The NHL’s trade deadline made something clear: The race to the top of the Western Conference should be intense.
The fight for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl appears to be wide open after each contender added to its team. Unlike the Eastern Conference, where the Tampa Bay Lightning are heavy favorites, there are six teams in the West with a 10 percent chance or greater to go to the Stanley Cup Final, according to Hockey-Reference.com.
That should make the last month-plus of the season interesting as teams jockey for playoff position.
“You have to grab your confidence where you can,” Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “You don’t want any team in your conference to feel like they got your number, so every time you can win it’s a positive.”
The Jets are one point ahead of the Nashville Predators in the Central Division after adding a second-line center in Kevin Hayes and depth players Matt Hendricks and Bogdan Kiselevich. The Predators responded by acquiring wingers Wayne Simmonds and Mikael Granlund, who should help improve their last-ranked power play (12.5 percent).
“We work on it constantly, on the ice or on video,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said after a 5-1 loss to the Golden Knights on Feb. 16. “It’s just not working.”
The Pacific Division has a clearer pecking order, as the Calgary Flames are five points ahead of the second-place San Jose Sharks and the Sharks have a nine-point lead on the third-place Knights entering Saturday’s games. That doesn’t mean either team below the Flames has given up, though, as the Sharks brought in winger Gusev Nyquist and the Knights traded for “the top player available at the deadline,” according to general manager George McPhee, in winger Mark Stone.
The Knights have won three straight since acquiring Stone and have a 10.1 percent chance of repeating as Western Conference champions, according to Hockey-Reference.
“I look at standings all the time,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “I don’t pay a lot of attention to them, but I look at them all the time. Gotta win. The bottom line is, we control our own destiny. We have to win hockey games.”
Winning gets more difficult this time of the season with teams battling for seeding and playoff spots. The Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars also made trades at the deadline as they fight for the conference’s two wild-card spots.
“For a lot of teams, their playoffs have already started, so we’re going to have to make sure we’re matching that intensity,” Knights defenseman Colin Miller said. “I expect teams are probably going to want to be playing their best hockey, meshing their team and getting things shored up for the playoffs.”
The NHL began providing coaches with a new iPad app after the All-Star break that provides 60 real-time statistics during games. That’s in addition to the league’s iBench app, which allows coaches and players the ability to review video on the bench.
“Some guys like it, some guys don’t,” Gallant said. “A lot of guys like to see some of the iPad stuff, especially special teams situations.”
Lightning stay quiet
The Lightning were one Stanley Cup contender that didn’t make a move at the deadline. That’s a defensible position when you have a league-leading 102 points and plus-80 goal differential entering Saturday’s games.
Western Conference trade deadline additions:
Calgary: D Oscar Fantenberg
Colorado: C Derick Brassard
Dallas: LW Mats Zuccarello, D Ben Lovejoy
Minnesota: LW Kevin Fiala
Nashville: RW Wayne Simmonds, RW Mikael Granlund
San Jose: RW Gustav Nyquist
St. Louis: D Michael Del Zotto
Golden Knights: RW Mark Stone
Winnipeg: C Kevin Hayes, C Matt Hendricks, D Bogdan Kiselevich