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Not-so-Pacific Preview: Let’s get Wild

Is top-3 in the division out of reach? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean playoffs are out of reach

Seattle Kraken v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

My past few articles have focused on the teams in the National Hockey League’s Pacific Division and the Seattle Kraken’s chances of outperforming their divisional competitors over the course of the regular season. Certainly we’ve identified some teams that are beatable, but out of the eight-team Pacific, it might be difficult for Seattle to gain one of the top three berths, thus guaranteeing themselves a playoff appearance. But that doesn’t mean a playoff appearance is out of the cards — today we’ll look at the other avenue to the postseason.

2022 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In the 2000s there has been a much higher focus on parity in the NHL. From the salary cap, small market protections, as well as the draft lottery rules, there’s been a collective effort to ensure give equality of opportunity across the league. That filtered into the the playoff structure in 2013-14 when the current structure was adopted. Since that season, if a team isn’t top three in its division, it can still beat out the remainder of the conference and take another route as one of two Wild Card teams.

Last season in the Western Conference, the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators made the playoffs in this manner. It’s not an easy road to the Cup, and both teams had short runs. Nashville fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in four games. And while Dallas made it more of a series, losing Game 7 to the Calgary Flames, they still hit the offseason sooner than they’d’ve liked. But getting into the playoffs give you a chance, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Western Conference

Here are the teams in the Western Conference:

We can make some assumptions about the top five or six clubs, who will make the playoffs as Divisional leaders. Colorado, Edmonton, Calgary, Minnesota and St. Louis were able to put it on autopilot over the last weeks of the 2021-22 season. Barring major upheaval, those teams are unlikely to be fighting for the bottom slots again this year (though Calgary was a major question mark earlier this summer). Likewise, there are some teams that will be aiming for the draft lottery (Arizona, Chicago). With those teams out of the probable picture, we can zoom in somewhat on who the Kraken need to beat for a playoff slot.

  • Anaheim Ducks
  • Los Angeles Kings
  • San Jose Sharks
  • Vancouver Canucks
  • Vegas Golden Knights
  • Dallas Stars
  • Nashville Predators
  • Winnipeg Jets

We’ve covered the Pacific teams, but it’s important to remember that the Kraken still need to beat most of those divisional clubs to have a shot at being one of the conference’s Top 8.

Probabilities

The thing about the Wild Card race is that there are more teams competing for fewer spots. Some of those teams made the playoffs last year, and so they will be hungry to repeat, and are likely in a better position from the point of view of roster strength than the Kraken, who were near the bottom of the league standings.

Nashville Predators v Dallas Stars Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

The math gets complex, especially down the stretch, and you’ll find yourself watching two teams also in the hunt play one another and desperately cheering against overtime, where three standings points are handed out rather than two (two for the winner, one for the loser). Conversely, there is a legitimate coaching strategy available to the Kraken as a potential Wild Card club, holding all five skaters back and playing for overtime in any close game could earn them enough loser points over an 82 game season to beat out a competitor with the same number (or more) wins.

Predictions

I believe the Winnipeg Jets are flawed, with rumors of locker room troubles, so while they have some good players, they’ll likely miss the post-season once again. San Jose is another team that seems unlikely to compete. Of the remaining teams, one of the Kings, Ducks, Canucks and Golden Knights will be the Pacific Division’s third seed (I’m picking Vancouver). From the Central, just like last season, the Predators and Stars will be the biggest competition for Wild Card spots.

Los Angeles Kings v Seattle Kraken Photo by Abbie Parr/NHLI via Getty Images

Can the Kraken beat out all but one of these teams and secure their first post-season appearance? It’s not going to be easy. In fact, securing third in the Pacific might be the more likely path, but with the numerous changes to the roster, an injection of highly skilled youth, and the proper adjustments to Dave Hakstol’s coaching strategies, the odds sit around 50% in my mind. A credit to Ron Francis on his offseason moves, because that is perhaps 30% higher than I would have given them in May.