Blittner’s Blue Line: NHL Storylines To Watch
By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
Can you smell it? Do you taste it? Can you see it unfolding in your mind’s eye?
For those of you who are confused by the above questions, I’m referring to the end of the NHL’s 2021-22 regular-season and the beginning of the post-season. You see, normally, at this time of year, the NHL is already in the first-round of its playoffs. But, because COVID-19 has continued to wreak havoc on the NHL’s schedule, we’re still about two-and-a-half weeks away from the final game of the regular-season.
Of course, plenty will happen between now and then. Playoff spots will be locked up. Seeding will be determined. Awards will be won or lost. Franchise records could fall. And so much more is on the horizon.
So, let’s take a look at a few storylines you should be on the lookout for before the regular-season comes to a close.
WILL VEGAS MISS?
In the brief history of the Golden Knights, the NHL’s 31st franchise has never failed to qualify for the playoffs. There was the run to The Cup Final in Year One. That was followed by a first-round ouster in 2018-19 and then came consecutive third-round exits.
Unfortunately, as of the writing of this column, the Golden Knights sit two-points back of the Dallas Stars for the second wild card in the Western Conference. Vegas does have a game in hand on Dallas. This race is far from over and very well could end with Vegas passing Dallas. But, what if they don’t?
We saw the Knights fire Head Coach Gerard Gallant midway through their third season. Under Gallant, Vegas never failed to play in the post-season. What happens to current Head Coach Pete DeBoer if Vegas doesn’t make the cut?
What would the team’s front office even do to try and fix the on-ice product? It’s not like they have a thriving farm system. They most certainly don’t have the cap space to sign any new, impactful players. So, how would they fix themselves? Plus, what will the fan base think should Vegas go nuclear (highly unlikely) and decide to strip down and build anew?
There’s a lot of questions surrounding the Golden Knights and not very many answers.
WILL WE SEE A 70-GOAL SCORER?
Toronto’s Auston Matthews currently paces the NHL with 58-goals (in just 67-games). He’s already broken the Maple Leafs’ single-season franchise goal record of 54 – which was done by Rick Vaive in 1981-82. In fact, Matthews has 51-goals in his last 50-games. That’s a feat not seen in the NHL since Mario Lemieux did it in 1995-96.
It’s a virtual lock Matthews will get 60. As of Monday night, the Maple Leafs have 10-games remaining. How many goals will Matthews net during that span? Five? Seven? 10?
The last time the NHL saw a 70-goal scorer you have to go all the way back to the 1992-93 season when Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny each potted 76-goals. Now, 70 may be stretching it, but it’s definitely in play.
DOWN GOES JAGR
Jaromir Jagr hasn’t appeared in an NHL game since the 2017-18 season when he played for Calgary. However, if you look closely, you’ll notice, nine-seasons before that, he rewrote the Rangers’ record book. During the 2005-06 season, Jagr netted 54-goals while calling Broadway home.
Now, 16-years later, Chris Kreider is staring down Jagr’s record. Who will blink first? Kreider has 49-goals in 73-games. He needs five more to tie Jagr, six to break the record. Can he get there with just nine-games remaining on the Rangers’ schedule?
“OH CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN”
After a sterling 17-year career in Anaheim, longtime Ducks’ Captain Ryan Getzlaf is hanging up his skates at the end of the season. As the Ducks’ Captain since the 2010-11 season, this is a decision Getzlaf doesn’t take lightly.
Unfortunately, Father Time is undefeated and Getzlaf’s time in the NHL is up. He’s no longer the offensive force he once was, nor is he able to remain as healthy as he once did. He knows it’s time to go. The Ducks are a young team, with a new foundation. It’s time to give the keys to the next generation.
But before he skates off into the sunset, there will be a celebration. His jersey won’t be retired just yet; teams like to wait a couple years for that. He won’t be eligible for the Hall of Fame just yet, although his will be an interesting case once his name lands on the ballot.
Anaheim finishes its schedule with three of its last four games on the road. That one home game, on April 24th, Vs. St. Louis, will most likely be when the Ducks choose to honor their longtime leader. There will be a video tribute, gifts from the team and former teammates brought back to be there with him. There will be tears, plenty of them from the Ducks fans in attendance.
And you can be sure Getzlaf will do everything in his power to say “thank you” the only way he knows how – by going out there and giving the fans one final, memorable performance.
RACE FOR WRIGHT
There are three teams currently jockeying for the title of “Worst in The NHL.” 32nd place Arizona, 31st place Montreal and 30th place Seattle all have a chance to finish the season with the fewest points in the NHL. Arizona currently “leads” the way with 49, while Montreal and Seattle have 51 and 52 respectively.
Now, finishing at the bottom of the standings doesn’t guarantee a team it will get the first overall pick in the entry draft. But it definitely helps their odds. And this year, the consensus number one pick is center Shane Wright, who has been nothing short of dominant in the OHL for the past two seasons.
Wright is a tad on the small side, just 6’0’’ and 191 lbs. But he’s only 18-years old, give him time to fill out physically. The kid has proven he has the natural tools to excel. The only question is, which team will he call “home”?