The NHL Pacific Division is proving to be the superior of the two Western Conference divisions in the league’s new alignment for this season. A format that locks in three playoff spots for each division and then floats the final two berths in the postseason bracket, would see the Pacific put the max of five teams into the playoff field.
Anaheim was the #2 seed in the West a year ago before suffering a first-round playoff disappointment against Detroit. The Los Angeles Kings are running a strong second, and the San Jose Sharks are third. This all looks pretty par for the course. The Ducks, Kings and Sharks are all steady teams and each legitimate challengers to defending champion Chicago, currently leading the NHL Central Division, when we get to spring.
Vancouver is a victim of the Pacific’s strength, and under the leadership of new coach John Tortorella, the Canucks have 50 points, enough to put them in the playoffs and keep them just three back of San Jose for an automatic top-three spot. Phoenix has hung in despite an injury to forward Shane Doan and would grab the final postseason berth.
The success of the Pacific Division has come in spite of significant injuries to its best teams. Anaheim goalie Viktor Fasth has been out since Thanksgiving, and the brilliant Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick has missed three weeks. San Jose has been without the services of talented forward Raffi Torres all year. If these teams get healthy, the Western Conference playoffs might as well be summed up as Chicago vs. The Pacific Division.
Calgary and Edmonton are both well off the playoff pace. That’s no surprise with the Flames, but the Oilers are a big disappointment. With only 29 points, they’re 17 back of Phoenix and have all but buried themselves before we even get to New Year’s Day.