x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The strength in depth is found in the West

Read between the lines, and you will find that 11 teams are separated by three points in the NHL's Western Conference.

The West is the best. The East is the least. Sometimes there is truth in rhyme.

In the NHL's Western Conference, Detroit, Chicago, San Jose and Vancouver all have realistic hopes of hoisting the Stanley Cup next June. The Canucks (16-8-4) sit in second place in the conference with 36 points. The St Louis Blues (14-9-5), meanwhile, are down in 12th place with 33 points. Read between the lines, and you'll find that 11 teams are separated by three points in the West. In two divisions - the Central and Pacific - every team has a winning record.

The Eastern Conference, meanwhile, features the likes of New Jersey and the New York Islanders, a couple of clubs with a combined 13-36-7 record. After starting the season 4-1-2, the Islanders have won one game in their past 20 outings.

The Devils have seen a season that began with so much Ilya Kovalchuk hype and hope deteriorate into a horror show. New Jersey cannot score, the defence is spotty and Martin Brodeur has missed more games than he has played due to injury.

Of course, the East boasts the Pittsburgh Penguins, and perhaps Washington will turn things around, and they also have Philadelphia, Montreal or Boston.

Any of these clubs, to be sure, are capable of reaching the cup final. But at this point, only Pittsburgh rate as elite contenders. The West has at lest four teams with legitimate championship hopes … and maybe a dozen, if you believe the standings.