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New Day Dawning
Playoff field playing out
3/28/18 - By Ryan Hall -

The NHL playoffs begin in 2 weeks. When they kick off on April 11th, the league will shift into overdrive with the usual flair that accompanies the start of the post-season festivities. For nearly 2 months a field of 16 teams will be whittled down to a single champion, who will stand alone atop the NHL mountain. Along the way, teams will choke, over achieve, and perhaps even astound. We don't really know the how's and why's, but one thing has become abundantly clear to those who have been paying attention: It's a new day in the NHL.

Look no further than the Western conference, where Chicago has ruled the roost for nearly a decade, winning 3 Stanley Cups and making it to several more Conference Finals. Similarly, the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, and Los Angeles Kings have created an annual spring California Gauntlet, ensuring that whomever comes out of the Pacific division must first deal with them. Other strong clubs have waxed and waned, namely the St. Louise Blues who perennially looked like contenders, only to suffer an inevitable (and all too familiar) post-season collapse.

This year though, things have changed. Whether you think they are for real or not, all Pacific Division roads leads through Las Vegas and their raucous barn. They're a team which doesn't yet understand just how special their accomplishments are, and supported by fans who don't know this isn't supposed to happen.

That makes them the most dangerous entity in all of sports: a team playing with house money. No one expected this. No one is sure what will happen next. For a team with nothing to lose, the only thing left to do is give all they have without holding back. Woe to the opponent who isn't ready for that maelstrom.

In the Central Division, the surging Nashville Predators appear to have completed the transformation from underdog darling into powerhouse. No longer are they the plucky team trying to stage a coup of Chicago or Detroit. Instead, they wield all the power and are eyeing a loftier prize in Lord Stanley's Cup. But even then, their path isn't clear as newly playoff bound Winnipeg has finally put together all the pieces and stand ready to offer a stiff challenge.

Led by teenage scoring phenom Patrick Laine, the Jets are loaded and ready to rain fire down on any opponent. In a fair world these two clubs would meet in the second round, and fight the first battle of what appears destined to be a decade long war.

As for the res of the Old Guard, the sands of time have already started to bury them. While perhaps not completely dead, Chicago is on the decline, and for the first time in 10 years will not make the post-season. Over in St. Louis, a frantic run has put the Blues on the cusp of the playoffs, but their spot is far from secured - a situation which is mirrored in Anaheim.

Meanwhile, in LA the Kings continually try to throw away their postseason berth, while only lately has a surge seen the Sharks solidify themselves in 2nd place. Any of these squads that do qualify for the post-season will enter without the usual fanfare, and certainly won't be see as favourites. Rather, they'll be clubs that 'could contend if everything goes well', which is a polite way to say 'longshots'.

Further afield, in the Eastern conference the first signs of upheaval are starting to show as well. In the Metropolitan Division, upstart squads like New Jersey and Columbus are pushing the Penguins and Capitals, while the Rangers have already fallen victim to the ravages of time. As for the Atlantic, well, dynamic Toronto continues to grow in confidence, while in south Florida a young and hungry Panthers team has awoken and is on the prowl. Even here, the bones of previous giants can be seen, with the desolate remains of once proud Detroit and Montreal scattered about.

The point of all this is that the winds of change are blowing in the NHL, and this is something we should all be excited about. Often, it's easy to forget the cyclical nature of sports, as the wheels may turn very slowly. A select few teams seem to remain competitive forever, which can lead to complacency and even disinterest. This is part of the lifecycle of any league, and provides the fuel for rivalries and hatred. But when the epochs do change, when confusion, uncertainty, and upheaval are everywhere, that's when the game is at its most compelling.

In 2017-18 the signs are everywhere. Make no mistake, this isn't a one-off season of strangeness.

It's the dawning of a new day.

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