The first round of the playoffs may have been the best opening round as a whole in years. The Columbus Blue Jackets traded blows and goals with the Pittsburgh Penguins and had the Metropolitan division winners looking just a bit weak. The loss of David Backes due to a suspend-able hit by Brent Seabrook was clearly the tipping point of the series between the Saint Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. The San Jose Sharks went from unmitigated domination of the Los Angeles Kings to going into the night with a whimper.

The Philadelphia Flyers played a pretty even series with the New York Rangers that came down to a memorable game seven decided by one goal; the series was also the coming out party for Steve Mason who put up a stellar 1.97 GAA and .939 sv%. The Alex Goligoski and Shawn Horcoff led Dallas Stars put a two game scare into the Anaheim Ducks before succumbing to a focused and superior team. In the battle between snowy Montreal and snowbird heaven Tampa Bay, the Lightning went down in the opening rounds only sweep, minus Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop. In the opening round the Boston Bruins lost the opening game to their Original Six rivals, and then laid them in the dust in four straight wins.

Biggest surprises of the first round:

  • 169 players having more goals than Sidney Crosby, including Luke Schenn, Bryan Allen, Raffi Torres, Jordan Caron and Devante Smith-Pelly
  • How much Jonathan Quick struggled in the first few games, and that Sutter didn’t go to Jones full time.
  • Paul Stastny ending a playoff run with well deserved accolades like “heroic performance” being thrown his way, even around all the love for the shiny new rookie.
  • Paul Martin weighing in at over a point per game. Yes, that Paul Martin.
  • Alex Goligoski gaining zero attention while playing 28:30 a night, putting up 4 points and being a +7 in a six game losing series.
  • How well the very young Colorado Avalanche held together through some very tough games.

Top 3 series of the opening round:

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets vs Pittsburgh Penguins, the pure drama in this matchup was amazing to watch.
  2. Minnesota Wild vs Colorado Avalanche; There is so much young potential in this series it is staggering, Coyle, Neiderrietter, Brodin and Spurgeon we’ll see more of this year, MacKinnon, Landeskog, Hishon, and Duchene we’ll have ot wait until fall for more from.
  3. Chicago Blackhawks vs Saint Louis Blues, as far as the best hockey played game in and game out this series wins, but the drama level wasn’t quiet as high as the other two series.

Who needs what, and will they go for it? While it is tempting to call everyone in the west below 3rd place a bubble team, I think I’ll limit my writing time by leaving off a few teams.  In the east the bubble is a bit smaller, 10 points separate the seventh place New York Rangers and the eleventh place Florida Panthers.

The Colorado Avalanche are fifth in goals for, and yet somehow 12th in the Western Conference in the standings. That “somehow” becomes a lot easier to pin down when you notice they are 29th in goals against, and that their penalty kill almost doesn’t exist. Their penalty kill ranks 27th in the NHL, the only two other teams with a PK in the same zip code who can see the playoffs from their house are the Dallas Stars and Atlanta Thrashers. Clearly they need to scramble their resources and pick up a PK specialist or two, and certainly a defensive defenseman. If they decide to sell, Chris Stewart, and Owen Sound Attack (OHL) prospect Joey Hishon would bring a nice return.

The Phoenix Coyotes. They are eleventh in goals for, and 16th in goals against. They could really pick either position to improve at, and move forward contently. If they are going to make moves they certainly have the cap space to do it. They also have some very nice assets if they decide to become sellers, they do have plenty of assets that could bring them good picks or prospects. Jovanovski’s contract is expiring, and while he has an NTC, he might waive it if the Coyotes decide to run up the white flag.  While it don’t see it happening unless the budget in Phoenix is going to shrink next year, Yandle is a skating blank check. As a different GM, I’d cheerfully send two first round picks on a sign and trade deal and probably include a prospect or player in their.

The LA Kings are possibly the most puzzling team outside the top 8 in either conference, along with the BlackHawks they have the highest goal differential of any team not currently in their conferences top 8 at +20. While they are 17th in goals for, they are 6th in goals against. As it has since before training camp, the lack of talent on their left wing is dragging down an otherwise strong team.  As sellers, Brayden Schenn is probably the premier prospect yet to graduate, and UFA to be Justin Williams could add scoring to a team looking to make the jump into the second season.  As buyers  goal scoring couldn’t hurt, but they may just need to play consistently from here until April to make it in.

Chicago has an aggressively mediocre defense this year at 15th best. While Corey Crawford is showing he’s got some mojo and putting out a very solid 2.19 GAA and .919 Sv%, he’s started exactly half the games this season, is a rookie. While the Blackhawks won the cup last year despite Niemi, this is a notably weaker team than last years edition, and with some key players banged up right now. I don’t know if the defending champions are good enough to win because of Crawford. As little cap space as they have, I’m not sure they will be buying. As much talent as they traded away since winning the cup I don’t see what they have left to sell without spiraling into obscurity again.  Like their LA competitors, consistent play is probably what they need to make it to the playoffs. One intriguing trade piece (which management has already stepped on) might be Brent Seabrook. A team like the Carolina Hurricanes who don’t use high picks on defensemen might be willing to take a swing at him especially if they are in the mix at the deadline.

Calgary Flames, with an “interim” general manager all things are possible. They are right in the mix for a return to the playoffs, but with essentially zero cap space making moves will probably be as picturesque as making laws or sausage. They are right up against the 50 contract limit, and have several unproductive large contracts some of them attached to no trade or no movement clauses. I’d be shocked to see any large moves, and the off season doesn’t look much better. If they can somehow manage a few tweaks that will galvanize the team, either end would be good, they are 16th in goals for and 17th in goals against.

The Blue Jackets probably have to be blown up if they can’t make it out of the first round this year. They are just four points out of the playoffs right now. How this is possible while being 25th in goals against and 21st in goals for is anyone’s guess. Me personally, I’d start the fire sale now and see what draft picks can be grabbed for this years draft and what prospects can be grabbed.  They have a pretty deep system, and adding a few other good picks to it means they can probably make a good run in two years and spend about what they are now.