Mark Scheifele and Tyler Myers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Once again, the left-hand side of the hockey map is looking deadly come playoff time. Though the teams have switched up, the lower-seeded squads in the conference will be far from underdogs.
St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong has done a lot of roster building over the past few years and if the franchise is going to win its first-ever Stanley Cup, the window is open. Of course, the Blues could also get knocked out in the first round again and no one would bat an eye – the West is just that competitive.
"Quite honestly, 16 teams make the playoffs and all eight in the West could win the Cup," Armstrong said. "The wild cards could be Winnipeg and Minnesota – that doesn't sound like a great reward for finishing first."
And Armstrong has a solid point. Have you watched the Jets lately? I mean, I'm in the tank for Drew Stafford, but he has looked amazing since coming over from Buffalo in the Evander Kane trade. Same for Tyler Myers on defense – the 6-foot-8 reach was always there, but it's so much more effective now that he has his confidence back.
On top of that, Ondrej Pavelec is on a severe hot streak in net and goaltending was Question Mark No. 1 coming into the season. If he can stay on track – or at least not go completely off the rails – then the Jets will remain a potent threat.
As for Minnesota, the Wild were similar to the Jets in that they just needed goaltending and Devan Dubnyk has brought that. With that chore taken care of, you're left with a deep team dotted with big-time players such as Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and the unheralded Marco Scandella.
And this of course assumes that the playoff picture stays as is. The Los Angeles Kings are so, so close to a playoff berth and you know what that means: bracket anarchy. Because if the Kings get in, they automatically become favorites to win it all. Chicago will have to make it through a couple tough rounds just to give Patrick Kane a chance to get healthy enough for action, with Pekka Rinne and Nashville as a likely opening opponent.
But the Kings? This is how they roll, baby. Sure, they'll tell you it would be much better to have home-ice advantage and not have to white-knuckle it right down to Game 82 just to get into the dance, but we've seen this film before and it ends in a parade.
Fun story: We're putting together our playoff preview magazine right now and after our prediction for the Cup winner, the biggest debate was how high we should put the Kings in our power rankings, even though at the time, Los Angeles was further out of the post-season picture than today.
We just report on the sport; I can't imagine the anxiety that GMs and coaches at the top of Western standings are feeling right now.