Newly-acquired Canes blueliner Joe Corvo and Panthers power forward Nathan Horton have their team battling for the Southeast Division title and the third seed in the East. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
Down and out in Detroit
Last week in my blog, the invincibility of the Detroit Red Wings was proposed, discussed, and generally agreed upon.
The Wings, it was argued, are the class of the NHL because of the franchise’s culture of winning; Detroit wins because it expects to win.
So what happens?
The Red Wings promptly lose six games in a row, the franchise’s worst streak in 17 years, and generally look a lot more like last year’s Blue Jackets than this year’s Stanley Cup champs.
Detroit stopped the bleeding with a shutout victory over late-’90s rival Colorado on Monday, but it will be interesting to see whether the skid was an anomaly or a sign the long season has worn down the Wings.
The Southeast Division is at it again.
The most disrespected division in the NHL – despite producing two of the past Cup champions, Tampa Bay in 2004 and Carolina in ’06 – is once again bordering on league laughingstock status.
Through Feb. 19, Carolina was leading with 64 points in 62 games (30-28-4), with the division’s four other teams in hot – perhaps “tepid” is a more accurate description – pursuit.
Washington had 62 points in 60 games (28-26-6); Atlanta had 62 points in 61 games (29-28-4); Florida had 60 points in 61 games (27-28-6); and, even Eastern Conference basement-dweller Tampa wasn’t out of it with 56 points in 59 games (25-28-6).
If the Bolts somehow can win three or four in a row, they’ll be right back in the thick of things.
Regardless, the bigger issue is the fact the division “winner” (it’s all relative) gets the No. 3 playoff seed in the East. There’s a chance the Southeast champ might actually have a worse record than the ninth-place team in the conference.
It’s unlikely, given that most games are against divisional foes in the final weeks of the season, so at least one Southeast team will probably pile up enough points to, ahem, deserve the No. 3 seed.
But a Southeast division winner with a worse record than the No. 9 team in the East is not out of the question, especially when you factor in recent developments for each club, such as:
CAROLINA: Captain Rod Brind’Amour was lost for the rest of the season after sustaining a knee injury in mid-February; and the Canes traded away offensive kingpin Cory Stillman and defensive rock Mike Commodore for an injured and still unproven youngster (Patrick Eaves) and a power play specialist (Joe Corvo).
WASHINGTON: The Capitals (read: Alex Ovechkin) have been doing a commendable job of remaining competitive despite lengthy absences by pivotal players such as Michael Nylander, Chris Clark, Alexander Semin and Brian Pothier, but can they keep it up? Can Ovechkin keep up his recent goal-a-game pace as teams key on him more and more down the stretch? And what does goalie Olaf Kolzig have left in the tank at age 37?
ATLANTA: It hasn’t happened yet, but the word in Atlanta is Marian Hossa is up for grabs. If the Thrashers decide to cut ties with the impending unrestricted free agent, it won’t exactly help their playoff cause.
FLORIDA: Like Atlanta, the Panthers are said to be considering trading away one of their top players in captain Olli Jokinen. Jokinen is a long-time Cat and the driving force behind the team; if he goes, Florida won’t (go to the playoffs, we mean).
TAMPA BAY: The Lightning has the biggest mountain to climb; the team has to vault everyone else in the division to make the playoffs. Not impossible, but far from easy. Especially when you consider the fact Tampa has shown little propensity to be a contender this season; rather, they’ve struggled all season to keep up with the rest of the East. It’s more likely the Bolts will trade away one or more of: Dan Boyle, Vinny Prospal, Brad Richards, Martin St-Louis…or, who knows, maybe even Captain Fantastic Vincent Lecavalier himself. If any of those guys go, so does the remaining shred of Tampa’s playoff chances.
Wait a minute…
There’s speculation that NHL GMs are considering introducing one-minute penalties in overtime. Not sure why the league would want to reward a penalized team with a shorter stay in the sin bin, but it is refreshing to see some outside-the-box thinking. (Ouch…bad, bad pun. It was unintentional, but it happened and it’s too late to do anything about it now. Apologies…)
A quick congratulations to Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky, who earned his 100th win as a bench boss with a 4-0 win over Los Angeles Monday. Gretzky’s Coyotes were in ninth place in the West with a 31-25-4 mark; that’s already more wins than most people thought the Coyotes would reach all season. Phoenix joins Montreal as the pleasant surprises of the 2007-08 season.
Condolences to the friends and family of Mickey Renaud, the Windsor Spitfires (OHL) captain and Calgary Flames draft pick who collapsed and died at his home in Tecumseh, Ont., on the weekend. An autopsy was performed, but it may be months before the exact cause of death is known.
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