Don't Count Them Out Yet: Why We Can't Predict the NHL's Western Conference

Eric LaForgeCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2009

DETROIT - MAY 27:  Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on against the Detroit Red Wings during Game Five of the Western Conference Championship Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 27, 2009 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. The Red Wings won 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Western Conference is closer now then it has been for a long time at this point in the season. The difference between last place and a play-off spot is only four wins, and the difference from last place to first is only seven.

That's not to say that there are some good teams in the West, as well as bad teams. We all have our expectations of who's going to make the playoffs and who's going to miss. However, we have to agree that any of the 15 teams could make it.

We have seen plenty of teams rise from the cellar, to a play-off position this season, mainly the Nashville Predators who climbed from around 12th to seventh in a matter of a couple of weeks.

Edmonton is on the verge of doing the same thing. What these teams are showing us is that a couple weeks of solid play can launch you up a few positions in the standings. That has to give a lot of hope to "cellar" teams like the Blue Jackets and Wild.

That's also why you have to keep an eye on the Wings. Once they get healthy, they're going to be a much bigger threat, and with everything as close as it is, they could be in a position to make the biggest move of all.

Usually, teams don't move much after Thanksgiving. When we look at the standings at Thanksgiving, we can usually tell who's in and who's out. That's also the first time we identify the teams that will battle for a playoff position in March and April.

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We haven't been able to do that this year. That's mainly because the fifth place team and the 13th place team are within nine points of each other.

A lot of people look at that and say that those are the teams that will be battling for playoff spots. I would agree with that. But my point is that the first and second place teams aren't shoe-ins either. There are a lot of things that could happen this season.

Anaheim could make a trade or two and improve their team. The same could happen to Minnesota, Columbus, or St. Louis. Any moves these teams make will have a larger impact on the standings, just because everything is so close.

Right now there are seven points separating the first place team from the eighth place team. If San Jose (or LA, Colorado, Chicago and Calgary) takes a couple of injuries, they could lose a lot of ground in the standings.

Hopefully, this will continue until the end of the season. I would love to see a bunch of teams fighting for a playoff spot. That would give us some great hockey to watch.

You can look at the standings all you want, but you can't guarantee the playoffs yet. We'll have to wait to see what happens in March before we make any serious predictions.

See more of my opinions at Tips for Hockey.