Thursday, December 2, 2021

Five way-too-early playoff scenarios we should all be wishing for

It’s December, which means it’s time for the grownups to get serious about their holiday shopping, and time for the kids to get serious about their wish lists. That latter one is way more fun, and it’s what we’re going to play with today.

Dear hockey gods: I have been a very good boy this year, and would like you to bring me these five playoff scenarios.

OK, yes, I hear you – it’s way too early to start thinking about the playoffs. But that’s the whole point. When it’s way too early, that means we can still wish for pretty much anything. Once we get close to spring, most of the cool stuff will be off the table, or at least feeling like a longshot. When you’re still months away, reality hasn’t kicked in yet and there are way more options are in play.

This is all about the anticipation of the night before. There will be time to find out we actually got socks and underwear later. So today, here are five vaguely realistic scenarios that I’m really hoping we get to see at the end of the year.

Oilers vs. Flames

We’ll start with the most obvious pick. This year marks three decades since the last time we had a Battle of Alberta in the postseason. That’s bizarre, given that the two teams are always in the same division. We finally got a long-awaited Leafs/Habs meeting last year – I’m only halfway through on PVR, don’t tell me how it ends – and it doesn’t look like Rangers/Islanders is in play this year. That means that Flames/Oilers is pretty much indisputably the best long-term rivalry option on the table.

It would be a fascinating matchup. You’d have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the two best offensive players in the world, going up against the system of defensive mastermind Darryl Sutter and a goalie who might be in the running for the Vezina. Speaking of Jacob Markstrom, remember that he shunned the Oilers’ offer to sign with Calgary. We could get a Milan Lucic or James Neal redemption arc. How about a seven-game war of attrition between Zach Hyman and Matthew Tkachuk? On paper, the series could be great, even without the history.

All that said, the history is the best part here. There’s just something about these two teams sharing the ice that always feels like we’re back in the Smythe Division days. Even if the game isn’t all that important, eventually somebody goes for a big hit, the fans start buzzing, and the next thing you know the goalies are throwing haymakers. Imagine doing it with everything on the line in the postseason.

And yes, I know I’ve been trying to will this series into existence for years now. It has to work some time, right? Maybe not, but I’m going to keep trying.

How realistic is it? The good news is that the two teams are battling for first place in the division, so they both look like safe bets to make the playoffs. The bad news is that we’ll need some help to see a matchup in the first round, either through one of the teams dropping into the wildcard mix, or both being passed some other team for top spot in the Pacific.

(We could also just wait until the second round, which would guarantee that one would win the division. I have my reasons for hoping somebody else takes that crown, for reasons we’ll get to in a bit.)

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