Wild-card primer: who makes it and who misses in the East and West?

Loui Eriksson (Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

When the NHL changed the playoff format to include wild-card teams last season, it’s unlikely even they could have imagined a scenario in which the races for the final playoff berths in each conference would be this tight.

With less than 10 games remaining on the schedules of all playoff hopefuls, only six points separate teams in the Western Conference, while a three-team race separated by five points in the Eastern Conference could come down to the final night.

What’s on the horizon for each of the teams, and who stands the best shot at making it in? Read more

CHL playoffs: The most intriguing first-round matchups

Quebec's Anthony Duclair  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The CHL playoffs begin tonight and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Connor McDavid has one last chance to win it all with the Erie Otters in the Ontario League, but the powerfully-built Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have designs of their own. Out in the Western League, Kelowna and Brandon seem to be on a collision course for the final, while the Quebec League has the added wrinkle of sending two teams to the Memorial Cup – one being the host Quebec Remparts, who won’t want to crawl in through the back door.

Here’s a look at all the first-round matchups in the CHL, with a bit more info on one series per league that has me riveted from the get-go.

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Mark your calendars – the date has been set for the NHL’s most anticipated draft lottery in years

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly announces the Buffalo Sabres as holders of the second pick in the 2014 entry draft. (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

For months now, hockey fans have slowly built their anticipation for one of the most highly-consequential NHL draft lotteries since the process was introduced in 1995. And now it appears the league has settled on a date people can circle on their calendars.

According to a Sportsnet.ca report, the league has decided to hold this year’s draft lottery Apr. 18, as part of a Hockey Night In Canada playoff broadcast. That leaves a little more than three weeks for fans of sad-sack teams to firm up viewing party plans and binge on lottery simulation websites – and when you look at some of the teams with a decent chance of drafting nascent superstars Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel (and the stakes involved if they fail to win the lottery), you’ve got near-perfect conditions to deliver what could very well be hockey’s most drama-packed off-ice night in history.

For one thing, the increasingly-improving chance the Maple Leafs have at McDavid is going to push TV ratings to record levels. Like them or not, the Leafs have millions of fans, and after their brutal free-fall through the NHL standings this season those fans are going to try every superstitious trick in the book in the hope it allows fortune to smile on their beloved Buds. If that does happen, the city of Toronto is going to instantly explode in the biggest hockey-related celebration since a Stanley Cup was won here in 1967.

And for as dramatic as that result would be for the Leafs franchise – it would almost certainly tempt team management to fast-track their rebuild – think of the ripple effect it would have on the rest of the league, and on Toronto rivals in particular: Read more

NCAA Frozen Four: Players to watch from every team in the tournament

Minnesota State goalie Stephon Williams (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

College hockey’s Frozen Four kicks off this week with 16 teams gunning for a spot in Boston, where the semifinal and final will be held in April. Regionals spread the squads across four cities and there is a lot of firepower at this year’s installment. But who are the players to watch for? Here’s a primer for every school, with an admitted bias towards NHL prospects.

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Ondrej Pavelec’s monster desperation save keeps Jets in playoff hunt

Jared Clinton
Ondrej Pavelec (Lance Thomson/Getty Images)

Ondrej Pavelec‘s tenure as a Winnipeg Jet may be over as soon as this coming off-season, so if Thursday was one of his final games in Manitoba’s capital, he made sure to leave a lasting mark.

With the Jets barely clinging to a playoff spot and taking on the Central Division leading St. Louis Blues, Pavelec made one of the desperation saves of the year — in terms of importance, there may not be a bigger one made this regular season. The monster stop came late in the second period with the Blues on the power play. St. Louis’ Paul Stastny found T.J. Oshie alone at the side of the net, Oshie fired a shot at the wide-open cage and Pavelec dove across like a man possessed to rob Oshie of the insurance marker: 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

Rumor Roundup: Without an extension, O’Reilly’s time in Colorado could be up

o'reilly

Despite considerable speculation this season over forward Ryan O’Reilly‘s future with the Colorado Avalanche, the 24-year-old was not among those on the move at the recent trade deadline. While he’ll finish this season with the Avalanche, it remains to be seen how long he’ll remain in Colorado.

O’Reilly’s $6-million annual cap hit and eligibility for unrestricted free agency in July 2016 makes him a frequent subject for trade rumors. The Denver Post’s Terry Frei praises O’Reilly as a well-respected and terrific two-way player who could be the final piece of the championship puzzle for an elite team but notes the decline in his production makes it difficult to justify his expensive salary. Read more

Five freshmen exceeding all expectations in their rookie seasons

John Klingberg (Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

Andrew Hammond’s run between the pipes for the Ottawa Senators is one of the best stories of the season. He won’t, however, be getting a nod for the Calder Trophy anytime soon. It’s not because he’s undeserving, but rather because he doesn’t technically qualify.

Hammond was 26 before September 2014 and, as such, was too old to be eligible for the trophy as the league’s best rookie. He may have just had an outside shot at winning the thing if he were to muscle the Senators in the postseason, too. Alas, he’ll have to settle for free McDonald’s for the rest of his life.

So, while Hammond won’t be on this list of the top five unexpectedly good rookie seasons, here are several players who are turning heads in their freshman years: Read more