The Canucks are battling for home ice advantage and maybe, just maybe, the divisional crown.
In the Eastern Conference there are only ten points separating fourth and tenth spots. In the West - as I write this - there are only six points between fifth and eleventh.
There is an argument about manufactured parity and three point games, but that’s a debate for another day. The league has its wish and has a nail-biting playoff race that will go down to the very last weekend. It’s a marketing dream.
But let’s stop looking skyward for a moment. At the other end of the scale are the also-rans: the teams who are vying for a choice draft pick. The league had to go to a lottery system back in 1995 to address questions about the effort of certain bottom-feeding teams. Some suggested clubs were intentionally tanking it in the final month to improve their draft position.
Justice prevailed in 1993 when the Senators limped to the line and chose highly sought-after Alexandre Daigle, who turned out to be a dog.
The lottery did work out well for some teams like the Kings who moved from 7th to 3rd in 1995 to pick up Aki Berg, and better yet for the Blackhawks moved from 5th to 1st last season to nab Patrick Kane.
The problem is it is still a heavily weighted system. The worst overall record still helps your team’s chances of securing the first overall pick. This year it is the John Tavares sweepstakes.
Some people feel that the 14 teams who miss the playoffs should have an equal chance and this would eliminate the value of losing games. I don’t agree with this as teams like Columbus - who have never made the playoffs - should have a greater opportunity to improve through the draft than a team like Anaheim, who have recent Cup memories.
The dilemma the league faces is they have to trust the teams to give it their best, or should I say to be as competitive as they can in all 82 games.
Ron Wilson went snaky on his beat reporter when it was suggested that his team wasn’t giving it their all early in the season. The Leafs are eleven points out of the playoffs yet have more wins and points than I ever thought they would have. Toronto will finish where most people thought they would.
The Islanders are a bad team and will more than likely finish last, but something happened last week that makes me wonder. If I was Colorado or Tampa - the two teams closest to the bottom - I would also wonder.
The Isles played a good game at home and got into a shootout against the Flyers. They ended up losing the shootout, and hey you might say one point against a team 23 points ahead in the standings isn’t bad, but where it gets interesting is in the selection of the shooters.
The team that scores first in the shootout wins more than 80% of the time. The first shooter for the Islanders: Brendan Witt. He wasn’t a fifth round shooter after the Isles had used their better scorers, he was their lead-off guy. Brendan Witt is their shut-down defenceman and is known for his toughness. He has scored zero goals this year and chipped in with nine assists.
The other shooters were Mark Streit, their leading scorer and Frans Nielsen. The Islanders lost.
The question is: were they happy?