Expert NHL Handicapping: Western Conference Playoff Race
When we entered this NHL season, I wrote, in several different ways, that I thought that the race to the playoffs was going to be very intense in the Western Conference. The conference seemed very deep, with 10 to 12 teams that could legitimately contend for a division win or miss the playoffs as well. At this point it appears that I was only half right. The race is very tight - at least at the bottom of the conference. But it is a race between some truly lousy teams.
Winnipeg and Nashville are as good as expected in the Central. San Jose is cruising in the Pacific. And though Calgary is slumping slightly since the all-star break, they are exceeding expectations as well. But beyond that things are just plain ugly. Vegas sits eight points back of Calgary, but they are all but locked into third in the Pacific despite playing some really underwhelming hockey. Dallas is in third in the Central but again are eight points out of second place. And then things really get crazy. The Wild have the second and final wild card spot right now, but the distance between them with 59 points, and the worst teams in the conference, the Kings and Ducks, is just eight points. With at least 24 games remaining for every wild card contender, there is no team out of this race. That is going to create a very weird dynamic heading into the trade deadline later this month as bad teams will be able to convince themselves they are more competitive than they are, and some obvious sellers might actually misguidedly become buyers.
And to be clear, this race isn't so tight because teams are doing well. Far from it. Minnesota is in a playoff spot while on a pace for 85 points. Last year it took 95 points to get in, and it was 94 the year before. In the East it is looking like it will take at least 95 points to get in. The NHL's Western Conference is doing a very solid impression of the NBA's Eastern Conference this year. And given the expectations heading into the season, that's just awful.
At this point I am giving playoff spots to Nashville, Winnipeg, San Jose and Calgary. None have come close to clinching, but they might as well have. But beyond that nothing is certain. Vegas should be fine, but they are bad right now. If we give them a nod for now - they have a seven-point cushion - there are 10 teams fighting for three spots. Here's a look at how they break down. None of these teams are winning a Stanley Cup, but we'll list their Stanley Cup futures odds from Bovada anyway:
Dallas (63 points, +3500): Dallas' GM lost his mind in an interview, calling his star players all sorts of names. And it has worked. The team has finally been playing close to their potential since and should be a playoff team.
St. Louis (61 points, +3000): St. Louis was so bad early on this year that their front office openly suggested that anyone on their roster was available. But then they started getting goaltending, their star players played like stars, and they have won seven in a row and eight of 10. They are a team that should absolutely be in the playoffs, and they are now playing like it. I have them penciled in as well, which leaves just one more spot for the rest of the dogs on this list.
Minnesota (59 points, +5000): The Wild is an old team burdened by long and ugly contracts that they can't do anything about. And stalwart Mikko Koivu has now been lost for the year. They are in the playoffs for now, and their goaltending is an asset, but I struggle to believe they will stay in.
Vancouver (57 points, +6000): The Canucks are a big surprise, and it is largely due to rookie Elias Pettersson. If you haven't seen this guy yet, you have to - he's an absolute freak. The team is overachieving, though, and is having real troubles in net right now as injuries cause big issues. If I was them, I'd sell short term assets for longer ones and look towards the next couple of seasons when they should be much better. It's not like they are going to win a playoff series, anyway.
Arizona (55 points, +12500): They are 10-13-3 at home. Good teams don't have home records like that - even when their home crowds are routinely outnumbered by empty seats.
Colorado (55 points, +6600): This team's top line is as dangerous as any in the league, but depth has been an issue, and the team has just fallen off a cliff lately. They have locker room issues, and those are tough to overcome. They are in the mix, though.
Chicago (55 points, (+7500): Chicago is old and flawed, but they have all sorts of experience, and they are playing very well suddenly. I like them better than a lot of teams here, and they are strangely in the mix.
Edmonton (53 points, +6000): It should actually be impossible for a team with the best player on the planet to be this bad. But they are just awful. A roster constructed by morons. So many issues, and no cap space to deal with it. The situation in goal is a perfect example of the mess here. They signed one unproven goalie to a massively overinflated extension, bidding only against themselves. And then they have hardly played him since - and the GM who signed him was fired literally hours after wrapping up the deal. It's just plain farce. And as a lifelong Flames fan, I couldn't be happier.
Anaheim (51 points, +22500): They have shaken up the front office. They have fired the coach. And they have lost seven in a row. They are all out of bullets. And they are really old. It's a lost season.
L.A. (51 points, +25000): Again, they are really old, and they can't seem to shake up their roster and get them on track regardless of what they do. I don't see it happening.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
Most Recent Hockey Handicapping
- 9 NHL Hockey Handicapping Tips from 9 Different Expert Hockey Handicappers
- 2021 North Division Predictions
- 2021 NHL Central Division Predictions
- 2021 NHL East Division Predictions
- 2021 NHL West Division Predictions
- 2021 NHL Hockey Picks Special
- 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Predictions with Futures Odds
- Toronto Maple Leafs vs Columbus Blue Jackets NHL Series Odds and Expert Predictions
- New York Rangers vs Carolina Hurricanes NHL Series Odds and Expert Predictions
- NHL All-Star Game Predictions and Expert Betting Picks