Analyzing the other playoff teams in the Western Conference and what makes them effective

Photo credit:© Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Ryley Delaney
3 months ago
The Western Conference is a gauntlet.
Let me ask you a question, is there any team in the Western Conference playoff race who you think the Edmonton Oilers can easily dismantle? Sure, if the St. Louis Blues or the Minnesota Wild make it, those would be easy matchups. Of course, that would imply that the Oilers would win the Pacific, which isn’t looking like.
Let’s examine each of the seven other Western Conference teams that will likely join the Oilers in the dash to the Stanley Cup.

Vancouver Canucks

What a turnaround it has been for the Vancouver Canucks. British Columbia’s only team finished with a 38-37-7 record, which was good enough for the sixth-best in the Pacific Division. However, after a mid-season coaching change, Rick Tocchet helped the Canucks finish with a 20-12-4 record, the writing was on the wall.
So far this season, they have a 45-18-8 record with one of the scariest offenses in the league. Although it has dropped from the number one spot, their 249 goals ranks the fifth-most in the league, one more goal than the Oilers. They’re spearheaded by J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, defenceman Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser with a ton of depth scoring. Just wait until Elias Lindholm gets going as well.
What separates them from the Oilers though, is a Vezina-calibre netminder. Thatcher Demko has a .917 save percentage and a 2.47 goals-against average in 49 games played, along with a 34-13-2 record. He’s been out with an injury, with Casey DeSmith filling in with a .901 save percentage and a 2.67 goals-against average.
Their biggest knock, however, is that they don’t have a ton of playoff experience. Ian Cole is the most experienced of the bunch, having played 116 games with three goals and 29 points with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Carolina Hurricanes, and Tampa Bay Lighting.
Out of their core, J.T. Miller has the most experience, playing 78 games with nine goals and 44 goals with the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Vancouver Canucks in 2019-20, the one playoff where most Canucks have their experience. Quinn Hughes, Elias Petterson, and Brock Boeser all have just 17 games played.
In total, the Canucks roster has 461 games played in the playoffs, which sounds like a lot, but the Oilers have 1,026 games played, over double what the Canucks have. As one could imagine, Corey Perry leads the way with an incredible 196 games played due to a cup run in 2006-07, as well as three straight final appearances with the Dallas Stars, Montréal Canadiens, and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Does it matter? We’ll see.

Colorado Avalanche

It’s painful to look back on, but remember in the 2022 playoffs when the Colorado Avalanche swept the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final? 
Well, Nathan MacKinnon has somehow gotten even better, as he has 122 points in 71 games, while Cale Makar is arguably the best defenceman in the league. Mikko Rantanen is about to blow by a career-high with 39 goals and 96 points (55 goals, 105 points last season), while the Avalanche have a very deep defence core as they added Sean Walker.
Unlike the Canucks, the Avalanche have a lot of playoff experience as their active roster has 974 games between them. This includes a core that went on and won the Stanley Cup in 2022, with MacKinnon scoring 13 goals and 24 points in 20 games. One important player from that run eventually signed with the Calgary Flames, Nazem Kadri, but the Avalanche went out and acquired Casey Mittelstadt.
If there’s one knock against the Avalanche, it’s that the goaltending has been rather weak this season. Alexander Georgiev has played the majority of Colorado’s games and has a .903 save percentage and a 2.80 goals-against average in 56 games played. It’s odd, considering he had a .919 save percentage in 62 games in 2022-23.

Dallas Stars

One of many, many scary teams in the Central Division, the Dallas Stars are tied with the Avalanche with 96 points, but the Avalanche have an additional game played. Realistically, this team is built with veterans such as Tyler Seguin, Ryan Suter, Jamie Benn, Matt Duchene, Joe Pavelski, and Chris Tanev.
On top of being good veterans, they’re helping the young core of Jason Robertson, Jake Oettinger, Roope Hintz, and Miro Heiskanen. They have an even younger core in Thomas Harley,  Wyatt Johnston, and Logan Stankoven.
Defensively, they arguably have one of the best defence cores, before they even landed Chris Tanev. Esa Lindell, Harley, and Heiskanen are all legit defencemen. Add Suter and Tanev’s experience, and it’s hard to see how this team will allow many goals in the playoffs.
In fairness, Oettinger hasn’t had a great season as he has an .89 save percentage and a 2.97 goals-against average, but he has a career .917 save percentage in the playoffs. Scott Wedgewood has a .902 save percentage and a 2.84 goals-against average in 30 games.
The team also has a lot of playoff experience, having played a combined 1,089 games. There’s good news, though, as there’ll only be one team making it out of the Central Division pathway… So maybe the Avalanche or the team we’ll look at next will knock the very scary Dallas Stars out of the postseason.

Apr 18, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) watches Vegas Golden Knights right wing Jonathan Marchessault (81) during the second period of game one of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Winnipeg Jets

The Central Division is an absolute dogfight, as the Winnipeg Jets have a 44-22-5 record for 93 points this postseason. At one point, the three teams were tied because they struggled against one team and dominated the other one, but the Jets have been slipping in recent times.
In their last 10 games, the Jets are 5-5-0 with a three game losing streak, while the Avalanche have a nine game winning streak and the Stars have a four-game winning streak. Still, the Jets are a good team.
Mark Scheifele leads the way with 22 goals and 63 points, while Josh Morrissey has eight goals and 58 points. Other scorers on the team include Nikolaj Ehlers, and Kyle Connor, who leads the team in goals. The Jets calling card is their depth, with 11 players with double-digit goals and 10 players with 30 or more points.
To make matters worse, the Jets employ the best goalie in the league in Connor Hellebuyck, who has a .920 save percentage and a 2.39 goals-against average. Well, their backup must be like Casey DeSmith, right? Nope, as former Oiler Laurent Brossoit has a .927 save percentage and a 2.05 goals-against average in 20 games played.
On top of all that, the Jets added some sizable pieces at this season’s deadline, trading a first for Sean Monahan, who has eight goals and 15 points in 23 games, as well as Tyler Toffoli for second and third-round picks. Toffoli, who has the most playoff experience of the team, has four goals and six points in eight games.
It is worth mentioning that the core of Scheifele, Morrissey, Ehlers, and Connor all have fewer than 40 games played in the postseason, but the Jets are still a dangerous team.

Nashville Predators

If you asked in January which team Edmonton would hope to play in the first round of the seven we’ll look at today, I’m sure most people would say the Nashville Predators. Oh boy, how things have changed.
Over their last 17 games, the Predators haven’t lost in regulation and are in the midst of a five-game win streak. On February 16, they sat two points out of a playoff spot with a 27-25-2 record, but fast forward a month and a bit, and the win column has jumped to 42 while picking up two overtime losses.
Offensively, Filip Forsberg leads the way with 39 goals and 78 points, the Washington Capitals could’ve really used a guy like him this season. Roman Josi continues to be one of the league’s best defencemen, scoring 18 goals and 72 points, while Gustav Nyquist has 19 goals and 44 points. Luke Evangelista is one of the youngest players on the team, and he has 15 goals and 32 points in 69 games.
Juuse Saros has been among the league’s best goaltenders in recent seasons. He has a .909 save percentage and a 2.73 goals-against average in 56 games. It was a rough start for the netminder, but he has a .936 save percentage since the Predators’ streak started.
In terms of playoff games played by the roster, the Nashville Predators have 753 games played, ranking behind the Jets but still on the lower side for Western Conference teams. However, they should not be discounted because we’ve seen time and time again where a hot team heading to the playoffs goes on a big run — look no further than the St. Louis Blues in 2019 or the Florida Panthers last postseason.

Oct 24, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; LA Kings center Anze Kopitar (11) enters the ice against the Arizona Coyotes at Crypto.com Arena.

Los Angeles Kings

Out of any team that will make the Western Conference playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings are probably the one team I’d want the Oilers to face… that doesn’t mean that they are a pushover by any means.
In the past two postseasons, the Kings have pushed the Oilers to seven games in 2022 and six games in 2023 and were even on the brink of going up 3-1 against the Oilers before a 3-0 comeback and a Jack Campbell masterclass in Game 4.
The thing is, the Kings are only getting better. Timeless wonder Anže Kopitar leads the team with 64 points and 24 goals, while ADrian Kempe has 22 goals and 63 points. After barely scoring at all to start the season, Kevin Fiala is now up to 24 goals and 63 points, while youngster Quinton Byfield has 19 goals and 52 points. In fact, they have six players with 40 or more points, as well as nine players with double-digit goals.
Despite the rebuild, the Kings also have a bit of playoff experience thanks to players remaining from their cup runs in the early 10’s. Kopitar has 92 playoff games, Drew Doughty has 90 playoff games, and Trevor Lewis has 99 playoff games. However, their 633 combined playoff games rank as the second-fewest in the Western Conference postseason picture.
There’s also the goaltending to worry about, as both guys they’ve relied on this season aren’t who you’d considered Vezina-calibre. Cam Talbot has been playing out of his mind this season, posting a .917 save percentage and a 2.40 goals-against average in 46 games, despite a cold stretch in January. David Rittich has re-emerged and has a .921 save percentage and a 2.17 goals-against average in 22 games played, helping stabilize the Kings during Talbot’s rough stretch.
The Oilers should be able to beat the Kings, but if the two teams keep running into each other during the postseason, eventually the Kings will break through. Look no further than the 1,054 tries Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals had with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Vegas Golden Knights

Most of the time, an eighth-seed wouldn’t be a team you’d be worried about. However, this is the reigning Stanley Cup champion who, um, likes to use the long-term injured reserve to their benefit.
This season, Jonathan Marchessault leads the team in both goals (39) and points (61), and the pending unrestricted free agent will get paid this off-season. Personally, I’d give my first born for the Oilers to sign him. Jack Eichel has 24 goals and 55 points, while the LTIR’ed Mark Stone has 16 goals and 53 points.
They also have quite a few notable depth scorers, such as William Karlsson, Chandler Stephenson, Ivan Barbashev, Nicolas Roy, Mike Amadio, and Pavel Dorofeyev. Their defence is a strong suit, as Shea Theodore, Alex Pietrangelo, Brayden McNabb, and a few others are notable.
We saw how Adin Hill stole the series against the Oilers and eventually the cup. This season, he has a .914 save percentage and a 2.62 goals-against average in 32 games played but has battled injuries this season as well as poor form in recent times. Logan Thompson has filled in well when Hill has missed time, posting a .907 save percentage and a 2.72 goals-against average in 39 games played.
However, it’s what they did at the deadline that worries me the most. They first started by trading for Anthony Mantha, who scored 20 goals and 34 points in 56 games prior to the trade, and now has one goal and three points in nine games with the Knights. Not the biggest add, but shoring up their defence by adding Noah Hanifin… now that’s notable.
Prior to the trade, Hanifin had a career-high 11 goals and 35 points in 61 games with the Calgary Flames and now has four assists in nine points with the Golden Knights. But their magnum opus of the trade deadline came out of left field, as they traded (and/or saved) Tomáš Hertl from the San Jose Sharks.
Hertl underwent surgery to remove cartilage in his knee prior to the trade, but he had 15 goals and 34 points in 48 games with the very, very, very terrible Sharks. If he’s back in time for the playoffs, which sounds like he will be, that’ll solidify their top six.
On top of all that, the roster has a combined 1,342 games played in the postseason, which honestly, is just laughable. It’s not all just from Vegas’ two cup runs either, as Pietriangelo and Barbashev won a cup with the St. Louis Blues in 2019 and Alec Martinez won two cups with the Kings in the early 10’s.
However, the Knights are genuinely injured. They picked up an additional point over the Blues on Monday, but are only five points clear with a game in hand on the Blues. They’ll likely make the playoffs, but even if they do, will they have enough time in the first roundt to gain chemistry?
Keep in mind that they’ll be the eighth seed. They won’t be able to feast on a team that just squeaked in. Now, if they play the Vancouver Canucks, that is a totally winnable series. If they have to go down the Central route, holy moly those will be some good playoff series.

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