Lessons learned from the last week of play in the NHL:
►Canada will be well represented in the playoffs
None of the NHL’s seven Canada-based teams made the playoffs in 2016, but that should change dramatically. The Montreal Canadiens have solidified their hold on the Atlantic Division lead by winning five consecutive games and the Ottawa Senators have been sitting just behind them. The Toronto Maple Leafs, though slumping lately, could grab a wild-card berth.
In the West, the Calgary Flames are challenging for a top-three spot in the Pacific Division thanks to a seven-game winning streak. The Edmonton Oilers, led by NHL scoring leader Connor McDavid, have been jostling with the Ducks for second place in the Pacific and are closing in on their first playoff berth since 2006, when they lost in the Stanley Cup final against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks are longshots but Vancouver deserves respect for playing hard and beating the Kings and the Ducks in consecutive weekend games.
►The Flames are sizzling
Calgary was on the verge of dropping out of the playoff scramble before going on a 12-2-1 surge that includes seven straight wins and points in nine straight games (8-0-1).
“Everyone’s buying in right now and everyone’s contributing,” forward Sean Monahan told the team’s website. “This is a great stretch and we’ve got to continue to build on it.”
►Don’t Forget the Blackhawks
The Minnesota Wild rightfully have generated a lot of buzz with their excellent season, and General Manager Chuck Fletcher added to that when he went all-in at the trade deadline to get forwards Martin Hanzal and Ryan White from the Arizona Coyotes for a first-round pick, a prospect and two other draft picks. But the Wild’s quest for a happy ending could again be thwarted by the Chicago Blackhawks, who have won seven in a row and nine of 10, and set a regular-season franchise record Saturday with their eighth consecutive road victory. They’ve kept their core together and productive, and the addition of defenseman Johnny Oduya allowed Coach Joel Quenneville to reunite the formidable defense duo of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The Blackhawks look ready to challenge for a fourth Cup championship in eight seasons.
►The future is starting now at general managers’ meetings
At a gathering Monday in Boca Raton, Fla., general managers were divided into small groups and asked to imagine what the game will look like in five or 10 years and how the NHL should move forward. Some ideas might be more practical than others, but at least they’re thinking ahead.
And here’s the answer to a future trivia question: Reid Duke. The question: Who was the first player signed by the Vegas Golden Knights? The NHL’s 31st team, granted official status last week, on Monday signed the 21-year-old forward as an unrestricted free agent.
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