Playoff CanCon: No one is a lock
Only Canucks, Sens have inside track
Once the lockout was settled, it didn't take long for NHL analysts to leap into prediction mode.
It's the usual hockey schtick, on camera or in print. Rank the teams, pick the award winners and the Stanley Cup champs. Then, hope nobody remembers your goofy selections when the playoffs roll around, unless you luck into a winning hand.
For hockey media types north of the border, a tributary of that river of forecasts is playoff Can Con. Canadian content. How many of the Magnificent Seven will get into the Top 16, east and west? Canadian sports television networks and regional sports forums are desperate to know.
One week into a 48-game schedule, it's way too early to tell. But we have gleaned a few early signs about Canada's teams. Before the first drop of the puck, the consensus across the country was that the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators would repeat as the two domestic clubs with a shot at playoff contention.
We'll see. Nothing is assured. IF Vancouver and Ottawa qualify, which of the other teams has the best shot of getting in? Edmonton? Montreal?
A few notes on a scorecard from the early games, running west to east like the chill Prairie wind.
Vancouver: Too bad I'm not writing this AFTER Friday's late game in Anaheim. The Canucks have a lot to answer for after getting outscored 12-8 in their first three games, including that horrific 7-3 loss to the Ducks.
That opener at GM Place was followed by a shootout loss to the Oilers and a shootout win over Calgary. Early panic in V-town?
Sports radio is on fire, for sure. But it says here they get it sorted out. Goaltender Roberto Luongo will get moved and Cory Schneider will settle in.
Edmonton: There was only one barstool topic Friday - the "celly" of Oilers rookie Nail Yakupov, after he scored the tying goal in the dying seconds of the third period against the Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings, before the Oilers won it in OT on a Sam Gagner goal. Some of us aren't fans of the soccer-style, race-from-your-teammates-to-drape-yourself-in-glory-celebration, but Yaku-pov's exuberance is the epitome of the Oil's passion and youth. It's going to be fun watching this team grow and grow up. The Oilers can't get back into the playoffs soon enough.
Calgary: How maddening it must be to be a fan of a team that refuses to change course despite icebergs cracking the hull of the ship. Must be time to change deckchairs. Again. If the Flames had rebuilt and restocked the minor-league system along the lines of Ottawa, they might be a playoff team by now. Instead, it looks like they will get worse before they get better.
Winnipeg: They were the Atlanta Thrashers, keep in mind. This is going to take a while. There are some nice pieces, but little depth, especially on defence. Will help when Zach Bogosian is able to return from his wrist injury, but Jets fans will have to continue to enjoy the buzz of getting their team back while finding the patience to think long term.
Ottawa: Coach Paul MacLean likes to say he has so much respect for teams around the league he is "scared to death" about how his team is going to show up from night to night. Actually, the Senators have shown some of that healthy humility while bolting to a 3-0 record before Friday's game at Tampa Bay. If the Sens can maintain that blue-collar effort and stay healthy, they should improve on their eighth-place finish of last season.
Toronto: Wild times in the Big Smoke. General man-ager Brian Burke is canned so quickly after the lockout it feels like his firing was written into the new collective bargaining agreement.
Luongo trade rumours fly, the Leafs hold fast with Ben Scrivens and James Reimer, and then the games - a nail-biter special versus the Cana-diens, a one-goal loss to the Sabres, then a stunning 5-2 rout of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unfortunately, they also lost Joffrey Lupul to a broken arm. The Islanders?
The Leafs were running on fumes by the end of that 7-4 loss. It's going to be like this with back-to-back games rampant in the short schedule. Only a hopeless optimist would see the Leafs grabbing a playoff spot for the first time since the 2004-05 lock-out. But one of these years ...
Montreal: Could the Habs be the third Canadian wheel in the playoffs? Habs or Oilers, likely, and the Eastern Conference looks like a friendlier place to play this season. We sometimes forget playoff berths are relative creatures. A string of injuries to the Philadelphia Flyers, a listless start by the Washington Capitals, could open a spot for a club on the margins. If the Canadiens are to be that club, they will need inspired goaltending from Carey Price and it would really help to get P.K. Subban signed to a deal and back on the ice. Andrei Markov is a physical marvel. It's wonderful to see him bounce back from horrible knee injuries and surgeries to his rightful place on the Habs' blue-line.
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