This season, the NHL’s western conference has given almost no guarantees as to which teams may or may not make the playoffs. It has made being a western conference fairly hectic with all the possibilities of where teams end up this postseason. Some could say wild.
As mentioned on a tweet by fellow No Huddle NHL writer Peter Rhinevault, the difference between the top and bottom west teams are staggeringly low compared to the eastern counterparts. The difference in the east is 25 points greater than that of the west. Last season the two were just separated by 4.
Currently there are 7 teams battling for the final two wild card spots. Currently those two spots are held by Dallas and Colorado. A couple days ago the 2nd spot was held by Arizona. Before that? Minnesota. Teams like Vancouver, Chicago, and Edmonton, who seemed out at parts of the season were able to get back into the conversation. Then once again got out. Then maybe got back in? The point being that anything could really happen and that the wildcard spots are anything but finalized. Even with less than 8 games remaining.
There are numerous potential reasons for the west to be in this situation. Some include the wildcard teams in the west being bad. But maybe they aren’t bad and rather that there’s just more depth than in the east? Or maybe they are bad as good teams typically can make more separation from the bad ones. All I can say is that the west has gotten here from teams moving in multiple directions.
Some of the teams that have been playoff teams for extended periods of time are getting older and nearing the rebuild stage while others are teams leaving the rebuilding stage and trying to enter consistent playoff team territory.
Colorado two seasons ago in 2017 were the laughing stock of the leauge finishing with a mere 48 points. A couple of moves along with great performances by their top line and last season they surprised many and made the playoffs. Early this season seemed poised for contention with the top line looking to have taken another step from the previous year. Then they fell off, presumably due to depth, and now they are making the push once again.
Arizona seems to always be the dark horse contender to make a playoff appearance but it never seems to come to fruition. In a season where they have been heavily injury riddled, this may have been the unlikeliest of years to finally make the push. Yet they have.
Chicago after a bad start continued struggling further after the firing of head coach Joel Quenneville. After acquiring Dylan Strome and having star forward Patrick Kane heat up, they quickly got back into the discussion.
Minnesota is a team that seems to be able to consistently make the playoffs but rarely do ever make it far. They fit the first category well as it seems that they are team that is expected to regress but never does. In a season where the plan during the trade deadline was to retool and get younger, they have once again made a push towards achieving playoff berth.
The unlikelier two of Vancouver and Edmonton have also made some noise. Edmonton is in a weird spot as they had thought to have finished their rebuild in 2017 but regressed the next season and that regression has carried on to this one. Still, they have Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all on pace for career years with McDavid and Draisaitl both potentially passing 100 points. With those three anything is possible and while the depth isn’t intimidating other teams, the west is so wide open that they still have a chance.
Vancouver is a different story. They fit the latter category as a rebuilding team that has appeared to be progressing each season. With the performance of Calder trophy candidate Elias Pettersson, the development of Jacob Markstrom thus far, and the help from centre Bo Horvat and last seasons Calder nominee Brock Boeser, the Canucks have put them in a situation where playoffs are entirely possible, albeit unlikely. Like Arizona, Vancouver has suffered injuries and losing streaks at the wrong times probably are what takes them out of the conversation. Still, they are 4-1-1 in their last 6 and as mentioned it is still a possibility to make it.
Any of these teams could be in the playoffs two weeks from now. For fans, the end of the season will be an interesting one. For players, coaches, and management? I would assume a stressful one.