With all teams past the the 41-game midpoint of the season, it's time to look ahead to the rest of the second half. The condensed schedule thanks to the Olympics should create quite a buzz in the league over the next few weeks as teams prepare to either make a push for the playoffs are start cutting their losses.
Today, we close out our midseason primers with the Pacific Division, which has arguably been the NHL's most interesting this season. The Anaheim Ducks have separated themselves from the pack and much of the rest of the league at this point.
It seems as though you can break the Pacific's seven teams into four separate tiers. The Ducks are alone at the top, while the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings are neck-and-neck for the last two guaranteed playoff spots and look well positioned to claim them. Then there are the Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes that look like contenders for one of the two wild-card spots. Bringing up the rear are the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, who are just happy to be here.
Our own Brian Stubits helped compile some numbers based on each team's pace for the postseason. The Minnesota Wild currently occupy the last wild-card spot and are on a pace for about 94 points this season. With that in mind, we set 94 points as the benchmark Western Conference teams should be gunning for to get at least a wild-card spot in the postseason.
Here's a look at how things will need to play out in the Pacific Division and which teams need to bulk up or sell off.
1. Anaheim Ducks (36-8-5)
Points needed for postseason: 17 (Record: 8-24-1)
Midseason Grade: A
The Ducks have been nothing short of remarkable this season and are in the midst of a run that has seen the club earn victories in 18 of its past 19 contests. So that's pretty bonkers. The Ducks have also been dominant at Honda Center, with a stunning 20-0-2 record in Anaheim.
Meanwhile, Ryan Getzlaf (55 points) and Corey Perry (53 points) are both top five in scoring, young defensemen Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen have stepped up in a big way, and Jonas Hiller has more than adequately carried the load in net.
This team really should be able to cruise into the playoffs. Assuming the Ducks don't crash after this current hot streak, they could be a President's Trophy winner by season's end. No one saw this kind of dominance coming after the team shed proven goal scorer Bobby Ryan to free up some cap space, but the Ducks haven't missed a beat. Maybe Bruce Boudreau knows what he's doing behind the bench. The Ducks have been great since his arrival.
Trade Deadline Primer: Ducks GM Bob Murray said he won't be moving Hiller despite the fact that he'll be an unrestricted free agent after the season, which is pretty clearly a smart choice. Hiller has been great while Viktor Fasth has been injured and there's no reason for such a massive shakeup. If the Ducks do anything, it would likely be minor. Having possibly lost Sheldon Souray for the season after expecting him back from a wrist injury, there could be use for another veteran defenseman on the roster.
2. San Jose Sharks (30-12-6)
Points needed for postseason: 28 (Record: 13-19-2)
Midseason Grade: B+
The Sharks set a ridiculous pace to start the season and have mostly been good throughout. A couple of weird multi-game losing streaks have led to San Jose slipping further behind the red-hot Ducks, but the Sharks look pretty well set to do some damage in the playoffs.
There has been predictable production from longtime stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, while Joe Pavelski has emerged as a go-to source of offense as well. Logan Couture is out with an injury, but he remains one of the league's rising stars. The Sharks are also getting a lot out of a veteran defense corps led by Dan Boyle and Canadian Olympian Marc-Edouard Vlasic, with Justin Braun emerging as one of the league's better shutdown defenders. Antti Niemi has also been solid in net, even though he's not at the same level he was as a Vezina finalist last year.
It seems as though the Sharks shouldn't have much trouble getting into the playoffs, so long as they're able to get and stay healthy. With one of the very best scoring attacks in the league, this team has been well constructed and very well could go on a deep run here.
Trade Deadline Primer: There don't appear to be any real glaring holes that need plugging at this point, but Doug Wilson hasn't shied away from making deals near the deadline. The problem for the Sharks is that they're already right up against the cap, which is going to make any kind of deal making tricky. They also have to have eyes on next season as both Thornton and Marleau become UFAs after this year.
3. Los Angeles Kings (29-14-5)
Points needed for postseason: 31 (Record: 14-17-3)
Midseason Grade: B-
Considering the Kings haven't missed a beat despite their starting goaltender being out for an extended period this season, they've done remarkably well. Perhaps it shouldn't be much of a surprise though as the Kings have one of the stingiest defensive teams in the league, allowing a league-low 1.96 goals against per game and 27.2 shots per game, third least in the NHL.
Though the Kings are good at preventing goals, they'll need to get better at scoring them. Their 2.46 goals per game rank 22nd in the league and is an area that obviously needs to pick up. That said, Anze Kopitar has been one of the league's best players this year and a healthy Jeff Carter is obviously going to help in the goal department. Jonathan Quick is back from his groin strain and has played well so far since he got back. Meanwhile, Martin Jones has been excellent in spot duty this year and should see more time with the recent trade of Ben Scrivens to Edmonton.
The Kings will get pushed a bit, if the Canucks or Coyotes can manage to go on some kind of run, but more than likely LA will be battling for position with San Jose for one of those last two guaranteed spots in the division.
Trade Deadline Primer: By shipping out Ben Scrivens, Dean Lombardi has already been active, but that was subtracting from the roster without adding anything that helps this year. The Kings are going to need a scoring boost, which could come in the form of someone in house, like a Tyler Toffoli. Lombardi obviously isn't afraid to make the big trade at any time and has been prolific in his deals of late. Kopitar and Carter are carrying a heavy scoring load, so if there's any way to add some secondary scoring at the deadline, it's worth Lombardi going after it.
4. Vancouver Canucks (24-16-9)
Points needed for Postseason: 37 (Record: 18-14-1)
Midseason Grade: C
The Canucks have been a hard team to pin down this year with an awfully streaky season so far. A bad November was followed by a strong showing in December and now the Canucks have just one win in eight January contests. So it has been a bit of a two steps forward, one step back kind of year in Vancouver. As of right now, they're in position for one of the two wild-card spots, but another bad stretch could do a real number on the Canucks' playoff chances.
The Canucks have been a middle-of-the-pack team for a lot of the year at this point. The offensive game hasn't really been inspiring, though Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin remain fairly productive. There's very little production from the depth of the lineup. Meanwhile, Roberto Luongo has been mostly solid this year when healthy, while Eddie Lack has been more than adequate in relief. They just need the guys up front to start scoring more.
The Canucks still have a team capable of making the playoffs and being a tough out, but the lack of consistency this season has to be a point of real concern for new head coach John Tortorella. The team is in the midst of a bit of a tailspin and that 9-1 slop fest against the Ducks probably doesn't breed much confidence going forward.
Trade Deadline Primer: Mike Gillis is in a bit of a tough spot here. He has an aging core that helped the Canucks become a perennial contender at one point. It's hard to see them as that now. The question becomes, can Gillis get good enough value back to offload prospects and/or draft picks to strengthen this year's team, or should he start setting his eyes on the future? That may need a few more weeks to sort out, but the Canucks have to start considering not only what's best for this year's team, but the future of the organization as a whole.
5. Phoenix Coyotes (22-16-9)
Points needed for postseason: 41 (Record: 20-14-1)
Midseason Grade: C-
The Coyotes have been rather underwhelming this year after looking like a strong playoff contender coming into the season. Phoenix hasn't been as tough to score on as in previous years and the record and place in the division are showing it.
The Coyotes actually are doing a pretty good job offensively, but the team hasn't gotten the performance it has needed out of goalie Mike Smith, who has posted a .911 save percentage and 2.85 goals-against average. His defense hasn't been helping as much as normal, either though, as the Coyotes are allowing more than 32 shots per game, which is near the bottom of the league.
Having captain Shane Doan back from illness and hoping for a bounce-back from Smith throughout the second half should help, but the Coyotes are going to have to claw their way back into the playoff hunt. It's going to be especially tough to do with such a strong group of teams in the Western Conference.
Trade Deadline Primer: The Coyotes have put more of an emphasis on scoring this year, but it has taken away from the defensive excellence the team has shown in recent years. The Coyotes have a lot of cap room currently and if the new owners are willing to play ball a bit, Don Maloney is going to have some options with how he adds to this team. Phoenix doesn't have a terribly deep prospect system to work with, but finding a way to nab a veteran two-way forward that can provide at least a little scoring punch could help address some defensive woes without stifling what has been a pretty decent offensive hockey club.
6. Calgary Flames (16-26-6)
Points needed for postseason: 56 (Record: 27-5-2)
Midseason Grade: D
The Flames have been a bit of a disaster lately. An inability to score with any amount of consistency has put this team essentially out of the playoff race at this point. There's not a lot the Flames can do to salvage the season, so focusing on the rebuild is probably the best use of the organization's energies.
Jiri Hudler has been a huge surprise with his team-leading performance this year and defenseman Mark Giordano has been exceptional when healthy. Prized rookie Sean Monahan has hit a bit of a wall after a torrid start to the season. The Flames have to be careful with his development going forward as he definitely has the potential to be a terrific player in the league, but the first year of his ELC was burned on a non-contending season.
This team has a lot of holes and there really are no quick fixes at this point. It's going to require a lot of patience and some expert maneuvering by whoever the next general manager is. The Flames may want to get on that hire rather quickly, unless Brian Burke decides to make some moves as the team's president before making the important hire for the franchise.
Trade Deadline Primer: The Flames really have to consider a firesale of sorts. Guys like Lee Stempniak, Mike Cammalleri have expiring contracts and could bring back a decent return as rentals for contending teams. If the Flames can find anyone to take on Dennis Wideman's contract, that's another potential chip. With no GM in place, it's hard to know the strategy, but the Flames have a relatively shallow prospect pipeline and are going to need to build partially through the draft. If they can grab picks or established prospects from other organizations, those are deals that have to be made.
7. Edmonton Oilers (15-30-5)
Points needed for postseason: 59 (29-2-1)
Midseason Grade: F
The Oilers entered the year with such optimism as their youthful core began to come of age. Instead, it has been a dreadful season with only the Buffalo Sabres owning a worse record at this point. A leaky defense and bad goaltending just isn't going to cut it.
The good news for the Oilers is that Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are all taking positive steps. David Perron has proven to be a solid veteran addition to the club as well. The bad news of course is pretty much everything else.
While Oilers fans believed this was the year the organization took a step forward in its rebuilding process and start seeing on-ice results, this season has revealed that more construction is required before this team is ready to contend.
Trade Deadline Primer: The Oilers have been making deals already, offloading Ladislav Smid earlier in the year, while recently dealing Devan Dubnyk for Matt Hendricks. The team then added Ben Scrivens to help shore up goaltending and that could be a positive deal if they can get Scrivens to re-sign. Craig MacTavish can't be done at this point. Unlike most sellers, however, MacTavish already has all the youngsters he needs, with more in the pipeline showing great promise. Is it going to be possible to add some veterans to this team as a seller, somehow? MacTavish may have to try. The defense clearly needs to be addressed, but it will be difficult to add much value in the Oilers' current position without giving away some of the prospects or picks the team has been busy stockpiling.