FEASTER ON THE WARPATH: Flames’ general manager Jay Feaster went on a tirade Thursday night, warning that he’ll be open for business if his team doesn’t get its act together between now and Monday. A serious threat? Or more like the strategy Anaheim Ducks’ GM Bob Murray employed a few months ago, when he suggested everybody on his team, save the two player with no-trades (Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu) were available. Murray wasn’t ever going to trade Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry (or Cam Fowler or Luca Sbisa for that matter), but he did get the players’ attention and the Ducks have been on a roll ever since. Feaster’s strategy is complicated by the fact that his six highest-paid forwards (Jarome Iginla, Mike Cammalleri, Alex Tanguay, Matt Stajan, Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross); his four highest-paid defencemen (Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, Cory Sarich and Anton Babchuk) and his No. 1 goalie, Miikka Kiprusoff, all have no-trade clauses. Kind of ties your hands a bit. And since Feaster is on the record as saying Iginla and Kiprusoff aren’t going anywhere, it limits his options in terms of blowing up his team. More likely, Feaster was just trying to get everybody’s attention in the same way Murray did. Following Thursday’s overtime loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, Calgary is in a three-way tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with the Kings and Dallas Stars. All have 66 points in 61 games played, with Dallas holding the edge in the first tie-breaker.
THE PLAYOFF RACES: Officially, three-quarters of the NHL season will be in the books by Saturday, which is when scoreboard-watching becomes less of an idle pursuit and more something worth pursuing. Teams can never exactly pick their poisons when it comes to first-round playoff match-ups, but there could be value in finishing first in the West, just in case the surging Coyotes overhauls San Jose for top spot in the Pacific, which would drop the Sharks from the No. 3 seed to No. 7 and set up a dangerous first-round meeting with whatever team finishes second overall. Vancouver’s chances of catching and overtaking the Red Wings greatly increased with Thursday night’s come-from-behind victory, which also ended Detroit’s 23-game home-winning streak and amounted to a three-point swing in the standings. It doesn’t help Detroit’s cause that they’ll be without centre Pavel Datsyuk until probably mid-March, which might be just enough time for the Canucks to overhaul the Wings in the interim.
Meanwhile over in the East, what a strange, upside-down season for the four Canadian-based teams in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. In October, it was reasonable to think the Montreal Canadiens - who came within a game of eliminating the Boston Bruins in the opening round last year - had the best chance of qualifying for post-season play. Now, with a quarter of the season remaining, there is a plausible scenario in which the Canadiens become the only Canadian team to miss out in the East. With the Florida Panthers fading and the Washington Capitals muddling along without left winger Alex Ovechkin, the Winnipeg Jets could sneak in and grab the Southeast Division title and the No. 3 playoff seed, where they sit today. The Ottawa Senators’ recent surge has helped them build a cushion again, and so the challenge might be for the Toronto Maple Leafs to emerge from their current slide and keep a second Southeast team from qualifying.
AND FINALLY: Ottawa’s goaltending depth will be put to the test now that Craig Anderson has been sidelined with a lacerated finger, part of a kitchen accident that will give prospect Robin Lehner a chance to shine. Lehner is the Senators’ goalie of the future and provided he can keep them afloat in the present, it may end up being a blessing in disguise for Ottawa. Anderson is one of only seven NHL goalies to have played above 3,000 minutes this season, all of whom are at risk of burning out, if they cannot catch a breather between now and playoff time. The others: Quick, Kiprusoff, Pekka Rinne (Nashville), Carey Price (Montreal), Jonas Hiller (Anaheim) and Ondrej Pavelec (Winnipeg). Among those seven, only Rinne’s Predators seem like playoff locks.