SUN Hockey Pool

NHL stretch run should be interesting

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane dons glasses and a Superman cape during the NHL All-Star Skills...

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane dons glasses and a Superman cape during the NHL All-Star Skills Competition at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Ont., Jan. 28, 2012. (ERROL McGIHON/QMI Agency)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:48 AM ET

CALGARY - It’ll be great when the NHL all-star game is over.

Not to poo-poo on the event — it’s just like an outdoor game, great for those at it, dull for those not in attendance — but it will be fun to see the final 10 weeks of the regular season and all the fallout which happens.

For example, it once again looks like we’ll have a pretty crazy playoff chase, especially in the Western Conference, where four teams on the outside are still within three points of the eighth-place Minnesota Wild.

Sure, the top six spots seem locked down and the Los Angeles Kings are on the verge of solidifying a spot, but a couple of teams currently in the top eight could stumble. San Jose’s lack of scoring depth could catch up to the Sharks, and Nashville continues to amaze with a roster that shouldn’t achieve what it has when you see it on paper, or even the low-scoring Kings, just for a few examples.

Plus, you can’t write off the Anaheim Ducks, who pulled off a miracle finish last season and have shown signs of doing it again.

Over in the Eastern Conference, it looks like two of Florida, New Jersey and Toronto will move into the second season. About the only other team down a rung with a slight chance is Winnipeg, but that won’t happen unless the Jets win on the road.

That’s just part of the fun on the horizon.

Just imagine what the Feb. 27 trade deadline can bring.

About one-quarter of the league is facing sell mode already, and combined with the collective bargaining agreement uncertainty, we may see a flood of deals.

Some of the names already being bandied about include Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu and Jaroslav Spacek, Paul Gaustad in Buffalo, Ales Hemsky in Edmonton and Minnesota No.-2 goalie Josh Harding.

Plus, you have a couple of teams in playoff positions but facing big questions with star players in the likes of the financially unstable New Jersey Devils and Zach Parise and the Nashville Predators forced to ponder dealing Ryan Suter.

Another year, another trade deadline looms. Maybe there will be all kinds of interesting action as opposed to the small bidding wars of seasons past.

FLAMING C-NOTES

Goalie Henrik Karlsson had plenty of reasons to be happy practising with his teammates this week for the first time since injuring his knee in early December. Not only did it mean the next step towards being back in action, with the goal over the next while to strengthen his leg, it means facing live shots from NHL players instead of the team’s strength and conditioning coach Rich Hesketh. “It’s almost tougher to take his shots. They’re too slow,” Karlsson joked about the former decathlete’s hockey prowess ... Karlsson’s time on the shelf not only meant being around Calgary to see Sweden win the world junior title, but he also spent time as a television analyst for his home country. “It’s fun to do something different,” the netminder said ... Defenceman Jay Bouwmeester wasn’t feeling guilty when he was credited for a goal in Edmonton, which was originally credited to Jarome Iginla. “He’s got enough of them,” Bouwmeester said of the team’s 500-goal man ... Here’s to hoping Flames athletic therapists Morris Boyer and Schad Richea have a good time doing their duties at the all-star game.

HOCKEY TALKY

A year ago, there was plenty of personal bitterness from yours truly regarding Evgeni Malkin, but that’s because the Penguins star was killing me in my hockey pool because of injuries and ineffective play. Right now, though, a great case can be made he’s the most dominating player in the game ... The way things are going, the Columbus Blue Jackets may draft first overall for the second time in franchise history. The first time yielded Rick Nash, but all too often for the Blue Jackets, first-round picks have been more busts — Pascal Leclaire in 2001, Nikolai Zherdev in 2003 and Nikita Filatov in 2008 — than boons ... It wasn’t great for Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin to bail on the all-star game because of his suspension, but it’s understandable. Worse was the fact Washington owner Ted Leonsis publicly disagreed with the three-game banishment handed the team captain for his hit on Pittsburgh’s Zbynek Michalek. Ovechkin jumped before making his hit and hit the Penguins defenceman in the head for the third suspension of his career. It was a textbook offence. That said, Michalek should have been punished for his hit on Matt Hendricks in the same game ... Strange fact: Ken Hitchcock has never won the Jack Adams Trophy as NHL’s coach of the year. Guessing this year with the St. Louis Blues will change that.

YOU DON’T SAY

“We’re a team that has relied on its veterans but if the job isn’t getting done at that time, then we’ll have to make some changes. For the most part, we’ve stuck with the veteran players and given them every opportunity to have success, but the clock is ticking.”


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