You’re going to see a lot of writers refer to the NHL’s Western Conference playoff race as “wild” because well, they aren’t wrong or anything like that. They’re also being super corny. Anyway, the Western Conference is going to come down to the wire and we likely won’t know the Wild Card teams until the last few days (if not the last day) of the NHL regular season. Here we’re going to go over some of the teams in the mix and rank them based on how dangerous they could be in the first round.
Western Conference wild card
No. 4 — Nashville Predators
We went over this in the East with the Senators. There’s a very slim chance the Preds get in at this point. Nashville does have the benefit of having seven games left on the season. Anyway, Nashville has a severely depleted roster. Top forwards Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen are all sidelined. Mikael Granlund was dealt at the deadline along with defenseman Mattias Ekholm and forward Nino Niederreiter. The Preds are somehow winning games with a skeleton squad and Juuse Saros. Tommy Novak, Phil Tomasino and Luke Evangelista have emerged and a roster made up of mostly rookies, AHL players, Ryan McDonagh and Tyson Barrie is still in contention. But there’s just no way you’re worrying about this team in the playoffs even if Roman Josi can get healthy.
No. 3 — Seattle Kraken
Nothing against the Kraken but they feel like a team that is the opposite of “built for the postseason.” Seattle has veterans on the roster but lacks game-breakers and the goaltending situation has treaded water all season, bleeding goals despite the team scoring plenty. The Kraken can roll four lines but that doesn’t matter as much in the playoffs. The last thing the Kraken want to do is get into a scoring match with a team like the Avalanche or Oilers. Despite what we saw from the Golden Knights early in their inception, the Kraken don’t appear to pose a threat in the playoffs.
No. 2 — Winnipeg Jets
Really the only reason to worry about the Jets is Connor Hellebuyck. He’s capable of stealing a game/a series if it comes down to it but that’ll still be a stretch. Winnipeg has plenty of playoff veterans and don’t have Paul Maurice coaching them, which is a big plus. The Jets feel like the Islanders-type team in the West; veteran group and good goaltending can get you far in the postseason (look at the Lightning). So if I’m one of the top seeds in the bracket, Winnipeg is a tough out.
No. 1 — Calgary Flames
I’m going to be that guy and just say it. The Flames are hot. Entering the home stretch, Calgary has won five of six games and are losing a lot of games in overtime the past month or so. The Flames are another veteran lineup with decent goaltending (similar to the Jets). Jacob Markstrom is having a horrible season but has shown signs of life. Calgary also has the best coach of this group in Darryl Sutter. The Flames seem to control their own destiny with games vs. Nashville and Winnipeg left, plus three easy matchups. If Calgary can somehow sneak in, that’s a tough out for whichever team gets the top seed in the West.