kids enjoy a learning experience at the expense of a few minutes of ice time from Brookbank, Bollig, or Versteeg. I guess we should insert the bullshit concern about the entry-level contract (ELC) requirement for Teuvo (Morin is already nearing the end of his ELC). These are costs I’m perfectly okay with. The minimal risk is well worth the potential reward, especially with the ossifying outlook of the Western Conference. Teuvo has 10 games before this season would count against his ELC tenure. Give him some meaningful time in 9 regular-season games. If he sets the league on fire, weigh his entry-level clock against the likelihood of winning back-to-back Cups.
State of the Western Conference
The Central: Standing in the way of another trip to the Stanley Cup Finals is a (new) old nemesis, the St. Louis Blues. With the declining Red Wings off in the Eastern Conference, Chicago can turn the full weight of its ire south towards St. Louis. The Blues play a physical brand of hockey that gets under opponents’ skin while making few mistakes. This year, they’ve found some offense (currently #4 in the NHL in goals scored), which makes them far more dangerous than they were in previous years. They also give up the 3rd-fewest goals, and then added iconic goalie Ryan Miller to their lineup at the trade deadline. Not only will the Blues probably finish atop the Central Division, but they’re a favorite to end the season with the NHL’s best record.
Below St. Louis are the Blackhawks and the surprising Colorado Avalanche, both teams fighting for home ice in the first round. These three teams have a virtual lock on the three divisional playoff spots; at this point, it’s more about positioning. Starting this season, the playoffs are division-centric, which is good news for the Blues. They’re currently 11-1-1 against all the potential playoff teams from the Central, which gives them top odds in making the Conference finals. The silver lining is that the only regulation loss in that record is courtesy of the Blackhawks last week.
The Pacific: Over on the West Coast, the divisional playoffs spots are just as stratified. We can be pretty sure that San Jose, Anaheim, and Los Angeles will make it into the playoffs. But this time it’s the #3 spot that’s set (Los Angeles), and the top two spots that are up for grabs. The Anaheim Ducks have ridden the ridiculous scoring of the Ryan Getzlaf – Corey Perry line to success in the early half of the season (currently the #3 team in goals scored). But they’ve come down to earth while the San Jose Sharks have kept up a high level of play. These three teams are some of the stingiest in terms of allowing goals, so any Central team that makes it to the Finals will need to have a way past top-notch goaltending.
Wild Cards: There are three teams battling for the final two playoff spots, though it’s really less dramatic than that. The Minnesota Wild only have to not stumble, and they’ll claim the top Wild Card slot, earning the chance to take one the “easier” of the two division leaders. This means they’ll likely face Anaheim or San Jose — if you’re a Wild fan, you’re going to hope for Anaheim (more goals for, far better face-off %), though neither is in Minnesota’s favor.
When we get to the last playoff spot, that’s where we’ll find some drama. The Phoenix Coyotes have a slight edge against the Dallas Stars, with the Vancouver Canucks technically still in the running. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have the kind of “young stars finding their way and hitting their prime” narrative going for Dallas… But it’s the Dallas (not-North) Stars. I can’t bring myself to cheer for them, not even in the hopes they face off against the Blues and both teams succumb to mutually-assured destruction. But with the Coyotes losing their big goaltender last night, Dallas is primed for the final spot.
Ironically, the Blues having a losing record against only one of these potential #8 seeds: the Vancouver Canucks. Despite the fact that Vancouver is currently a giant shitshow, the Blues are 0-2-1 against them. So you know who I’m cheering for. (That, and my brother is a Canucks fan. And Kevin Bieksa is a BGSU alum who makes sweet kick saves. I have a soft spot for this particular shitshow. )
Speaking of shitshows…
State of the Eastern Conference
The Metropolitan: It’s a competition to see what’s worse — the name of this division, or the quality of its teams’ play. The Pittsburgh Penguins are a top-level team, no doubt, but they also have the worst record of the current division leaders. They play in the weakest division and in the weaker of the two conferences. On the other hand, they have the league’s presumptive MVP, Sidney Crosby. They have another former MVP in Evgeni Malkin. They have some of the best special teams play in the league, and their coach is a BGSU alum. If their goaltender can reverse his playoff curse, they could get over a Bruin-shaped obstacle for another shot at Lord Stanley’s Cup.
After Pittsburgh, the division gets rather dicey. The Philadelphia Flyers have come on strong after a disastrous early season. They and the New York Rangers have the edge the divisional playoff spots because, well, someone has to. Odds are that one of them will face the Penguins in the second round. If it’s the Flyers, though, history tells us we might be treated to one helluva show.
The Atlantic: This is the division of the Boston Bruins and some other teams. The Bruins are arguably the best team in the NHL — they rank #2 in goals scored (behind only Chicago) and #2 in goals allowed (behind only LA). They had the season’s longest winning streak, they have no weak lines, and they’re playing better than last year… when they made it to the Stanley Cup finals. And if you somehow beat them, expect Milan Lucic to deliver a stick-tap to your nut-sack:
(Editor’s Note: Also, their goalie is named Tuukka Rask, which sounds like an unused character from Star Wars. Rask! RASK RASK RASK! – Travis-Rask!Rask!)
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens will probably face each other in the other Atlantic series, but the Bruins will be the team that makes it to the Conference finals. If any other Atlantic team stands in Boston’s place in the finals, we can blame a strange Traveler with a handsome — but terrible — beard. (Editor’s Note: RASK RASK RASK! – TravisRask!)
Wild Cards: Break out the popcorn, because here’s where we get the real drama of this season’s playoff hunt. Four teams are in a swirling orbital dance around the two final playoff spots, and a fifth team (New Jersey) orbiting in the Oort cloud of playoff hopes. Currently, the Detroit Red Wings have clawed their way to the top Wild Card slot, dragged up by the fact that the 18- to 35-year-old demographic can barely remember a playoff without Hockeytown USA. On the opposite trajectory are the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are in utter free-fall, barely clinging onto that last playoff spot.
Below them are the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, plucky teams within a game of either Wild Card spot. And by “plucky,” I mean “highly inconsistent,” and by “Wild Card spot,” I mean “the chance to be crushed by the Bruins.” (Editor’s Note: RASK! – Travis)
Because we all know that “plucky” is an adjective that only has one use: to describe the play of Teuvo Teräväinen.