The Pacific Division looks absolutely awful two and a half weeks into the season. Is this just a small sample size thing, or are these teams actually this bad?
1. It’s early
Okay so we’re only about two and a half weeks into the season, but the Pacific has already been an extremely weird division. That’s not really a surprise, of course, because it was an extremely weird division last year and not much had changed this summer.
If anything, with all the trades being made, coaching changes, and drama in LA, things only got weirder.
So it should come as little surprise, then, that through Thursday’s games, the teams tied for the best records in the Pacific were San Jose (perhaps a return to form?) and Vancouver (uhhh?). Nor should it be a surprise that they each had a whopping eight points from seven games.
Now, eight points is technically tied for 10th in the league at this point, which isn’t terrible, but when your division leaders are two middling teams sitting at that point in the league table, well, the nicest thing you can say is that the bar isn’t being set too high.
Interestingly, though, it’s not just that these two so-so teams lead the division, it’s also who’s falling in line behind them. Arizona is third right now! LA and Edmonton are technically tied for fourth (though the Kings have a game in hand), and Calgary and Anaheim are scraping along at the bottom with two and three points, respectively.
Small sample sizes and all that, but man, this division looks deeply, deeply terrible. Worse than anyone might have had any reason to expect.
2. Happy returns
Meanwhile, it’s fair to say that there should be no surprise things are shaking out this way. If you were putting together a list of the divisions rated by relative strength at the beginning of the season, you’d have to go Central, Metropolitan, Eastern, and Pacific with some pretty clear lines of demarcation between each of them.
Not a lot of wiggle room for saying any other division than the one with Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis, Minnesota, Chicago, and Winnipeg is the clear No. 1; the only outlier in terms of quality is the lowly Avalanche. The Metro has maybe the best team on paper in the league in Washington, as well as the Rangers, Islanders, and Penguins, along with a mishmash of middling to poor teams. The Atlantic has Tampa and Montreal, but not much else to make anyone sit up and take notice. Then the Pacific has Anaheim (again, off to a terrible start) and not much else.
And to start the season, if you discount intra-divisional games, the pacific is 4-6-1 against both Eastern divisions combined, and 3-10 against the Central. That gives you a total record of 7-16-1, 15 points of a possible 48, good for a winning percentage of .313. Astonishing. (For the record, the division has obviously gone .500 against itself, but because of the OT charity point, the actual record is 11-8-3. That’s fun.)
Look, no one thinks that this is going to be the way things end up. Things will necessarily have to come back to .500 for a lot of these clubs, even if they’re crap. But when you’re this far into the season and the Coyotes are your third-best team, things are dire.
3. Beyond the box score
Of course, we all know by now judging things in terms of wins and losses or even goals isn’t necessarily fair, especially at this juncture of the season. Anaheim isn’t going to finish the year with 41 points, though that is their current pace right now (haha).
But what’s interesting here is that despite the win-lost record, there are a few teams buoying the division’s underlying numbers at 5-on-5. Mainly, it’s the two teams that ought to be the best in the division: Anaheim and Los Angeles. As a whole, across the 24 games played, you’re looking at the following stats:
That’s a little difficult to sift through, but you see that Los Angeles is clearly the best team in the division (though in just two games) and really propping up everyone else. There are, otherwise, some deeply awful percentages mixed in there — Calgary in basically all respects — but you have to come away with one clear impression from this.
Namely, the division probably shouldn’t be as bad as it is. For instance, neither Anaheim nor Calgary are this bad despite their atrocious records. Edmonton and Vancouver are in the same boat. They’ve been getting awful percentages all season; the Canucks are shooting less than 5 percent with .879 goaltending. The Flames are maintaining their huge shooting percentage from last season (10.4 percent) but the goalie situation is obviously killing them.
4. What does all that mean?
In short, there are some really bad teams in the division, no question about it, but there should be a better-than-32-percent winning percentage out of this group. We understand intrinsically that no one is this bad, but you actually watch the performances these teams are turning in and, well, you can’t say they haven’t earned this dismal start.
However, a lot of the awful 5-on-5 play has come against some very good teams. St. Louis has been a regular opponent already, as has Washington, and those teams have (understandably and rightly) handed the Pacific its lunch in general. Things will even out as the Pacific plays more teams like Columbus and… well, I’m sure there are worse hockey teams than “Columbus and some teams in the Pacific.” Carolina and Toronto! That’s two of them!
But still, even if you have a few teams knocking the ball out of the park against everyone they play, and the entire division still isn’t up to snuff, it’s a major indicator that you’re probably looking at multiple teams in the draft lottery.
5. Something to keep in mind
Yeah, the season is only like 9 percent of the way done for most of these teams, but stumbling this hard out of the gate really puts them behind the 8-ball.
The fact of the matter is that the Flames and Ducks are already probably way on the outside looking in as far as their playoff odds go. Most teams don’t simply start this poorly and recover enough to make something happen. At least a few of these teams have the talent that makes you think they can recover, like Anaheim and Los Angeles. But beyond that? Do you really see Calgary or Edmonton putting together a late-season run?
If you were picking things today, you’d probably be wise to err on the side of, “This division is only getting three teams into the postseason,” which is a hell of a thing to say a week before Halloween.