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Peter Mueller #88 of the Colorado Avalanche and Wojtek Wolski #86 of the Phoenix Coyotes await a face off during the first period of the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on Thursday night. (Christian Petersen/2010 Getty Images)
Peter Mueller #88 of the Colorado Avalanche and Wojtek Wolski #86 of the Phoenix Coyotes await a face off during the first period of the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on Thursday night. (Christian Petersen/2010 Getty Images)

Duhatschek's Notebook

No perfect formula for building a contender Add to ...

So San Jose, for example, added a depth defenceman in Niclas Wallin prior to the Olympics and then stood pat, on the assumption that the changes to the supporting cast made in the off-season (primarily Dany Heatley, but also Manny Malhotra and Scott Nichol) will help them achieve what they couldn't last year. Ultimately, goaltender Evgeni Nabokov needs a better playoff (and who knows what the effect of his Olympic meltdown will be?) but the Sharks' play this year indicates they at least have a chance with the team as it is currently constituted.

It was the same in Chicago, where the Blackhawks traded Cam Barker to the Minnesota Wild for Kim Johnsson and a prospect, thus addressing their salary-cap issues for next year, while adding a player that will contribute more in the short term, as they push for a playoff spot. Their own goaltending questions (Cristobal Huet or Antti Niemi?) remain, and if one or the other or both are found wanting, then it'll be a position they'll re-address in the summer.

In either case, the GMs pondered the options and said thanks but no thanks to the available warm bodies on offer.

THE EASTERN FRONT:

Upsets are what fuels interest in the NHL playoffs, which are always most exciting in that opening round, when nervous contenders can feel the heat early - and aren't always able to respond. Last year, it was the Sharks going down to an eighth seed, Anaheim.

Is there such a major surprise in the offing this year?

It's hard to see it in the East, given that Washington, Pittsburgh and New Jersey all made themselves better in the last month and - their point totals notwithstanding - appear to be the class of the conference at the moment. Ottawa and Buffalo are jockeying for top spot in the Northeast, a prize worth winning if only because it guarantees that you can avoid one of the top three in the opening round. Washington will go in as the No. 1 seed; it will be interesting to see if Pittsburgh can catch New Jersey for top spot in the Atlantic Division, which would give them the No. 2 seed.

Barring upsets, what was a quarter-final last year - Pittsburgh-Washington - would then become a semi-final this year. Last year, the semis were the only round not worth watching - a couple of walkovers, with Detroit and Pittsburgh advancing past Chicago and Carolina. A Pittsburgh-Washington match-up would have the feel of a final before the actual final. TV programmers on both sides of the border would cheer for that development.

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