Best In The West: The NHL Western Conference Playoff Picture So Far
The Western Conference presents a different story than the Eastern Conference.
Because of the new layout of the National Hockey League that took place last year, the playoffs have a new wild card system in place.
Here's how it works: The top three teams from each conference, Pacific and Central, make the playoffs, regardless of how the other conference is doing. Then, the next two best teams take the wild card positions.
The way it looks, with the deadline passing and the NHL going down the final stretch, is that the last spot in the Pacific is available between the Calgary Flames, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.
The Central division is more solidified with its top three, but the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild are in the mix when it comes to the wild card.
The two teams that do not take the last spot in the Pacific will be in a fight with Winnipeg and Minnesota for the wild card.
So, the questions becomes, which teams are out and which teams are in?
Calgary has played some remarkable hockey this season. In the offseason, they were able to obtain goalie Jonas Hiller, who has been a huge reason for the success they have had.
Forwards Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have produced much of the offensive success for the Flames. Holding down the blue-line, defensemen Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie have led the way for success on the back end, which has made it hard for the opposition to get past Jonas Hiller.
However, the recent injury to Calgary captain -- arguably, the most important piece to the Flames roster -- Mark Giordano has been detrimental to the Flames. Prior to his injury, most believed they could be the team taking the last spot in the central.
Giordano, who was the second point scorer and best defenseman, by far, on this roster, will be out for the season.
As the deadline approached, it looked as if the Flames would be buyers, but they ended up being sellers, instead. Offloading forwards Sven Baertschi, who requested a trade, and Curtis Glencross only saw future draft picks in return.
It seems as if the Flames realize their difficult fate, and are looking the gain future prospects and look more concerned about the future and less about the present.
It will be hard for the Flames to grab that last spot in the Pacific without Giordano, but that does not mean the wild card is out of the question. They have a pretty split schedule of home and away games down the stretch.
They also have played very even hockey since the All-Star break, so they will probably need to start winning a little more than they have been losing. On a brighter note, a good amount of teams they face do not and will not hold a spot in the playoffs.
However, they will need to tighten up majorly on the defensive side if they want to play some extra hockey.
Los Angeles Kings
Current Stanley Cup champions have their fans worried. Should the Kings be on the outside looking in right now?
Probably not, but this season has been a tough one, though it has slowly been getting better. Early on, they had legal problems with defenseman Slava Voynov, which caused salary cap and roster problems.
Additionally, Mike Richards, surprisingly, was failing to produce, so they ended up having to send him to their affiliates. But, the passing of the All-Star break has treated the Kings well. An eight-game winning streak has put them right back in playoff contention.
Prior to the trade deadline, the Kings were able to acquire defenseman Andrej Sekera from the Carolina Hurricanes.
Sekera stays out of the box, which is a plus side for the Kings, who have three of their defenseman over 35 penalty minutes this season, including elite defenseman Drew Doughty.
He can also take a lot of ice time, and is very good at playing the transitional game. The problem they face is having their top lines' production rates unsatisfactory.
Defense, by way of their top lines, has been pitiful and they have been consistently producing to make up for that. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and others will have to begin producing more if they want to grab that last spot.
The Kings find themselves at home more than not going down the stretch, which will offer some advantage, but the teams they face will offer tough competition.
San Jose Sharks
Does San Jose even bother making the playoffs, considering each year, they lose miserably in the first round?
Regardless of that, they find themselves in a fighting position and want at least the shot at the cup. The past few seasons, the Sharks have been a playoff team, but this year may be the end of the run.
The Sharks have found offensive production from centers Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Their defense, led by Marc-Édouard-Vlasic, has not been terrible through this season.
The problem they have had since the All-Star break is winning, which saw a 0-8 home losing streak. Even worse, five of those teams during that skid are playoff contenders. That is the reason you see them as they are now.
Adding to that, during the trade deadline, the Sharks shipped Tyler Kennedy to the New York Islanders and received a conditional draft pick in either 2015 or 2016.
They also traded center James Sheppard to New York Rangers, and in return, grabbed another draft pick, a fourth-round in the 2016 draft. This was probably done to allow sophomore center Tomáš Hertl more time at his position.
They also traded away forward Andrew Desjardins to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Ben Smith, who can fill the empty gap.
Lastly, the Sharks traded forward Freddie Hamilton to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Karl Stollery. The Sharks made these moves most likely to allow their younger players to get more time and help produce more.
It will make it hard to pass the Flames and surging Kings, considering they did not make any huge acquisitions. In that span, they do have a seven-game road trip, which could be good because road trips have treated the Sharks fairly well this season.
The Winnipeg Jets have their eyes on the playoffs this year, and they proved that with all their moves prior to the trade deadline.
The Jets first unloaded Evander Kane, who caused many problems for the team this season. The Buffalo Sabres took Kane off of Winnipeg's hands in exchange for defenseman Tyler Myers, along with forwards Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and a 2015 first-round pick.
While Armia and Lemieux add to the future of the Jets, Myers is more prevalent as a previous first-round pick by the Sabres, and adds offensive power to a defensively-minded back line. Stafford adds veteran offense and physicality to the Jets squad.
They also grabbed forward Jiří Tlustý from the Carolina Hurricanes for a draft pick. His ability to assist the scorers around him will help add to the offensive side, as well as his sound play on the defensive side of the puck.
The Jets also traded forward Carl Klingberg for former Ranger forward Lee Stempniak, who can help the Jets on the penalty kill if need be. The Jets added a lot prior to the deadline that can help them grab a final spot in the playoffs.
Going down the stretch, the Jets own, arguably, the hardest finishing schedule out of the “bubble” teams.
These recent additions will be very helpful to them in terms of getting wins against many of the playoff contending teams they will face here on out. Eight of their last 10 are against teams in playoff contention.
The Minnesota Wild have been hottest team in the NHL since the All-Star break. The Wild have almost looked unstoppable.
Back in January, they went out and acquired Devan Dubnyk from the Coyotes. Dubnyk has been a huge reason for the success of the Wild and has played some of the best hockey of his career.
As the trade deadline approached, the Wild became immediate buyers, offloading defenseman Justin Falk (2015 fifth- and second-round pick) and, in return, brought in defenseman Jordan Leopold and forward Chris Stewart.
Jordan Leopold adds to the offensive side of the game. His transitional game is very good and he moves the puck exceptionally well. He also adds veterancy to the Wild's blue line, which will help them moving into the playoffs.
Chris Stewart stands in question about his consistency of play a lot of the time, but for the Wild, he adds size and strength to their offense. He's a player who can play rough-and-tough hockey and who will sit in front of the net and cause a lot of problems for the opposing team.
He is a grinder who will help the Wild get the puck and help put home goals here and there. Newcomers Stewart and Leopold add even more offense around the already-present Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek.
With strength on the offensive side and a solid defense and a balance of veterans and young ones throughout, the Wild are in good shape to play some extra hockey at the end of the season. The only downside to their outlook is their schedule.
They have, arguably, the hardest play schedule; their last month of hockey sees one team out of a playoff position.
If they keep playing the way the have been for the past two months, this should not be a problem, but they could start to tire out after playing so many tough opponents as the end of the regular season nears.
My prediction is the Wild, Kings and Jets will all take a spot in the playoffs. The Kings are the previous Stanley Cup champions, and many of their struggles came early in the season with a lot of off-ice problems.
They have a solid team and have been playing good hockey as of late. The Wild have been the hottest team since the All-Star break, and I don't see them slowing down anytime soon.
The Jets added key players to their lineup that will help them win games, and fortunately, for them, an injury to Mark Giordano puts the Flames in a very bad position this late in the season.
The Jets are healthy and have a very good opportunity to take advantage of this unfortunate mishap to the Flames roster and take a spot in the playoffs.