By: Luke Johns, KCOU Sports
With under 15 games to go for every team in the league, it’s time to take a look at the biggest questions in the NHL during the stretch run.
1. Is winning the President’s Trophy a big deal?
Winning the President’s Trophy gives you home ice advantage throughout the playoffs, but does it really give you an advantage? Sometimes it may even be a less favorable matchup to win the trophy and face the conference’s eight seed (i.e. 2012 Vancouver Canucks). Overall since 2000 the President’s trophy winner has only won the Stanley Cup five times, and have been one-and-done four times.
So is it an advantage? It depends on the experience of the team. Obviously playoff hockey intensity isn’t comparable to regular season intensity. So a young team is more likely to let the pressure go to their heads. If this year’s President’s Trophy winner has players who have “been there done that” to keep the young players in order, it will be an advantage and could go a long way.
My best guess as to who will win it: New York Rangers. They’re hot and have the most games remaining (15) as of Sunday, and they play eight games against teams who aren’t contenders entering Sunday.
- Who will win the central division?
Of the three competitors (Blackhawks, Blues, and Predators) I like the Blues. They’ve been the most consistent among the three and have two games in hand on Nashville. The Blues also play six games in April, which gives them an opportunity to rack up crucial points.
As long as Tarasenko keeps it going and Brian Elliot’s game doesn’t go downhill, I can see the Blues leapfrogging past the Predators, who have been up and down as of late.
- Will the defending champs make the playoffs?
I’m going to say yes because I could easily see the Flames fade down the stretch and Darryl Sutter can find a way to get his guys to make a strong playoff push. The Pacific may be the weakest division, but it is close. Entering Sunday the Kings are a point behind the Jets and two behind the Flames. So it’s going to be a dog-fight, and the last playoff spot could very well be decided on the final day of the regular season.
Despite the fact that the Kings have a road trip coming up, I have a gut feeling that they will find a way to win the games when they have to. Also playing the Oilers twice in April helps.
- Could Ovechkin score 60 goals?
Entering Sunday he has 45 entering Sunday with 13 games left. He’s approaching the 50-goal milestone but it’s fair to say he has a shot at a greater milestone. He will surely eclipse 50 but the big question is could he go on a tear and score 15 more?
I’m going to say no because the Capitals overall have lost six of ten and Ovechkin has 11 goals in 20 games against the teams remaining on Washington’s schedule. Those opponents include the Rangers, Canadiens, and Bruins (twice), all of whom have goalies who have been playing well. Unfortunately, I just don’t think 60 is in the cards based on opponents and how Washington has been playing overall recently.
- Who will win the race for 30th?
It’s going to be between the Oilers, the Sabres, and the Coyotes. If there’s ever a year to tank, this is the year. Even getting the second pick in the draft would be good. The team that finishes last will have a 20 percent chance of winning the lottery and can’t have a pick worse than second, which will guarantee them either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.
I think the Sabres, who are currently in last, will stay that way for the rest of the year and get the number one pick. The Oilers have four more points than them entering Sunday and Arizona has a six point lead. Given their actions at the trade deadline, I don’t see why they’re trying to do anything but finish last, and I don’t see why they won’t hold on to their “lead.”