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Sizing up the Western Conference Wild Card Race: Which team has the edge?

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Six teams are fighting for three spots. Which teams have the best chance of making the playoffs?

Arizona Coyotes v Vancouver Canucks
Former New York Rangers teammates J.T. Miller (left) and Antti Raanta (right) now find themselves in the thick of a playoff race with their new respective teams.
Getty Images

Ah, nothing like a good old fashioned turtle race.

That’s what the race for the final playoff spots can feel like to outsiders. However, the teams mentioned in this article will need anything but a tepid performance down the stretch if they want to qualify for the postseason.

With the Edmonton Oilers creating a significant gap between themselves and the bottom of the playoff picture, there are essentially six teams gunning for three playoff spots in the Western Conference. That includes the two Wild Card slots and the third spot in the Pacific Division.

An interesting month lies ahead for this playoff race with storylines aplenty. Can the Coyotes and Canucks bump the second and third-longest playoff droughts respectively in the NHL? Will the Flames go from second in the NHL to out of the playoffs within 12 months? Will the Wild actually make the playoffs, even after firing their coach and trading Jason Zucker last month?

I’ll look to break down what lies ahead for these six teams based on overall stats this season, stats over the team’s last 25 games, and games remaining in the season.

Stats below courtesy of NHL.com & Natural Stat Trick. Strength of Schedule stats courtesy of Power Rankings Guru.

Arizona Coyotes v Calgary Flames
Mikael Backlund (left) has seemingly come out of nowhere with 19 points in 14 games during the month of February.
Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

Calgary Flames

2019-20 Season: 36-27-7, 79 Points (12th in NHL), 50.3 CF% (15th), 47.7 GF% (24th), 21.2 PP% (12th), 82.1% PK (9th)

Last 25 Games: 13-10-2, 28 Points (15th in NHL) 49.6 CF% (16th), 50.8 GF% (15th), 27.6 PP% (3rd), 81.1 PK% (15th)

Strength of Remaining Schedule: 10th easiest (8 home games, 4 road games)

Sometimes, a bit of puck luck goes a long way.

That’s partially the tale of the Flames season so far. Despite being one of the better possession teams early in the season, Calgary had the league’s fourth-worst shooting percentage. Over the team’s last 25 games however, Calgary has the league’s eighth-best shooting percentage.

Compared to the rest of the team’s on this list, there’s an argument that Calgary’s in the best shape. They have the easiest schedule of these six teams, they have next to no injuries and their power play is clicking. One thing to consider though, is that they aren’t a great home team, going only 16-13-4 so far at the Saddledome this season.

There’s certainly questions about the goaltending and depth contributions, but I imagine that many are getting close to penciling in that Oilers & Flames first-round match-up.

Vegas Golden Knights v Winnipeg Jets
Despite a flawed roster, the four guys pictured are doing their best to carry the Jets to the playoffs.
Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images

Winnipeg Jets

2019-20 Season: 36-28-6, 78 Points (17th in NHL), 48.6 CF% (21st), 49.1 GF% (22nd), 20.5 PP% (15th), 77.5 PK% (22nd)

Last 25 Games: 12-11-2, 26 Points (T-20th in NHL), 49.9 CF% (15th), 48.9 GF% (18th), 20.6 PP% (16th), 86.2 PK% (3rd)

Strength of Remaining Schedule: 4th toughest (4 home games, 8 road games)

After their win against the Arizona Coyotes on Monday night, the Winnipeg Jets found themselves improbably in a playoff spot. I say improbably because, well, almost everyone had counted them out after they lost Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers in the offseason.

This is certainly a flawed team, but they’re also a team with six stars who are carrying them. That includes their five first-line forwards (Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Nik Ehlers) and Vezina front-runner Connor Hellebuyck.

On the latest episode of The Quickie, I talked about how the Canucks and Jets are similar teams. However, they’re also two teams going in separate directions. The Jets struggled in January but they’ve turned it on of late, whereas the Canucks have been one of the worst teams in the league since February.

The Jets are nonetheless going to be in tough to make the playoffs. There are no “easy” games left, and that’s reflected in the fact that they have the toughest remaining schedule among teams on this list. Their “easy” games are against Florida, Arizona, Minnesota, Nashville and Vancouver. They also play Calgary twice, Colorado twice, and have games against Edmonton, Dallas and Vegas as well.

Minnesota Wild v Anaheim Ducks
Kevin Fiala has given the Minnesota Wild a shot in the arm with his performance over the last 20 games. That includes his overtime winner against the Anaheim Ducks on March 8th.
Photo by John Cordes/NHLI via Getty Images

Minnesota Wild

2019-20 Season: 35-27-7, 77 Points (18th in NHL) 49.6 CF% (17th), 52.7 GF% (7th), 21.3 PP% (10th), 77.2 PK% (24th)

Last 25 Games: 15-9-1, 31 Points (7th in NHL) 50.5 CF% (12th), 55.5 GF% (6th), 26.3 PP% (4th), 78.8 PK% (23rd)

Strength of Remaining Schedule: 9th toughest (6 home games, 7 road games)

Speaking of surprise teams, I think many are surprised to see Minnesota currently hold down a playoff spot. Forever stuck in mediocrity, it seems like the Wild are once again nowhere near the elite, but not poor enough to tank.

By number of standards, the Wild are actually a pretty decent hockey team — arguably the best on this list. Their forward depth is decent despite the lack of elite talent, and their blueline is strong. Goaltending had been an issue all season long, but Alex Stalock has stepped up going 11-5-2 with a .920 save percentage since the beginning of January.

They’re the only team on this list to rank top-10 in points over their last 25 games. Despite having the ninth-toughest schedule, they do have a home-and-home against the Chicago Blackhawks, as well as home games against the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres. If they win those contests and even go .500 in the rest of their games, chances are they make the playoffs.

Vancouver Canucks v Ottawa Senators
J.T. Miller has been dominant for the Canucks, but the team will need other guys to step up if they want to bust the third-longest playoff drought in the NHL.
Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

Vancouver Canucks

2019-20 Season: 35-27-6, 76 Points (20th in NHL) 48.4 CF% (23rd), 49.6 GF% (19th), 23.9 PP% (4th), 80.2 PK% (16th)

Last 25 Games: 12-11-2, 26 Points (T-20th in NHL), 47.8 CF% (28th), 49.5 GF% (17th), 20.8 PP% (15th), 80 PK% (20th)

Strength of Remaining Schedule: 18th easiest (7 home games, 7 road games)

It’s been a slow, painful and precipitous fall for the Canucks. For the first time since right after Christmas, the Canucks found themselves out of the playoff picture.

The reasons for this are relatively clear. They’ve gone from a dominant possession team early in the season, to being one of the most porous teams defensively. Jacob Markstrom largely covered up those flaws, but he’s been sorely missed since the Canucks have two wins in seven games since he left the lineup.

There’s a clear strength for this Canucks team, and that’s their ability to score. They’ve scored more goals this season than every team on this list, despite playing in fewer games. However, even their dominant power play has dropped over the last 25 games. It sits fourth overall on the season, but only 15th over the last 25 games. They need an uptick in goals and power play goals to cover up their defensive miscues. Or, you know, they could start actually playing well in front of their goaltender.

While the Canucks don’t have the easiest schedule remaining, they do play nearly half of their games against teams below them in the standings. With two contests against the Coyotes and four games against the California teams, there are winnable games on the schedule that the team needs to convert on if they want to make the playoffs. They’re a combined 4-7-1 against their other opponents (New York Islanders, Winnipeg, Colorado, Tampa Bay, Dallas, Calgary and Vegas).

Nashville Predators v Dallas Stars
Juuse Saros, #74, has done his part to save Nashville’s season, but that might not be enough for the faltering Predators.
Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

Nashville Predators

2019-20 Season: 34-26-8, 77 Points (21st in NHL) 51.1 CF% (9th), 52.8 GF% (6th), 17.1 PP% (25th), 75.8 PK% (29th)

Last 25 Games: 14-10-1, 29 Points (13th in NHL), 49.2 CF% (18th), 46.7 GF% (21st), 16.7 PP% (22nd), 79.2 PK% (22nd)

Strength of Remaining Schedule: 7th toughest (6 home games, 8 road games)

While Central Division teams like the Wild and Jets have surprisingly found their way into the playoff picture, what’s transpired this year in Nashville has to be considered a disappointment. The bottom line is, many of the forwards have underachieved, and a huge season from their MVP, Roman Josi, has largely been wasted.

The underlying numbers actually paint the picture of a team that’s been better than advertised. On the season, they rank top-10 in Corsi-for and goals at even-strength. Those numbers have actually dipped down the stretch despite the better performance in the standings. A big part of it is because their high shooting percentage early in the season has dropped drastically in recent weeks.

Still, the Predators main struggles have come on special teams. Their power play and penalty killing have both sucked all year. The Preds might have found an answer in net with Juuse Saros, but that won’t matter much if their declining five-on-five and special teams play both continue to falter.

Arizona Coyotes v Calgary Flames
Taylor Hall and the Arizona Coyotes have been the second-worst team in the NHL over the last 25 games.
Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

Arizona Coyotes

2019-20 Season: 33-29-8, 74 Points (22nd in NHL), 48.3 CF% (24th), 50.2 GF% (18th), 19.2 PP% (18th), 82.7 PK% (5th)

Last 25 Games: 8-13-4, 20 Points (30th in NHL), 48.5 CF% (22nd), 46.1 GF% (24th), 15.8 PP% (23rd), 81.7 PK% (13th)

Strength of Remaining Schedule: 12th easiest (8 home games, 4 road games)

After making the trade for Taylor Hall, it looked like the Coyotes were primed to bump the second-longest playoff drought in the league.

Then, things started to fall apart. It began with Darcy Kuemper getting injured, but that became less of an excuse after Antti Raanta found his game. The real problem with the Coyotes is that not only do they struggle to score, but they struggle to defend as well. They’re basically the Canucks without a top-10 offence.

Only the Canucks and New Jersey Devils have allowed more shot attempts over the last 25 games. For a team that prides itself on strong defensive hockey, it’s been anything but in the desert.

Of all the teams on this list, the Coyotes clearly have the toughest road to the postseason. However, they begin a five-game homestand this week against the Canucks, Rangers, Stars, Golden Knights and Red Wings). They’re 6-2-2 in their last 10 home games, and need a similar points percentage (.700 or 3-1-1) on their next homestand to realistically stay in the race.

As I mentioned back in August, the Coyotes biggest games will come against those Canucks. They play them on March 12th and April 2nd at home before the season ends. How much will that April 2nd game mean to both teams, if anything?