The main crux of the March Madness that has swept Vancouver is that the Canucks have nothing to play for, having wrapped up the division sometime around December when the Minnesota Wild finally fell back to earth, and hard.
In fact, for the past couple of years, betting on the Canucks to win the Northwest has been perhaps the safest bet in all of sports. While the Canucks have been challenging for the President’s Trophy in the regular season, their divisional counterparts have been challenging for lottery picks.
But nothing lasts forever (in the cold November rain) and one day the Canucks will actually have to exert effort to win the division; but when?
Let’s take a quick rundown of the four teams in the Northwest and their ability to one day take a run at the Cup.
The Avs are a hard-working team currently in the hunt for the playoffs and holding down the eighth spot as I write this. After their offseason move for Semyon Varlamov, Colorado seems to be in a contend now mode, aided by a couple years of savvy draft picks.
Up front, prospects Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene should be thorns in the Canucks side for years, while newly acquired Steve Downie is thriving in his new surroundings. If Colorado can get Paul Stastny going again, they could be very dangerous up front.
Similarly, Erik Johnson on the blueline has to achieve his potiental for the Avs to have a chance considering he’s the only defender of value on that blueline.
The Avs are playoff fringe contenders, but with the retirement of Milan Hejduk looming, it’s going to take a drafting or trading miracle to elevate them to divisional contenders.
The Wild were the toast of the league until they violently crashed back to earth. They’re also the most harmless team in the division. Quite simply, if you thought Calgary’s spinning their tires, the Wild have even less direction. With no prospects to speak of, they’re depending on Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu to work miracles.
There are some other nice pieces like Devon Setoguchi, Cal Clutterbuck, and uh, Tom Gilbert I guess, but this a franchise that has lacked direction and an identity for a long long time.
Don’t worry about Minnesota, no one else is.
Is this the year they finally drive for eighth? Jay Feaster’s commitment to not re-building is a lot of things, but this year it could land them a couple of home playoff games before bowing out in the first round.
The Flames are racing against time with the impending retirement of Jarome Iginla and the re-addition of Mike Cammalleri seems to have done good. Even Matt Stajan is playing well these days.
The Flames are a bottom seed playoff team if things break right for them, as they are now. The problem is when Iginla retires, the identity of this team will be gutted. Even Kiprusoff is getting long in the tooth.
Sven Bartschi is back in the WHL after scoring three goals in four games and is a young player to watch for the Flames (how weird is that?) but this is a team in need of a re-build before they punch any higher than squeaking into the playoffs.
The wildcard. The diaper snipers in Edmonton should be enough to make Vancouver fans break into a cold sweat in a couple of years, provided that the Oilers surround them with a competent team.
If they can move Sam Gagner for a young defender, and use their pick this year to further shore up the blueline, this is the team that stands the best chance of toppling the Canucks.
Of course, this is predicated on the basis of the Oilers making four to five good moves including but not limited to finding a goaltender and firing one or both of Tom Renney and Steve Tambellini.
The Oilers are taking the rebuild at a snail’s pace, with Darcy Hordichuk and Ben Eager as their only summer moves, it’s hard not to see the tank. But like Magikarp, one day they could evolve and kill us all.