With the trade deadline firmly in the rear view mirror NHL teams have officially hit the ‘stretch.’ The race for third place is on. If your team can’t quite manage to place third or higher, then you’ll have to fight it out for a wild card spot.
Take a look at the Pacific Division and you’ll see a set of standings still relatively up for grabs. Outside of the Arizona Coyotes making the playoffs, just about anything could happen.
So with that in mind, please enjoy these Pacific Division Playoff Predictions.
SHARKS WIN THE DIVISION
Last year head coach Peter Deboer took the San Jose Sharks all the way to the Stanley Cup finals only to lose in six to the Pittsburgh Penguins. But, this year, while the Penguins continue to struggle through injury woes and scoring slumps, the Sharks are as strong as ever.
Photo credit: NHL.com.
It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Brent Burns will win the Norris Trophy this year. He has been putting up points at an unbelievable pace. Not only does he lead all defensemen in points (66) but he leads the entire League in shots on goal. Burns inked an eight year, eight-million-dollar contract extension back in November and is proving he’s worth every cent of that contract thus far.
One cannot talk about the success of the Sharks without mentioning big Joe Thorton and Patrick Marleau. The two veterans have consistently brought calm and stability to the team. Marleau is looking rather Jagr-esque as his career point total continues to climb into the astronomical. And while Thorton may not be putting up points like Marleau, what he lacks in scoring he makes up for as a play maker. On top of this, his locker room presence is unparalleled on the Sharks roster – maybe in the whole league.
On the back end, Martin Jones has been nothing less than stellar. Jones sports a 2.28 goals against average and a .915 save percentage, which are slightly below his career average. But at 30-15-6, Jones and the Sharks have been cruising through the first 63 games with ease.
Not to be too complacent with their position in the standings, the Sharks went out and acquired Jannik Hansen from the Vancouver Canucks at the trade deadline. The versatile Danish right winger has had an injury mired campaign so far but was good for 22 goals last season. He ought to be a lethal weapon for the Sharks no matter where they slide him into the lineup.
The Sharks have been absolutely ruthless at home, with a record of 19-7-4 at the SAP Center [CHECK AFTER 1030 GAME TONIGHT]. Look for this trend to continue as the team settles in for a six game home stand starting March 9 against the League leading Washington Capitals.
San Jose will win the Pacific Division.
ANAHEIM FOLLOWS CLOSE BEHIND
As the trade deadline approached many speculated that Anaheim’s general manager Bob Murray might try to make some moves. Particularly with the high quantity of high quality young defensemen holding down the Ducks’ blue line. But Murray stood firm. This was a bit of a surprise because, in the face of June’s impending expansion draft, the Ducks could potentially lose the bulk of their back end to the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Instead of selling, though, Murray went shopping. And bought himself one of the best beards in the League; Patrick Eaves.
Photo credit: NHL.com
In 54 games with the Dallas Stars last season Eaves put up 11 goals and 17 points. This season, in 60 games so far, the winger has managed a career best 21 goals and 37; 11 of those coming on the power play. The versatile winger could conceivably find himself playing alongside All-Star duo Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, a role which has proven notoriously hard to fill for the Ducks, though the two have been split up as of late. Regardless of where Eaves finds himself in the lineup, the 32 year old winger certainly improves the Ducks’ outlook heading down the stretch.
The addition of Eaves gives the Ducks some impressive depth on the front end, but their play as of late has been less than dominant as they head into their bye week. The San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers may continue to win while Anaheim take their break but the Ducks will return well rested, ready to go, and with games in hand.
On the back end, John Gibson has been a reliable net minder to say the least. Prior to his being placed on the injured reserve list (February 25), Gibson held a respectable 23-15-8 record with a 2.24 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. Backup Jonathan Bernier has been less than perfect in Gibson’s absence. He’s dropped two of the team’s last three, including a 2-3 loss against the Arizona Coyotes, the League’s worst team.
Gibson is expected back after the bye week.
Still, with the sturdy defensive core on the blue line and All-Star depth up front that the Ducks sport they ought to finish strong down the stretch.
Anaheim will place second in the Pacific Division.
EDMONTON TAKES THIRD
Photo credit: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images.
Connor McDavid is a stud. No doubt about it. But McDavid cannot carry this team into the playoffs and hoist Lord Stanley all by himself. No.
If the Oilers make the playoffs this year, and I predict they will, they still lack the depth and grit to really go very far. Down the final stretch of the regular season, depth and grit can take a team pretty far. But general manager Peter Chiarelli is confident with his squad, stating that the team is already ahead of where he thought they’d be this year; exceeding expectations.
That said, Chiarelli made very few moves at the deadline.
In return for defenseman Brandon Davidson, the Edmonton Oilers received undersized center David Desharnais from the Montreal Canadiens. Desharnais is a small, third or fourth line center. In some ways he helps with the depth issue the Oilers face but on the other hand his addition does nothing to address the team’s size issues.
A trade for minor leaguerers with the New York Rangers has brought former Minnesota Wild player Justin Fontaine to the Oilers as well. In addition to the acquisition of Desharnais and Fontaine, Chiarelli also signed overage junior defenseman Ryan Mantha. Fontaine was traded to the Rangers last year but didn’t see any ice time with the club. Mantha, a former fourth round pick of the Rangers, captains the Niagara Ice Dogs. The 20-year-old will join to the Oilers’ farm club, the Bakersfield Condors.
Needless to say, the Oilers didn’t do much to improve their chances down the stretch. But in all honesty, they aren’t ready to compete for the cup so any big additions at the deadline would have only been in vein.
Photo credit: Sergei Belski, USA Today Sports.
The Oilers lack depth at nearly every position. Their blue line is atrocious. And, really, their only redeeming features are their All-Star captain and ridiculously over-performing goaltender.
McDavid is leading the League in points (72) while Cam Talbot is second – only to Devan Dubnyk – in wins among goaltenders. While these two may very well continue to shine in their own right, it’s not likely that the team as a whole will continue to thrive as a whole.
Down the stretch, Edmonton’s weak defense will catch up with them. Their lack of depth in all positions, including in net, will hurt them as they compete for a playoff spot. They will slip out of contention, but fear not they will make the playoffs.
Edmonton will place third in the Pacific Division.
CALGARY CAPTURES A WILDCARD SPOT
Photo credit: Will Nault.
Though fans of either team would be loath to admit it, Calgary and Edmonton are a lot alike. They are both Albertan teams well within playoff reach but unlikely to make much of it.
The Flames currently sit in fourth place in the Pacific Division and hold a five-point lead over the Central Division’s St. Louis Blues for the first wild card spot. They are also only two points away from third in the Pacific.
Certainly, the Flames are in much better shape than they were this time last year. Stability has finally reappeared in net for the Flames. The offseason additions of goaltenders Chad Johnson and Brian Elliott appear to be paying off as of late. Elliott’s won his last four starts, including a 2-1 win in overtime against the Las Angeles Kings on Tuesday night.
But general manager Brad Treliving wasn’t content with his team as the deadline loomed. He went out and added former Arizona Coyote defenseman Michael Stone along with former Ottawa Senator Curtis Lazar. These moves add considerable depth to the relatively thin Flames’ lineup.
Photo credit: Frederick Breedon, Getty Images.
Stone is already fitting in well with his new squad, with an average time on ice of over 20 minutes a game. He rounds out a defensive core which boasts the likes of Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, and T.J. Brodie; three blue liners who have been impressive thus far this season.
Lazar, the 17th overall pick of 2013, has failed to live up to expectations following a terrific junior career in the WHL. But the former first round pick isn’t pessimistic about the way his career has panned out. In an interview with TSN on Wednesday, Lazar stated that he was excited to be joining the Flames and that he sees himself as more of a Western Conference player anyway.
While the Flames’ struggles early in the season will prohibit them from gaining enough ground to fight for a true playoff spot, they are trending up.
Calgary will finish fourth in the Pacific Division, capturing the first wild card spot.
KINGS COME UP SHORT
Now that Jarome Iginla has been traded to the Los Angeles Kings, who doesn’t want to see the Kings go on an unbelievable run, upset the world, and win the Stanley Cup just for Iggy? Okay, maybe not Ducks or Sharks fans. But believe you me, there are a lot of Iggy admirers out there who’d love to see the veteran make one more run at the big show.
But it won’t happen.
Photo credit: Canadian Press.
The Kings just don’t have what it takes. They’ve managed an impressive season considering the fact that they’ve been without their All-Star, Con Smythe Trophy winning, two-time Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup winning goaltender Jonathan Quick for the majority of the season. Now that Quick has returned the Kings are poised to make a run at the playoffs but it’s a little too late for a resurgence now.
With roughly 20 games left in the season it will take a lot of luck and hard work for the Kings to make the playoffs, let alone make a run for the cup. Ben Bishop was acquired at the deadline to help in net but you can’t play two at the same time. Bishop will ride the pine while the Kings hold their breath and hope Quick doesn’t re-aggravate his injury.
By shipping winger Dwight King to Montreal, the Kings lose depth and grit they ostensibly plan on replacing with the presence of Iginla. But what quality does Iginla bring to the team besides a veteran presence? In truth, not much. Can he still put up points and will he be able to keep pace? Likely not.
The Kings will come up short of the playoffs this year.
Los Angeles will finish fifth in the Pacific Division.
VANCOUVER AND ARIZONA
These two teams will not make the playoffs. Not by a long shot.
The Vancouver Canucks have officially entered full rebuild mode. What they have tried to accomplish with their squad was admirable but the experiment has ultimately failed. As if to add injury to insult the team has recently been hit by a case of the mumps. Remember parents, vaccinate your kids.
Vancouver will finish sixth in the Pacific Division.
The Arizona Coyotes can file this year away with the rest of their bottom of the barrel finishes. With poor performances like that of the young Anthony Duclair, injuries, and poor asset management as the trade deadline, the Coyotes won’t likely be playoff contenders for a few more years yet.
Arizona will finish seventh in the Pacific Division.
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