As NHL Season Resumes, Five Teams to Watch

NHL
After a two-week Olympic break, the NHL season resumes tonight as many teams attempt to shake off the rust and push for the playoffs. The Olympics ended in triumph for some and disaster for many others, but the remaining two months of the season allow for a chance at redemption for many of the players who fell short of Olympic gold. Parity in the league has caused some of the tightest playoff races in recent history, and as the NHL season resumes, here are five teams that could be major factors in the next couple weeks.

The Detroit Red Wings:

Detroit has made the playoffs for 21 consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in professional sports. But injuries and age have put that streak in danger this season, as the Red Wings sit in the final playoff spot, just one point ahead of three other teams. Pavel Datsyuk was said to be fighting off an injury entering the Olympic break and he had little time to rest, which was a major factor for a Russian team that fell short of its ultimate goal. The Red Wings also lost Henrik Zetterberg to a season-ending injury during the Olympics, a major hit to Detroit’s playoff chances. But the Red Wings have found themselves in a similar position in the past and have always come through. If there is one thing hockey fans know, it is to never bet against the Red Wings.

Prediction: In the playoffs

The New York Islanders:

John Tavares is the Islanders and the Islanders are John Tavares. As he goes, so do they. So when it was announced that Tavares would be out with an injury for the remainder of the season, it all but killed off the Islanders’ slim playoff chances. The big news out of the Islanders’ organization is the fate of star winger, Tomas Vanek. Vanek has shown unreal chemistry with Tavares since he was acquired in late October, but it was recently announced that he rejected an extension with the club. He will be a major piece to be moved at next week’s trade deadline.

Prediction: Out of the playoffs

The Carolina Hurricanes:

Few teams are as frustrating to their fanbase as the Carolina Hurricanes. They seemingly have all the players needed to become a consistent playoff contender, but the results on the ice rarely match the talent on the roster. The Hurricanes kick off the restart of the NHL season by taking on the Buffalo Sabres tonight, part of a five game road trip that concludes in San Jose. Whether they will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline will likely be determined by the results of this road trip, but a local writer has indicated if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year, sweeping changes to the roster and the management may happen.

Prediction: Out of the playoffs

The Minnesota Wild:

Though it may appear as if the Wild are somewhat secure in their playoff chances, being sixth in the conference and five points ahead of ninth place, this is a team that has had some brutal collapses in their recent history. A few years ago, they had the best record in the league after 30 games, only to find themselves winning only 15 of the remaining 52 games, falling well short of a playoff berth. After spending big money on star winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, another missed playoff result could put a serious strain on the security of many of the Wild management. They resume their NHL season on Thursday, the most intriguing team of the five teams to watch.

Prediction: In the playoffs

The Vancouver Canucks:

Vancouver finds itself in a place in the standings it has very little familiarity with. They currently sit tenth in the conference, though only two points out of eighth place. It is a vast change from recent years, when they have finished at or near the top of the conference for the past five years. A big concern for Canuck fans for the rest of the season will be the play of their star players, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The twins have been almost inseparable in their long NHL careers, but a rib injury kept Henrik off the Swedish national team for this year’s Olympic games, leaving only Daniel on the roster. Daniel did not perform well without his brother and many are worried that play might continue into the NHL season if Henrik does not return from his injury soon.

Prediction: Out of the playoffs

The NHL season took a two-week break to allow its players to participate in the Sochi Winter Olympic games. The break allowed a rest for some teams, may have killed off the momentum of others, and has set up some interesting storylines to follow until the end of the season. As the NHL season resumes tonight, 26 teams could theoretically be in the race for 16 playoff spots, but the above five are certainly teams that should be watched.

By Jonathan Gardner

Sources:

CBS Sports

NHL

News and Observer

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