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Star-crossed no longer? (an intensive look at the Western Conference bubble)

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(Billy Shakespeare just did his "American Beauty" impression: throwing a plate of asparagus at the wall to the horror of Annette Benning and their floppy breasted daugther.)


So, the Stars are on a five game winning streak. The streak of winning by at least two goals also continued, as they beat the home-dependent Calgary Flames 3-1.

Word around the blogosphere is that Sean Avery completed his "program" which one must assume is a lot like Ed Helms' anger management course in "The Office." Chances are, Avery will be banished to the kid's table (in this case, some AHL team that needs publicity ... CHOPS, maybe?).

Know your enemy

The Stars are visiting the ice cold Colorado Avalanche tonight. The Avs are 2-7 in their last nine games, oddly enough only being able to get wins against the Flames. Joe Sakic's snowblower incident is well documented (mockumented?), but the Avs are also missing their franchise center of the future Paul Statsny (still third for Colorado in points with 31 despite only playing in 34 games).

Like most sub-elite teams in the Western Conference, the Avs aren't that far off the eight spot with 49 points (5 behind the free falling Vancouver Canucks). Of course, they're also currently ranked second to last in the Conference and could end up being passed by the semi-resurgent Blues.

While it is true that the Avs haven't shown up on my TV very often enough for a scholarly judgment, it's probably logical to point to Colorado as a seller at the trade deadline. Hejduk_medium

It's doubtful that any team would choke down Ryan Smyth's lengthy, expensive contract, but Milan Hedjuk is a talented player whose cap hit is more than reasonable and would be a better rental since he has one season left on his contract ($3.9 million per year, expires in 2009-10).

Perhaps the Avs will find someone to take one of their overpaid defensemen off the books: they have five guys making between $3 and $4.5 million (and none of them are franchise D, although I do admire the idea of calling one Brett "The Hitman" Clark).

There's really not much of an excuse to avoid cleaning house at this point.

Bubble bursting

How unbelievable is it that the Stars are within a breath of being the fifth seed in the West? Naturally, this scenario could change by next week. Let's take a brief look at the situations for each team with a shot at one of the final playoff spots:

5. Anaheim (26-23-5, 57 points, 28 games left, 13 at home; 15 on the road) Hiller5_medium

The Ducks certainly are tough nut to crack. With the talent they have, they can still put together a really nice Stanley Cup run. Or they can get kicked out by the first round. Or maybe they'll end up trading Pronger during the deadline. This team is confusing.

6. Dallas (24-18-7, 55 points, 33 games left, 18 at home; 15 on the road) Lehtinen_getty_medium

Only two points behind Anaheim with 5 games in hand, the Stars are in pretty good shape right now. With nine games out of 12 at home in February, this is a great time for everything to come together. This team's been streaky but there's a lot to like right now.

7. Minnesota (26-21-3, 55 points, 32 games left, 14 at home; 18 on the road) Tp-nummelin-vs-nsh-021708_medium

The Wild's performance lately has been suitably bland as they've been mostly alternating wins and loses. Seven of their next 11 games are in Minnesota. They sure as hell better kick ass in Hallmark month, because their March schedule is absolutely brutal.


From the end of Feb to early March, they have a six game road Western road trip (CGY - EDM - VAN - SJ - LA - ANA) followed by one home game (San Jose) and then a three game road trip (Colorado - STL - Dallas). That nine in ten game string features two back to backs and a bunch of bubble teams scratching and clawing to make the postseason. March also has another four game road trip.

(Overall, March features 6, 4 and 3 game road trips without back to back home games.)

8. Vancouver (23-20-8, 54 points, 31 games left, 14 at home; 17 on the road)

Don't expect the Vancouver to look all that great for the next month or so. It would be a limp into the playoffs as their schedule isn't much more favorable than that of the Wild.

Seven of their next ten games are on the road (a three game and four game road trip with single home games in between). Although considering the fact that the Canucks lost an astonishing 8 straight home games, maybe they'd be better off away from Vancouver.

Even though they finish Feb/start March with a four game homestand and have another three-gamer in March, they finish that month with a 6-game road trip (PHO-DALLAS-STL-COL-CHI-MIN).

From the look of things, Mats Sundin might have an awful lot of time to play online poker soon enough.

9. Edmonton (25-22-3, 53 points, 32 games left, 15 at home; 17 on the road) Hemsky_medium

If the Oilers can survive the next stretch (seven road games in the next eight games, two back-to-backs all against tough West opponents) they will be in nice shape for the playoffs. The rest of their schedule only includes a four game road trip (and three of the those games are relatively easy: Ottawa, Toronto and Nashville).

It's hard to know what to expect from what seems like a very average Edmonton team. While they've been remarkably mediocre, their 13-11 road record is the fourth best in the conference. (Not by much, but then again "not by much" probably will be the margin between the #8 - 11 seeds ...)

Gotta love Ales Hemsky and some of their younger players. If the Oilers want to be buyers, why not buy now?

10. Columbus (24-22-5, 53 points, 31 games left, 16 at home; 15 on the road)

It's a good news/bad news situation for the Blue Jackets. On one hand, they are one of the rare teams that have more home than away games remaining. Aside from one 3-game road trip, the Jackets mostly face one or two road games in a row the rest of the way. And Columbus is fantastic at home.

The bad news is that the team is facing calamity after calamity this season. It might all come down to the health of Steve Mason, who developed mono while playing 18  games in a row.

If Mason can stay healthy, the Jackets will make their first ever playoff appearance. Without Mason, they're likely to watch for yet another year.

11. Phoenix (24-24-5, 53 points, 29 games left, 15 at home; 14 on the road) Mueller_medium

It's a shame that the Coyotes are in such a bind right now, because it would be a nice story if a team struggling as much financially could make the playoffs. The Coyotes are average a point from each game (53 points in 53 games) and face a stretch in which they play eight of nine games on the road.

Honestly, their chances aren't much better than the Kings' chances right now.

12 - 15 Kings, Nashville, Colorado, STL

Too lazy to do the rest of the conference, but even St. Louis isn't totally out of the picture. Los Angeles might have the best chance at making a stealth run: although they only have 49 points on the season they've only played 49 games.


So, here's my prediction based heavily on games in hand, the state of each team and their remaining schedules:

5. Dallas: They're on a hot streak, have games in hand and three more home than road games. Anything can happen but they are probably the safest team.

6. Anaheim: Even though some teams have as many as four games in hand on the Ducks, they'd have to win each one to tie or get a two-point lead on Anaheim. If they can survive their brutal 6-game stretch (those sure are fashionable aren't they?) they will be somewhere in the hunt.

7. Edmonton: They have a favorable schedule to Minnesota and aren't falling apart like Vancouver. These Northwest teams are going to cannibalize each other, but the Oilers might just have the sharpest knife.

8. Columbus: It's possible that they freefall if Mason is sidelined, but with no more than a three game road trip and more home games than road games, things look solid for Columbus.

Yeah, I know it's a little crazy, but Minnesota and Vancouver both have rough schedules and struggling offenses. Talent-wise, I think Vancouver's better than Edmonton and Columbus but nature vs. nurture, friends. The one pick I definitely made "for nature" was Anaheim, the team most likely to rise above their contextual challenges.

It'll be fun to find out how wrong I am. If there's still crazy congestion in early March maybe we'll take one more spin in the overly-simplified-analysis-mobile (which isn't anywhere near as cool as the Batmobile).

As far as you know.