The 2013-14 NHL season is quickly reaching the home stretch and the run to the playoffs is already beginning. It is the grueling portion of the season where the good teams step up and the weak teams fade away and start planning their draft. I decided to take a look at the playoff picture right now a determine who is a true contender and who is a pretender.
St. Louis Blues: The St. Louis Blues were already in good shape going into the NHL trade deadline. The trade with Buffalo that brought Steve Ott and Ryan Miller into town only solidified their status as a true contender; not only for the NHL playoffs, but as a favorite to make it deep into the playoffs. The Blues fell short last year in an amazing series with the Los Angeles Kings, but with this lineup, I think they can make the Finals.
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks have stumbled a little bit after the Olympic break, but it is just a small bump in the road in the grand scheme of the season. This is still one of the best teams in the West, and the second behind the Blues when looking at overall points for the entire league.
Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks are the member of the Big Three in the West. While the Blues and the Ducks have been turning heads, the Blackhawks are up to their usual winning ways and are likely to be one of the teams still alive in the later rounds of the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins have been in the lead spot of the Metropolitan Division since the first month of the season. It is not a spot they are likely to relinquish in the next month. Looking at all of the teams in the East, the Penguins are the most likely to not only go deep in the playoffs, but also contend for the Cup.
Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings are currently on the outside looking in. However, after making the playoffs every year for the last two decades, I do not see Detroit falling short this season. Despite some costly injuries, they have kept their playoff hopes alive. Detroit will likely be one of the two wild card teams in the East.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Blue Jackets and contender are usually not words that you use in the same sentence. The Blue Jackets currently hold a Wild Card spot in the East, and I believe they could actually finish that way. Columbus has been playing outstanding hockey this year, but it remains to be seen if they can hold on for another month. If Sergei Bobrovsky can avoid fatigue and continue to keep the Jackets in games, then they have the offensive talent to win. The recent injury to Ryan Murray will hurt, but the team is not short on blue line depth. The Marian Gaborik trade worried some fans, but Columbus has played just fine without him for the majority of the season.
New York Rangers / Tampa Bay Lightning: When we look back at the 2013-14 season, I believe the Rangers trading Ryan Callahan for Martin St. Louis will be one of the defining moments for both of these teams. Both teams are currently in the playoff picture, but I believe only one will remain that way by April. Tampa Bay is in a rut and will likely fall out of the Wild Card spot they currently hold. I believe the Rangers will either hold their spot or come in as a wild card, but will come up short in the playoffs. Callahan was the heart and sole of the team, and will not be easily replaced.
Dallas Stars: The Dallas Stars still hold one of the Wild Card spots in the West, but Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Phoenix are still breathing down their necks. The trade deadline debacle in the Vancouver has to be a welcome sight for Dallas, as I believe they will start to fade, and Winnipeg has started to trail off as well. Phoenix will likely be Dallas’ main competition for the final Wild Card spot and I honestly like the Coyotes chances better. Dallas is building something good, but I just don’t think they are ready to contend in the playoffs.
Philadelphia Flyers: Steve Mason. Those two words will limit the Flyers potential. Yes, the Flyers hold the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division and will likely make the playoffs, at the very least as a Wild Card. However, I am not buying the one year Steve Mason turnaround yet. He has been remarkably better since being traded from Columbus. But playoff contender good? I’ll need to see some more before I am a believer.