Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Pacific Division Notebook: Playoff races, battles for home-ice advantage, and more
16 days ago
The All-Star break is over and real hockey starts once again on Monday.
Edmonton hasn’t played since January 27, but they’ll be back in action on Tuesday, February 6. Moreover, most teams we’ll cover in this week’s edition haven’t played since the same time the Oilers did due to the CBA-mandated week off.
Let’s cover the few games that were played, how the standings look heading into the second half, and set the table for the races that will be in store over the next few months.
33-11-5, 186 goals for, 127 goals against
The Canucks haven’t played since the last Pacific Division Notebook, but they did make a newsworthy trade. On Jan. 31, the Canucks traded for Elias Lindholm giving up five assets we’ll look at in Calgary’s section.
Lindholm has had a rough season with the Flames, scoring nine goals and 32 points in 49 games, which isn’t bad for a second-line centre, but it’s a significant drop-off relative to his other seasons.
Two seasons ago, Lindholm scored 42 goals and 82 points in 82 games, helping the Flames win the Pacific Division crown. Even his 2023-24 season was better, as he scored 22 goals and 64 points in 49 games. This season, Lindholm is just on pace for 15 goals and 53 points, which would be his worst total since 2017-18 (minus his 19 goals and 47 points in 56 games during the weird 2020-21 season).
Still, the Canucks will be able to play him on the second line, keeping Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller together. It’s a good move for the time being, but Lindholm wants around $9 million a season, so who knows if he will re-sign with Vancouver.
With 71 points, the Canucks are tied with the Boston Bruins for the most points in the NHL with 71, is it 2011 again? They have a good young core, but it’s just that, a young and fairly inexperienced core when it comes to playoff time. The Oilers trail the Canucks by 12 points with four games in hand, but catching Vancouver seems a little bit out of the realm of possibility for Edmonton.
According to Tankathon, the Canucks will have the sixth hardest schedule moving forward, facing the Bruins twice, the Winnipeg Jets three times, the Colorado Avalanche twice, the Dallas Stars and Oilers once, and the Golden Knights three more times.
Vegas Golden Knights:
29-15-6, 163 goals for, 138 goals against
Like most teams here, the Golden Knights haven’t played since January 27. Unlike Vancouver, there isn’t much in the way of news for the NHL’s 31st team.
The Golden Knights, as they tend to do, have a ton of players on the long-term injured reserve, with Shea Theodore being the most notable of the bunch. Surprisingly, they haven’t added Jack Eichel, who had a lower-body surgery, to LTIR.
Vegas returns to action against the Oilers on February 6 and will have a chance to end the Oilers’ massive win streak. If they lose, Edmonton will match the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins for the longest win streak in NHL history.
According to Tankatahon, the Golden Knights will have the ninth-easiest schedule remaining. They’ll face off against teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets (twice), Ottawa Senators, and Minnesota Wild (three times).
As of February 5, the Golden Knights have a five point lead on the Oilers, but also have five more games played. With an Oiler win on Tuesday, Edmonton could move within three points of home-ice advantage in the first round.
29-15-1, 160 goals for, 124 goals against
Absolute Wagon. As you know, the Oilers are one game shy of matching the longest win streak in NHL history and will have a chance to match it on Tuesday.
The thing is, the Oilers have been incredibly streaky this season. Since November 11, they’ve won three games, lost their next three, went on an eight game win streak, lost their next three, and then just decided never to lose again and are on a 16-game win streak.
Still, with the Canucks improving for the short term by acquiring Lindholm, the Oilers will need an upgrade at the deadline. There are a few routes they can go, such as trading for Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel, a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent. This season, he has 22 goals and 49 points but has hit the 40-goal plateau as recently as 2021-22, where he also had 84 points.
Another route they could go is by upgrading their right-shot defenceman on their second pair. Cody Ceci isn’t bad by any means, but if the Oilers are going to look to make their d-core better, he’s the odd man out.
The Oilers have played just 45 games this season, which is the fewest in the league. They’ll have a jam-packed February (12 games) with another 15 games in March. With such an easy January, you can expect the Oilers’ schedule to toughen up.
In fact, they have the 12th-hardest schedule remaining according to Tankathon. They’ll face the Bruins twice, the Canucks and Jets once, three games against Colorado, and two games against Vegas and Dallas.
If they keep playing like they have the past month and a bit, they’ll have an easy time making the playoffs.
Los Angeles Kings:
23-15-10, 152 goals for, 132 goals against
The Los Angeles Kings have had a total opposite last month and a bit. Since December 28, the Kings are 3-8-6, including an eight-game losing streak that saw them go 0-4-4.
Going back in time, the Kings were third in the Pacific Division on December 27. They were seven points clear of the St. Louis Blues, who were on the outside looking in. Moreover, their 44 points were 13 ahead of the Edmonton Oilers, who had a 15-15-1 record.
Since that time, the Oilers have not lost and have a cushion of five points on the Nashville Predators, who are looking in from the outside. The Kings are just three points back of the Oilers, but have played three more games.
The abysmal start to 2024 forced the Kings’ hand and they fired former Oiler head coach Todd McLellan. Not to mention that the Kings are willing to trade Arthur Kaliyev, who has six goals and 14 points in 38 games this season.
It’s safe to say that the Kings are a mess, but they’ll have the second-easiest schedule for the rest of the season. They’ll play the Bruins once, the Canucks four times, the Jets once, the Stars twice, the Oilers three times, and the Tampa Bay Lightning once.
21-19-10, 140 goals for, 147 goals against
Since the last Pacific Division Notebook, the Kraken were shut out by the San Jose Sharks, which is never a good look.
Still, the Kraken have 52 points and are just two points behind the St. Louis Blues having played an extra game. They surprisingly made it to Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinal last season, but that just may not be in their cards for the 2023-24 season
The Kraken are led by Oliver Bjorkstrand’s 13 goals and 40 points, with defenceman Vince Dunn scoring eight goals and 37 points. Jared McCann once again leads the team in goals with 20 and has 35 points as well.
As for the plenty of former Oilers on the team, Jordan Eberle has nine goals and 28 points, Justin Schultz has four goals and 16 points, Adam Larsson has three goals and 15 points, while Kailer Yamamoto has seven goals and 12 points. Devin Shore was waived recently, but will stay in the Kraken organization.
According to Tankathon, the Kraken have the 14th-easiest schedule, facing off against the Bruins, Stars, and Golden Knights twice, while playing the Jets three times and the Oilers and Canucks once each. They’ll face the Ducks three times, Wild and Sharks twice, and Montréal, Buffalo and Calgary once each.
22-22-5, 149 goals for, 155 goals against
Like Edmonton and Vancouver, the Flames haven’t played since January 27. However, they did receive an impressive package for soon-to-be free agent Elias Lindholm.
The Flames aren’t looking to rebuild, but they’ll be selling off pending UFAs like Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin. To obtain Lindholm, the Canucks sent a 2024 first-round, a conditional 2024 fourth-round pick, prospect Hunter Brzustewicz, prospect Joni Jurmo, and Andrei Kuzmenko.
Brzustewicz is the notable prospect heading the other way, as he has eight goals and 69 points in 49 games this season. His 69 points are tied for fifth in the Ontario Hockey League and he’s tied for the lead in defenceman points.
Kuzmenko is a solid get for the Flames as well, as he’ll be an expiring free agent after the 2024-25 season. Last season, he scored 39 goals and 74 points in his first National Hockey League season, but has just eight goals and 21 points in 43 games this season.
The Flames have 49 points and trail the Blues by five points, but will have to jump over four teams to make it into a playoff spot. They have the 13th-hardest schedule, facing off against the Bruins, Canucks, Jets, and Oilers twice, and the Avalanche and Florida Panthers once.
A look at the Wild Card situation:
Since the Ducks and Sharks are completely off the grid by this point, we’ll look at a few Central teams in and around the Wild Card spots who might be relevant to the Oilers down the stretch.
The St. Louis Blues have a 26-21-2 record and have 54 points in 49 games played. It’s still to be seen whether or not they’ll sell at the deadline or push for a Wild Card spot, but they have some good assets if they decide to sell. Kevin Hayes, Jakub Vrána, and Colton Parayko all fit the Oilers in some way or another.
The Nashville Predators have a 26-23-2 record with 54 points as well but have played two more games than the Blues. Like the Blues, if the Predators decide to sell (which is more likely), they can really set up their future nicely if they move on from netminder Juuse Saros. Right-shot defenceman Alexandre Carrier would be a great fit if the Oilers wish to upgrade Cody Ceci.
The Arizona Coyotes held the first wild card spot on December 28, but now have a 23-22-3 record with 49 points. Of course, they aren’t out of it yet, but their chances are dwindling quite a bit. If they decide to sell, Jason Zucker is probably their most valuable asset. He only has seven goals and 17 points this season, but he had 27 goals and 48 points last season with Pittsburgh. Health has been an issue for the 32-year-old left-wing
The Minnesota Wild are pretty much well and out of the race, as they have a 21-23-5 record and are seven points back of the Blues. They have a few interesting soon-to-be unrestricted free agent plays, such as Alex Goligoski, Zach Bogosian, and Marc André Fleury, who has a no-move clause. Still, adding Fleury could be beneficial for both the Oilers and Fleury, as Edmonton would get their 1B and Fleury, who is 39 years old, gets a shot at his fourth ring.
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