With approximately a dozen games left on the NHL schedule the Western Conference is wide open. Detroit and Vancouver have all but clinched their spots, but the 4 thru 10 spots are separated by a mere four points. With each game being worth 2 points in the standings there’s the potential for a team to move up or down 24 points. With frequent upsets in the early playoff rounds it’s more important to simply get in than worry about which seed your team gets.
Once the playoffs start we can start examining matchups, upset predictions, and who’s got the best chance at The Cup. However, you can’t win The Cup if you’re not in the playoffs. Some teams are coasting to the finish while others are fighting like dogs for every point in the standings. Based on each team’s current standing, recent performance, injuries, we’ll predict the likelihood of each Western Conference team making the playoffs.
1) Vancouver Canucks – 99 pts – 99.9% chance of making the playoffs In Vancouver it’s The Sedin’s and everyone else. Daniel has 37 goals and Henrik has 67 assists. Vancouver has scored the most goals (229) in the NHL and allowed the 3rd fewest (165). They’ve shown no signs of slowing down as they’ve won their last five games. The Canucks backup goalie Cory Schneider has near identical numbers to starter Roberto Luongo. This team seemingly has no weaknesses. The Canucks will be in the playoffs this year and should be the favorite to take home Lord Stanley’s Cup.
2) Detroit Red Wings – 90 pts – 97% chance of making the playoffs Detroit always makes the playoffs and this year will be no different. In an era of frequent change Detroit is the constant. Nicklas Lidstrom is still a Norris candidate (14 G, 41 A), and Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Franzen are putting pucks in the net. Goalie Jimmy Howard has been decent but that’s all the Wings usually ask of their goaltender. The Wings have always won with superior offensive talent and great team defense. The only question for the Wings is who they’ll face in round one.
3) San Jose Sharks – 86 pts – 87% chance of making the playoffs The Sharks are in 3rd place but they’re only 5 points ahead of 8th position. With so many teams chasing them it’s not a sure thing that they’ll maintain their division leading spot. On the other hand it’s tough to imagine the playoffs without the San Jose Sharks. San Jose went on an 8 game win streak before dropping three of four. Goalie Antti Niemi earned a contract extension while compiling a 2.39 GAA & .918 SV%. The Sharks have Heatley, Thornton, Clowe and Marleau, but will their suspect defense hold up? You can bet the Sharks will be in the post-season but will they experience the same nightmare once they get there?
4) Los Angeles Kings – 83 pts – 60% chance of making the playoffs The 4th place Kings have the most deceptive place in the Western Conference standings. They are a mere three points ahead of 8th place Calgary. The Kings are currently on a three game win streak but they’ll need to continue their winning ways to stay above water in the playoff race. The Kings have 9 players with 10 or more goals. That balanced scoring will serve them well in the playoffs as long as they can win enough games down the stretch. Anze Kopitar leads the team with 70 points.
5) Phoenix Coyotes – 83 pts – 60% chance of making the playoffs The Coyotes have achieved 7 of 8 points in their last 4 games. No player has scored 20 goals for Phoenix, but ten players have scored at least ten. Ilya Bryzgalov has been here before and he’ll need to raise his game for Phoenix to stick in the top 8.
6) Dallas Stars – 82 pts – 55% chance of making the playoffs The Stars have had fans scratching their heads all season. They were a pre-season favorite to finish in the basement but have managed all year to stay among the playoff contenders. Centerman Brad Richards has led the playoff charge for the Stars. It would be a shame for the Stars to miss the playoffs and waste such a valiant season of effort. The Stars will have to keep up the winning because their next three games are against San Jose, Chicago, and Philly; three teams that have playoff aspirations themselves.
7) Chicago Blackhawks – 82 pts – 65% chance of making the playoffs The Blackhawks won The Stanley Cup last year and that is why I’m putting them at 65%. With Jonathan Toews, Patrick’s Kane & Sharp on offense and Duncan Keith on the back end the Hawks are incredibly skilled. The Cup winners are a single point ahead of 8th place and have managed to get points in 5 of 6 games (3-2-1). The Hawks have a razor-thin margin for error and I believe they’ll get the job done. Chicago will be a dangerous first round opponent for a team like Detroit or LA.
8) Calgary Flames – 81 pts – 49% chance of making the playoffs The Flames were down and out at the start of the NHL season but they’ve crawled back to respectability. Captain Jarome Iginla once again is a 30 goal scorer but the rest of the team including Jay Bouwmeester has underperformed. The Flames are a tough team to figure out. They lose a few and then they go on a winning streak. That is exactly the reason the Flames are right on the fence when it comes to being a participant this post-season.
9) Nashville Predators – 80 pts – 51% chance of making the playoffs Nashville plays a tight defensive game. They’ve allowed the league’s fewest goals (161) and they’ve won their last two games. The Preds have two games in hand on the Flames who sit one point ahead in 8th place. If you don’t have a favorite team and you want to be original I’d recommend watching the Predators for the next few weeks; as they’re going to be fighting for their playoff lives. Mike Fisher may be lucky to be closer to his wife, Carrie Underwood but he’s been unlucky on the ice as the centerman has only one goal in 14 games since arriving in Nashville from Ottawa.
10) Anaheim Ducks – 79 pts – 45% chance of making the playoffs The Ducks are 4-2 in March but they still lie two points out of 8th place. 40 year old Teemu Selanne has 63 points while younger players Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, and Ryan Getzlaf have shouldered the remaining offensive load. Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky has 42 a truckload (42) of assists. Jonas Hiller has been solid in net and that will need to continue if Anaheim wants to be part of the playoff party.
11) Minnesota Wild – 77 pts – 35% chance of making the playoffs The Wild are the lowest team that I give a reasonable shot at making it. Martin Havlat leads the Wild in scoring on a team that doesn’t score a whole lot. The Wild also don’t allow too many goals; goaltender Niklas Backstrom has a stellar .924 SV%. Defenseman Brent Burns has 16 goals and 26 assists. The Wild have dropped back to back 4-0 losses. That’s not going to cut it in the Western Conference playoff race.
12) Columbus Blue Jackets – 73 pts – 20% chance of making the playoffs Too bad for Columbus that they’re in the Western Conference because 73 points would have them right in the hunt. Unfortunately the West has dominated inter-conference play and 73 points is a near insurmountable 8 points away from the 8th and final spot. The Jackets would need a miracle to make the playoffs. The Jackets were active on trade deadline day, but Rick Nash & RJ Umberger are still the only real offensive threats on a team that never seems to be able to catch a break. Goalie Steve Mason has a GAA over 3 in his sophomore season following a stellar rookie campaign.
13) St. Louis Blues – 71 pts – 15% chance of making the playoffs The Blues once sat atop the NHL standings but those days are long behind us. St. Louis traded away Eric Brewer, Brad Winchester and scorer Brad Boyes at the deadline. Goalie Jaroslav Halak has been solid in net but injuries to key players and a general lack of offense has seen St. Louis fall out of playoff contention. St. Louis will have a high draft pick and plenty of cap space to sign new players come July 1st. Young stars TJ Oshie, David Backes, and Alex Steen need some help if they’re going to compete next year. This year is a lost cause.
14) Colorado Avalanche – 60 pts – 1% chance of making the playoffs The Avalanche are so bad they tried to bring back Petr Forsberg. The comeback failed and so has the Aves’ season. Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, and David Jones are young stars on an Aves team that has struggled to keep pucks out of its own net. Colorado has allowed the most goals in the NHL (239). Star defenseman John-Michael Liles leads the team with 36 assists.
15) Edmonton Oilers – 55 pts – 0% chance of making the playoffs Edmonton is the furthest north NHL team and they’re also the worst. They say Edmonton has the best kept ice in the NHL and the rink will be available for use after game 82. Maybe I’ll head up north for a skate in late April. The Oilers are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs but they’ve really been out of the race for quite some time. Rookie Taylor Hall leads the team with 22 goals. The Oilers will have another high draft pick to compliment Hall next season.