TRAIKOS: Is it too early to talk about a McDavid versus Eichel first-round match-up?

TRAIKOS: Is it too early to talk about a McDavid versus Eichel first-round match-up?

Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers skates against Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on March 1, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.
Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers skates against Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on March 1, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. Photo by Jen Fuller /Getty Images

Is it too early to talk about a Connor McDavid versus Jack Eichel playoff match-up?

Advertisement 2

With Los Angeles fading in the standings and Vegas returning back to full health, it’s looking more and more like the Oilers and Golden Knights could meet in the first round. If so, we could get our first-ever head-to-head battle between the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

It wouldn’t be Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin or even McDavid versus Auston Matthews, but it would be close.

We’re talking about two players whose careers have been linked for the past seven years. During that time, McDavid’s Oilers have failed to meet post-season expectations, while Eichel’s teams have simply failed to qualify for the playoffs.

But it’s all starting to come together.

As of Wednesday morning, Edmonton was holding down the second seed in the Pacific Division. And though Vegas is currently on the outside looking in at a playoff spot, the Golden Knights are only three points back of the Kings with a game in hand. With Los Angeles now without Drew Doughty for the rest of the year, it’s looking more and more like the NHL could get a matchup that has been years in the making.

Advertisement 3

Before we get ahead of ourselves, a lot has to happen between now and the start of the playoffs.

Unlike the East, the West is still wide open and still very much up for grabs. Nothing — whether it is playoff seeding or playoff spots — is settled. There are only eight points separating the second-place Oilers from the fifth-place Canucks in the Pacific Division, while as many as four teams are vying for the final wild card.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

With a few weeks remaining in the season, here is a look at where things stand and where everyone could end up by the end of the month:

EDMONTON OILERS

2nd in the Pacific Division

Record: 42-26-6 (90 points)

Games remaining: 8

Strength of schedule: With Nashville, Vegas, Dallas, Colorado and Pittsburgh all coming up in the next few weeks, the Oilers won’t have much time to take a breath and relax.

Advertisement 4

How it looks: Despite losing their last two games, the Oilers have been playing their best hockey of the season. Since March 9, the team is 12-3-2. A lot of that has to do with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who have combined for 93 goals and 210 points. But even more of it is because of goalie Mike Smith, who has yet to lose this month. Let’s hope he has a little more gas in the tank.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

3rd in the Pacific Division

Record: 39-26-10 (88 points)

Games remaining: 7

Strength of schedule: Though Los Angeles only has seven games remaining — the fewest of the teams in the playoff hunt — six of those games are against non-playoff teams. But two of those, including Wednesday night’s opponent, are on the second of back-to-back nights.

Advertisement 5

How it looks: The re-tooling Kings have avoided a full-scale rebuild by hanging around a playoff spot all season long. But with Vegas only three points back, their playoff hopes took a major hit this week with the announcement that Drew Doughty had undergone wrist surgery and will be done for the year. Los Angeles has gone 7-7-3 without their No. 1 defenceman.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

1st in the Wild Card race

Record: 42-26-5 (89 points)

Games remaining: 9

Strength of schedule: Don’t buy those playoff tickets just yet. Aside from Chicago and Arizona, seven of Nashville’s remaining games are against teams above them in the standings.

How it looks: If the season ended today, Nashville would play the Pacific-leading Calgary Flames in the first round. Fans should get a taste of that potential matchup with the two teams playing each other twice in the next couple of weeks. Another thing to watch is whether Norris Trophy favourite Roman Josi, who is sitting on 87 points, will become the first defenceman in 30 years to reach triple digits.

Advertisement 6

DALLAS STARS

2nd in the Wild Card race

Record: 42-27-5 (89 points)

Games remaining: 9

Strength of schedule: You have to think that the Stars’ season is going to come down to a three-game Western Canada road trip next week. If they survive that, they should be in a good spot, since they’ve got Arizona and Anaheim as their last two games.

How it looks: It seems like not selling at the trade deadline was the right move. Since March 21, the Stars are 8-3-1. Some of that has to do with the play of backup goalie Scott Wedgewood, who has picked up seven of a possible eight points since being acquired at the deadline. The Stars still have to get through the next couple of weeks. But based on their 1-0 win against Tampa Bay on Tuesday — a rematch of the 2020 Stanley Cup final — Dallas is looking like a contender once again.

Advertisement 7

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

3rd in the Wild Card race

Record: 40-29-5 (85 points)

Games remaining: 8

Strength of schedule: With LA struggling, it seems inevitable that Vegas will get in. But with five of their eight games against playoff-bound teams — and five games on the road — it’s still going to be a challenge for the Golden Knights to pick up wins.

How it looks: Is Jack Eichel ever going to make the playoffs? While it would be a huge story if a team as star-studded as Vegas misses out, it would be an even bigger one would be if the Golden Knights manage to catch the Kings, which would set up a first round matchup against Connor McDavid and the Oilers. Having Robin Lehner back helps those odds. But a lot of this is still up to Eichel, who has been leading Vegas’ offence lately with six goals and nine points in his past eight games.

Advertisement 8

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

4th in the Wild Card race

Record: 36-28-10 (82 points)

Games remaining: 8

Strength of schedule: With upcoming games against Arizona, Ottawa and Seattle, there are some easy points for Vancouver to pick up. But the one game the team should be circling on the calendar is next Monday’s against the Dallas Stars, who remain seven points up on the Canucks for the final wild card spot.

How it looks: According to sportsclubstats.com, Vancouver only has a 5.2% of making the playoffs. But those odds could significantly increase if the Canucks, who are on a four-game winning streak, continue to average 4.75 goals per game while allowing 1.75 goals per game. Either way, they’re giving fans something to watch in these final weeks.

Advertisement 9

WINNIPEG JETS

5th in the Wild Card race

Record: 35-28-11 (81 points)

Games remaining: 8

Strength of schedule: With five games remaining against Eastern Conference teams, and two against divisional leaders, this is not the ideal schedule for a team needing to make up significant ground in the standings.

How it looks: What would it take for the Jets to make the playoffs? Frankly, a miracle, considering they are eight points back of the final wild card spot with only eight games remaining. You’d have to think they need to run the table from here on out. Even then, they’ll need help from the teams they’re trying to catch. That being said, it would be great if Kyle Connor, who has 42 goals, can reach the 50-goal mark.

opening envelope

Your Midday Sun

From our newsroom to your inbox at noon, the latest headlines, stories, opinion and photos from the Toronto Sun.

By clicking on the sign up button you consent to receive the above newsletter from Postmedia Network Inc. You may unsubscribe any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of our emails. Postmedia Network Inc. | 365 Bloor Street East, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 3L4 | 416-383-2300

CBD Oil, 9 Must-haves Before Embarking On Cannabinoid
Find out more