x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

NHL teams must decide whether to stick or twist as the post-season approaches

The NHL post-season brings with it a host of questions for teams, even those on the top of their game.

Now it gets interesting. We are into the NHL homestretch, folks, when the games graduate to another level of seriousness, both on and off the ice.

The trade deadline is a month away. The end of the regular season is just over two months away. The play-off races will start to really heat up and teams on the bubble have to decide whether they are contenders or pretenders. Is it time to make a Stanley Cup charge, or do you trade off the veterans for future considerations?

Even teams like Vancouver and Philadelphia, who lead their respective conferences, have to think about tinkering and finding that one extra piece that might mean the difference between a Game 7 victory and an early trip home.

Because in the NHL, even the top-end teams are not above reproach.

The Canucks are deep on defence, but back surgery for Alex Edler, their top D-man, and the absence of Sami Salo will challenge that notion. And while the Sedin twins are tearing things up and Ryan Kesler has elevated his play, the secondary scoring has not been the sum of its parts.

So, do the Canucks bring on another defenceman for the play-off run, or go out and get a veteran scoring winger? Or both?

Logic says you can never have too many quality defenders, but the Canucks might challenge that idea if everyone gets healthy at the same time. Too much of a good thing - even on the blueline - and you risk a chemistry imbalance.

The Flyers, meanwhile, are loaded at forward and defence. The problem in Philadelphia - as it has been since Ron Hextall departed many years ago - is in the crease. Truthfully, it is more of a question mark than a problem.

Sergei Bobrovsky, the goaltender, has ranged from solid to stellar in his first season in the NHL.

In fact, it is his first year in North America, and the Russian rookie , 22, has passed every test. But, the NHL post-season marathon immediately follows the NHL regular-season marathon.

If Bobrovsky is the masked man capable of leading the Flyers to the cup that they couldn't win last year, he will have to star in 20-plus play-off games on the heels of 60-plus starts between October and April.

Before joining the NHL he never saw more than 35 games in a season. Will he be as good in May as he was in November, when the intensity rises (along with, perhaps, his exhaustion level)?

Every NHL team, no matter how good or how bad, faces key questions in the coming month. And the way they answer them will greatly impact who gets to hold the parade in June.