Wild Card Race: West Contenders And Pretenders At The All-Star Break

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With the 2018 NHL All-Star Game in Tampa Bay commencing on Sunday afternoon, let’s look at the West contenders and pretenders in the race for the two wild-card spots.

Before we get to the wild-card races, it is good to start with how each divisional race is shaping up. The top three teams from each of the four divisions make the playoffs.

The first thing to know about the West is that it is stronger than the East. Five teams — the Vegas Golden Knights (68), Winnipeg Jets (66), Nashville Predators (65), St. Louis Blues (63 points) and the Dallas Stars (60) have eclipsed the 60-point plateau. Four of those teams are in the Central, but the Pacific has the league’s best team and four other squads within three or fewer points from 60.

The Western Conference playoffs are going to be fun folks.

Dallas Stars: 28-18-4 (60 points)

After finishing three games under .500 last season, the Stars are in a prime position to make the playoffs for the first time since winning their division in 2015-16.

The Stars currently hold the top Wild Card spot in the West by three points. They are also only three points away from third place in their division.

A balanced scoring attack and the emergence of a Norris Trophy-worthy defenseman have turned the Stars into a potent threat this season. Alexander Radulov (48 points) is tied with blueliner John Klingberg for the team lead in points. Klingberg leads the team in assists and is making the case as the top defenseman in the league.

The Stars have not exactly gotten superior goaltending play or have standout special teams, but have made up for it with their scoring and superior defense.

Verdict: Contender

Colorado Avalanche: 27-18-3 (57 points)

The Avalanche were headed toward another losing season early in the year, but have rebounded and become a viable Wild Card contender.

How have they done it?

Well, Nathan MacKinnon has gone from promising young talent to legitimate MVP candidate. The current Hart Trophy favorite, at least in my opinion, sits second in the NHL in points with 60, four behind Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov is considered the favorite by some, but he has plenty of other stars around him. McKinnon does not have that luxury.

The Avalanche average the fifth-most goals per game and own the league’s second-best penalty kill. That combination will win you a lot of hockey games.

Colorado’s goaltending has been average at best, but they are still in a great position because of the two stats mentioned above.

Verdict: Contender

Los Angeles Kings: 26-18-5 (57 points)

While the Avalanche have been trending in the right direction, the Kings have done the opposite.

Colorado entered All-Star Weekend 8-2 in their last 10. On the other hand, Los Angeles is 3-7 in their last 10 contests and have lost a grip on the second wild-card spot.

But despite this recent slide, there are plenty of reasons to believe in this team. First, they were not supposed to be in this position. But bounceback seasons from Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, and others have the Kings primed for another playoff run.

A healthy Jonathan Quick also helps. The Kings netminder only played in 17 games last season but has already played in 39 this year. Also, even with their recent struggles, LA still owns the top penalty kill.

Verdict: Contender

Minnesota Wild: 26-18-5 (57 points)

The Wild had their six-game point streak snapped by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, but have been playing great hockey.

Eric Staal leads the team with 43 points, but Mikael Granlund has also been a great point producer and Ryan Suter, despite an early-season injury, has been steady as usual on the blueline.

Minnesota is middle of the pack in just about every statistical category and actually allow more shots per game than they attempt. But somehow they find ways to win.

This alone should keep them in the discussion.

Verdict: Contender

Anaheim Ducks: 24-17-9 (57 points)

It is truly astonishing that the Ducks are where they are.

Anaheim dealt with injury after injury. Ryan Getzlaf, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Ryan Miller and Ryan Kesler all missed time with injuries.

Corey Perry has also not been the same player this season. But somehow, someway, the Ducks could still grab one of the Wild Card spots.

John Gibson saved the Ducks and kept them afloat. The Ducks netminder should have been the team’s All-Star representative and deserves a lot of credit for what he has done.

Gerard Gallant should win the Jack Adams Award, but Randy Carlyle deserves a lot of consideration for managing his team through a difficult situation.

Verdict: Contender

Chicago Blackhawks: 23-19-7 (53 points)

The Blackhawks absence from the playoffs is not something hockey fans are exactly used to, but it has become a real possibility this season.

Corey Crawford has kept his team within striking distance, but Chicago has been one of the most inconsistent teams in the league this year.

Patrick Kane continues to produce, but so many other guys, including Jonathan Toews have not been the same players. Meanwhile, the power play has been horrendous and the Hawks simply have not possessed the puck enough in games to win consistently, especially in 5-on-5 situations.

Verdict: Pretender

Conclusion

There had to be at least one pretender so I included the Blackhawks. I was iffy on the Wild and Ducks but decided to include both teams.

Ultimately, I think the race will come down to Dallas, Colorado and Los Angeles but this race will be more intriguing than the East.

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Embed from Getty Images

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