Sports

After historic playoff miss, Canadian teams all thinking playoffs at midway point

Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty (67) vies for the loose puck with Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly (44) during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Saturday, January 7, 2017. Playoff hockey looks like it will return to Canada this spring. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty (67) vies for the loose puck with Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly (44) during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Saturday, January 7, 2017. Playoff hockey looks like it will return to Canada this spring. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Playoff hockey is likely returning to Canada this spring.

All seven Canadian NHL teams are either in or close to a playoff spot at the season's midway point, meaning a repeat of last year's calamity — which saw every team in Canada miss the post-season for the first time in 46 years — probably won't happen again.

Here is a look at the progress of each team so far:

 

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Playoff spot: Yes

MVP: Carey Price

Report: The Canadiens have returned to a place of Eastern Conference prominence and it starts with Price, who didn't lose his first start until mid-November and is again boasting elite numbers at the game's most important position. Shea Weber, meanwhile, has thrived in a difficult role as a first-year Hab, Alex Radulov has been a star reborn in his return to North America and Max Pacioretty has been typically potent following a slow start. Helpful contributions from the likes of Paul Byron, Jeff Petry, Phillip Danault and emerging star Alex Galchenyuk (prior to injury) have the Atlantic Division leaders looking like a near lock for the post-season.

 

OTTAWA SENATORS

Playoff spot: Yes

MVP: Erik Karlsson

Report: The Senators fired Dave Cameron and hired Guy Boucher with hopes of stirring a rebirth and indeed that's what happened so far. Ottawa has cut down the shots against, improved its special teams and puck possession (slightly) and become a (shaky) playoff contender once more. Kyle Turris and Mark Stone are having nice years and though Karlsson has slowed some from last year's ridiculous 82-point campaign, the captain still offers Ottawa an engine from the back end. The Sens still get outshot more often than not and can lean too much on goalies Craig Anderson and Mike Condon, making their sustainability in the second half something of a question mark.

 

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Playoff spot: On the bubble

MVP: Auston Matthews

Report: The Leafs didn't expect to be this good so soon. Their youngsters are playing better than even they might have anticipated so far. And it's not only Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, already impact players at 19, but fellow rookies like Nikita Zaitsev, Zach Hyman and William Nylander who have made a considerable difference in Toronto. Stack that on top of solid seasons from veterans such as Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk and Jake Gardiner as well as goaltending stability from Frederik Andersen and the Leafs find themselves in the unlikely post-season mix.

 

WINNIPEG JETS

Playoff spot: On the bubble

MVP: Mark Scheifele

Report: The Jets have hung around the playoff race despite Jacob Trouba's lengthy contract dispute and a number of injured players, including star rookie Patrik Laine, who's out with a concussion. Beyond the obvious and immediate impact of Laine, Winnipeg has received big contributions and notable leaps forward from Scheifele and 20-year-old Nikolaj Ehlers. Rookie Josh Morrissey has also capably handled top-pairing duties alongside Dustin Byfuglien and 23-year-old Connor Hellebuyck has shown flashes of potential as the team's No. 1 goalie. It's hard to say how good the Jets are or could be since they've yet to dress a truly complete lineup, but playoffs aren't out of the question.

 

EDMONTON OILERS

Playoff spot: Yes

MVP: Connor McDavid

Report: An MVP candidate who finally turns 20 on Friday, McDavid has the Oilers thinking playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. Patrick Maroon has found a comfortable fit at his side, surprisingly among the league leaders in even-strength goals this season. Leon Draisaitl continues to quietly rise and Cam Talbot remains a solid presence in goal, while off-season acquisitions like Adam Larsson, Milan Lucic and Kris Russell have all helped to varying degrees. With strong underlying numbers, good special teams and McDavid, post-season hockey in Edmonton appears likely for the first time since 2006.

 

CALGARY FLAMES

Playoff spot: Yes

MVP: Chad Johnson

Report: The Flames hoped a change in goal would help them get back in playoff contention only it's been Johnson, not Brian Elliott, who's offered that boost. Perhaps most encouraging is the club's standing despite relatively slow first halves from Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Rookie Matthew Tkachuk has been a pleasant surprise, as have linemates Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. Dougie Hamilton, otherwise, has impressed since he joined captain Mark Giordano on the team's top pair. If Gaudreau and Monahan get going and the goaltending keeps up, the Flames have a reasonable chance of cracking the post-season for only the second time since 2009.

 

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Playoff spot: On the bubble

MVP: Bo Horvat

Report: The Canucks looked like a team that would finish in the NHL basement when they dropped nine straight early this season, but they've been OK since, even reeling off a six-game win streak recently. Horvat, in particular, has surged, well on his way to career-highs in just about every offensive category while also earning his first all-star nod at age 21. His frequent running mate, Sven Baertschi, has put up almost a point per game since early November, offering Vancouver a scoring boost beyond the aging Sedin twins. The Canucks still feel like a team caught between trying to contend for the playoffs and not actually having the talent to do so, but a dreadful start has at least been put in the rear-view mirror.