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Who will win the battle for the Pacific Division's third playoff spot?

·6-min read
Arguably the weakest division in hockey should produce one of the NHL's most exciting playoff races — with the Flames and Canucks right in the thick of it.  (Getty)
Arguably the weakest division in hockey should produce one of the NHL's most exciting playoff races — with the Flames and Canucks right in the thick of it. (Getty)

On paper, the Pacific Division appears to be the weakest division in the National Hockey League.

And in all honesty, yeah, it probably is.

Of the four divisions that'll shape the NHL in 2021-22, it's the only one that doesn't have at least three playoff teams from a season ago. Only the Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers — who played in the all-Canadian division last year — from this group qualified for the postseason in 2020-21, and the Oilers didn't even win a playoff game.

Assuming that Vegas and Edmonton clinch a postseason berth again this upcoming year — which they certainly should barring catastrophe for either club — who will be the third squad to join them come springtime? 

Anaheim Ducks

2020-21 record: 17-30-9 (8th in West Division)

Odds to win division: +25000

Why the Ducks will make the playoffs

Anaheim's young first-round centers — Trevor Zegras and Isac Lundestrom — take major strides forward in their development, giving the team a solid quartet of middlemen that also includes Ryan Getzlaf and Sam Steel. Cam Fowler and Jamie Drysdale combine to form a credible defense pairing while John Gibson makes up for the rest of the unspectacular talent on the blueline.

Why the Ducks will miss the playoffs

Zegras and Lundestrom aren't quite ready to become reliable top-six contributors while the defense, like it did a season ago, struggles and provides Gibson with zero relief.

Projected finish: 7th place

Calgary Flames

2020-21 record: 26-27-3 (5th in North Division)

Odds to win division: +1100

Why the Flames will make the playoffs

Despite Calgary's strength lying in its offense, the team tied for the second-fewest goals in the North Division. In 2021-22, players like Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, and Johnny Gaudreau put forward production that mirrors their outputs from two campaigns ago. The Flames' defense benefits from a full season with defensive-minded head coach Darryl Sutter, which helps make the sum of this blueline more valuable than the individual parts. 

Why the Flames will miss the playoffs

Now two seasons removed from career-best production, Monahan, Tkachuk, and Gaudreau prove that the 2018-19 campaign was an outlier. Sutter doesn't have the pieces on defense that allow him to run a stingy blueline which in turn makes him a bad fit both schematically and personnel-wise. Jacob Markstrom turns in another disappointing season.

Projected finish: 4th place

Los Angeles Kings

2020-21 record: 21-28-7 (6th in West Division)

Odds to win division: +1200

Why the Kings will make the playoffs

Offseason additions Viktor Arvidsson and Philip Danault will help round out a top-six that features veterans like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, who proved they still have some juice last season. Quinton Byfield will be called up from the AHL as the playoff race thickens and demonstrates exactly why he was the second-overall pick in 2020. Alexander Edler solidifies a top-four on defense that wasn't overly impressive in 2020-21 while Cal Petersen takes the crease over from Jonathan Quick with a dominant performance.

Why the Kings will miss the playoffs

Arvidsson continues his trend of middling production for a third-straight season while Danault also does little to bolster the squad's offensive output. Byfield doesn't show enough in the AHL to warrant a call-up and an aging Edler can't help a blueline in desperate need of a boost. Petersen's lackluster second-half carries over into 2021-22.

Projected finish: 5th place

San Jose Sharks

2020-21 record: 21-28-7 (7th in West Division)

Odds to win division: +6600

Why the Sharks will make the playoffs

An aging, declining team proves that it still has some quality hockey left. Players like Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Logan Couture put forward elite seasons and carry San Jose to a playoff berth. Some of the squad's intriguing youngsters like William Eklund, Jonathan Dahlen, and Mario Ferraro provide enough supporting production to help fill out a roster that seems to be stuck between rebuilder and contender. The unheralded tandem of Adin Hill and James Reimer is good enough to provide league-average play.

Why the Sharks will miss the playoffs

Karlsson, Burns, and Couture continue to demonstrate that their best years are behind them. Eklund and Dahlen need some time to acclimate to the NHL while the Hill-Reimer duo yields no consistency between the pipes.

Projected finish: 8th place

Seattle Kraken

2020-21 record: Not an NHL team.

Odds to win division: +1200

Why the Kraken will make the playoffs

Capturing that Golden Knights magic, the Kraken will emerge as a contender from the jump. A well-rounded offense gives the team several lines that can produce, and a defense that's also built with depth shows very few weak spots. Philipp Grubauer churns out another Vezina-worthy season and serves as the backbone of the upstart franchise.

Why the Kraken will miss the playoffs

A team that doesn't have many reliable offensive contributors struggles to find goals on a nightly basis. The defense, which lacks a true shutdown pairing, can't keep their opponents from firing a constant stream of pucks onto Grubauer, who shows that last year's effort has more to do with the Colorado Avalanche's elite defense than himself.

Projected finish: 6th place

Vancouver Canucks

2020-21 record: 23-29-4

Odds to win division: +2000

Why the Canucks will make the playoffs

Acquisitions Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson along with the addition of 2019 first-round pick Vasily Podkolzin fill out a roster that greatly underachieved in 2020-21. Vancouver sees bounce-back efforts from Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, which ultimately fuels one of the league's most dynamic offenses. At 25-years-old, Thatcher Demko continues his upward trajectory into a solid, reliable starter.

Why the Canucks will miss the playoffs

Pettersson and Hughes continue to slump which ultimately limits the offensive upside this team has. Ekman-Larsson turns in another poor defensive campaign which only hurts a Vancouver squad that allowed the sixth-most goals in the NHL last year. Podkolzin isn't quite ready to make the leap to the main roster while Demko folds under the pressure of having to hold down the crease for a full season.

Projected finish: 3rd place

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