Striking Distance

28Dec06

No, I’m not referring to the awful movie with Bruce Willis and a speedboat. I’m talking about the standings — more importantly, which teams still realistically have a chance at the playoffs. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a firm believer that Festivus (or Christmas for you more traditional readers) marks the point of no return for many teams. If you’re within 2-3 games of .500 (yes, I know the whole overtime/shootout point thing makes .500 kind of screwed up, but just humor me here) by that time, then you’ve still got a chance. Other factors coming into play include the recent trends of a tea going into this marker and significant injuries. That being said, let’s look at who’s still on life support and who’s six feet under of the teams that are under .500 right now:

Still In It…
Florida: Did you know that the Panthers are only four points out of a playoff spot? It’s just too bad Olli Jokinen‘s porn star moustache can’t heal Todd Bertuzzi‘s back. The Panthers still have some life, and could get a boost when Bertuzzi eventually comes back. It probably won’t be enough, but they should be able to hang around and make things interesting for a while.

Tampa Bay: Speaking of needing goaltenders…hey, don’t blame Vinnie Lecavalier or Martin St. Louis. Those two guys are doing everything they can to push the little Lightning train up the big scary hill. It’s just too bad that guys like Vaclav Prospal and Ruslan Fedotenko aren’t holding up their end of the bargain. The thing with the Bolts is that you always get the sense that they’re just around the corner from putting it together. Don’t forget that the season Tampa won the Cup they were out of the playoff picture for a bit.

Columbus: The Blue Jackets are seven points out of a playoff spot. Insurmountable? Perhaps. But here’s a more telling stat — since Ken Hitchcock came to town, the BJs are 9-6-1, including wins over Dallas and Detroit. If the BJs play at this pace or better, they could just sneak into the 8th spot.

Left For Dead…
Los Angeles: The Kings are paupers right now, but that’s ok. The team’s in a rebuilding phase and really, any wins right now is just a bonus. Sorry Kings fans, but that’s the Lombardi strategy. Hey, I’m a Sharks fan so I had to endure the whole thing firsthand a decade ago!

Phoenix: As awesome as Wayne Gretzky‘s anger faces are, it’s not enough to push the Yotes from the brink of elimination. Only a miracle could save the desert dogs now.

St. Louis: So, um, who’s auditioning to be traded to a Cup contender right now? *cough cough* BILL GUERIN*

Philadelphia: What forces Peter Forsberg to retire first, his foot or his head?

One of the weird byproducts of the overtime/shootout point is the fact that there are just six teams that are under .500 in the NHL. In theory, a league should have about half the teams below .500 and half the teams above, but the NHL screwed with things enough so that fans can think that their teams are actually pretty good even when they’re not. Two things to keep in mind: Chicago is really the only team to surge back from the edge of early elimination and jump back into the race, and you’ve got the Northwest Division packed with essentially five teams lurking around .500, meaning that there will be a NASCAR-like gigantic pile up of teams as the battle for eight place continues.

For fans in Philly, Phoenix, St. Louis, and LA…better luck next year. Hey, maybe you’ll get something good for auctioning off your veteran players.

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One Response to “Striking Distance”

  1. 1 Anonymous

    It’s tough when a team starts so abysmally as the Coyotes did and then couldn’t keep the momentum going for more than two games in a row (they did get a three game win streak – once).

    Even though I’ll still watch them play, I already have next year briefly in mind.


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