Alarmist headline, but here me out!
Next year is the first year of re-alignment where the Canucks are moved out of the cozy Northwest Division and the ragtag group of teams that have failed to make the playoffs for years are plucked in a brand new as-of-yet unnamed division that for this article’s sake, we’ll call the Pacific*.
The Albertan teams remain but Colorado and Minnesota are swapped for the three Californian squads and Phoenix. Of those, four will make the playoffs.
Let’s throw Calgary out of the mix right away, cause whatever, and look at the six remaining teams.
Los Angeles is Los Angeles, winners of six playoff rounds the past two years and your 2012 Stanley Cup champions.
They’re essentially the same team from these years prior, save for a Jonathan Bernier trade and a Dan Carcillo acquisition. Still, those are cosmetic changes.
Your Kopitar/Richards/Carter/Doughty/Quick core remains, and that makes them the early favourite to be the best team in the Pacific*.
San Jose Sharks
They, like the Kings, are bringing back the same core for another go in 2013-2014, a mix of the old in Thornton/Marleau and the new in Couture/Pavelski. They aren’t leaving the playoff picture anytime soon.
The Anaheim Ducks tore up the first half of the shortened season and were the only team to keep pace with the torrid tear of the Blackhawks.
Half of a half a season however is a quarter of a real season (math!), and with the Bobby Ryan trade there is no guarantee they will replicate that success.
Still, let’s not pronounce them dead just yet, the Bruce Boudreau era remains too early to call. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are as good as they get, and in this age of parity that could be all the Ducks need.
The Phoen– er, Arizona Coyotes are the same wildcard they’ve always been.
Dave Tippett has been doing god’s work down in the desert working with the smallest resource base perhaps in all professional sports and dragging the team kicking and screaming into the playoffs to the chagrin of patriotic hockey Canadians everywhere.
The Coyotes suck on paper, whether that paper be roster reports or financial reports, but they are the ultimate reminder that the game is played on frozen ice and not frozen trees. Wildcard, wildcard, wildcard.
And then there’s the Edmonton Oilers. Is this the year? Finally?
Tambo is gone and Mactavish is making things happen this offseason, acquiring Andrew Ference, Boyd Gordon, and David Perron while dumping Shawn Horcoff’s corpse off in Dallas.
It’s a far cry from summers past, where the Oilers drafted first overall, put a blanket over their heads, turned off the light and hoped for the best.
The message is clear: they’re trying to make the playoffs and take that fateful step out of the basement. It has to start somewhere.
So let’s go ahead and give the Kings and Sharks a spot.
That leaves two spots for the three other teams mentioned and a Vancouver team with a new coach, a disgruntled goaltender, and a whole lot of stink over the years they’re desperately trying to wash off.
Is it inconceivable they miss the playoffs? Not likely, but certainly within the realm of possibility.
Some combination of the Canucks faltering and their division playing above their heads could make 2013-2014 end the same way 2007-2008 or 2005-2006 did.
The regular season is a cakewalk and doesn’t matter? Not anymore. Hold on to your butts.