By Cole Parkinson
Last year five Canadian NHL teams made the playoffs but this year is looking much more grim in terms of Canadian content.
While it may not be as bad as the 2015-16 season where no Canadian teams qualified, it still doesn’t look to be a satisfying end to the 2017-18 NHL regular season for most Canadian hockey fans.
Let’s start off with the two teams I think are locks to make it past the regular season — the Winnipeg Jets and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While the Jets didn’t make the cut last year, this year they look like a bonafide playoff team that could definitely do some damage once playoffs roll around in a few months and the Jets currently own the top spot in the Central Division.
Winnipeg brought in Steve Mason to strap on the pads in hopes of him being a good 1A or 1B option after last year’s less than stellar performances in goal after a rotation by committee.
This year though, to no ones surprise, Mason has been well below average while Connor Hellebuyck has been a steady option as he has improved on his numbers from last year.
This year he has posted a 2.40 goals against average and a .922 save percentage in 37 games compared to last year’s offering of 2.89 GAA and .908 save percentage in 56 games.
Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine continue to be a dominant first line and even with the injury to Scheifele, the Jets have continued to find ways to win.
The Maple Leafs on the other hand play in the NHL’s weakest division and have played fairly decent so far so I think it’s safe to pencil them into a playoff spot as they currently sit in third in the Atlantic.
Mitch Marner and William Nylander have found themselves at times to be in sophomore slumps but both players have seemingly broken the mold over the past month or so with solid play.
Nylander currently has 31 points while Marner has 30 which is good enough for second and third behind only Auston Matthews.
Matthews continues to lead the team with 33 points even after missing significant time with two separate injuries but on most nights he is the Leafs best player.
Frederik Andersen is a big reason the Leafs have been able to win a lot of games in the first half.
His 2.69 GAA and .921 SV% have been slight improvements on last year’s stats but if he would have been just average in October, he would have probably been among the league’s best.
The Leafs will have to improve their defensive play in the last half if they want to make a deep playoff run.
The one fringe team I think has a decent shot at making the playoffs are the Calgary Flames.
The Flames have had an up and down season so far but on paper they looked poised to make yet another playoff run.
They picked up Mike Smith as their number one starter and traded for Travis Hamonic to solidify their already strong D core.
Besides the changes the Flames management staff made, the team has been led by the players you would expect.
Johnny Hockey and Sean Monahan continue to be a deadly duo as they have 54 and 42 points respectively while Matthew Tkachuk continues to be an effective pest who puts up points.
Mike Smith has been solid between the pipes as well as he has posted a 2.46 GAA and .924 SV% which will be a big factor in whether or not they clinch a playoff spot.
The Flames recent hot streak has propelled them into second place within the Pacific and if they continue to play good hockey I wouldn’t be shocked if they stay there, the only problem is the L.A. Kings have a few games in hand.
With the Kings being a solid team, it should make for an exciting race between the Flames and the Kings heading down the stretch.
That brings us to the remaining four Canadian teams I don’t think will make the big dance.
I honestly think the biggest shock, in regard to Canadian teams, is how bad the Edmonton Oilers have played through the first half.
After last year’s exciting playoff run, the Oil were early Stanley Cup favourites and boy that has not turned out well for them.
With Connor McDavid, arguably the best player in the league, and a decent squad behind him, they were expected to build off of last year’s run but I think it’s too late.
While they aren’t way behind in the standings, the way they have played all season leads me to believe it’s all over in Oil Country but hey, isn’t the biggest prize for Edmonton Oilers fans winning the draft anyways? I kid (kind of) but any team with Connor McDavid has a chance to turn the ship around fairly quickly.
Next up is the Vancouver Canucks who are in “lose in a dignified way” mode right now.
Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser are fantastic young players that will be staples for the Canucks for years to come and they have stud Elias Pettersson playing pro hockey over in Sweden as a 19 year old.
If they were to bottom out and win the draft, they could potentially be on the right side of the playoff cut next year because you have to think they’d take fellow Swede Rasmus Dahlin if they won.
Adding both Dahlin and Pettersson would be a massive upgrade to their backend.
The Ottawa Senators are a train wreck.
I think that’s the right terminology for a team that was one goal away from making it to the Stanley Cup Final and are now fading fast in the standings this year.
I think the Sens were very much in the same realm as the Oilers – they have one of the best players in the league in Erik Karlsson and a solid team but they just can’t seem to turn the corner this season.
The trade for Matt Duchene has been mediocre at best and now Pierre Dorion is in the tough position of assessing what to do for the remainder of the season.
While I think it’s safe to say they are done this year, I think it would be hard to start a full rebuild one year removed from a deep playoff run, but it should be an interesting few months in Ottawa.
Finally, the Montreal Canadiens.
I think it is fair to disclose (if you don’t know already) that I’m a die hard Leafs fan so seeing the Canadiens collapse in on themselves brings a particular joy that is hard to describe.
That said, it is hard to believe they haven’t been able to make up any ground in the Atlantic Division.
I think Habs fans were holding out hope Carey Price would go on an all time run after his injury and singlehandedly drag the Habs back into the playoff picture.
It hasn’t happened so far but if there was a player and a goalie who could, my money would be on Price.
The team around him isn’t that great and with talks of trading captain Max Pacioretty creeping into the media, I think Marc Bergevin is looking to retool.
A full on rebuild won’t happen especially since they just signed Price to a mammoth deal worth $10.5 million for the next eight years and the contract doesn’t even kick in until next season.
While 75 per cent of me wants to watch the Habs go into a 20 year playoff drought, the other 25 per cent of me wants a Leafs-Habs playoff series, so it really is an internal struggle.
With all being said we really are only a few months away from playoff hockey but there is still plenty of things that have to be decided before we get there and I for one can’t wait to continue this rollercoaster of a season.