Oh sure, some of the top teams did their best to separate from the pack by acquiring big names with big contracts in big deals. But of all the things and all the movement that happened in the hours leading up to noon Tuesday, perhaps the biggest surprise was what didn’t happen with that cluster of teams hovering right around the playoff bar.
None of the Canucks, Calgary, Minnesota, Nashville or Phoenix did anything to significantly alter their line-ups or bolster their chances of locking down a playoff spot. Colorado was easily the big mover among the teams in the middle of the standings while the Blue Jackets appear to be ready to run the white flag up the pole.
| INSIDE THE BOX |
| Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. |
E-mail him at email@example.com
What it all means is that door remains wide open for the Canucks to successfully defend the Northwest Division title they won a year ago. Certainly the Flames (who currently sit atop the division), the Wild and the Avs will all give it their best shots to wrestle that title away. But, realistically, Tuesday was a good day for the Canucks and their aspirations for both the division crown and a playoff spot.
Heading into Wednesday’s showdown with the revamped Avalanche, the Canucks now have at least a game in hand on the three other contenders in the division.
With 20 games to go in the regular season and most figuring 96 points will assure teams of a post-season berth, the Canucks are now at the point in their season where winning 12 of their final 20 games will get them to that number. Twelve wins in 20 games certainly seems manageable. As few as 10 wins sprinkled with a couple of bonus points may well do the trick as well.
The Canucks are playing well, are getting healthier by the day and starting with Wednesday’s game against Colorado begin a stretch of the schedule that will see them play four of their next six games on home ice and six of their next seven against teams currently on the wrong side of the Western Conference playoff bar.
That’s not to suggest there will be any easy games in that bunch, but it does present the Canucks with an opportunity to continue to solidify their hold on a top-eight position and offers the Canucks a chance to keep the heat on both the Flames and Wild ahead of them.
The next seven games are vital to the Vancouver Canucks. If they can make some hay against those teams below them in the standings, they will likely be very well positioned for a fantastic finish. A slip at this critical juncture, though, and it will likely be tough to make up a lot of ground with road games still to come in places like Anaheim and Dallas.
The bottom line is – and anyone who’s looked at the Canucks schedule since the day it was released last summer has known for a while – the team’s playoff fate and the Northwest Division title will not be decided until the final two and a half weeks of the season. If people think the stakes are high now, they haven’t seen anything yet.
The Canucks finish the year with seven of their final eight games against the Avs, Flames and Wild. Calgary and Colorado both play seven of their final nine against that same group of teams while Minnesota finishes with seven of its last 10 against the other division leaders.
The Canucks head into Wednesday’s game with Colorado having won four straight for the first time all season, five of six and six of eight. They’ve also managed to pick up points in eight of their first 10 games in February.
That was one of the main reasons Dave Nonis took the trade deadline option of sticking with the group he assembled to start the season.
Other than Colorado, no one else made any kind of airlift Tuesday to put a dent in the Canucks’ chances of hanging on to a playoff spot. In that regard, Tuesday was a “good news” day for the Canucks and their fans.
The general manager showed faith in his players on Tuesday and now it’s up to the guys in the locker room to prove Dave Nonis right. And if all goes well, there will be plenty more good news to come down the stretch and then again once the playoffs get underway.