Why does it seem like every year in the four major North American sports there is that one weak division that just doesn’t compare to the others? Every sport seems to go through these periods where a division or conference is much weaker than its counterparts. Looking at the NFL this year that would be the AFC South, where the leading Indianapolis Colts sit at 4-5 and will host a playoff game at some point because the rest of the competition in the division is just atrocious. The MLB dealt with this throughout the 2000s with arguably the 2 best teams in the league, the Red Sox and Yankees, within the same division and one of them constantly being a wildcard team while other divisions would struggle to have a competent team win the division. The NBA, for years, has had its balance of power shifted out in the Western Conference, with the 8th place team usually have a recorded that would give them a much higher seed in the East. In fact, in recent years, many sub .500 winning percentage teams have made the playoffs in the East, with the West having teams well above .500 not making the playoffs.
This always leads to the argument of changing the current playoff formats to stop injustices like this from occurring. These trends are usually cyclical, and what is a weak division one year tends be much stronger within the next few. Welcome to that weak division this year in the NHL, the Pacific Division. The neighboring division in the Western Conference, the Central, must be staring at the Pacific and saying “seriously?” Going into Wednesday’s games, the Pacific was led by the Vancouver Canucks, who have 19 points. Next up are the Los Angeles Kings, who sit second in the division with 18 points. By comparison, those 18 points would place Los Angeles one point ahead of the 6th place Chicago Blackhawks. Yes, Chicago is 6th in the division – and not in the playoffs – at the moment. If you were to power rank the teams out West, of the top 8 teams, 6 of them are from the Central. We know one thing for sure: division can only produce 5 playoff teams and a very, very good team isn’t going to make the playoffs. As much as that sucks for at least one team from the Central, that’s sports.
What does this mean for Vancouver? Simple. If your plan is to make the playoffs, this is the year to take advantage of a weaker division. LA is very good and will make the playoffs. Anaheim gave the division a good head start with their terrible start to the season, but expect them to make a push sooner rather than later and they will grab themselves a playoff spot by season’s end. That leaves, likely, 1 playoff spot from the Pacific – and it’ll be an interesting race for that spot. San Jose and Vancouver have the edge early in the season because of their decent starts, but I’m still not sold on San Jose and expect them to struggle throughout long stretches of the season. They should be sellers by trade deadline time. Although mathematically Arizona is in the hunt, they’re being led by 2 rookies – Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. That doesn’t keep up over an 82 game NHL season, so expect them to fall off. Edmonton has lost Connor Mcdavid, so a tough stretch could be ahead for them and will unlikely be a threat for a playoff spot.
That leaves Calgary, who has had an underwhelming start but have some real interesting pieces. They have a great defensive corps, but they haven’t played up to expectation. They have really nice pieces up front but, like the defensemen, have had their struggles this season. They’ll give Vancouver the most problems for that coveted playoff spot and expect these two long-time rivals to battle all season for it. The Canucks have a nice lead in the standings but the NHL is a marathon, not a sprint, and this should be a fun battle all season. Either way, these teams should be thankful they have a chance to fight for the playoffs in the poor Pacific division.