While interest in the Eastern Conference playoff picture largely centers around New Jerseyboth due to the attention their Cinderella run has garnered and well as their huge potential impact in the playoffsit's the Western Conference that has been a logjam all season long and continues to be so. Much, much better teams will miss the postseason in the West, and it's still hard to peg exactly who those teams might be even with a mere dozen games remaining on the schedule.
As with the East, let's glance at the standings to orient ourselves:
Western Conference standings (current)
Seed Team GP W Pts P%
1 Vancouver 71 46 101 .711
2 Detroit 69 41 90 .652
3 San Jose 71 39 88 .620
4 Los Angeles 70 39 85 .607
5 Phoenix 71 36 85 .599
6 Chicago 70 38 84 .600
7 Dallas 70 37 82 .586
8 Calgary 72 36 81 .563
9 Nashville 70 35 80 .571
10 Anaheim 69 37 79 .572
11 Minnesota 70 35 77 .550
12 Columbus 69 32 74 .536
13 St. Louis 69 31 71 .514
14 Colorado 68 26 60 .441
15 Edmonton 70 23 55 .393
The takeaway? It looks like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Chicago have separated themselves from the pack by a fraction, to perhaps have an upper hand in the racebut is that true? We'll see in a minute. After that, there are five or arguably six teams vying for two spots: Dallas, Calgary, Nashville, Anaheim, Minnesota and perhaps Columbus. So let's try to make some more sense out of the playoff picture by taking into account which teams have been playing well over the last half-season or so, as opposed to whose overall point totals have been inflated by a fast start:
Western Conference standings (projected)
Seed Team Pts GR Team P% Opponent P% Projected Pts
1 Vancouver 101 11 .722 .508 118.5
2 Detroit 90 13 .647 .596 105.8
3 San Jose 88 11 .625 .588 101.1
4 Phoenix 85 11 .639 .540 99.6
5 Chicago 84 12 .643 .579 98.9
6 Los Angeles 85 12 .571 .557 98.8
7 Calgary 81 10 .676 .510 95.9
8 Anaheim 79 13 .603 .559 94.7
9 Dallas 82 12 .514 .547 94.7
10 Nashville 80 12 .571 .533 94.4
11 Minnesota 77 12 .571 .534 91.4
12 Columbus 74 13 .544 .579 87.7
13 St. Louis 71 13 .441 .557 82.6
14 Colorado 60 14 .273 .554 67.7
15 Edmonton 55 12 .357 .559 63.6
As we thought, Phoenix, Chicago and Los Angeles appear to be in the clear (along with San Jose, if there had been any doubt). This will warm the hearts of all of us that favored the Blackhawks and Kings to make it to the postseason out of the pack, given their positive goal differentials a month or two ago when compared to the other contenders/pretenders.
Of the next half dozen teams, it's apparent that Columbus is virtually out of the playoff picturelooking to finish six or more points behind even the projected ninth and tenth place teams, they can comfortably be written off. Anyone remember their magical start to the season?
That leaves us five teams for two spots..but Minnesota's likely out as well. Projecting 3-4 points below the cutoff is a tough place to be when you need to leapfrog three teams.
Of the remaining four, you might think that Calgary's in trouble, having 2-3 less games remaining than the rest of the pack. Not so. Given their lead in points over all the teams except Dallas, their excellent play in the calendar year of 2011, and the weakest remaining schedule in the entire NHL (yes, even weaker than all of the Eastern Conference schedulesgo figuredue to facing both Edmonton and Colorado twice), the Flames should be in. Please don't let it put off the rebuild, though.
The logjam that follows could againas in the Eastcall for those new tiebreakers to come into effect. Chances are good that at least two of Anaheim, Dallas and Nashville could arrive at the tape in a photo finish. As many folks predicted, it might even as many as 95 points to earn that eighth seed in the West, which is pretty incredible. The Stars, currently leading the points department, are the coldest bubble teamI'd like to believe they're one of the teams on the outside, but perhaps the re-addition of Brad Richards will help right their ship. And without Jonas Hiller, I'd also say that the Ducks are working at a disadvantage. If you're asking me to call it, I'll pick the Preds for the ticket to the dance. But it's shaping up to be a crazy finish.
Calgary Flames: COL, @ANA, @LAK*, @SJS, @EDM, ANA, @STL, @COL, EDM, VAN
Anaheim Ducks: STL, @LAK, CGY*, @DAL, @NSH*, @CHI, COL, @CGY, @SJS, DAL*, SJS, LAK, @LAK*
Dallas Stars: CHI, PHI, ANA, @NSH, @PHX, @SJS, @LAK, @ANA*, CBJ, COL, @COL*, MIN
Nashville Predators: BOS, DET, @BUF*, EDM, ANA, DAL, VAN, @COL, DET, ATL, CBJ, @STL*
Minnesota Wild: @SJS, CBJ, MTL*, TOR, STL, @STL, EDM, TBL, @DET*, @VAN, @EDM*, DAL
Columbus Blue Jackets: DET, @MIN, NJD*, @COL, @PHX, VAN, FLA, @WSH, CHI, STL, @DAL, @NSH, BUF*
*Second game of a back-to-back
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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