So…what happens to the Kings if they don’t make the playoffs after all?

Jonathan Quick (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

In being defeated 4-1 by the Blackhawks Monday in Chicago, the Los Angeles Kings missed out on a golden opportunity to insert themselves back into the Western Conference’s final wild card slot. Had they won, L.A. would have pushed Winnipeg out of that slot (by virtue of their tiebreaker advantage over the Jets) and kept pace with the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames in the race for second and third place in the Pacific Division. Instead, they’re now: two points behind Winnipeg with no games in hand; three points behind Calgary (the Flames have played one more game, but will hold the tiebreaker over the Kings if it comes to that); and five points behind the Canucks with the same amount of games (six) remaining.

For weeks now – to be specific, since February, when they reeled off eight straight wins after an abysmal January – many have been talking as if the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings were going to be a low-seeded team potential playoff opponents needed to respect, if not fear. And who can blame them? The incredible manner in which L.A. won its second championship in the past three seasons, the team’s collective spine that showed astonishing bend and no break, represent sufficient evidence on which to base a healthy trepidation of squaring off against them at the most important time of the year.

But that charge back to the playoff race has obscured a question that was being asked of the Kings as they stumbled out to a 21-18-12 record, and that question should be asked again now: what happens to Los Angeles’ roster if they fail to make the post-season? Read more

Why the Penguins should trade Sidney Crosby for the No. 1 pick

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Before any Pittsburgh fans go and get their jerseys in a jumble, just pause for a second, take a deep breath and think about it: if the Penguins fail to get back to the Stanley Cup final for the sixth straight season, what else is left for the franchise to do but blow up the core?

After an off-season of upheaval in which Pittsburgh brought in a new coach, a new GM and a new supporting cast for Sidney Crosby, there would be few options left but to raze the roster to the ground and begin anew. Sure, the Penguins could use Marc-Andre Fleury as a scapegoat and try using the same roster again next season with a different goalie, but that would only be putting off the inevitable. (Just ask the San Jose Sharks, who are years behind on the rebuilding schedule after sticking with their core despite perennial playoff failures, including their first-round faceplant last year.)

The best thing for the Penguins to do would be to try to trade Crosby for the next Crosby.

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Flyers owner Ed Snider sounds like a man losing patience with his team

Adam Proteau
Flyers executive Paul Holmgren, team owner Ed Snider, and GM Ron Hextall. (Zack Hill/NHLI via Getty Images)

In early October, Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider told THN he was more than happy to allow GM Ron Hextall to build the team slowly and not engage in blockbuster trades, as has been the franchise’s custom as often as not under his stewardship.

“Ron Hextall has come in and preached patience,” Snider said at the time. “Ron said, ‘We’re not going to rush guys along. We’re going to develop our kids and really work on that phase of the game.’ That was my philosophy when I started the team.”

That was five months ago. Now, talking to Philly.com, Snider sounds as if he’s not quite so certain about the whole patience thing. Read more

Thomas Vanek says Isles’ move to Brooklyn was factor in his departure; Isles fans should thank him

Adam Proteau
Thomas Vanek (Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

In a new interview with NHL.com, Wild winger Thomas Vanek says the New York Islanders’ pending move to Brooklyn played a part in his decision to leave that franchise as an unrestricted free agent and sign with Minnesota.

“It was close in February [2014] and I thought about it long and hard,” Vanek said. “There was two factors; I made a choice that I really wanted to go to free agency. But after being here for a while I loved it here. The one thing I didn’t like was the move to Brooklyn. I think if the rink would have been built here, it should be here on the island. There was probably a good chance I still would be here.”

There are Islanders fans who no doubt read those words and began stretching their hate muscles in preparation for booing Vanek at Nassau Coliseum when the Wild come to visit. But given the way things have turned out, that’s the wrong approach. Isles fans should be thankful the team moved to Brooklyn, because if Vanek had stuck around and accepted the reported seven-year, $49-million contract offer GM Garth Snow put before him last season (before dealing the then-30-year-old to Montreal last March), the organization would have come to rue the decision. Read more

Even if they miss playoffs & end 10-year post-season streak, don’t count Sharks out over long term

Adam Proteau
Sharks teammates Logan Couture, Justin Braun, Patrick Marleau and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. (Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

After their 5-2 loss to Winnipeg Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks fell six points behind the Jets for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. And with just 12 regular-season games left to play, San Jose could make a last desperate run into the second wild card position, but could just as easily fall to 12th overall in the West. After their infamous playoff collapse last season, the Sharks are now looking like a group that could be on the downside of a fairly productive period.

But don’t cry for the Sharks just yet. Considering some of the young talent on the roster and the pieces GM Wilson potentially acquires in any major trades this summer, San Jose’s downturn could reverse course in very short order and they could be back in playoff contention as soon as the 2015-16 campaign. Read more

Newly-acquired Blue Jacket David Clarkson likely out rest of regular season after suffering torn oblique muscle

David Clarkson (Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Only three games into his career as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, hard-luck left winger David Clarkson was sidelined 4-to-6 weeks – in other words, more than likely the rest of the regular season – with a torn oblique muscle.

Acquired Feb. 26 from Toronto for severely injured winger Nathan Horton, the 30-year-old Clarkson suffered the injury during his debut game with Columbus two days later and had been playing through the injury until he couldn’t continue during the Jackets’ 5-3 loss to the Capitals Tuesday. Read more

In the midst of a seething Leafs Nation – and team – Brendan Shanahan is a crucial calming force

Adam Proteau
Brendan Shanahan (Getty Images)

It feels like just about every citizen of, landed immigrant to, and legislative and judicial branch of Leafs Nation is angry these days. Some of Toronto’s players are incensed with the media; some Leafs fans are fed up with decades of frustration, poor decisions by management and ownership, and lack of playoff appearances; even something as innocuous as a post-victory acknowledgment to fans at the Air Canada Centre was a source of controversy, at least until the franchise’s astonishing collapse made clear what a molehill of an issue that really was.

However, in the midst of the maelstrom stands a pillar of patience and calm. Its name is Brendan Shanahan, Toronto’s president for coming up on 11 months now, and Leafs fans ought to be thankful for it. Shanahan doesn’t have the GM experience of, say, a Ray Shero and still must prove his vision over the long term. But his particular employment history – specifically, running the NHL’s department of player safety and serving as chief disciplinarian – has made him uniquely qualified to steer hockey’s most hyper-analyzed franchise through the white noise, hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing that seem to increase every week. Read more

Power Rankings: No. 1 Ducks rebuild their defense corps

Ken Campbell
Anaheim celly

The Anaheim Ducks have a 12-point lead on the next best team in the toughest division in hockey. If there was a team content to stand pat at the trade deadline, it should have been the Ducks.

Instead, GM Bob Murray made a flurry of moves just under the wire to radically alter his defense corps. The Ducks feel they’re now better equipped to get through the battle of attrition that is the Western Conference in the playoffs. In the here and now, however, the Ducks sit atop thn.com’s weekly Power Rankings. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses.) Read more