The 2007-08 season is in the home stretch. Teams have between 10 and 12 games to go. And time is running out for some clubs.
Several teams in both conferences – Montreal, New Jersey, Ottawa, Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers in the East; Detroit, San Jose, Dallas and Anaheim in the West are virtually assured of a playoff spot. It would take a total collapse for them not to make it.
Teams close to getting to the eighth spot, Buffalo in the East and Nashville and Phoenix in the West, are faced with a difficult obstacle. What is that obstacle? It is the three-point games.
Since the advent of 4-on-4 overtime, where the loser gets a point, it has become increasingly difficult to catch up. The shootout has only added to that difficulty.
Why is that?
There are new categories of wins and losses. There are ‘big’ wins, ‘good’ wins and ‘OK’ wins. With the same labels to be applied to losses. What are they?
A ‘big’ win is a win on the road in regulation with the conference opponent getting zero points; a ‘big’ loss is losing to a conference opponent at home in regulation.
A good ‘win’ is beating the conference opponent at home in regulation. A ‘bad’ loss is losing on the road in regulation.
An ‘OK’ win, home or away, is a win in overtime or the shootout which gives your conference opponent one point; an ‘OK’ loss is losing in overtime or a shootout giving you one point.
On March 11, Montreal beat New Jersey at home in regulation, a ‘good’ win for the Canadiens, a ‘bad’ loss for the Devils.
San Jose had a ‘big’ win, Nashville a ‘big’ loss last night. The Sharks beat the Preds in Nashville, 2-1.
Philadelphia, trying to hold on to the final spot in the East, lost in Toronto in overtime, 4-3. This is an ‘OK’ loss. You can almost hear GM Paul Holmgren and coach John Stevens saying: “Thank God, we got a point.”
Time is of the essence without a doubt in the last month of the season. If time is so important, you probably wonder why almost everyone waits right until the trade deadline to try to improve the team. Truthfully, I wonder that, too. I did when I was a manager and I still do.
Last year, the Rangers traded with Los Angeles for Sean Avery on Feb. 5, 2007. At the time they were in 11th place. With 29 games remaining after the trade, their record was 17-6-6. They gathered 40 of a possible 58 points and finished sixth in the East.
This year, Carolina acquired Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves on Feb. 11 from Ottawa. In the 14 games played since that date, the Hurricanes are 11-2-1 and are seven points ahead of Washington for first place in the Southeast Conference.
So, you ask, “Why does everyone wait?” There are lots of reasons. A GM may think his team is good enough, he may not be able to find another GM ready to trade, and he may have injured players ready to come back. Or his team may be in the hunt for a spot and he does not want to change his lineup, fearing an adverse effect. Or it may just be plain indecisiveness.
Maybe with the rise in the importance of three-point games late in the season, GMs will realize a trade made in late January or early February can have more impact than trades made on the deadline. Just maybe.
Mike Smith is a former GM with the Blackhawks and Jets. His Insider Blog will appear regularly only on THN.com.