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Condensed NHL season results in a reshuffling of the playoff deck

The Kings will defend their championship amid a power shift in both conferences amid lots of injuries and dramatic races to reach the postseason. Absence of some familiar teams opens door for others.

April 29, 2013|Helene Elliott
  • The Anaheim Ducks had to fight through a lull to hold the No. 2 seeding.
The Anaheim Ducks had to fight through a lull to hold the No. 2 seeding. (Darryl Dyck / Associated…)

The Stanley Cup playoffs will have a different look this season and not only because the Kings, for the first time in franchise history, are the defending champions.

This condensed season produced a lot of injuries and a lot of dramatic playoff races. There was also a shift in power in both conferences, highlighted by the Detroit Red Wings' struggle to squeeze into the top eight in the West. Hampered by injuries and the retirements of defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and feisty forward Tomas Holmstrom, the Red Wings didn't clinch their 22nd straight postseason berth until their season finale.

Elsewhere in the West, the Ducks had a great start but had to fight through a lull to hold the No. 2 seeding and return to the playoffs after a year's absence. Vancouver, No. 1 in the NHL last season, settled for the No. 3 West seeding and survived a goaltending controversy that was handled more gracefully by goalies Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider than by the media.

Late-charging Columbus barely missed a playoff berth but gave its fans hope for the future. The Minnesota Wild stumbled to the finish and had to win its finale to clinch its first playoff berth since 2008.

The Phoenix Coyotes, a West finalist last season, missed the playoffs. So did last season's No. 4 seed, the Nashville Predators. Both teams lacked the depth to withstand injuries, and the Predators never got over losing defenseman Ryan Suter to free agency.

In the East, the defending champion New Jersey Devils were undone by injuries and an offense weakened when Zach Parise joined Suter in Minnesota. Philadelphia, the No. 5 seed last season, also fell far short and not only because of injuries to their defense. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov could be an amnesty buyout.

The absence of some familiar teams opened the door to some teams that hadn't made the playoffs in a while. The New York Islanders got in for the first time since 2007, and the Toronto Maple Leafs qualified for the first time since 2004. Montreal went from last in the East to nearly the top, but the New York Rangers — who ranked No. 1 in the East last season — barely squeezed in this time.

On the hot seat

The postseason managerial and coaching merry-go-round began to spin Sunday.

The Dallas Stars fired General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk after his fourth straight non-playoff finish. TSN's Darren Dreger reported that Nieuwendyk will be succeeded by Jim Nill, who has been the assistant general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. That announcement is expected Monday. The status of Coach Glen Gulutzan remains unclear.

In a move that was not a surprise, the Colorado Avalanche fired Coach Joe Sacco after three straight non-playoff seasons. To an extent, Sacco was the victim of General Manager Greg Sherman's bumbling, but Sacco couldn't do better than lead the Avalanche to a 29th-place finish, continuing the franchise's decline. The only surprise was that Sherman wasn't fired too.

The Sabres' fourth playoff miss in six years and seventh in 11 could put GM Darcy Regier out of a job. Owner Terry Pegula has gotten little in return for his substantial investments, but he has so far been content to stay in the background and let Regier run things.

Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told reporters last week that he expects Coach Peter Laviolette to return next season, but owner Ed Snider has the final say. Edmonton Coach Ralph Krueger was said to be safe, but the Oilers' dismal finish might lead new General Manager Craig MacTavish to shop around.

Florida's Dale Tallon and Kevin Dineen probably will keep their jobs as GM and coach, respectively, after a season marred by massive injuries. Nashville and Phoenix are unlikely to make changes to their longtime management/coaching situations despite their playoff misses.

Slap shots

Farewell to Colorado winger Milan Hejduk, who is expected to retire. Hejduk was the NHL's 2002-03 goal-scoring champion with 50. Good luck also to hard-working Mike Knuble, and auf wiedersehen to Buffalo forward Jochen Hecht, who announced he will retire and return to his native Germany.

The Flyers are all but certain to buy out the contract of Danny Briere, and goalie Ryan Miller could leave Buffalo after playing 500 games for the Sabres over 10 seasons. He has one year left on his contract and reportedly wants to relocate nearer to his wife, Los Angeles-based actress Noureen DeWulf.

There's also the annual question about whether Teemu Selanne will be back with the Ducks. Just a guess, but this could be it for the fabulous Finn, whose playing time has dwindled while his scoring pace slowed. The NHL will be less fun when he hangs up his skates.

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