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There’s plenty left to play for in the Western Conference


If you love end-of-season hockey and compelling playoff races, a free tip for the final weeks of the season: ignore the Eastern Conference and set your sights out West.

As it stands today, there are eight extremely likely playoff representatives in the West, with teams like the St. Louis Blues (7 per cent) and Minnesota Wild (4 per cent) hanging on by a thread. That’s taken some juice out of any potential wild-card race, though it’s not entirely out of the question.

And yet the next two weeks will be fascinating, in large part because none of the top eight teams have been able to materially separate from one another in the standings. With the points race this tight, the range of possible seeding scenarios and associated matchups for every team remains extraordinarily wide.

Consider just a few points to appropriately frame this.

  • The Clarence Campbell race has three teams (Dallas, Vancouver, Colorado) separated by just two points.
  • The Central Division race sees three teams (Dallas, Colorado, and Winnipeg) separated by just five points, with chasing Nashville on an 18-game point streak.
  • The current No. 5 seed (Edmonton) is just four points ahead of the current No. 8 seed (Vegas).

Absent Vancouver likely winning the Pacific Division, we have little idea how these teams are going to be slotted two weeks from today, owing to how tight the standings currently are.

To that end, I figured it would be interesting to simulate out the rest of the season and show just how many potential outcomes are still in the proverbial cards. For each team, let's look at their possible seeding outcomes and probability distributions of first-round opponents.

Let’s start in Texas.

Dallas Stars (99 points)

The first-round fate of the team currently in the Western Conference driver’s seat is still a colossal question mark.

Not only are they trying to fend off chasing Colorado and Winnipeg in their own division, but Vancouver also remains a single point back for the conference lead. Their most likely first-round matchup, as it stands today, is Winnipeg, but Nashville, Vegas, and to a lesser extent Los Angeles are still on the table.

Vancouver Canucks (98 points)

The Canucks are perhaps the one team we have clarity on. They have sat atop the conference for the lion’s share of the regular season, and that’s created some breathing room in the Pacific. Ultimately it will boil down to whether they simply win the division or can steal the conference.

Right now, three teams define their plausible first-round draws: the most likely being Nashville, followed by Vegas and Los Angeles.

Colorado Avalanche (97 points)

They may be one of the favourites to win the Stanley Cup, but Jared Bednar’s team has very little insight into what game 83 and on may bring. This team could outright win the conference or finish as low as third in the division – in fact, owing to Nashville’s recent blistering run, there is still an outside chance the Avalanche enter as a wild-card team.

Their most likely draw is Winnipeg, but Nashville, Vegas, and Dallas are all still viable.

Winnipeg Jets (94 points)

Winnipeg has been hanging around in the Central all season long, and their outlook is effectively the polar opposite of Colorado – an outside chance at winning the conference or division, but most likely finishing as the third-best team in the Central.

That skews their odds of facing one of Colorado or Dallas to considerably high levels; that’s the outcome in nearly four of five simulations.

Edmonton Oilers (90 points)

Edmonton is unlikely to catch Vancouver, but they have also collected enough standings points to make a wild-card finish very unlikely, thanks in part to Vegas’ winter struggles.

With a second-place Pacific Division finish probable, Edmonton should be locked into that two-versus-three divisional matchup, meaning a date with one of Los Angeles or Vegas.

Los Angeles Kings (87 points)

A fascinating question to consider if you are Los Angeles: Would you rather finish as the first wild-card team, or would you rather finish third in the Pacific and face Connor McDavid and Edmonton?

The latter seems absolutely harrowing (and at 61 per cent odds at this point, perhaps the likely outcome), but in other scenarios Los Angeles still ends up drawing one of the West’s best.

Nashville Predators (90 points)

Thanks to their second-half surge and off an incredible three-goal comeback on Tuesday night, the Predators are a playoff shoo-in.

Now it’s a question of which of the big three teams they’ll end up facing in round one – the odds between Vancouver, Colorado, and Dallas are reasonably equal, and I’d pay good money to hear from Andrew Brunette on who he’d prefer out of those three draws. Of particular note: they have been blown off the ice in every game against Vancouver this season, but have out-scored Colorado 9-4 in a pair of games this year.

Vegas Golden Knights (86 points)

Vegas remains fascinating. This team was dreadful amidst a sea of injuries in the winter months, but they are starting to get healthy and a 6-3-1 run in their past 10 games has created just enough separation between them and chasing St. Louis.

But who would want to play the defending Stanley Cup champions, especially with both Tomas Hertl and Mark Stone set to return to this lineup? The beauty of this riddle: half of the conference is chewing on this question as we speak, including Edmonton, Vancouver, Dallas, and Colorado.

Enjoy what should be a wild finish to the season!

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference