News Blog: The Great Western Unknown

Adam Proteau will return Jan. 9. In his absence, the The Hockey will feature several guest bloggers. Up today is THN Copy Editor and Pro Tips and Backchecking author Ryan Dixon:

The Vancouver Canucks enter tonight’s game versus Edmonton riding a five-game winning streak.

Extended victory runs are precisely what Canucks GM Dave Nonis had in mind when he plucked goalie Roberto Luongo from Florida last summer. However, with Vancouver making a pitch for a post-season spot, some fans and media members are quick to point out Luongo has played as many playoff games as they have.

Is this a real problem? Is there any reason to expect his skills will disappear in the spring? Probably not, but there is one goalie who might serve as a useful (perhaps frightening) comparison: Marty Turco.

The Dallas stopper has been as consistent as sunrise during the regular season, but can’t seem to parlay that into any playoff success. We know this because of one simple, obvious fact – Dallas has made the playoffs all three years Turco’s been its starter.

But let’s just say, for the sake of wacky hockey argument, the Stars had missed the playoffs throughout Turco’s career. Dallas supporters would probably be telling any fan of a Western Conference powerhouse that if the Stars could just sneak into the playoffs, Turco could dust off two rounds on his own. Based on his regular season showings, it would have been a fair assumption.

Is it possible Canucks fans are susceptible to the same type of illusions?

• Speaking of the Canucks – and their entire Northwest brethren for that matter – can we not all agree the time has come to scrap the 1-2-3 playoff seeding for division winners?

Entering tonight’s games, Vancouver led the Northwest with 45 points – eight less than six-place Dallas. So, let’s get this straight; if the playoffs started today, the sixth seed would meet a with eight less points, but would not get the benefit of home-ice advantage.

There’s lots of realignment talk going on in the NHL these days. Quite frankly, I don’t care if they lump the Calgary Flames with the Charlestown Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys. But, for the sake of sanity, stop over-complicating the playoff picture with this current format that rewards teams for winning mediocre divisions.

Rank the top eight teams in each conference according to how many points they accumulated and be done with it.

• Trent Hunter’s two-point game versus the Devils last night gives him a total of 10 points in 35 games this year.

Hunter, you’ll recall, was actually a Calder Trophy candidate in 2004 when Andrew Raycroft won the honor. He netted 25 goals in his rookie season; he has a whopping 22 in 117 games since then.

Not that his fellow Calder nominees from that season are fairing much better. Raycroft’s goals-against average is over 3.00 and his save percentage is under .900. Michael Ryder, the runner-up that season, is barely on pace for 20 goals this year. You’d have to think the next season’s finalists – Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Dion Phaneuf – have brighter futures in store.

I’m getting tired of eastern-based journalists calling the northwest division mediocre. What it is, is competitive. all 5 teams are evenly matched and with the heavily unbalanced schedule, that means they even out, since there are no patsies in the divison that the better teams can beat up on 7-8 times a season each (compare and contrast with certain other divisions around the league…bet the canucks et al would love to get to play 8 games against philly or columbus). note also that the canucks for one have a pretty good record outside their division and until recently it was poor play inside the division that was dragging them down. if there was a balanced schedule you would see some of the teams outside the northwest with fewer points and probably the northwest teams with more points. so less of the ‘mediocre’ stuff. after all the northwest did produce the last 2 western conference champions so it can’t be all bad!
– Iain Bowman

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“Rank the top eight teams in each conference according to how many points they accumulated and be done with it.” Until a scheduling adjustment is made where each team plays an equal number of games against ALL teams within the conference, this argument has no merit. While some may say that the teams in the NW division are not as good as the rest of the conference, it can also be said that the teams in this division are on much more equal footing compared to other divisions where there is at least one or two weak teams that result in easy points for the division leaders. Anaheim, San Jose, Detroit and Nashville all have weak teams they face within their division resulting in inflated points totals compared to the NW division.
– Irfan Ali

I also disagree that points alone should determine playoff ranking. The schedule has created uneven points tallys. I believe the Detroit Red Wings won the Presidents’ Trophy last year not because they were the best team in the league, but because they had three terrible teams in their division. That was an easy potential 48 points.
– Jen Towert

first of all you dont even have the Canucks making the playoffs in your season preview. now you’re saying Luongo will be a playoff bust? come on now give credit where its due. Vancouver’s streak is quite a feat considering Naslund hasn’t scored in 16 games. Add to the fact nobody outside of BC actually believes that Vancouver are a good team. So you can pick your precious Leafs or your beloved Habs but I’m sticking with The Vancouver Canucks all the way. The players might not be shining individually but collectively they are finding much needed chemistry and not to mention mathematics. 6 game winning streak. 7 at home. the best PK at home. and a .500 record vs Divisional opponents.
– Peter Woods

In addition to the previous points about it not being fair to compare point totals between teams from different divisions, reserving the the top three spots for the divisional leaders keeps things exciting as the playoffs approach and teams fight for position.
– Sean Pander

I don’t necessarily disagree with scrapping the 1-2-3 playoff seeding. However, the parody we see in the northwest division is simply not a case of mediocre teams, that “8 point differential” could simply be because the Canucks (for instance) have not had the luxury of playing or “feeding off” the Blues, Coyotes, Kings, Hawks, and Blue Jackets. So before you go praising the Stars because of their 8 point difference, keep one thing in mind…3 points out of a possible six playing the northwest division this past week…and in the Pacific they have 2 teams under 500.
– Mike Baker

It’s understandable that someone from out east would think the NW devision mediocre based on the stats. Afterall when would they be likely to ever watch these teams play their Eastern golden calfs? Once every three years! Hey, you want league parity, this is what it looks like. I do agree the 1-2-3 system should be abandoned however. If the NHL is to insist on keeping this idiotic schedule and 6 division system, then division leaders should be guaranteed a placement no higher than eighth. Here’s my solution, contract Phoenix and Florida and re-organise into two conferences (lets call them Campbell and Wales for the sake of arguement) and then divide them into four 7 team divisions (oh say… Smythe, Norris, Adams and Patick). 28 teams playing everybody in your conference 4 times and the other conference 2 times should be 80 games or your division 6 times and your conference 2 times and the other conference once would be 78 games. …And the birds sing and the the sky is blue, famine and war have been abolished (along with the shooting the puck over the glass rule) all is right in the world and any other dreams of whimsey and fantasy.
– Gary Dawson