The Western conference has been able to bring home the Stanley cup 5 of the last 7 years. The Western conference is looking to have an exciting ending to the second half of the 2017 season, with only 2 teams being completely out of the playoff race. This year has shown a lot of similarity to last year, with 7 of the 8 teams from last year’s playoffs currently holding a playoff spot this year. But through the first half of the year, every team holds a different spot in the standings from where they ended last year. Will the current positioning of these teams hold up for the rest of the season? Here are my predictions for what every team’s placement in the playoff standings will look like in the Western Conference by the end of the year:
- Minnesota Wild
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Nashville Predators
This is the first prediction where I see the current top 3 teams in the division staying on top by the end of the year. The wild have had an insane improvement from finishing as the 2nd wild card team last year with 87 points. This year, they currently hold the best record in the western conference with 71 points already, and still have 33 games yet to play this year. Minnesota had a 12 game win streak over the month of December and have not looked back since that point. They have been one of the most consistent teams this entire year, and it would hard be see them giving up their first place seed to Chicago in the second half of the season. Time will tell though if this momentum will carry on into the playoffs for them.
Chicago is once again one of the top teams in the west, and should be a contender for the cup once playoffs come around this year. Even though I see the Wild holding on to the 1 seed, the Blackhawks will be the team to beat no matter where they place in the final standings. They have a commanding lead over Nashville, who is currently in third place, so they should definitely have home field advantage in the first round against whomever they play. Nashville currently holds the third spot in the Central and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them hold onto it by years’ end. The battle for the third spot is almost like a battle for a wild card spot, since Chicago and Minnesota are dominating over the rest of the division in point.
The Jets, Stars, and Blues are all only 4 points out or less, but Nashville should be considered favorites to win out this spot. The Blues are all over the place this year, and just fired their coach, so they do not have momentum on their side for this second half. The Stars have completely underperformed after finishing with the best record in the west last year, and haven’t seemed to find a groove throughout the entire year. The Jets have been able to hold on to consideration for a playoff spot, especially with the way 18-year-old Patrick Laine has been playing for them, but it seems inevitable that they will fade away from contention as the year progresses further. This is the Predators’ spot to lose, and I believe that we haven’t seen the best from this team yet.
- San Jose Sharks
- Edmonton Oilers
- Anaheim Ducks
The Pacific division has definitely shaped up to be a stronger conference than what they were last year. Even though the San Jose Sharks represented the West in the Stanley Cup, the Pacific division was clearly the weakest out of the 4 in the NHL last year. I predict that the top 3 teams will all be there by season’s end, but the positioning will be different between the Oilers and the Ducks. These 3 teams are all separated by 2 points or less in the standings, but have a commanding lead over the Kings who are in 4th place, so it would be no surprise to see these 3 stay at the top of the division at the end of the season. The difficult part would be determining where each team would end up though, because like in the Atlantic division last year, it seems like a different team is in first place every day. I picked San Jose to be the 1 seed, solely on the fact that they were in the finals last year. Their strong finish in the postseason has continued into this season, and I think this momentum will help motivate them to finish strong and remind the other teams that they are a contender this year.
Edmonton is having the greatest turnover season out of every team this year, going from last place in the west last year to a team contending for a top seed in the division. Connor McDavid led the league in points going into the all-star break and has been one of the key reasons for their success. Many people would probably question having them end up on top of Anaheim by season’s end, and probably expect them to fade off, making the Pacific a 2 team race for the 1 seed. I find it hard to believe though that if a team has made it this far into a season without fading, they will eventually find a way to meet fade like everyone expected. The youth that this team has is absolutely impeccable, and that will only benefit them down the final stretch when their players have more stamina than the other teams’.
The Anaheim Ducks are once again having a strong season, and look to make the playoffs for the 10th time in the last 12 seasons. The decision to have them finish at 3rd in the division comes partially from east coast bias, and the fact that they aren’t as flashy of a team like the Oilers. Every night the Oilers are put onto the highlight real because of the performance by McDavid, where Anaheim doesn’t have that flashy young star to grab our attention. This division has the closest race coming into the second half of the year, which made it the most difficult to predict. It wouldn’t surprise me if any of these 3 teams ended up in the 1 seed by the end of the season.
- Calgary Flames
- St. Louis Blues
This wild card race will definitely be one of my predictions that I will be least surprised about if I am completely wrong. Each team still has to play about 30 games in the remainder of the season and 6 teams are separated by 2 points or less. The only teams that are completely irrelevant up to this point are Arizona and Colorado, but there is so much uncertainty with what will happen with the teams above them. Los Angeles currently holds the first wild card, but we just heard a week ago that Jonathon Quick will remain out until at least March, and they might consider shutting him down completely for the rest of the year. This is a team that heavily relied upon Quick to lead the way during their 2 Stanley Cup runs in 2014 and 2012. They have held on for this long, but I don’t know if this team will be able to hang on for the remainder of the season without their top player in net to help lead them. The team I ended up putting at the first wild card spot was Calgary because it seems as if they have the least amount of issues going for them right now. Every team going for the wild card spots in the West are pretty weak in comparison to the teams up top in the division, so we’re trying to pick the best of the worst. Calgary was expected to be a contender for the top seed in the Pacific before the season started, and clearly haven’t lived up to that. They definitely have better talent in comparison to some of the other teams contending for a wild card spot, so they should be able to take a wild card spot by years’ end. I ended up choosing the Blues as the second wild card just because they seemed to be more talented than the other 3 teams contending for the spot. This team has had a huge drop off from having a strong season last year, finishing 2nd in the Central and making it to the conference finals. Their talent overruled the aspect of their coach being fired, since this move will hopefully rejuvenate this team into the powerhouse they were a year ago.