In his weekly notebook, Eric Duhatschek explores a revolutionary new playoff format, Teemu Selanne's future with the Anaheim Ducks, and the St. Louis Blues' disciplinary call on T.J. Oshie.
The Anaheim Ducks might be the most interesting team in the NHL right now, with so many great storylines to explore that it's hard to get to them all on a single visit to town. But let's start with the most important one for any Canadian hockey fan who is hoping the Vancouver Canucks become the first Canadian-based team to win a Stanley Cup since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens.
The Ducks are on an 8-2 run at the moment, have edged up to seventh spot in the Western Conference and are within two points of the fourth-place Phoenix Coyotes. More importantly, they are just one back of their arch rivals, the Los Angeles Kings, and have a chance to leapfrog them in the standings because they finish with a home-and-home series against a Kings team muddling along without top scorers Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams.
Why does it matter to Vancouver? Only that there should be some reward for winning the Northwest Division, for winning the Western Conference regular-season title and for winning the President's Trophy - and for a while, it looked as if the Canucks might draw the surging Ducks in the opening round, hardly a just reward for their October-to-April consistency.
In fact, it would be a matchup eerily reminiscent of what unfolded in the 2009 playoffs, when Anaheim made a similar late-season push, just squeezed into the postseason, and then knocked off the first-place San Jose Sharks in the opening round.
This is where I make my annual plea for a tweak in the playoff system that would be so much fun, the NHL will never go for it:
For the opening playoff round, why shouldn't the higher-seeded team be able to pick which opponent it plays?
Think about that. Right now, only five points separate the five teams ranked four-to-eight in the West. It is a tightly packed bunch, but they all got to this stage of the season in different ways, and, as a result, pose different challenges in the postseason.
Some were good early and then cooled off. Some were slow out of the gate but eventually picked up steam. Anaheim is on the cusp of a playoff spot rather than being comfortably in the mix for two reasons: A horrible start to the season and then another stretch, right after Jonas Hiller got hurt, in which they turned to Curtis McElhinney in goal and he faltered. Ducks' GM Bob Murray went to work, bringing in Dan Ellis from Tampa and Ray Emery as a free agent. They stabilized the position and Anaheim has been solid ever since, finding ways to win tight games.
They have arguably the best line in hockey (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan). They have the inspirational, record-setting 40-year-old Teemu Selanne, who is currently a top-10 scorer. They have the leading scorer among defencemen in the NHL in Lubomir Visnovsky. They have a precocious 18-year-old wunderkind on the blue line (Cam Fowler). And now, they have goaltending again.
So you probably don't want to mess with the Ducks in the opening round, where anything can and usually does happen.
Which is why, if Vancouver could pick its first-round opponent, it would be fairer (justice for its regular-season excellence) and would also add a delicious subplot to the proceedings - the opposition knowing that it was chosen because of the perception that it is the most beatable of the qualifiers.
Here's how it would work: The four top teams in the conference get home-ice advantage and get to choose opponents on the basis of their finish. Vancouver picks No. 1. They'd probably opt for either L.A., because of its injuries, or Nashville, because the Predators have never won a playoff round in franchise history (but do have a wild card in goaltender Pekka Rinne.). San Jose is currently No. 2. They'd probably pick whichever of L.A. or Nashville Vancouver didn't choose. Detroit goes third. Do they opt for Chicago, their great rival and defending champion, or the Ducks which, on top of everything else, would create a far greater travel commitment? Hard to say, but you'd be interested in knowing which way they'd go. Fourth-place Phoenix would inherit the team that is left.