A quick observation on the heels of the Canuck game Saturday night. I really like the way that both Frattin and Bozak are ramping up their physical game. That strikes me as a sign they are both maturing (Frattin very quickly at this level) as they gain confidence. That bodes well for their all-around game going forward. Frattin's work off the wing makes me think he may be one of those rare guys who can play his off-wing effectively...
Peaking at the NHL standings after Saturday night’s loss against the Canucks, I sat back and tried to make a realistic assessment when we talk about the Leafs making (or not making) the playoffs next April.
Without covering the same old ground about who’s playing well or not playing well for the Leafs, all I tried to review was who is absolutely going to make the top 8 in the East, and who definitely will not.
And, for those of us most consumed with where the Leafs finish, I tried to detect— where do they fit in this picture?
Let’s start with the teams that will, in my view, be there for sure next spring:
For me, those are the only teams that I just don’t see, over the course of an 82-game schedule, not making it. Obviously I could be very wrong and I always enjoy hearing your thoughts on all this, but that’s just how I see it. No statistical analysis or deep thoughts, I just see those teams as automatic for a whole bunch of reasons.
Teams that, for me, have no real shot are:
Islanders- Do I really have to defend this selection?
Carolina- Just don’t have the depth to overcome any serious injuries. Staal looks lost to me, and he is the straw that stirs the drink.
Ottawa- Look, I’m as shocked as anyone at what they have accomplished, but I will be absolutely stunned if they make the top 8. In truth, I didn't think they'd win 15 games this season, much less 15 games by now.
Tampa Bay- They are back where I think they belong. Some good young defensemen but basically a handful of elite forwards and not much else up front, with a great goalie who is finally showing his age some nights…
That’s a total of 9 teams who I am claiming will or won’t make it for certain. That leaves 6 teams fighting for 3 spots in the Eastern Conference.
So let’s now look at who will fight it out for those spots:
Winnipeg- I just don’t see it. Great market, great fan base. Tons of young talent. Just not sure they are a team that has shown they will be consistent enough and win enough big games down the stretch to be “there” in April. I’d be happy if I was wrong on this one. I’d like to see the Jets make it. I love a lot of their youngsters.
Montreal- I’m a bit thrown off my earlier thought by this coaching change. I actually think they may play better with Cunneyworth, who has long been touted as a “next” NHL head coach. They have Price, and while they are tiny tots up front, I see them hanging around just enough to be on the bubble come March/April.
New Jersey- As much as I want to be proven wrong by the Jets, I’d like to be proven right when I say the Devils will not make it. I just think they have gone way backwards. They are relying on guys I thought were long past their due date (Sykora and Elias) and a 40-year old goalie, great as he once was. They can try to spin that Kovalchuk is a better all-around player now. I don’t see that when I watch them play, so I don’t buy it. Too much money spent on one guy. They will miss the playoffs.
Florida- How can I say a first-place team might not make the playoffs? Well, because I’ve seen mirages before. Good coaching (a first time, first-year coach often provides this kind of jump-start…) helps, but I just can’t see that roster surviving through a long NHL schedule. Could they make the playoffs, built on the backs of the very nice ‘nest-egg’ points they have created so far? Absolutely. So I’ll put them in the “they’ll be right there category”…
Buffalo: This will surprise some, who will no doubt think I’m so far off base it’s not even funny. It’s just that I think Ruff has been around an awful long-time, and even though there has been roster turnover there, that’s a long time listening to the same old voice when they aren’t really that good, anyway, to begin with. Again, they certainly have some nice young players like Myers and a couple of the energetic small guys up front help their cause. But I think Miller is not unbeatable many nights this season, and that’s huge. They will “ be right there” sure, but could miss.
So this is how I see it shaking down, if anyone is keeping score and wants to cheer for or against teams over the next few months based on my rather unscientific assessment. I think it will come down to the Leafs, Florida, Buffalo and Montreal, with Winnipeg and Jersey falling out of the picture.
So it looks like three spots for four teams. Should be close and a lot of fun, come spring.
Do you see things shaping up differently?