Tuesday, March 14, 2017

NHL stock watch: March

With one month to go in the regular schedule, it’s time for another portfolio check as we take a look around the league to see which stocks are rising and which are falling.

We’ve been doing this every month since the season started, and it’s helped us identify some trends along the way. Some of those have stuck around, like the league-wide youth movement and the rise of Canadian teams. Others faded quickly, like when it seemed like a safe year to be an NHL coach. The markets are volatile; invest at your own risk.

Here’s who things are looking as we head down the home stretch.

Stock falling: The Western Conference playoff race

So, uh, about all that parity...

You remember that, right? This time last month, we were living in a world where 28 out of 30 NHL teams had at least some shot at a playoff spot. There were even some worries that all that parity would torpedo the trade deadline, since nobody other than Avalanche and Coyotes would be selling. Everyone else was still right in the thick of it.

And that wasn't all hyperbole – as late as the second week of February, everyone outside of Arizona and Colorado was no more than eight points out of a playoff spot, with enough time left to make up some distance with a hot streak or two.

Fast forward to today, though, and the season of parity turned into the season of reality real quick. Heading into action tonight, only two teams in the East are within five points of that last spot. And that's a traffic jam compared to the West, where only two teams are fighting over the final spot, and that fight may already be over.

Those two are the Blues and Kings, a pair of teams that both came into the season as Stanley Cup hopefuls. So there will be some drama watching them duke it out for one spot, knowing that missing the playoffs will spell disaster for the loser. But after last night's Blues win in Los Angeles, the Kings are five points back and in big trouble.

Unless somebody like the Flyers or Panthers can make a late push, we're left with 19 teams still in the mix with a month to go. And in both conferences, plenty of teams don't have anything to worry about beyond matchups.

Luckily, some of those matchups might be pretty good...

Stock rising: Rivalry matchups

It's too early to think about first-round matchups. Every year, we get excited about two teams that seem to be on a collision course, only to have it all fall apart on the final weekend.

So we won't go too far down this particular path when there's still a month to go. (Check back in a few weeks for a full roundup.) That said, there are some potential matchups in play that we haven't seen in a long time, and it's hard not to get at least a little bit excited about the possibilities.

Take the Atlantic, where the Senators, Canadiens and Bruins are holding down the top three spots. That means two of those teams would face each other, giving us a good shot at something like a classic Montreal/Boston matchup or a more recent rivalry like Montreal/Ottawa. We could also get the Sens and Bruins, which has never happened before and would give us our first look at Zdeno Chara facing his old team in the post-season.

But as interesting as those matchups could be, things get a lot more fun if the Maple Leafs can make up some ground and crash the party. The Leafs and Bruins have some recent playoff history, as you may have heard. But we haven't had a Battle of Ontario matchup since 2004, the last of four meetings in five years. And while the Leafs and Habs have met 13 times over their history, we somehow haven't seen them pair off since 1979.

There's a similar – and maybe even better – situation shaping up out west. The Flames' recent win steak moved them out of the wild-card bubble and into second spot in the Pacific. That means they could end up facing the Oilers, reigniting a Battle of Alberta that's been dormant for 26 years, at least as far as the post-season is concerned. The Flames and Oilers faced each other five times in nine years beginning in 1983, with the winner going to the Cup final in four of those. But after 1991, nothing. This could be the year that changes, and don't think fans in Alberta haven't already noticed.

Mix in a shot at some classic old-school rivalries like Blues/Blackhawks and Islanders/Capitals along with some relatively recent ones like Ducks/Sharks, and this year's playoffs could be shaping up as a rivalry showcase. Let's enjoy that possibility now, before some random Predators or Lightning game on the final weekend ruins everything.

>> Read the full post at Sportnet


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