One of the division races that’s been over for quite some time is the one in the Pacific. The Sharks have been making jokes of their divisional competitors all year and at the time of writing, they held a seven-point lead over the Oilers with a game in hand to boot.
Their massive lead has led Bovada to peg them as a -300 favorite to win the Pacific for the first time since the 2010-11 season, when they won the crown for the fourth consecutive year.
San Jose has an extremely favorable schedule down the stretch run so it would take a collapse something like the one when the Sharks lost to the Kings in the first round of the 2013-14 playoffs after going up three games to none. With Brent Burns willing this team to victory, almost by himself some nights, I don’t see that happening.
The three teams chasing the Sharks are the Oilers (+500), Ducks (+500) and Flames (+1600). Of the three, I’m more apt to back Calgary as the long shot. The Glen Gulutzan-coached Flames have been an excellent team since the all-star break and have the resurgence of Brian Elliott to partially thank for that. The former Blue got off to a horrendous start this season but posted a 7-1-1 record with a .922 save percentage in February and should be able to help the red-hot Flames climb up the standings in their remaining 18 games.
With that said, I’ve been touting the Sharks as my favorite team in the Western Conference since before their run to the Stanley Cup final last year and I stand firmly behind that. They’ve been getting electric performances from a dynamic duo of netminders and have an incredibly deep roster. If the Sharks blow this lead, I’ll eat a hat out of Brent Burns’ beard.
Pacific Division Futures
Odds as of March 3 at Bovada
- San Jose Sharks -300
- Anaheim Ducks +500
- Edmonton Oilers +500
- Calgary Flames +1600
As was pretty much expected, the Pacific Division is a cluster. The top three teams are all separated by just three points and it looks as if the Ducks, Sharks and Oilers will all be locked in a three-way race for division supremacy from here on.
Bet365 agrees with that analysis and has pegged all three teams quite close with the Sharks coming in as the favorites at +190, the Ducks at +200 and the Oilers a short trip down the list at +300.
San Jose for me is the best or second-best team in the Western Conference. I touted the Sharks as one of my favorites to lift the Cup before the season started and I’m going to continue to do so now. Brent Burns could legitimately be a top-five player in the league and has a chance to become the first blue-liner to take home the Hart Trophy since Chris Pronger did it in 2000. He and the two Joes, Logan Couture and Martin Jones are more than capable of taking this team all the way but I expect them to make some serious moves at the deadline to improve an already stellar roster.
The Anaheim Ducks are the defending Pacific champs and I’ve got to give credit where credit is due as they’ve been much better under Randy Carlyle than I expected. A lot of their success can be attributed to the terrible division they play in but 54 points after 44 games is no joke. They’ve been a little unlucky too, losing eight of the 11 games they’ve taken to overtime, so the ceiling for the second half of the season could be significantly higher.
Edmonton is a team on the rise but is still too leaky at the back end to do much in the way of winning any titles this year. My projection for the Oilers is that they finish in the third spot in the Pacific with just under 100 points. Connor McDavid has basically been doing it all himself this year and if he suffers another injury that makes him miss significant time, Pete Chiarelli’s Oilers will go the way of the dodo.
Pacific Division Futures
Odds as of January 13 at Bet365
- San Jose Sharks +190
- Anaheim Ducks +200
- Edmonton Oilers +300
- Calgary Flames +900
- Los Angeles Kings +1000
- Vancouver Canucks +2000
- Arizona Coyotes +20000
The NHL’s Pacific division produced the Stanley Cup’s Western Conference representative last year as the Sharks pulled off multiple upsets en route to the final where they eventually lost to the Penguins in six games. This division has the potential to be the most competitive in the league with three teams and possibly a fourth who all have what it takes to make a run at a title.
Let’s start at the top and work our way down:
For some reason, which I cannot fathom, the Anaheim Ducks top the list alongside the Kings with +225 odds to take the Pacific. Yes, they are returning as defending division champs and, yes, they fired Bruce Boudreau, but isn’t this the same team that got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round last year and that hired a coach in Randy Carlyle that they already fired once before? Those questions were, of course, rhetorical. I just needed to write them down to make sure I wasn’t crazy.
In seven seasons as the Ducks’ head coach, Carlyle won the Pacific just once – the year they won the cup. That was the only time in his entire 10-year career he’s won a division. The major point I want to hammer here is that the Ducks didn’t get better during the offseason, they got worse. Unless their defense pairings made serious improvements over the summer and John Gibson is the second coming of Martin Brodeur that he’s been touted as, I don’t see this team competing for any hardware.
The Kings finished just one point behind the Ducks last year and made very few adjustments to a roster that has proven it can get it done. LA’s major problem is that the core of the team is ancient. That situation is one the Kings won’t be able to remedy any time soon as Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik and Jonathan Quick are all signed until at least 2021, are all 29 or older and have a combined cap hit of $31.82 million this year – gross. The window is closing for this aging team so it’s likely they make a serious run at things this year. I don’t love their price at Bovada but if you can find some more value elsewhere, I’d take it.
The team I like the most to take the Pacific this year is the only one that made it out of the first round of the playoffs last year. Call it recency bias, call it anything you like but the Sharks are the best team in their division and, for me, it’s not that close. They didn’t really lose anyone important and they brought in winger Mikkel Boedker – former eighth overall pick – and blue-liner David Schlemko. Martin Jones looks like a legit No. 1 tendy with his 37 wins, .918 save percentage and 2.27 goals-against average last season and has a dynamic group of defensemen in front of him that includes Brent Burns, one of the best all-around players in the NHL. The Sharks have five players set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the year so it looks like this is the year they will go all in, assuming they are in contention later in the season.
It’s been nothing but doom and gloom in Oil Country since the Oilers were beaten by Carolina in the Cup final in 2004 but it looks like the sun is starting to shine on this frustrated franchise. Connor McDavid is a legitimate generational talent and Cam Talbot could come into his own in the Oiler goal crease this season. Edmonton’s roster is eerily similar to the group of Penguins that came up with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury 10 years ago. My bold prediction of the season is that the Oilers surprise everyone and compete with the Sharks for the Pacific.
Pacific Division Futures
Odds as of September 27 at Bovada
- Anaheim Ducks +225
- Los Angeles Kings +225
- San Jose Sharks +260
- Edmonton Oilers +850
- Calgary Flames +950
- Vancouver Canucks +1500
- Arizona Coyotes +1800