With the playoffs just a few weeks away, the landscape is starting to shape up in the Western Conference.
Unlike the Eastern Conference, it’s pretty clear who’s in and who’s out, but there’s still a lot to be determined as the top eight teams will jostle for home ice advantage for the final 10 games of the season.
In that time a lot can still happen, so let’s unpack some likely scenarios and teams that could potentially make
As it stands right now, the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are all in. There’s no reason to complicate things any further, especially with something this simple. Though not eliminated, the Los Angeles Kings and Winnipeg Jets have a puncher’s chance, but even that is being far too generous. Both teams, and everyone else in the conference, will be booking tee times in April.
In the Central Division, Chicago is running away with it, so there’s no reason the Western Conference story shouldn’t start with them. The Blackhawks don’t have quite the firepower as many teams in the East, but they are a top six defensive unit and have the most balanced offense in the NHL, featuring four current 20-goal scorers and two more to follow. This team is healthy and chalked full of experience with all the usual suspects from championships past, including Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The added experience of Marian Hossa, Richard Panik and Duncan Keith give this team depth and width that is unmatched in the Western Conference.
If three goals in 35 seconds to avalanche the Colorado Avalanche doesn’t tell you this team is ready to go, you’ll never be convinced.
Minnesota who is 2nd in the Central, is right there as well but no one really seems too concerned about them. Perhaps they should be, though. The Wild are top-five in offense and defense and have a boatload of players that can score the puck. The Wild are an absolute sleeper that will host a first-round playoff series.
The drama in the West is in actuality between the Blues and the Predators who could finish as low as an 8th seed or as high as a 4th seed. Realistically, one will be a 6th and the other will fall to 8th, but in a best-of-seven series both have no shot against Chicago.
In the Pacific Division, Calgary and Edmonton represent so much more than the battle of Alberta. One will be a 5th seed and the other a 7th, but either could climb into the 4th spot which would mean sleeping in their own beds in the first round, which needless to say, is a big deal.
Oiler Nation should be beside themselves right now, because this team is young, inexperienced and top heavy offensively, which is going to be a problem in the playoffs, but hey, they’re in the playoffs and this team has legit upside. Connor McDavid is everything he has been advertised to be, leading the league in points and assists in just his 2nd NHL season. These are crazy numbers, no doubt, but his +21 is third in the NHL, which means this kid brings it on both sides of the ice.
Edmonton is still a couple of years away, but this year’s run will give them something to build on.
The one team no one wants to face has to be the San Jose Sharks. This team is deceivingly good and is stingy on their side of the ice. Who wants any part of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in the playoffs? The worst part is the Sharks are playing terrible right now and still have the lead in the Central as well as home ice for the first two rounds of the playoffs.
If they get through those rounds, they will be a nightmare to deal with as players like Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski should have plenty of offensive rhythm. If there’s any blood in the water with this veteran group, it’s going to be trouble for whoever they face.
Written by Des Boodram, Special to the Hockey Clan