Wild in the west

TERRY JONES, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

Take this, Glen Sather!

Led by the former Edmonton GM, there has been a significant number of hockey executives advocating more teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The idea is to add either two or four more teams in each conference and have best-of-three or best-of-five series involving lower position teams while the top four or six teams cool their heels awaiting the winners. Thus the NHL could have 20 or 24 teams in the playoffs.

Current Oilers GM Kevin Lowe figures the movement has been dealt a major blow because of what we're watching now.

Would you really rather have the last three weeks of this season mean nothing - simply be a parade to the post-season - than what we'll witness in the wild, wild West as the season now heads down the home stretch?

"I don't think you'd want to take away what we have right now. The idea was to give more teams the energy and excitement you get in the playoffs. But now ... maybe we don't need it. Now we should have energy and excitement like the playoffs all the way to the end of the regular season,'' says Lowe.

For years, I've believed there's nothing better than a baseball pennant race, one which builds and builds and builds and goes down to the final series of the season.

But this, in the new NHL with the salary cap and competitive balance, is even better than that. Baseball gets a real good pennant race once every blue moon. This looks like it could be almost an annual deal in the NHL.

"We could have years where it involves the 13th and 14th place teams,'' said Lowe.

HOME STRETCH

As the season heads down the home stretch, look at what we're dealing with here.

There's more involved here than Calgary, Colorado, Anaheim, Edmonton, San Jose, Vancouver and Los Angeles being separated by five points.

There's all the analyzing that goes with it.

And it's not like it just started today with teams hitting the 10-games-to-go turn to home. I remember sitting around with a few hockey people at the Torino Olympics debating the magic number for making the playoffs in the West.

The consensus was 95.

Today it might be 96.

Pick a team. Work it out.

If it's the Oilers, that would mean they'd have to finish the season at 6-4 to make the playoffs. And 4-6? Forget it. Think about the swing here. A record of 8-2 would probably get Edmonton the division title and home ice advantage in the Oilers' first playoff series. A record of 7-3 would probably allow Edmonton to avoid a first-round series against Dallas or Detroit.

This is the time of year when fans and GMs are going through the same exercise.

"Look at Anaheim,'' says Lowe.

"Every team they play, except three games against Dallas, is in the race. They have L.A. twice, Vancouver twice, L.A. twice.''

SHOOTOUT LOSER

Good thing? Or bad thing?

Twenty games down the stretch involve teams in the stretch run. How many will go to overtime and provide three points in the standings? And will the Flames-Ducks, Kings-Sharks or Oilers-Avalanche go down to the last game with a possibility of a shootout loser missing the playoffs?

The Oilers, having taken five of six points on their three-game road trip, you'd figure have put themselves back in a solid position to make the playoffs as well.

"If 96 points is the number, then we have to win our home games,'' said Lowe, whose squad is home to Minnesota tonight and Los Angeles, Phoenix and Calgary before heading on the road to Minnesota, Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit prior to returning home to wind up against Anaheim and Colorado.

With their record this year, there'd be a higher comfort level with more games on the road. But it'll be different at home now, says Lowe.

"Our season hasn't gone well at home. But I think the playoff energy and excitement we always have in the building will kick in now. Maybe that's wishful thinking because it could help carry us into the playoffs. But I think it'll be like that in all the cities.''

Forget more teams in the playoffs.

Who'd want to miss this?


Videos

Photos