We all tend to get set in our ways.
Maybe it comes in the form of taking the same route to work every day or ordering the same meal off the menu every time we go out to eat.
Similarly, it’s easy to fall into the same trap of believing we’ve got our favourite leagues figured out after the first month of the season. But nothing is ever static in sports; teams get better, teams get worse, journeymen players can catch fire, while stars can go ice cold.
That’s why upsets happen and it’s why the Saskatoon Blades — written off for much of the season as a likely pretender for both the playoffs and their own Memorial Cup — are suddenly as hot as anyone in the Western Hockey League and looking very much like a contender.
The Sun decided to crunch some numbers and see which teams have taken the biggest steps, and which have taken the biggest stumbles since the Jan. 10 trade deadline, based on their records going into last night’s games.
• Kootenay Ice +.298 (before deadline: 16-24-1-0 .402; since deadline: 10-4-1-0 .700) — The most improved team since the deadline based on point percentage could very well end up missing the playoffs due to their woeful first half. If they get in, the Ice might still be resigned to an early exit against one of the top contenders, but they’re playing well enough to give someone a scare.
•Victoria Royals +.230 (before: 20-16-1-2 .551; since: 12-3-0-1 .781) — A decent team that looked like fodder for the Western Conference heavyweights, the Royals did only minor tinkering at the deadline and are suddenly on pace to earn home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
• Saskatoon Blades +.195 (before: 21-18-0-1 .538; since: 10-3-0-2 .733) — The Blades appear to have found the chemistry that was so elusive in the first half. Former Brandon Wheat Kings Mike Ferland (nine-game point scoring streak) and Brenden Walker are red-hot, while goaltender Andrey Makarov has been a rock.
• Swift Current Broncos +.178 (before: 19-20-3-2 .489; since: 8-4-0-0 .667) — The Broncos aren’t out of the woods when it comes to securing a playoff spot, but they’re playing well enough that they should get in and provide a formidable opponent for someone in the first round.
•Edmonton Oil Kings +.104 (before: 27-9-2-3 .720; since: 14-3-0-0 .824) — The defending WHL champs seem to know a thing or two about peaking at the right time as they turned a solid start into a superb first half and have gone on to post the best record in the WHL since the deadline.
• Brandon Wheat Kings +.057 (before: 14-25-2-2 .372; since: 6-8-0-0 .429) — You wouldn’t know it from their 7-3 loss to the Regina Pats on Saturday or their last-place spot in the Eastern Conference, but based on their record, the Wheat Kings are actually the seventh-most improved team (the Medicine Hat Tigers were sixth with an improvement of .083) since the trade deadline despite unloading their top two forwards. Clearly there is more work to be done, but on the whole the team has shown signs of progress.
•Spokane Chiefs -.304 (before: 27-13-1-0 .671; since: 5-9-1-0 .367) — The Chiefs made a significant splash at the deadline, acquiring Wheat Kings scoring leader Alessio Bertaggia, but he got hurt only two games later and Spokane has foundered. Whether they’ll be as good as their first half remains to be seen, but the Chiefs should be due for a bounceback as they begin to get healthy.
•Regina Pats -.205 (before: 18-22-2-2 .455; since: 2-8-1-1 .250) —A fringe contender for a playoff spot at the time of the deadline, the Pats have are now battling the Wheat Kings for last in the conference. Their last three victories have come against Brandon.
• Calgary Hitmen -.183 (before: 29-10-1-3 .721; since: 7-6-0-0 .538) — Their dropoff has been difficult to notice because their overall record (36-16-1-3) remains excellent and they’ve still been decent after the deadline. Once considered one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference, whether Saskatoon can keep up with Edmonton and Saskatoon now looks like a legitimate question.
• Prince Albert Raiders -.131 (before: 25-14-0-3 .631; since: 6-6-0-2 .500) — One of the WHL’s pleasant surprises in the first half, the Raiders have come back to earth with the fifth-largest dropoff since the trade deadline (the Lethbridge Hurricanes were fourth at -.140). If they can get hot again down the stretch, they could retain their East Division lead and a top-two seed for the first round of the playoffs, but if they slump they could lose home-ice advantage.