We’re halfway there, we’re livin’ on a prayer

January 5th was the official halfway point of the NHL season, but with the Oilers playing two important games in Southern California over the weekend, I decided to wait to do a mid-season analysis.

So here we are. A little over halfway through the season, sitting on the outside, but in the mix, of a playoff spot. Let’s take a look at where the rest of the Western Conference stands at the mid-way point and look back at some predictions from the beginning of the season.

Nov 17, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames players and Edmonton Oilers players fight during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
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1. Calgary Flames

26-13-4 (56 points) / 153 Goals For (2nd) / 123 Goals Against (14th) 

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It looks like Calgary’s aggressive off-season paid off. Though not all their moves have worked out (especially Real Bad Deal James Neal who has four goals thus far), the Flames have found some key pieces to their puzzle. Hampus Lindholm seems to be the missing piece alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and Noah Hanifin has been excellent on the team’s second pair. The big issue, still, is goaltending. David Rittich has stepped up but veteran Mike Smith has been terrible. Come deadline time, the Flames will want to look for some secondary scoring and a better veteran goalie than Smith to push them over the edge.

2. Vegas Golden Knights

26-15-4 (56 points) / 36 Goals For (9th) / 119 Goals Against (10th)

After a slow start to the season, the Vegas Golden Knights are proving last year wasn’t a fluke. Vegas is currently riding a six-game winning streak and they’ve lost just two games in regulation since the beginning of December. Things have changed significantly for Vegas since their top defenceman Nate Schmidt returned from his PED suspension. When he was activated, Vegas was 8-11-1, and since, they’ve gone 18-4-3. It’s reasonable to expect they continue playing well and finish at towards the top of the West yet again.

3. Winnipeg Jets

26-13-2 (54 points) / 139 Goals For (8th) / 116 Goals Against (6th)

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The Jets have continued off of last year’s breakout season and are currently in a tight race with the Nashville Predators for the top spot in the Central Division. Winnipeg has been incredibly consistent all season as they have yet to drop more than two games in a row. That said, they have some individual players who have lacked consistency. Connor Hellebuyck, a Vezina nominee from last year, has been hot and cold and only sports a modest .910 save percentage. Patrik Laine has also been all over the grid. He has 24 goals on the season but has gone on a few long goal droughts. Those two need to consistently be good for Winnipeg to win the division.

4. Nashville Predators 

25-15-3 (53 points) / 131 Goals For (12th) / 109 Goals Against (2nd)

The Predators have done incredibly well this year given the struggles they’ve had with injuries. Key players like Filip Forsberg, P.K. Subban, Kyle Turris, and Viktor Arvidsson have missed major time this season, resulting in Nashville’s offence not operating at full capacity. Thankfully for them, a rock-solid blueline and great play from Pekka Rinne has helped keep the team right in the mix for the top record in the Central Division. If they can get healthy, I think Nashville is the best team in the West.

5. San Jose Sharks

23-13-7 (53 points) / 150 Goals For (4th) / 135 Goals Against (23rd)

The Sharks were everybody’s bet to finish at the top of the Western Conference this year after acquiring Erik Karlsson in the off-season. After a slowish start, they’ve finally got things rolling. Karlsson is up to nearly a point-per-game pace and the Sharks have lost just three games in regulation since the beginning of December. Their offence is killing it, but the one thing holding San Jose back has been poor goaltending. Martin Jones is having the worst season of his career (he has a .897 save percentage thus far) and he’ll need to figure it out for the Sharks to do damage in the playoffs.

Feb 22, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Colorado Avalanche forward Carl Soderberg (34) is stopped by Edmonton Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot (33) during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

6. Colorado Avalanche 

20-14-8 (48 points) / 144 Goals For (6th) / 129 Goals Against (19th)

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After those five, we get to the middle class of the Western Conference. Colorado has had a pretty solid season thanks largely to one extremely good line. Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog have done virtually all of the heavy lifting on the Avs. The team doesn’t have good underlying numbers or much depth, so if they’re going to make the playoffs again, those three are going to have to continue their higher-than-point-per-game pace for the rest of the year.

Why the Edmonton Oilers should've actually signed Milan Lucic to this contract

7. Dallas Stars

 22-17-4 (48 points) / 116 Goals For (24th) / 116 Goals Against (6th)

The Stars are having a mediocre season, batting for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. Their CEO, Jim Lytes, blamed it on Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. “But for me, it’s [upset me], what nobody says is what is completely obvious to me: We are getting terrible play from our top two players,” Lytes said back on Dec. 28. Oddly enough, though, Benn and Seguin are first and second on the team in scoring. After those two and Alex Radulov, Dallas virtually zero offensive depth, as their next highest scoring forward has seven goals.

8. Anaheim Ducks

19-17-7 (45 points) / 104 Goals For (30th) / 127 Goals Against (17th)

It’s honestly mind-boggling to me that Anaheim is still sitting in a playoff spot given how bad they’ve been this year. To be fair to them, they’ve dealt with injuries to key players in Cam Fowler, Corey Perry, Patrick Eaves, and Rickard Rakell, but the Ducks are somehow slugging by despite being one of the worst offensive clubs in the league. The reason for that has been amazing play from goaltender John Gibson, who owns a .923 save percentage in 36 starts. If not for him, Anaheim would be a basement dweller.

9. Vancouver Canucks

20-21-4 (44 points) / 128 Goals For (15th) / 143 Goals Against (27th)

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Another team I’m shocked to see doing as well as they’re doing are the Canucks. Vancouver appears to be in the mix for a playoff spot, but a lot of that comes down to the fact they’ve played three or four more games than everyone around them in the standings. Personally, I wouldn’t consider them to be a part of the middle class of Western teams legitimately battling for a playoff spot. I imagine we’ll see them fall down to where they belong over the next few weeks with super rookie Elias Pettersson expected to be out of action until the end of January. After that, we’ll likely see Vancouver deal players who hit free agency in the next coiple years like Chris Tanev and Alex Edler at the trade deadline, further compounding their fall down the standings. Still, there have been a lot of positive signs for the Canucks moving forward this season.

10. Minnesota Wild

20-17-3 (43 points) / 118 Goals For (22nd) / 114 Goals Against (5th)

After coming out of the gate quickly, the Wild have struggled over the past month-and-a-bit. Since the beginning of December, Minnesota has a mediocre 6-8-1 record and a five-game losing streak prior to the Christmas break has pushed them out of a playoff spot. Many players on the Wild are underachieving offensively, hence why they rank 22nd in the league in goals scored. Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, and Mikko Koivu have combined for just 20 goals, and the team took a huge loss when Matt Dumba went down with an injury in December.

Mar 25, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot (33) reacts to a goal from the Anaheim Ducks during the third period at Rogers Place. Ducks won the game 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

11. Edmonton Oilers

20-19-3 (43 points) / 118 Goals For (22nd) / 131 Goals Against (21st)

We all know what’s gone on here. Halfway through the season, the Oilers are two points out of a playoff spot and sit 11th in the Western Conference. They’re still in the mix, but I don’t think many of us are thrilled with how things have gone. The team had a big boost when Ken Hitchcock was hired and then went on a six-game losing streak due to injuries to Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell, which pushed them out of a playoff spot. The Oilers need Klefbom back and rolling as soon as possible and they’ll need to make some trade deadline additions up front to add some scoring depth if they want to secure a playoff spot.

After a long wait, Kevin Lowe (finally) gets his call to the Hall

12. Chicago Blackhawks

16-21-7 (39 points) / 128 Goals For (15th) / 159 Goals Against (30th)

Here we begin to see the basement of the Western Conference. When they were 6-6-3, the Blackhawks decided to fire head coach Joel Quenneville. That was a shocking move in that Coach Q is one of the best around and the team was clearly struggling because of a terrible roster. Since Jeremy Colliton took over, Chicago has gone 10-15-4. After years at the top, it’s all finally caught up to the Blackhawks. They’re old, expensive, and their prospect shelves are empty. It’s going to take time for them to become competitive again.

13. Arizona Coyotes

18-21-3 (39 points) / 108 Goals For (28th) / 118 Goals For (8th)

The Coyotes were a popular choice to be a breakout team this season, but, at the mid-point, it’s been the same old, same old in the desert. One thing Arizona does have going for them is a much-improved blueline and solid goaltending which has them ranked eighth in the league in goals against. Oddly enough, they can’t score goals, which is what you’d expect the strength of a team loaded with young, offensive talent to be.

14. Los Angeles Kings

17-23-3 (37 points) / 98 Goals For (31st) / 127 Goals Against (17th)

The Kings have been slightly better under Willie Desjardins than they were under John Stevens, but they’re nowhere near a playoff team. L.A. is 13-15-2 since Desjardins took over, but the team hasn’t managed to make any headway in the standings and will surely start to look at selling off assets like Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, and Tyler Toffoli as the trade deadline approaches.

15. St. Louis Blues

16-19-4 (36 points) / 110 Goals For (27th) / 129 Goals Against (19th)

Probably the biggest surprise in the West this year has been the pitiful St. Louis Blues. They barely missed the playoffs last year and then had a big off-season, adding Ryan O’Reilly, Patrick Maroon, David Perron, and Tyler Bozak to strengthen their offence, but it hasn’t worked out for them. To make matters worse, the Blues dealt their first rounder in 2019 in the O’Reilly deal. If it’s in the top-10, which it surely will be, the Blues can switch it to 2020 instead. Given the way things are going, that could be a top pick too. As the deadline approaches, we’ll likely see St. Louis begin to shop guys like Alex Pietrangelo and Brayden Schenn to build for the future.

What does it all mean?

I have the West in three groups…

  • There’s the contending teams: Calgary, Vegas, Winnipeg, Nashville, and San Jose.
  • There’s the middling teams: Colorado, Dallas, Anaheim, Edmonton, and Minnesota.
  • There’s the basement teams: Vancouver, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Arizona.

It becomes pretty clear when sorting the Conference by points percentage…

The contending teams appear to be locks for the playoffs at this point and the basement teams are clearly on the outside and will likely sell come deadline time. In the middle, you have teams where it could go either way. That leaves the Oilers in competition with Colorado, Dallas, Anaheim, and Minnesota for three playoff spots. You could maybe throw Vancouver in that mix too. With those five teams, things can really go either way. An injury could derail their season, or a big deadline addition could push them over the top.

The thing the Oilers have going for them is a fairly easy schedule in the second half. 14 of their remaining games come against non-playoff teams and they have only one difficult road trip through the Eastern Conference. As I alluded to earlier, I believe the Oilers will need to make some deadline additions to ensure they’re one of the top three teams in that middling group. The deadline is on Feb. 19 so the Oilers have 19 games to go until they decide whether or not it’s worthwhile to make a push.