If I had to guess, I would tell you that the top eight teams in the Western Conference right now will make the playoffs. In my mind, Chicago, Anaheim, Minnesota, St. Louis, Detroit, Los Angeles, Vancouver and San Jose will all be around at the end of the regular season; the question is, where will they be seeded?
Chicago and Anaheim should win their divisions and be the one and two seeds, respectively. Minnesota and Vancouver will battle for the three seed and there is a good chance that they face each other as the three and six seeds.
St. Louis and Detroit are not as good as Chicago, but are both worthy of making the playoffs. Same goes for San Jose and Los Angeles; they are not going to wrestle the division title away from Anaheim, but they both are capable of vying with the Wings and Blues for a four, five or six seed.
I do not think Phoenix and Nashville have enough scoring to make the playoffs and are a clear No. 4 in their division. Having said that, if one or both of those teams make the postseason, they will be a dangerous wild card because of the way they play.
Edmonton and Colorado are too young still. They’ve got a lot of talent, but I’m not sure they’ve blossomed quite yet. Columbus has shown signs of life this year, but they are probably better off staying out of the playoffs and grabbing a potential superstar in the lottery anyway.
Dallas is a tough one for me. They have a lot of functioning parts and are too old to be considered a “potential playoff team in the future” a la the Oilers or Avs. This could be another tough one for hockey fans in the Big D.
And we all know that Calgary is too old at this point.
In the Eastern Conference, I see three juggernauts: Pittsburgh, Boston and Montreal. We all know that the former two are capable of winning it all, they both have won the Stanley Cup recently, but there is some question as to how the Habs could go from the outhouse to the penthouse over the course of one season.
Hey, it’s hockey. Crazy stuff happens.
It’s also insane to think that the playoffs will go on without the Rangers, Flyers and Lightning, three hyper-talented teams that are really underachieving this year, but it could happen. My guess is that one or two of those teams make it, but someone will get left out.
Carolina should be a playoff team this year and rightfully so; they retained their best players in the offseason and went out and got Jordan Staal, but what about Winnipeg? They looked like the Eastern Conference’s version of the Avs and Oilers, but the combination of a bad division and good chemistry has put them in the playoff picture.
Not sure if they can keep it up, though.
New Jersey looked great at the beginning of the year, but have struggled recently. They could relinquish their spot to an Atlantic Division rival—the Rangers, Flyers or even, gasp, Islanders—if they are not careful.
I’ve bought into Toronto; this should be the year they make the postseason. They can beat playoff teams, but not the elite teams in the east and that’s good enough to get in. It’s a similar situation in Ottawa, although the Sens might be the better team right now.
In short, I think we have a good idea of who is going to make the playoffs in the west, but we’re going to see some change in the east between now and the end of the regular season.