We recently covered the 2015-16 NHL season standings for the Eastern Conference, and it’s now time to focus on the Western Conference teams as we move through the first third of the season. As was the case with the Eastern Conference, there are some clear division leaders at this point, but it’s still anybody’s season. Most games so far have been decided after regulation time, so we continue to see the new 3-on-3 overtime rule in action. And as we’ll discuss further down, the conference leaders seem to be the team who has adapted to the rule with the greatest of ease.
Below, we will cover each of the fourteen teams in this conference, taking them one division at a time before making a few light predictions about where each team might stand at the end of the 2015-16 NHL season. We’re excited to see which teams have the best chance of maintaining their standings, as well as which teams might be in for big changes during the weeks to come.
Remember, we’re still early in the 2015-16 NHL season. We’ll check back in closer to the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs to discuss what’s changed.
Up until their recent win against the Boston Bruins, the Edmonton Oilers had the fewest team points in the NHL with only 18. They’re now at 20, tied with several other teams as one of the worse teams in the division, the conference, and the league as a whole. With a 9-15-2 record, it’s hard to put much faith in Edmonton right now. With a goal difference of -14, it’s clear that the team is struggling in terms of defense. But even their offense is hurting pretty badly. Right wing Jordan Eberle was responsible for the win against Boston, but he’s hardly performed at all this season (in part because of an early-season shoulder injury). And his teammates aren’t helping, with many doing even worse than he is. Eberle might be one of the best the Oilers have to offer right now, which means their chances of improving this season are slim to none.
The Calgary Flames aren’t doing much better, and would be at the bottom of both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference if the Oilers weren’t doing slightly worse. With a 9-14-2 record and a miserable goal difference of -30, this really isn’t shaping up to be a good year for the Flames. Their most recent win indicates that Calgary might be making some improvements, but it’s too soon to say. They managed a remarkable 6 goals through the efforts of center Mikael Backlund, left wing Johnny Gaudreau, defenseman Dougie Hamilton, and centers Joe Colborne and Sean Monahan, while goaltender Karri Ramo helped defend them after very nearly suffering a loss. It was their best game yet, but the question is whether or not they will have another like it. We could see them rising in the rankings if they’re able to hold onto whatever motivation allowed them to come back from 3-0 to take a win in the shootout, but we can’t see them becoming conference champs. The 2015-16 NHL season isn’t over for them, but there’s still much work to be done.
Fifth in the Pacific Division are the Anaheim Ducks, with a 9-12-5 record. They finally debuted centerman Nate Thompson for the season after his two-month delay due to shoulder surgery, but it didn’t help them much. Thompson is considered a leader on the team, but that doesn’t make him a performer. He wasn’t much of one last year, and his debut indicates that this year might be even worse. Something similar could be said of goalie John Gibson. The Ducks have been pleased to have him filling in for the currently ill Frederik Andersen, but he’s starting to show some faults after a moderately good run. We’re not sure it matters anyway. Anaheim is in the red when looking at goals for versus goals against, and we don’t see them raising more than one or two spots in the division standings. And even that feels like something of a long shot.
The first team on this list without a losing record is the Vancouver Canucks, at least if you don’t count their 8 overtime losses. With a 9-9-8 record, things could certainly be looking a bit brighter in Vancouver. And with 26 points in 26 games played, the Canucks are looking fairly average. Still, average is better than what we’ve seen from the teams above, so there’s still a chance for improvement. Fans were hanging a lot of their hopes on the addition of right winger Jake Virtanen, but he’s been letting them down as of late. They need to put their hopes elsewhere if they want to stand a fighting chance of coming out on top by the end of the 2015-16 NHL season.
The Arizona Coyotes have a negative goal difference, but they’ve been killing it in overtime with a 13-10-1 record. Having gone to overtime on 14 occasions out of their 24 games, they’ve won 13 of those times. That said, they only have 27 team points to the Canucks’ 26, indicating that their spot at third place in the Pacific Division could easily be in danger. One of the biggest points to Arizona’s credit is that blueliner/left winger John Scott is currently leading in votes to become captain of the Pacific Division in the 2016 NHL All-Star Game. The problem with this is that Scott is an enforcer, and many are speculating that possible future regulations and a sheer lack of interest will limit (or altogether extinguish) the role of goons in the NHL within the next few years. Either way, it isn’t good that the Coyotes’ most notable player is a low scorer known for playing a dying role on the team. The Coyotes are currently trying to restructure a bit, so maybe they’ll begin to soar after some improvements in practice. If not, we could see their current standing being overtaken long before the 2015-16 NHL season comes to a close.
The San Jose Sharks are doing even better than the Coyotes in overtime, with a 14-10 record indicating zero overtime losses alongside their 13 overtime wins. They’ve been a little shaky since their six-win streak was broken toward the end of November, but the Sharks are still showing some promise. Even so, they’ve only got one more point than the Coyotes, so they haven’t exactly cemented their foothold at second place in the division. The primary focus in San Jose right now is how the Sharks can improve their play at the blue line. Most of their guys are solid, but they’re buckling under the pressure as defenseman Matt Tennyson fails to deliver what’s expected of him and fellow blueliner Mirco Mueller drags his feet in developing into the player that everyone thinks he can be. If the Sharks don’t pull it together soon, their current standing might begin to plummet. Our best guess with the way things are going is that they might hold it to second or third in the division, but they won’t be going any higher than that.
Currently first in the division and third in the conference, the Los Angeles Kings are boasting a 15-8-1 record, 31 total points, and the second best goal difference (9) in the Western Conference. They just lost blueliner Matt Greene to a shoulder injury, but the main focus in Los Angeles right now is actually offense. The Kings are well aware that they might lose their standing as the 2015-16 NHL season wears on, and their proposed answer is to boost their second line performance. Right winger Tyler Toffoli has been the best forward by far on the team this season, but they think they can get a little more power out of center Jeff Carter and left wing Milan Lucic. And beyond their top line, they’re going to need a lot more help from their secondary offense if the Kings wish to hold their own against a number of teams currently seeking to make adjustments as we approach the season midpoint. Los Angeles isn’t doing poorly by any means, but they aren’t where they need to be in what is currently one of the lower-performing divisions in the NHL.
The Colorado Avalanche are last in the Central Division with a 10-14-1 record, having accrued each of their wins in overtime. Centerman Matt Duchene is one of the team’s better forwards at the moment, and even has aims to represent Canada when the 2016 World Cup of Hockey rolls around. He was one of the leading scorers in the NHL last month, but his accomplishments haven’t been enough to save Colorado from their own poor defensive game. Even with the help of offensive machines like center Nathan MacKinnon and left wing Gabriel Landeskog, the Avalanche are struggling to put up a solid defense with goalie Semyon Varlamov failing to perform at the level for which he is generally known. Fellow goalie Reto Berra hasn’t been much of a saving grace, and responsibility for the defense can’t fall solely on the Avalanche’s blueliners. With a veteran goaltender failing to play like the pro he is, things aren’t looking good for Colorado this season.
The Winnipeg Jets are doing a bit better than Colorado, with a 12-12-2 record. Their wins might be inconsistent (with the exception of their incredibly consistent failure to cement a win in regulation time), but we’ve seen some glimpses of real talent beneath the surface of the team’s so-so performance this season. Unlike the Avalanche, the Jets are actually having some decent success with their netminder. Connor Hellebuyck might be a rookie, but he showed great improvement in Winnipeg’s recent 6-1 win against Toronto (the first game the team’s won without going to overtime). With a solid defense in the crease and what appears to be an improving offense, the Jets may actually have a shot at a rise in the rankings as the 2015-16 NHL season continues. We doubt their chances at leading the conference, but they’ll at least be more than runners-up for last place in the division.
Currently at fifth place in the division, the Minnesota Wild are an example of just how much better the Central Division is performing over the Pacific Division in the 2015-16 NHL season thus far. With a 12-7-4 record, the Wild have 28 total points—the same as Pacific second-place team the San Jose Sharks. Basically, the Central Division’s average is the Pacific Division’s best. And Minnesota is certainly average, just barely managing to net a positive goal difference with 65 goals for and 62 goals against. And with two recent three-loss streaks occurring in quick succession, there’s a chance that the Wild are actually beginning to falter. Netminder Darcy Kuemper is taking some of the heat after allowing 3 goals amid 40 saves in their most recent game, but those numbers indicate that the blueliners are allowing the puck to get by on far too many occasions. Mathew Dumba is one of the worst offenders, but none of the defensemen have really been stepping up as much as they need to. The Wild might have a winning record right now, but that’s going to change if they don’t turn a few things around as the 2015-16 NHL season approaches its midpoint.
Last year’s Stanley Cup winners aren’t quite at the top of the heap, as the Chicago Blackhawks are just barely at fourth place in the division at a 13-9-3 record and 29 points (just one more than Minnesota). They haven’t managed a single win in regulation time, and their current goal difference of 4 indicates that, 25 games into the season, their offense is missing some of the edge it had last year. Right winger Patrick Kane has been one of the team’s better forwards, which isn’t entirely surprising. He’s also bonding well with his line partners, although neither rookie left wing Artemi Panarin nor centerman Artem Anisimov shines quite as brightly as NHL point-leader Kane. But the team can’t rely on a single line to drive their offense. And that’s exactly what they’re doing. When formerly useful Blackhawks like Teuvo Teravainen are demoted from the first line to the fourth, it’s a sign that Chicago’s offense is in trouble. They can still improve, but it’s going to take a lot of effort from a lot of teammates to pull it off.
The Nashville Predators are third in the Central Division with a 13-7-4 record and only one more point than the Chicago Blackhawks. So if the Blackhawks do start improving, Nashville will have to fight to hold their standing. That might take some work, as they’ve only won 2 of their last 7 games, and 3 of those 5 losses were complete shutouts. They’re clearly working on making some changes, but we aren’t sure what they’re going for. First they recalled center Cody Bass, who didn’t really seem ready for it. Then they announced plans to release right winger Steve Moses. Neither Bass nor Moses is in the NHL. It seems like Nashville is more concerned with their lower-level affiliate teams than with the actual Predators, who just lost center Mike Fisher to injury. Every other team seems to be announcing planned improvements, but Nashville is laying low. Either the Predators are being dangerously reckless as they risk losing their standings to potentially improving teams, or they’re playing it really close to the chest right now. Either way, we have some doubts that they’ll improve their 2015-16 NHL season standings without making some solid offensive changes.
The St. Louis Blues are second in both the Central Division and the Western Conference, with a 15-7-3 record and 33 total points. That’s not the worst lead in the world, but they could step it up a bit. They’ve only got a goal difference of 5, as they’ve been letting a few more go by than would generally be considered desirable. They do have a pretty nice roster right now, with right winger Vladimir Tarasenko and center Alexander Steen providing the bulk of their offensive depth. It also looks like center Paul Stastny is about to switch lines, which might improve their depth even further. The only question that remains is how they can improve their defense to become as strong as possible. More specifically, what are they going to do with their goaltenders? Starter Jake Allen has been performing well enough, but he can’t do it alone. And since Brian Elliott can barely seem to do it at all, they’re going to need an alternative solution. If the Blues don’t answer this question soon, it could be a close battle for second place in this division as the 2015-16 NHL season continues.
First in both the Central Division and the Western Conference, the Dallas Stars are currently second in the NHL with a 19-5-1 record and 39 total points. Much like the Blues, they only have one win in regulation time, but it appears from their single overtime loss that the new 3-on-3 overtime rule is actually working out pretty well for them. Also, while they may not have a lot of wins in regulation time, their goal difference of 22 indicates a pretty strong offense. The key players in the 2015-16 NHL season seem to be the same men they’re using as their overtime trio: centerman Tyler Seguin, left winger Jamie Benn, and blueliner John Klingberg. Benn is providing a great deal of leadership as Seguin teaches the team how to hate losing and Klingberg provides a solid defense to back an already powerful offense. The team is also working in practice to improve their performance under pressure, one of the major faults the team has exhibited in their very few losses. This team could easily be on their way to a Stanley Cup battle this year if they continue to improve upon their many, many strengths.
Western Conference Predictions
Unlike the Eastern Conference, just over half of our Western Conference teams will be going to the playoffs at the end of the 2015-16 NHL season. The format for selection is still the same, with six teams chosen in accordance with the top three standings in each division and two wild cards selected on the basis of total team points, regardless of division. It’s possible that the same eight teams currently in line for the playoffs will all make it there, but we aren’t so sure.
The current standings would pit the LA Kings against the Chicago Blackhawks, the San Jose Sharks against the Arizona Coyotes, the Dallas Stars against the Minnesota Wild, and the St. Louis Blues against the Nashville Predators.
Our projections would pit the LA Kings against the Minnesota Wild (or possibly the Winnipeg Jets), the San Jose Sharks against the Arizona Coyotes (or possibly the Vancouver Canucks), the Dallas Stars against the Nashville Predators, and the St. Louis Blues against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Note that we’ve got some uncertainties above, as many of the Western Conference teams have been rather shaky. We believe that the Kings will continue to be leaders in the Pacific Division, but it’s hard to tell who will wind up right under them. And in a way, it’s kind of a moot point. Unless the San Jose Sharks or the Arizona Coyotes experience a meteoric rise, it’s hard to picture either team becoming conference champs. Ditto for the Winnipeg Jets and the Vancouver Canucks, although we do have a strange feeling that the Canucks will surprise us in one or two games before the 2015-16 NHL season reaches an end. If the Kings face the Blackhawks as the current standings dictate, then we can foresee a situation in which Los Angeles is actually cut from the conference playoffs early as Chicago moves into the final stretch of the postseason. But again, this is major speculation based on improvements that each team claims to be making. We need to see a bit more.
The Central Division will likely continue to be led by the Dallas Stars, and the Stars may even accrue more points than the Kings long before the regular season draws to a close. If we made the right call in pitting them against the Chicago Blackhawks (assuming the Blackhawks make the necessary adjustments to raise their current standings), then we could easily see the winner of this initial match-up determining the conference champs. It’ll probably be good for the Stanley Cup itself if the Blackhawks win, since they don’t do too many crazy things with (or to) it, but we have little reason to suspect at this time that Chicago can beat the 2015-16 Stars. As for the Blues and the Predators, they’re becoming the underdogs that the Blackhawks currently are. They might turn things around, but we aren’t sure how they’ll do against Dallas in the Western Conference playoffs if such a turnaround should occur.
We really can’t call a clear winner on this particular prediction. We really want to hand it to the Dallas Stars or the Chicago Blackhawks, but the point totals on pretty much all teams aside from Dallas are looking very competitive. Just about anyone could make it to the playoffs at this point, and too many missteps from Dallas might completely change the outlook of the season. The Stars have the most Stanley Cup potential, but we know that Chicago would like to turn things around. Then again, the same might be said of the Blues, the Sharks, the Coyotes or the Predators. No matter what, the battle for final standings in the 2015-16 NHL season Western Conference playoffs is going to be a close one.
Remember, we intend to check back in with each of these teams a bit later in the season to see what (if anything) has changed. In the meantime, feel free to consult our guide to sports betting or utilize our handicapping consulting services to make a few extra bucks on the many exciting games that await us as the 2015-16 NHL season continues.