After the Whistle: Unlikely hopes
Each week hockey columnist Scott Morrison and his protegé, senior hockey writer Tim Wharnsby, exchange (mostly) friendly banter on the latest storylines in the NHL.
1. Can the New Jersey Devils continue their winning ways and make the playoffs?
MORRISON: I definitely think they can continue winning. They have been on an incredible role, 20-2-2 since Jan. 9. In the last 13 games, they haven't allowed a first-period goal and on it goes. Buffalo is playing better, so they could be hard to catch, but the Devils are eight points back with three games in hand on the Rangers, who might be the team they have to catch. Notwithstanding the big win over the Flyers, the Rangers have struggled to score and win, so they could be caught if the Devils keep winning.
WHARNSBY: Under head coach Jacques Lemaire and a scoring surge from sniper Ilya Kovalchuk the Devils have authored an incredible comeback story. It doesn't matter that eight of their 17 remaining games are against teams that currently are out of the playoffs or that eight games are at home, they're beating everybody these days everywhere. By my math the Devils need a minimum 25 points for a playoff berth. So I could see them sneaking in, especially if they can keep up their current level of play.
2. What was your favourite story from the past week?
WHARNSBY: One of my favourite people in hockey is Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. Once again, he has demonstrated this season why he is one of the best in the business. Yes, goalie Ryan Miller has returned to form. But after a 3-9-2 start, a spot in the Eastern Conference basement and the loss of their top centre, Derek Roy, Ruff has steered the Sabres into the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with a solid 29-16-6 run.
MORRISON: No question the Sabres have been on a roll and while Brad Boyes was a nice addition at the trade deadline, so too was the new owner, Terry Pegula. Anyway, that's a great story as is the resurgence of the Blackhawks and the great play of captain Jonathan Toews, who is making a strong case for some most valuable player votes. It was also nice to see the Dallas Stars end their skid and win some games even though Brad Richards wasn't able to return to their lineup.
3. What is your take on the Phoenix Coyotes situation and the slim possibility that franchise could return to Winnipeg?
MORRISON: Let's put it this way, they are as close now to returning to Winnipeg as they have ever been. We should know in the next fortnight because everyone knows they need a resolution. Can they restructure the deal? Or can the city of Glendale sell the bonds? It is impossible to know, but the good news is we will know soon. For the people of Winnipeg, I hope they get their team. It's interesting, though, that not everyone in the NHL is onside with it, which is partially why Bettman is working so hard to keep the team in Phoenix.
WHARNSBY: I personally would love to see it happen for not only Winnipeg, but Quebec City, too. But I will believe it only when the move becomes official. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman put the team there because the Phoenix area was one of the fastest growing areas of the United States at the time and remains the 12th largest television market in the U.S. Bettman is stubborn and doesn't want to admit this relocation hasn't worked out. He has used the Winnipeg transfer possibility as a threat to the Glendale municipal government. Daft ownership and a decision to locate the team in Glendale, a suburb of 250,000 west of downtown Phoenix, have this team on the brink of extinction in Arizona. The time is right to correct a wrong, but I think the NHL will find a way to keep the team in the desert.