The All-Star break is over, and now it’s time for the stretch drive. From here on out, the stakes get higher every day as teams amp up for the final push into the playoffs.
In the Western Conference, most of the race is already tied up into a tidy little bow. Six teams are almost locks to get in and one other has a very high chance. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a very interesting race down the stretch for that final spot. It’s wide open, with six teams chasing it. That’ll make for an exciting final 30 games or so.
We update each team’s odds daily, but sometimes it’s wise to dig a little deeper and check in on why each team lands where it does. The All-Star break serves as the perfect time for that.
I’ve separated the league into seven tiers based on the following probability ranges:
Basically in: Above 95 percent
Safe shots: 85 to 95 percent
Likely bets: 70 to 85 percent
The bubble: 30 to 70 percent
Unlikely bets: 15 to 30 percent
Long shots: 5 to 15 percent
Basically out: Below 5 percent
Here’s how each team in the West stacks up. You can find the Eastern Conference here.
Vancouver Canucks: >99 percent
Winnipeg Jets: >99 percent
Colorado Avalanche: >99 percent
Dallas Stars: >99 percent
Edmonton Oilers: >99 percent
Vegas Golden Knights: 98 percent
This part of the Western Conference playoff race? Super boring. All six teams should clear 100 points with ease, with everyone above Vegas expected to land at 108 or more. Considering how up for grabs the final playoff spot is with no team making a serious claim for it, these spots couldn’t be safer. The current favorite for the final spot is projected to hit 90 points in the West.
Los Angeles Kings: 88 percent
The Kings have fallen off tremendously after a torrid start. After starting the season 20-7-4, they’ve gone 3-8-6 since, going from potential Pacific Division winner to likely wild-card contender.
The key is where they are now, even after the horrific slide: still a playoff team. The Kings may be only two points up on the ninth-place Predators, but games in hand obfuscate just how wide the chasm is. The Kings are on pace for 96 points, while the Predators are at 87 (last week’s regulation win certainly helped here).
That’s huge, and it’s why the Kings’ chances are pretty safe. It’s not just the current lead, it’s also the faith we should still have in the Kings relative to every team chasing them. They’re a deep team that can tilt the ice heavily in their favor, and that goes a long way toward racking up wins.
They may not be as good as their start, but they’re also not as bad as their current slide, either. Sometimes wild streaks like that happen, but they’ll get to where they need to be at the end — 96 points is right around where they were projected to land at the start of the season.
Nashville Predators: 35 percent
There aren’t a lot of strong horses to bet on for the West’s final playoff spot. Whoever does make it probably won’t last very long against the West’s best.
The current team with the likeliest odds to be that is Nashville, which has had a very uneven season. The Predators started 5-10-0, got back on track with a 19-8-1 stretch and have since stumbled with a 2-5-1 record heading into the break. They’ve been a very streaky group, and the end result has been a team playing at an 87-point pace. Not great!
The Predators are expected to jump a bit higher, up to 89 points — a mark that looks like it should be enough to make the playoffs in the West this season.
The main thing to like about Nashville going forward is that the Predators have reached this point despite uncharacteristically weak goaltending from Juuse Saros. In 40 games this season, one of the league’s best goalies has managed only a .902 save percentage while saving just 3.5 goals above expected. That mark ranks 38th in the league — below what’s expected of a starter. Goalies can be very fickle beings, and the best bet is to trust their long-term track record. Few goalies had a better one than Saros going into the season, and that’s enough to expect a turnaround down the stretch.
With the way the Predators have controlled play this season — a 52.2 percent expected goals rate, which ranks 11th in the league — the team is solid enough that elite goaltending can be the difference-maker. Saros can take this team into the postseason, and the model’s faith in him is why the Predators are in the driver’s seat for eighth place. At 35 percent, it’s still more likely that it’s someone else from the field, but it’s a field they lead.
Seattle Kraken: 24 percent
While many people viewed the Kraken as the next team up in the West, we figured there was some regression on the horizon after a historic shooting season that was unlikely to repeat. We’re seeing that play out so far, with the team struggling to score and playing at an 85-point pace. Seattle is projected to improve to 87 points — not far off from our original 90-point projection.
Normally, none of that would be enough to make the playoffs. This year is different in the West, with the No. 8 spot being left wide open with an expected cutoff of 89 points. The Kraken are still very much in this and are next in line to make it after Nashville, the current projected favorite.
The key for the Kraken lies in net. Joey Daccord has been remarkable this season since being thrust into the starter’s net, and that has given Seattle a real shot to make it after a tough start. He doesn’t have to stay this hot, but if he can be consistently above average, the Kraken have a chance to win every night. As long as he does that, it’s up to the team’s forward depth to recapture some of last season’s magic.
Seattle controls play well and does a good job limiting chances. By expected goals, the team has actually improved on last year — they just need to finish their chances. That doesn’t mean scoring 3.2 goals per 60 at five-on-five like last season. But something more than their current 2.4 is needed. That’s well below their expected 2.61.
Calgary Flames: 21 percent
It’s a testament to how weak the West is that Calgary’s playoff chances remain this high despite them trading away Elias Lindholm and having a pitiful .500 record. The main reason for that is the expectation that the Flames are a better team than they’ve shown so far this season. They should be better.
The team lacks a true forward star, but the top nine is pretty set with above-average difference-makers. The same goes for the team’s top four on defense. Add the way Jacob Markström is playing this season, and the Flames should be much better than their current record.
But it’s probably for the best that they’re not. While they may be a team that should be playoff-caliber, that caliber is at the absolute bare minimum. Even if they do make it, they’ll get run over by any of the other Western Conference behemoths, and it’ll all be for naught anyway.
Calgary’s worst-case scenario this season was being close enough to the playoffs that the Flames went for it. This team is nowhere close to being championship-caliber, and salvaging mediocrity at the expense of moving their valuable trade assets would have set the team back years. The Lindholm trade signaled that they’re on the right course.
Minnesota Wild: 17 percent
This clearly is not the season the Wild anticipated. They’re 13th in the West and on pace for just 79 points. They looked good briefly in the immediate wake of firing Dean Evason but have looked awful since. They now find themselves way outside a playoff spot. Add the fact that captain Jared Spurgeon is out for the season, and things are dire.
Everything above Minnesota’s 17 percent chance to make it hinges on what this team used to be. The model believes this is an above-average team thanks to a strong top end, led by Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson Ek, Matt Boldy and Mats Zuccarello up front, and Brock Faber and Jonas Brodin on the back end. Minnesota’s depth is weak, and it has hurt the team, but that core should be good enough to drag them to the playoffs. An above-average playoff-caliber group is in here somewhere.
They have to actually show they can do that, though, and they’re running out of time. The top end needs to tilt the ice much more at five-on-five to make up for the weak depth, and the team’s goaltending needs a serious bounce-back.
It’s still possible, mostly due to how similarly weak the rest of the playoff hopefuls are. But the odds are stacked against the Wild.
St. Louis Blues: 12 percent
This probably feels harsh for the team currently sitting eighth in the West, and it’s no secret the model hasn’t been too fond of the Blues the last few years. This year’s reason is that the Blues have a league-leading 12-2-2 record in one-goal games, a historically fickle number that masks their true talent.
Still, it is fair to wonder whether the model isn’t quite catching the impact of a new coach, as the Blues are 13-7-1 under Drew Bannister compared to 13-14-1 with Craig Berube. But while the team’s record is stronger, it’s not exactly built upon a solid foundation. Here’s how the team’s play with the two coaches stacks up:
Goals percentage: 45.8 percent (27th)
Expected goals percentage: 47.2 percent (27th)
Goals per 60: 3.1 (31st)
Expected goals per 60: 7.0 (29th)
Goals against per 60: 8.2 (21st)
Expected goals against per 60: 9.3 (23rd)
Goals percentage: 45.2 percent (24th)
Expected goals percentage: 42.9 percent (30th)
Goals per 60: 8.2 (12th)
Expected goals per 60: 7.5 (22nd)
Goals against per 60: 7.6 (16th)
Expected goals against per 60: 11.3 (30th)
Bannister deserves some credit for bringing the team’s power play back from the dead, but that is something that might have happened anyway, considering that the volume of chances hasn’t changed all that much. The same can’t be said on the penalty kill, where things are marginally better only because of goaltending heroics. And at five-on-five, things have become significantly worse.
A team that earns under 45 percent of the expected goals at five-on-five is a tough one to back, and those teams rarely make the playoffs. For the year, only six teams have a worse expected goal differential than St. Louis’ minus-18.2.
A decent arsenal of finishing talent and Jordan Binnington’s resurgence give the Blues a chance to hold on. But it’s a lot likelier that a team that is currently behind them in the standings will surpass them.
Arizona Coyotes: 7 percent
The Coyotes were a real nice story during the season’s first half. They have some exciting young talent, a budding star in net and, of course, Mullett Magic — all of which had them in a playoff spot entering the new year.
The team’s odds peaked at only 20 percent, though, and their recent unraveling is an indication as to why. Since Jan. 1, the Coyotes have been mired in a 4-8-1 spell that’s pushed them to 11th in the West. During that time, they’ve been getting badly out-chanced with some weak numbers at five-on-five, plus bottom-five efforts and on both special-teams units. Arizona has earned its minus-15 goal differential during this stretch with an ugly minus-14.4 expected goal differential that is third-worst in the league.
The Coyotes have a chance to bounce back from this tailspin, but they have a lot of teams to leapfrog. St. Louis, Nashville and Seattle have a better record, while Calgary and Minnesota have a stronger pedigree. That puts the Coyotes at the bottom of the pecking order.
Anaheim Ducks: <1 percent
San Jose Sharks: <1 percent
Chicago Blackhawks: <1 percent
The Sharks need 57 points in their final 31 games to hit 90. The Blackhawks need 60. That’s obviously not happening. At 18-30-2, Anaheim is clearly cooked, too.
— Data via Evolving Hockey