The Pacific Division playoff race in the NHL is just absolutely insane, and as we enter the final stretch run of the 2011-12 season, four teams are still in the mix. Oh, and then there are the Anaheim Ducks.
The San Jose Sharks hold the top spot in the division with 88 points, but that's a precarious position. The Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes each have 87 points, while the Los Angeles Kings are clearly within striking distance with 86 points, even though they sit outside the NHL playoff picture in ninth place.
In this insane race, it's possible that a team can drop from having home-ice advantage guaranteed in the first and second rounds of the playoffs to completely missing the postseason all together without even playing a game. To understand what it's like for fans of the teams involved in this mix, we enlisted help from several SB Nation bloggers.
- Rudy Kelly, Kings fan, Battle of California
- Travis Hair, Coyotes fan, Five For Howling
- Brad Gardner, Stars fan, Defending Big D
- Megalodon, Sharks fan, Battle of California
- Jen Neale, Ducks fan, Anaheim Calling
- Niesy, Kings fan, Jewels From The Crown
- Earl Sleek, Ducks fan, Battle of California
1. Why will your team win the Pacific?
Rudy Kelly: The Kings have been the best team in the Pacific possession-wise this season. They also have the best center, best defenseman, and the best goaltender of the 5 teams. Basically, they're awesome and it's bull that they even have to deal with these lesser teams.
Travis Hair: Because no one else seems to want to? If they can win a game or two in March, April should be great with how the Coyotes have by cyclical depending on the month. Also, Shane Doan will be coming back off of his suspension/rest and other guys will be ready to go after a 3 day break between games no one else got.
Brad Gardner: If Dallas wins the Pacific it will be because Kari Lehtonen steals it for them, plain and simple, with San Jose and Los Angeles faltering in surprising ways down the stretch to provide assistance. If the Stars managed four wins, somehow, from their remaining schedule of Vancouver, San Jose, San Jose, Nashville and St. Louis - They would truly deserve that division crown.
Megalodon: Because the Sharks are, in the end, a very good team that has had some unfortunate struggles, rather than a mediocre team that somehow put together a good record for the first half of the season.
Jen Neale: Just add a little bit of lemon to the salt already in the wound, why don't cha? I don't think even a Tim Tebow-esque miracle could get the Ducks to win the division now.
Niesy: Look at their Fenwick close percentage! It's so sexy!
Earl Sleek: /bursts into tears
2. Why will your team miss the playoffs?
RK: They suck.
TH: Because they left too many points on the table throughout the season that they should have had. Like losing repeatedly to the Blue Jackets and other teams they should have had the upper hand on.
BG: The Stars will miss the playoffs because they didn't lose their games the right way, evidently. Phoenix has 13 overtime/shootout losses and the Kings have 12. Both teams could make the playoffs and likely do so with fewer wins than the Stars have. We thought the point of these games was to win them -- not see how long you could survive before losing. Ultimately, Dallas enters this final stretch of games having lost four of six and that will cost them. They're trending the wrong way and their schedule is by far the toughest among bubble teams in the West.
M: Because my tears quench the eternal thirst of the hockey gods.
JN: Where do I start? Basically, the hole they dug themselves in the first half of the season was just too big to overcome. There was a point in January where they were four-points out after kicking ass up to the All-Star Break. After playing so hard, the exhaustion finally set in following the break, and they haven't been the same since. Couple that with career lows for Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan, the late arrival of Jonas Hiller's Vezina-ish form, and the coaching change, I'm surprised they were close at all.
N: Because I haven't invented a time machine that will let me go back and trade for Carter earlier yet. Also, fatigue might catch up with them. They have more frequent flyer miles than anyone.
ES: Because games played in calendar year 2011 count towards overall standings. Since January 1st (a month after Bruce Boudreau took over), the Ducks are 22-12-5, the best 2012 record in the Pacific Division. There's hope in Anaheim, just not for this season.
3. Which Pacific opponent will you most enjoy seeing fall short of the postseason?
RK: I honestly don't care. I guess I like
Mike Ribeiro the Stars the least, so them? I really only care about the Kings, I couldn't care less about anybody else.
TH: Well the Ducks already have, otherwise I'd go with them. Instead I'll pick the Stars. Never forget Derian Hatcher. Never forget.
BG: The Kings and Sharks would be equally delicious choices here for Stars fans as both started the season with lofty goals and bloated payrolls, but the Coyotes would be a good choice as well as they weren't supposed to be this good after losing key free agents in the summer, yet former Stars' coach Dave Tippett has them so frustratingly close yet again with the same small payroll Dallas boasts and no Ilya Bryzgalov. Somehow.
M: The Ducks (hooray, I got my wish!), but aside from them, Dallas. I hate the Stars so very very much.
JN: I would be shocked if almost all of my Pacific division counterparts didn't say us. Anyway, glad to see the Sharks know how to choke in the regular season, too. Seriously, what happened? It's like they got hit in the head with a puck and...ooh, too soon?
N: The Ducks are out. I did a little dance.
ES: That's an easy answer - the Sharks. There's an entire e-generation of Sharks fans who have never known what it's like to miss the playoffs. And this is a fanbase who jumps off bridgess when they lose two conference finals in a row - it'd be sweet.
4. Not that any team in the Pacific has the luxury of being picky, but assuming your team makes the postseason, which possible opponent would you prefer to face in the first round?
RK: Probably one of Detroit, Nashville or Chicago, since that means the Kings won the division and have home-ice advantage.
TH: I'd actually be fine playing the Canucks or the Sharks. It's odd to want to play last year's Western Conference champ, but every time the Coyotes have played them it's been a tight one. And the Sharks matchup would just be a good one. Anyone that gets the 8 seed and plays St. Louis in the first round is likely toast though. After seeing them this past week that's not something anyone is going to want to play against.
BG: Beggars cannot be choosers and the Stars would dance with anyone they could get their hands on. It would likely be the St. Louis Blues and that would suit them just fine, as the Stars, when they're playing well, can keep a score low and battle in that type of game. The Blues' lack of playoff experience (combined with Dallas') could make for an interesting series, and Kari Lehtonen is ready to shine on that stage, even if his support staff may not get him there.
M: The Red Wings would be the most exciting, the Stars would inspire the most animosity and passion, and the Kings would be the best for Battle of California. Also the Sharks can beat all three of those teams.
JN: Again, it would be a miracle if this happened, but I'd take on anyone not in the cities of Detroit and Nashville.
N: Every team that makes the playoffs in the West is strong, so no real preference. A series with Dallas could be fun to watch, though. Ott inspires hate.
ES: That's an easy answer - the Sharks. No matter how awful Anaheim has been throughout this season, it hasn't shown against San Jose. If this season series were a playoff series, the Sharks would already be eliminated five games in.
5. As a fan of a team that's fighting for the third-seed, while teams like Nashville, Detroit and Chicago who clearly deserve that spot instead fight for lower-seed, does the situation make you think any differently about the NHL's playoff seeding format?
TH: Nope. The reason that that format exists is for exactly what's happening in the Pacific this year. people keep wanting to say the division is weak, but they keep battling each other and playing the other division foes very close. That's why there's still no run away victor and 4 of the 5 teams are fighting for 3 spots. Also, screw those guys.
BG: Certainly. A format change where a division winner is guaranteed only a top four seed if another team has earned more points would a more than fair proposition. The question then would be whether or not to take the additional step of giving home-ice to the five seed if they too have more points/tiebreakers than this winner of a weak division (we prefer "competitive" division), like they do in the NBA.
M: Deserve's got nothing to do with it. You put the Sharks, Kings, Stars, and Coyotes in a division with the Blue Jackets then come back and ask me this question. Sure the Ducks are bad, but they have TWENTY more points than the Blue Jackets. The current system is as fair as anything else you could design.
JN: I'd like to get rid of divisions and have everyone in the conference compete against each other for a spot. The third seed should be a team that has the 3rd best point total over the whole Western Conference, not just the winner of what could be a weak division.
N: No, the format has always bothered me. But I hate the fact that teams that miss the post-season in one conference could make it in the other even more. How many more points would other teams have if they could swap places with Vancouver? Or what if they switched with the 87-point division-leading Florida Panthers? Who knows. The Pacific was stronger overall the previous season (four teams made it last year), and it's fairly evenly matched now. It's the Central's turn to be tough. As long as divisions exist, it's just the way it goes.
ES: /shrug This isn't a new feature, and it's sort of insulting that it's now an issue because more easterly teams are affected. In two of the past four seasons the Pacific Division has had its second-place finisher dropped to a fourth seed despite owning more standings points than the third seed. But I guess we weren't crying loudly enough. Everybody knows the drill going into the season: if you want a top-three seed, you have to win your division.
Sorry, whiners -- finishing second doesn't "clearly deserve" you anything.