Just past the midway point of the regular season, the ‘Hawks find themselves eleven points ahead of the number 9 seed and seven points ahead of the number 5 seed. Not to mention, they have at least two games at hand over any of the playoff contenders. It’s pretty safe to say the seven year playoff drought will end in April.
Despite what some may say, the race for the Campbell (aka the Western) Conference is wide open. The NHL playoffs are way too unpredictable to claim two teams in January will be the final two standing come May. A hot goalie or key injury can knock out the biggest of powerhouses. With all this being said, here’s the first (and probably most premature) look at the ‘Hawks future first round opponents. Included at the end of each team profile is a Fifth Feather Meter measuring how favorable of a match-up it would be for the ‘Hawks (1 Feather being the least favorable, 10 Feathers the most).
Phoenix (47 games, 51 points, Record vs ‘Hawks 0-4)– Um, yes please. This would be the most popular choice among ‘Hawk faithful and not just because the ‘Hawks were the Ike to the Coyotes’ Tina. Phoenix is a similar team to the ‘Hawks in that they have very little playoff experience. Other than bromance partners Todd Fedoruk and Daniel Carcillo, the ‘Yotes don’t offer much of a physical presence which could intimidate the ‘Hawks. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is a bit scary because he fits the profile of a goalie who can get red-hot and single-handedly knock out a team only to go into the next round and look like he’s never stood between the pipes before. This may resemble a scene out of ‘Apocalypto’ before it resembles a playoff series.
Fifth Feather Meter— 9 1/2 Feathers
Anaheim (47 games, 51 points, Record vs. ‘Hawks 1-1)– The Ducks are everything the Hawks are not. They’re playoff tested, they’re incredibly physical, they’re always thinking defense first. With Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer leading their defensive corp and Jean-Sebastien Giguere in net, the Ducks can shut down the most stout of offensive attacks. Their top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan pose a tough match-up for any defensive pairing. Teemu Selanne lurks as their Special Teams Superhero (Hockey’s answer to the ’05 and ’06 Devin Hester). The Ducks are getting a little long in the tooth and could be pretty beat up by the time the playoffs roll around but they’re not a team the ‘Hawks should be hoping to face in their first playoff appearance in seven years.
Fifth Feather Meter–3 Feathers
Vancouver (47 games, 50 points, Record vs. ‘Hawks 0-2)– Vancouver is an interesting team for the ‘Hawks. So far, they’ve had no problem with them and historically the ‘Hawks have owned the Canuckleheads come playoff time. However, the Canucks have notorious ‘Hawk killer Pavol Demitra (he of the game winning goal in game 4 of the ’02 Playoffs, 1-0 Blues) and the terror Twins, Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Roberto Luongo is not the goalie I’d want to face in a must win series but their defensive corps won’t exactly send Patrick Kane shivering back to Denis Savard’s warm bosom. In fact, in their first match-up this year, Jonathon Toews made one of their top defenseman, Willie Mitchell look sillier than the clowns I saw leaving the UC on Friday night only wearing ‘Hawk jerseys. For the amount of time and paper wasted on Mats Sundin, in five games thus far, he has a goal, an assist, and is a -4.
Fifth Feather Meter— 6 Feathers
Minnesota (44 games, 47 points, Record vs. ‘Hawks 1-2)– Monday’s opponent would be a tricky playoff match for the ‘Hawks. The Wild’s suffocating (read: Incredibly boring) style of play gives the free wheeling ‘Hawks headaches in the regular season, let alone a playoff series. Goalie Niklas Backstrom wouldn’t make things much easier. The Finnish workhorse leads the Wild backline. As goes Mikko Koivu, so goes the Minnesota offense. Koivu is putting together his finest season yet with 12 goals and 29 assists. The ‘Hawks wouldn’t have to worry about Marian Gaborik as he is likely done for the year. Positive note to mention, Coach Q led the Avalanche past Minnesota last year in a first round match-up. Negative note, Cal Clutterbuck reeks of a guy who would match his season output in a seven game series causing numerous amounts of fans to use unoriginal nickname.
Fifth Feather Meter— 4 Feathers
Edmonton (45 games, 49 points, Record vs. ‘Hawks 0-2)– For all the talk about Head Coach Craig Mactavish losing his job, the Oilers are doing a pretty good job of keeping themselves relevant. Owners of the last playoff spot, a second half charge could see Edmonton climb up the rankings. They’re very similar to the ‘Hawks and Coyotes because of their lack of playoff experience but the Oilers have gobs of offensive talent that could prove to be a handful in a seven game set. Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner, and Sam Gagner are all M-80’s waiting to go off. Their back line brings the O-ffense too with Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky, and Erik Cole. Fortunately, they’re not the greatest of defensive teams and their goalie, Dwanye Roloson won’t set the world ablaze with his stellar play.
Fifth Feather Meter— 8 Feathers
Columbus (45 games, 48 points, Record vs. ‘Hawks 0-1-1)– Since their inception into the NHL, the Men who wear Jackets that are Blue have given the ‘Hawks fits. Past years, the only excuse the ‘Hawks had was they were terrible themselves and they were hypnotized by the boringness of this franchise. This year, Columbus actually has a nice crop of talent. Head Coach Ken Hitchcock implements a similar defensive style of play to the Minnesota Wild and drives some hockey fans bananas because of it. Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius are a solid 1-2 scoring punch and Mike Commodore brings toughness and experience to their defense. Losing youngster Derick Brassard for the season hurts their offense but rookie goalie Steve Mason looks like the real deal. It will be tough for Columbus to grab the four or five seed but they’ll give Detroit or San Jose all they can handle in a first round matchup.
Fifth Feather Meter— 5 1/2 Feathers
Colorado (46 games, 47 points, Record vs. ‘Hawks 1-2)– This is probably Coach Q’s dream first round match-up. Nothing would say ‘Go f— yourself San Diego’ quite like knocking out the team who fired him last season. In three games against Colorado thus far, the ‘Hawks have beaten them red, toyed with them for a couple periods, then beat them silly in the third, and lost a game by which most Avalanche followers called it ‘Colorado’s most complete game of the season’. The ‘Lanche sport some high-priced talent led by Ryan Smyth and Milan Hejduk and some future high-priced talent in Paul Stastny (who is out indefinitely with a broken right arm). They have a ton of playoff experience but goalie Peter Budaj isn’t going to make anyone forget about Patrick Roy. Colorado Head Coach Tony Granato is probably the worst coach of the teams on this list making it quite easy for Coach Q to pants him in a potential match-up.
Fifth Feather Meter–7 1/2 Feathers
Dallas (43 games, 45 points, Record vs. ‘Hawks 0-2)– After putting the Sean Avery mistake to bed finally, the Stars have climbed out of the Western Conference cellar. The preseason pick of Stanley Cup Champion by the Fifth Feather’s own blackhawkbob has essentially the same team that took the Red Wings to six games in the Conference Finals last year. Their heart, soul, and livelihood, Brenden Morrow, could return by the playoffs after tearing his ACL in November which would be like giving Bruce Banner a B-12 shot (Translation to people who don’t know comics, bad news for the Western Conference). The Stars go four lines deep when they give a damn and their defense and goaltending is as good as it gets. Unfortunately for them, they hadn’t shown much interest in this season until they unloaded Sean Avery. Now, they’re resembling the team of the long playoff run from last year. This would be the worst match-up the ‘Hawks could face other than the Ducks. In an ideal world, they’ll nab the 7 or 8 seed and turn the Western Conference Playoff upside down by knocking out Detroit or San Jose.
Fifth Feather Meter— 2 1/2 Feathers