Tag: Western Conference

Who’s in/Who’s out? Gauging the AHL’s Western Conference Playoff Race

As of Monday, here is the current West Division standings with each team’s remaining games:

1) MILWAUKEE: 94 points, (Games Played: 73, record: 40-19-6-8).  Remaining Games:  vs. San Antonio, vs. Houston, vs. Peoria, vs. Grand Rapids, vs. Texas, at Peoria, vs. Grand Rapids.

2) Houston: 94, (GP: 76, 44-26-1-5). RG: vs. Chicago, at Milwaukee, at Chicago, vs. Oklahoma City.

3) Texas: 88, (GP: 73, 39-24-4-6). RG: vs. Chicago, at Oklahoma City, vs. Rockford, at Peoria, at Milwaukee, vs. Oklahoma City, at San Antonio.

4) Peoria: 83, (GP: 74, 38-29-2-5). GR: at San Antonio, at San Antonio, at Milwaukee, vs. Texas, vs. Chicago, vs. Milwaukee.

5) Chicago: 83, (GP: 74, 37-29-3-6). RG: at Houston, at Texas, vs. Houston, at Peoria, vs. San Antonio, vs. Rockford.

6) Oklahoma City: 83, (GP: 75, 36-28-2-9). GR: vs. Rockford, vs. Texas, at San Antonio, at Texas, at Houston.

7) San Antonio: 81, (GP: 73, 38-30-3-2). GR: at Milwaukee, vs. Peoria, vs. Peoria, vs. Rockford, vs. Oklahoma City, at Chicago, vs. Texas.

North Division teams that could prevent a crossover:

Hamilton: (third place in North Division) 83, (GP: 72, 37-26-2-7). GR: vs. Abbotsford, vs. Abbotsford, at Lake Erie, vs. Manitoba, at Abbotsford, at Abbotsford, at Manitoba, at Manitoba.

Toronto: 81, (GP: 74, 35-28-1-10). GR: vs. Syracuse, vs. Lake Erie, vs. Manitoba, at Lake Erie, vs. Rochester, vs. Abbotsford.

Grand Rapids: 80, (GP: 74, 35-29-2-8). GR: at Abbotsford, at Abbotsford, at Milwaukee, vs. Abbotsford, at Rockford, at Milwaukee.

Abbotsford: 78, (GP: 71, 34-27-4-6). GR: at Hamilton, at Hamilton, vs. Grand Rapids, vs. Grand Rapids, vs. Hamilton, vs. Hamilton, at Grand Rapids, at Lake Erie, at Toronto.

So which teams make the playoffs/fall out of contention?

Safely in:  Milwaukee, Houston, Texas, Hamilton.  Milwaukee’s favorable schedule should result in the Admirals reaching the top spot, followed by Houston and Texas which could easily flip-flop.  With eight games left, Hamilton should grab the North’s third slot or second slot barring a disaster against Abbotsford, a team the Bulldogs play four more times this season in a bizarre case of scheduling.

Bubble teams that will make the playoffs:  Chicago, San Antonio.  I still see five West Division teams getting into the playoffs.  The veteran Wolves, which tread water all season, should squeak in as the last team out of the West.  Whether that means Chicago will face the top of the West Division or the top of the North, neither opponent will be too thrilled for that match up.  The Rampage face two critical games at home against Peoria this week.  With regulation wins in both of those games, San Antonio could basically punch its playoff ticket.

Teams that will have their playoff bubble burst:  Peoria, Oklahoma City, Toronto, Grand Rapids, Abbotsford.  In the case of Oklahoma City, their demise has much to do with having key personnel up with Edmonton.  I wonder why the Oilers’ leadership doesn’t wish for those players to get some AHL playoff experience.  Peoria, which recently led the West Division, is in the middle of a March swoon.  The Rivermen need a last stand at San Antonio and hope Milwaukee coasts in their two contests with the Admirals.

As far as Toronto and Grand Rapids, the Griffins have six games remaining, including three games against Abbotsford and two at Milwaukee.  Grand Rapids could make some noise with a full roster, but I see them running out of games.  With Toronto missing key personnel, I see the Marlies falling short despite a favorable schedule in the final stretch.

The Heat are most intriguing team of all.  Abbotsford still has nine games remaining, the most of any AHL team, including eight against fellow North Division bubble teams (Four games against Hamilton and three against Grand Rapids).  The Heat sit five points below the Western Conference’s current playoff number, but with a hot finish Abbotsford could easily catch the pack.  The Heat are certainly a team to keep an eye on, even if the Admirals haven’t played Abbotsford since the ninth game of the season on October 30.

So Roundtable, which teams do you think make the playoffs and which teams end up just short?  Am I underestimating Peoria, Oklahoma City, Toronto or Grand Rapids?

I give Milwaukee a 75% shot of finishing first in the Western Conference.  Is that number too high, too low, or just right?  How many points will it take to clinch the top spot?

How do you see the Admirals finishing out their remaining schedule?

How the NHL Trade Deadline Shapes the AHL’s West Division Playoff Race

February 28th marks an important date on the NHL’s calender.  It is deadline for the clubs to trade players and draft picks to try to bolster their clubs for the future.

But this date has a considerable effect on the AHL as well.  A majority of the deadline transactions involve moving a rental player (someone who has an expiring contract), in exchange for assets (draft picks and/or prospects), also known as teams trying to win now versus teams building for the long term future.  The result is a change in the makeup of AHL teams prior to the stretch run.

Here is how I think each team in the AHL’s West Division will be effected:

Houston (Minnesota):  Though the Wild have an outside shot of making the playoffs in 2011, I see Minnesota as still in the building stages.  Therefore, I expect the Wild to be quiet overall, with a few Aeros joining the NHL ranks late in the season.  Final Verdict:  Slipping.

Milwaukee (Nashville):  The Predators are going for a win now approach.  Though the budget is tight after the acquisition of Mike Fisher, Nashville still could trade an asset for a rental with an expiring contract for its final push.  Even still, I expect Milwaukee to remain well stocked.  Final Verdict:  Neutral.

Peoria (St. Louis):  The Blues started the season with great promise, but have been devastated by injuries.  With its playoff hopes dim, St. Louis will be in the market to sell off a few assets and add some more youth or picks.  However, there are only a few players that the club is willing to part with.  Final Verdict:  Neutral.

San Antonio (Phoenix):  Still dealing with an ownership mess, the Coyotes are the toughest team in the NHL to judge.  Still, Phoenix looks like a playoff team and was extremely active at last year’s deadline.  I expect the Coyotes to again use prospects in order to pick up some rentals for the stretch run.  Final Verdict:  Slipping.

Texas Stars (Dallas):  Dallas is in free fall and might slip right out of the Western Conference playoffs.  Brad Richards may be traded, resulting in a full ransom of talent in return, but other than Richards, the Stars look to be building onto a young core and hoping it gets some playoff experience this year.  Final Verdict:  Improving.

Oklahoma City (Edmonton):  Edmonton seems destined to finish dead last in the NHL.  How does that effect OK City?  The Oilers will be trying to add more prospects and pushing its talented youth up to the NHL.  Final Verdict:  Slipping.

Chicago (Atlanta):  Atlanta is currently in a terrible tailspin and looks destined to fall out of the playoffs in the East.  However, the Thrashers remain in the thick of the playoff chase.  Therefore, I expect Atlanta to be looking to add talent in the hopes of a last ditch jump over Carolina and Buffalo, which means trading prospects.  Final Verdict:  Slipping.

Rockford (Chicago):  Though the Ice Hogs are clearly out of the AHL playoff race, their divisional games will still play a pivotal role in its outcome.  Chicago is right on the edges of the NHL playoff race, but the Blackhawks are still cap tight and prospect bare.  My hunch is that Chicago will be stuck trying to build for the future.  Final Verdict:  Improving.

Five Observations from this Weekend’s Games

1) Blake Geoffrion spoiled two Badger homecomings.

This weekend’s games at the Bradley Center represented a Badger state reunion for two ex-University of Wisconsin defensemen, Josh Engel of the Toronto Marlies and Kyle Klubertanz of the Hamilton Bulldogs.  Engel who hails from Rice Lake and Sun Prairie native Klubertanz each had significant cheering sections in Milwaukee.

But both player’s homecomings got overshadowed by the play of their former UW teammate, Admirals forward Blake Geoffrion.  All Geoffrion did this weekend was score a shorthanded, game-winning goal against Hamilton and deliver one of the checks of the year against Toronto forward Nazem Kadri.

(Extra Note:  I hate to say this but I was quite impressed by Josh Engel on Saturday night.  I never really thought much of him as a player with Wisconsin, but he has developed into a pretty solid contributor with the Marlies)

2) Good things happen when you go to the net.

Less than 24 hours after getting shutout through 65 minutes of hockey against the Marlies, Milwaukee played a much more aggressive offensive game against Hamilton, making life difficult on NHL veteran goaltender Curtis Sanford.  The Admirals got rewarded with a pair of redirection goals in the first period.  Sanford saw heavy traffic in front of the net throughout the contest as Milwaukee worked to take away his eyes.

3) The Admirals power play remains a work in progress.

Even with Linus Klasen back in the lineup this weekend at the Bradley Center, Milwaukee’s power play left little to be desired.  During a minute of five-on-three advantage in the third period Saturday night, Klasen saw a pair of passes hop over his stick.  Against Hamilton, the Admirals had trouble just getting the puck into the zone on their first couple of opportunities.  Expect plenty of special teams work in practice for Lambert’s crew this week.

4) Jamie Lundmark will be missed, but not for long.

Along with the unexpected call up of Andreas Thuresson, this weekend the Admirals faced the surprising departure of Jamie Lundmark.  Lundmark quit on Milwaukee in order to pursue playing options in Europe.  The veteran of 295 NHL games, Lundmark accumulated 18 points with the Admirals this season.  Milwaukee struggled without his offensive presence on Saturday night, but with a few days of practice upcoming this week, the Admirals should move on a little easier without him by the weekend.

5) It wasn’t pretty, but Milwaukee racked up some big league points.

Saturday and Sunday might not have been the prettiest two games Milwaukee played, but in hockey the results are all that matter.  Two wins over two strong Canadian clubs, Toronto and North Division leading Hamilton, gives the Admirals 52 points through their first 40 games.  52 more in the second half could earn Milwaukee a West Division title and the Western Conference’s top overall seed.

So Roundtable, How many more points in the second half of the season do you think Milwaukee needs to win the West Division and/or the Western Conference?  Are you content with the Admirals just making the AHL playoffs, or with the team’s strong first half, have your expectations for Milwaukee changed?