The Western Conference Eliminator
It’s time to look at the Western Conference. With a little less than four weeks left in the regular season, shifts are happening in the West and some in an upward trend. A late season emphasis will drive competition more towards the divisions as the Pacific and Central are two team races. Some will argue the Pacific may have Vegas to contend with but time will tell if they can keep up their chase.
Records form the Western Conference (as of March 11th):
(Please note that wins-losses-ties are the chosen format. Overtime and shootout losses are combined.)
Calgary – 42-20-7 – 91 pts
San Jose – 41-19-8 – 90 pts
Winnipeg – 40-24-4 – 84 pts
Nashville – 39-26-5 – 83 pts
Vegas – 38-27-5 – 81 pts
St. Louis – 36-25-7 – 79 pts
Dallas – 35-28-5 – 75 pts
Minnesota – 33-28-8 – 74 pts
Arizona – 34-29-5 – 73 pts
Colorado – 30-27-12 – 72 pts
Only eight teams from the above list can make the playoffs. Now if one looks at these teams, there are about 12-14 games left approximately in the regular season. The point total to make the playoffs in the West should be around 91-93 points. Let’s get into the strength of schedule conundrums.
Strength of Schedule by Team
Dallas has only 75 points, despite a 6-4 record in their last ten games. The Stars do not score a lot (172 goals in 69 games). Also, they have some road games left this week against playoff “bubble” teams in Arizona and Chicago. Overall, their strength of schedule is tied with Arizona at .539 and the Stars have one of the best 1-2 goalie tandems in Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. If they get enough scoring from their top six, Dallas may just be the safest bet among these teams of making the playoffs.
Minnesota has played 69 games already and will play their 70th on Monday night. The chances they get above 93 points is low based on the fact they would only have to go 9-3-1 over the final 26 days. The problem with that is Minnesota’s schedule gets tougher as they face Dallas twice, San Jose, Boston, and Winnipeg, among others. Their strength of schedule is the toughest in the Western Conference with the remaining teams they play against having a .589 winning percentage. They still have eight home games, although they are currently 14-13-6 on home ice, which only adds concern to their playoff hopes.
Arizona are a sneak playoff hopeful team. They have won eight of their last ten behind Darcy Kuemper and are starting to get some of their injured players back. Arizona’s schedule is not quite as tough, but they do face Minnesota, Vegas, St. Louis, Winnipeg, and Tampa Bay. Arizona has just six home games and eight on the road. Fortunately, their strength of schedule is only .539 (tied for 7th easiest).
The Colorado Avalanche are truly a wildcard. They have 72 points and only need consistent goaltending to make a run at a playoff berth. They are just two points away from Minnesota and the Avalanche have the ninth easiest strength of schedule at a winning percentage of .540. Can Colorado get any offensive production from places other than their top duo of Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen? They have eight home contests and five road games left. This is another team with a more favorable schedule than the Minnesota Wild.
Edmonton and Chicago are teetering on the edge of elimination while Vancouver, by our numbers, will not make the playoffs. The same goes for Anaheim and Los Angeles. Although chances that the Oilers and Blackhawks hit 93 points is slim and far between, at a near zero percent probability.
The 93 points estimation could swing either way depending on how Dallas, Minnesota, and Arizona perform over the next several weeks. Using moneypuck.com it allows one to see probabilities in real time. The idea is to set up predictions on futures in order to make some money. For example, San Jose and Calgary are locks from the West, whilst Nashville and Winnipeg are virtual locks (both around 99% chance of making the playoffs). Vegas and St. Louis are approaching virtual lock status with a 98% chance of entering the second season. Vegas is nine points behind San Jose and eight points ahead of Arizona. The Golden Knights have little to play for other than coasting into the playoffs.
Ten teams are battling for eight spots. St. Louis’ hot streak has vaulted them from playoff outsider to almost contending for the division. The streak is why the Blues are +750 to win the Central. That number was +2500-3500 a few weeks ago.
Expect a few changes between now and April 6th – the end of the regular season. The likelihood that some futures will move as well lends credence to the fact that if one sees value, act on it now. After that, the Stanley Cup Playoffs await.
By Chris Wassel