When just eight points separate nine teams vying for a wild-card spot, things can get really interesting at the All-Star break.
In the Eastern Conference, a team needs 58 points (Pittsburgh Penguins) to qualify for the last wild-card spot. In the Western Conference, a team merely needs 52 points and three teams (Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, and Vancouver Canucks) are all tied for the last spot.
In reality, almost every team out of a wild-card spot in the West still has a shot to grab that last spot. The Los Angeles Kings are just eight points back while dwelling in the cellar in the West.
It really tightens up when five teams are within just three points of a wild-card playoff position.
Many factors including schedule, injuries, and hot goalies could determine who finishes in the final playoff positions.
Who's hot in the West?
That would be the Arizona Coyotes who sport a 6-2-2 record over their last 10 games. They have the best record over that 10-game span trailing only the Calgary Flames who have an 8-1-1 record and are nicely tucked in a playoff position by leading the Pacific Division by six points. The San Jose Sharks have a 7-3 record tying the Coyotes with 14 points in that game span.
Being hot will be most important when the teams resume play after the All-Star break. The phenomenal factor about the Arizona team is they have done this with a multitude of injuries to key starters.
Can they keep it up? Only time will tell.
The Coyotes have 17 home games and 15 away games on their schedule. They begin a seven-game homestand (longest of the season) on Feb. 24th until March 9th which could define their playoff fate.
Prediction: They sneak into the playoffs with 87 points.
Who would have thought that the St. Louis Blues would be fighting for a playoff spot seeing that they improved their team significantly over the summer.
They obviously have had their struggles and replaced their head coach Mike Yeo after 19 games and a poor 7-9-3 starting record. Craig Berube took his place but hasn't had much success either going 15-13-2.
It's certainly a puzzle why a team who added Ryan O'Reilly, Tyler Bozak, David Perron, and Patrick Maroon are buried in the Western Conference standings.
Goaltending has been an issue with Jake Allen not performing at all up to expectations with a 15-15-4 record and a less than admirable .897 save percentage while allowing 3.04 goals a game.
Is it the defense?
Perhaps, and at this trade deadline players like Alex Pietrangelo could be traded to improve the blueline.
Then, there have even been rumors of Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko being on the trading block.
Prediction: They will NOT make the playoffs.
The Vancouver Canucks after losing their twin towers, Daniel Sedin and his brother Henrik Sedin have rebounded nicely from their dismal performance last season finishing seventh in the Pacific.
Young players like Elias Pettersson (20), Bo Horvat (23), and Brock Boeser (21) are leading the team in scoring with respective totals of 45, 41, and 34 points.
The Canucks rank 20th in goals against in the league with a 3.10 goals against average. If they pick up their defense they stand an excellent chance of staying in the playoff hunt.
Prediction: They will be a wild-card team with 89 points.
Another surprisingly underperforming team would be the Anaheim Ducks. They went on a terrible losing streak of 12 games (with four overtime losses) before winning two games straight... only to lose two more games consecutively.
They now venture out on a five-game road trip to include games against the Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and finally the Philadelphia Flyers.
Two of those games should be wins and the other three are more of a challenge, so this could be what makes or breaks the Ducks' playoff aspirations.
Prediction: The Anaheim Ducks will miss the playoffs.
Will the Oilers bounce back?
Another questionable team for the playoffs would be the Edmonton Oilers. With the hands-down choice as the best player in the NHL in Connor McDavid and still without much to show for it, the Oilers fired their head coach (always the first choice), Peter Chiarelli.
More was expected from the Oilers and now with Chiarelli fired will they fold or will they make a surge to the playoffs?
You can never count a Connor McDavid out. Yet, he can't possibly be expected to carry the team on his back without any help.
They could be active in the possible trade deadline deals seeing that they will have different front office goals. Chiarelli obviously made some questionable deals and now he's unemployed.
Prediction: The Edmonton Oilers will miss the playoffs.
What's up with the Dallas Stars?
They have some scoring issues with just 2.57 goals a game even with offensive-minded players like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. They seem to have some issues where the owner has called out his two best players recently... never a good sign for a team to progress to the playoffs.
They're a team going the wrong direction with them dropping three of four on their current homestand.
For that and other issues, it looks like the locker room for the Stars is infected with finger pointing and not much winning. Winners don't go 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and expect to remain in the playoff hunt.
Prediction: The Stars will not shine in Dallas and they will miss the playoffs for the third straight season.
Remaining teams who will be out
The Chicago Blackhawks will continue their downward trend and miss the playoffs. No surprise here for the obvious reasons. They have really missed Corey Crawford and still have a terrific offense with players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Alex DeBrincat.
The Los Angeles Kings are also not going to be in a playoff spot and will look to sell some assets to see if they can be better next season. Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs have shown interest in Jake Muzzin, so the Kings could be doing some deals.
They need help and soon...
The crazy Western Conference may see the final two playoff spots only needing 85-88 points to qualify and that's down quite a bit from previous seasons.
Is it parity or mediocrity? Maybe a little bit of both.
Going back a few years during the 2015/16 season a team needed 96 points in the East to make the playoffs and 87 in the West.
It only got more competitive the next 2016/17 season when the East required 95 points, while in the West it was 94 points.
In 2017/18 it again was in the 90's with the East at 97 and the West at 95.
Additional scoring is definitely the way the current season has gone with the average goals scored per game is at 3.06 and it hasn't been that high since the 2005/06 season when it was at 3.08. Granted, the season still has about 30 games to go, but does this trend give a more offensive minded team the advantage of making the playoffs?
If you go by the offense (which is just half the equation) the way the season has gone the Colorado Avalanche have by far the best offense with a 3.38 goals a game average.
The Chicago Blackhawks follow with 3.04, then it drops off to the Canucks with 2.86, the Blues with 2.82, the Oiler with 2.82, the Coyotes with 2.60, the Stars with 2.57, and the Kings at the bottom with 2.26.
What do you think of the Western Conference being weak? What will it take for a team to qualify for the playoffs from the West? Let us know in the comments section below.