Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Deadline Dud: Parity limits action

Disappointment was the scene at TSN for a second straight trade deadline. Parity ruled the day.

For a second consecutive year, the NHL Trade Deadline was fairly quiet with only 16 deals struck. Compare that to the 31 made in 2010 and that's a combined 32 the past two years. Big difference. One of the reasons for the decrease is that GMs are unwilling to cave to high prices. Unless you're Nashville, Vancouver or Boston, who all paid premium to win now, most organizations stuck to their guns.

Combine the outrageous costs with just about every team still mathematically alive and it's becoming harder for general managers to sell. Do they really want to be the one to tell fans that they don't believe their team can make it? With approximately 20 games left, all it'll take is a good run along with some luck. It's happened before. Considering all the three-point games due to the shootout, it allows more clubs to compete for the postseason. There's also the tiebreaker which hurts teams who depend on the shootout, putting more of an emphasis on regulation/overtime wins. For clubs such as the Devils who seem like a lock to make it, they must continue to play well.  The Avs are another team who'll need more traditional victories to qualify out West.

A look at the standings shows that everyone in the East is still in the hunt, including Montreal, who sits last with 58 points. Eleven total points separates eighth Washington from 15th Montreal, meaning anything's possible. Even the free falling Leafs are only four back despite a terrible month. After thoughts such as Tampa Bay and Carolina are within striking distance while underachiever Buffalo is a hot stretch away from making a push. The Islanders need to erase last night's gut wrenching 3-2 overtime loss at Washington from their memory banks and focus on the remaining 19 if they hope to reach their goal.

Even wilder is a five-team Southeast race with the Panthers leading the division with 72 points. Three better than the Caps and four ahead of Winnipeg. The Lightning have ridden the torrid pace of Rocket Richard leader Steven Stamkos (44 goals) to stay eight out of first while the Canes have been carried by rejuvenated star Eric Staal. Eleven is the margin for Carolina with 19 games remaining. But eight is the cutoff if they chase down rival Washington. It's still not a given Florida wins the division but they've been the most consistent.

In the West, 13 teams are vying for eight spots. Excluding last overall Columbus and 14th Edmonton, who must make up 14 points with 20 to go, the other 13 have realistic chances. After the elite four of Vancouver, Detroit, St. Louis and Nashville, eleven points separates Pacific leading Phoenix from 13th Anaheim. Loose translation: Anyone can win that division and clinch a top three seed, plus home ice. After that, there are no guarantees. Even battle tested clubs such as San Jose and Chicago (tied w/73 points), who hold down the sixth and seventh seeds are fighting just to get in. By virtue of one less game played, Dallas sits in eighth with 70 while Colorado and Los Angeles are tied but have 18 games left to the Stars' 19.

Calgary has dropped four in a row (0-2-2) after playing well. They are three out while the Wild sit five back and the Ducks trail by six. Had Anaheim won the other night in Colorado, they'd have been within two after one of the worst first halves. Similar to last year's Devils, the Ducks are trying to make up all the ground to qualify. Will they run out of steam?

For the NHL, parity makes for compelling races. Who can be the 2010 Flyers or the 2006 Oilers? There aren't many locks anymore. Unless you think the Rangers are that much superior to a team that's ousted them recently. The same goes for Florida and Philly if that's a first round series. Out West, do any of the top four want to see San Jose or Chicago? Home ice is no longer the same. Anyone can beat anyone. The playoffs are a war of attrition. You'll get games similar to Devils/Rangers Monday, Canucks/Coyotes and Flyers/Sharks last night.

It's all about who's hot. For now, enjoy our own March Madness. It starts tomorrow and doesn't end till Spring.

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