What’s up with the Pacific Division?

The Pacific Division is spectacularly bad, and everyone knows it. 

And yet, three teams from it are guaranteed a playoff spot. Even though six of seven teams are in the bottom half of the league, and four of them are in the bottom 10, all of them – including the Flames – still have a realistic chance at the playoffs.

That’s wild.

The Los Angeles Kings

It was a surprise when the Kings missed the playoffs in 2014-15. After all, they were the defending Stanley Cup Champions, winners of the ultimate prize in two of the previous three seasons. They were a good team, near the top of the analytics game and with the hardware to match.

But they didn’t win enough in the regular season, and ultimately, a season series lost to the Calgary Flames – and one final game lost to the Edmonton Oilers – cemented their downfall.

That was last year, though; this is this year. The Flames have yet to play them, but things might not be pretty when they finally do meet up for the first time on Dec. 31. The Kings have 18 wins, four ahead of the third place San Jose Sharks, and seven points more than the second place Vancouver Canucks. They’re fifth in the entire NHL with the same number of games played as the 28th place Flames. And yes, the fancy stats still love them: they’re first in the entire league with a 57.3% CF.

The Kings are a bastion of competence in an otherwise painfully inept division. They have a goal differential of +14, and everyone else is in the negatives.

Everyone else

The Canucks are in second place by virtue of having lost eight games after regulation. That’s eight points Vancouver has gotten for losing, and it’s vaulted them to second in the division, even though they only have 11 wins: the least in the division, tied with the Ducks and Flames, who have both played fewer games.

The Ducks are in fourth place with 27 points, five of which also came from losing games. In fact, if the loser point wasn’t a thing, the Canucks, Ducks, and Flames would all be tied for last place in the division with 22 points each – except the Flames would rank ahead, because they’ve played fewer games. And they’d be four points out of a playoff spot, instead of the five they currently are.

Remember that the Flames, last in the Pacific Division (again, this is in part, right now, due to having played the fewest amount of games in the division) and tied for last in the NHL, are just five points out of a playoff spot, and that’s including the illusion of parity the loser point helps to create.

The division is a mess. The Sharks are in third place despite having the second most wins, and that’s after the five-game losing streak they’re currently on; they’ve yet to win a game in December. The Coyotes are in fourth place with the third-most wins, and they’re also on a five-game all-losses December streak. 

Meanwhile, the sixth place Oilers are on a four-game winning streak, and the seventh place Flames are aiming to match them tonight. The teams that looked to be flourishing are now flopping, and the teams that were flopping are now flourishing, and nobody outside of the Kings has shown a consistent ability to be competitive.

“You’re not out of it”

“Look at the standings. We’re right there,” said Bob Hartley in his post-game press conference after the Flames’ 4-2 win over the Sharks. He’s not lying, but the only reason is because the hole the Flames are digging themselves out of, to paraphrase him a sentence earlier, isn’t much deeper than the holes their division rivals have also been digging.

My favourite was this quote from Willie Desjardins’ post-game presser, following the Canucks’ 4-0 loss to the Bruins just three games ago on Dec. 5:

“Just the way our division is, you’re not out of it.”

The third place teams in all the other divisions right now have 37, 35, and 34 points. To qualify for a wild card spot, right now, you’d need 33 or 32 points. Most of the Pacific teams would absolutely be right on track to being out of it, if they weren’t already, if they played in any other division.

But it’s the Pacific, and it gives you a sparkling illusion of competition (that will likely come crashing down the second they face a real team in the playoffs).

How is this going to end?

At this rate, it’s entirely possible the Pacific teams that just miss the playoffs will end up with great lottery odds. 

And hey, wouldn’t that be a great way for the season to go? You get the fun of the chase for the playoffs, and the disappointment of coming up just short would definitely sting – but making the playoffs in the Pacific, unless you’re the Kings, is probably going to mean nothing. One team would win a playoff round by default, but after that, it would likely be a slaughter.

Remember how the Flames stood no chance against the Ducks in the second round last season? It was fun getting there, and I wouldn’t want to trade that experience… but that’s not what’s going to bring the Flames closer to the Cup.

Having a fun season rather than a hopeless one and coming up just short, only to end up with a top draft pick would probably be ideal. You have fun in the short term, get better in the long term, and ultimately, have more fun in the long term. 

That’s the real blessing the state of the Pacific provides: the excitement of a playoff chase with the thrill of keeping an eye on the top draft picks, knowing there’s a good chance one of them is going to make your team better for years to come. Then it’s more likely you’ll experience meaningful playoff chases – and meaningful post-seasons.

Hey, I’ll take it.

  • cberg

    I’m still not sure whether the Pacific Division is all that bad our if we just have very even parity at this time. I guess I’d have to see the stats of the Pacific versus the other Divisions? I wouldn’t be assuming its the LAK and one and done for the other two Pacific play-off teams at this point. There is still a lot of season to go.

    Hey, the Flames and the Oilers are pretty much bottom of the NHL but both could make the play-offs and play tough against anybody out there…

    Hey, the Sharks just won 6 straight on the road against eastern teams then came back to the Pacific and are losing every night…

  • cberg

    I think it’s a tad early to be cheering for better lottery odds… Especially with the way the teams been playing of late. Still lots of season left for the flames to make some noise.

    • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

      I agree that Ari did not answer the question of the Headline: What’s Up With the Pacific Division?

      I was expecting a team by team analysis of what’s not working to cause each team to lose traction this year. We are familiar with the early ills of the Flames, not so much of the others….maybe a future article in the next few days, Please?

  • al rain

    When I looked at the standings yesterday, about 40% of the teams in the league were at most 4 points from the bottom of the league. There are a bunch of teams not doing great, but there are not any spectacularly terrible teams like last year’s Buffalo, Edmonton or Arizona last year. I think it makes for exciting hockey.

  • cberg

    The flames will have chance if they can get their possession numbers up. I have no doubt in my mind that they can score goals and occasionally the Ramo/Hiller combo can slap a few beach balls away from the net, however, I think B.T. needs to shake things up a bit with a trade.
    Need to get some fresh faces in the locker room but no one of too much value, perhaps David Jones who has been a minus player his entire career, or Mason Raymond who actually needs to be put down like old yeller, but if we can get something for him the why not.
    Although I think the most desired trade would be for a new tender and with Hiller being paid the most and playing the worst, hes the odd man out

    That just my opinion.

    • Cfan in Vic

      Iggy, minus a decade, would be great on that line. As much as I respect the guy (my favorite player for ages), I don’t want him back on the Flames unless it’s a very limited role, for minuscule dollars.

        • King Quong

          I was hoping at a trade deadline he’d join a playoff bound flames 3rd line to help motivate the boys to get the old man his cup. And would retire shortly after Gio passes him the cup.

    • cberg

      True that a high-end RW like Iginla would be great, but don’t think that’s possible because of the disruption that would likely make to team leadership and chemistry. I think if he came back many would be assuming he’d step right back into a leadership role but I don’t believe that would work. If he was able to come in as a key piece but not the THING it could work, but I just don’t see that happening with all that’s gone on here while he had “control” of the team and the ugly (seemingly backtracking on his word) departure.

  • cberg

    Great article! This season has made me appreciate last year even more! But at least we are spared the endless regression articles! I think we have a real shot of sneaking in! As long as the cOilers miss, that is all that counts!

  • ville de champignons

    The kings are solid, Don’t know whats up with the ducks, Sharks/Canucks look like their in the same situation the flames were in with Iginla, and everyone else in the division are in rebuilds/retooling.

    If the ducks don’t ever figure it out, I could see the Flames and maybe even the oilers making the playoffs when all is said and done. It wouldn’t surprise me.

    • cberg

      The Ducks are an interesting study this season, as it seems so weird they can’t get it together with most of the key pieces from last season. The reality, though is they made lots of significant moves and this year’s team is very different once you get past the top half dozen or so players. Beauchemin, Belesky, Wisniewski and Palmieri OUT, with Hagelin, Horcoff, Stewart, Sekac and Bieksa IN. Looks like a LOT of trade losses and I think its showing in their play. Just goes to show a bunch of these mid-level players are really more critical than many give them credit for.

      On the Flames these same type of guys are Backlund, Colborne, Russell, Wideman, Jooris and Jones, for example. You need to get them right and make sure you are clearly understanding their contributions before moving them out.

  • hulkingloooooob

    perfect really! and hey, we actually just dominated the hawks, stars and bruins, not to mention a pretty complete game against the sharks. all good signs. if we play like that i actually believe almost anything could happen. and a high pick in case it don’t would be nice. haha. GFG!

  • ville de champignons

    People still hoping for the playoffs? Why? I would rather have a high lottery pick now in order to have a legitimate deep-run serious cup contender in 2-3 years. I think a high draft pick makes that much more likely. How does making the playoffs and getting 2 more home games this season help in attaining the bigger goal? Give me top shelf success in two years over a few more jollies this season. jmo.

    • ville de champignons

      The Goal is always to Make Tha Playoffs! Going 4 picks is a cOilers way of thinking! But Ari notes that if we slip just outside the Dance, then we could still win the lottery because all teams outside have a shot at #1!!

      • TRAIN#97

        If you get another high pick you may have a shot at picking up a guy like Draisaitl. The kids has size ,speed .strenth,vision, passing. I mean sh$t you can’t ask for much more than that.

    • cberg

      Your multiple unsupported assumptions really undercut your whole argument.

      First off you are assuming if we get a low finish we’ll get a high lottery pick.. With the way the draft is this year all you’re assured is a #4 overall even if you finish last, and that’s assuming no expansion teams getting in there too.

      Secondly, you’re assuming a top pick is automatically the best player in the draft, which patently is not the case and virtually every year we see that repeated over and over. Sure the odds are better but there is no certainty. Also, even if you get the best Junior in the draft, they may or may not turn out the best NHL player several years later (e.g. Oilers…..).

      Thirdly, you assume if we get in we’re gone in 5 games in the first round. Well, clearly if the playoffs are similar to last year #2 vs #3 in the Pacific is a great opportunity for the second round. In addition, if you accept LAK will be the Pacific’s best and make the 2nd round, the Flames beat them last year over the season’s series and I see no reason to expect it would be hugely different this year. As we’ve seen year after year, once in, anything can happen.

      • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

        Your arguments make sad, sorry.

        Often I agree with you, but not this time.

        We need a couple more young top 6 forwards and another top 4 D-man before we will be able to do more than get lucky in the playoffs as you suggest that “once in, anything can happen”

        Wouldn’t you rather build a team that other “lucky” teams need to upset in the playoffs, instead of us having to do the upsetting?

        Be paitient.

        • piscera.infada

          So do you suggest the Flames actively try to lose games?

          If not, you’re missing the point s/he’s making. They aren’t saying this team doesn’t need more top forward talent, but that getting that de facto top-3 pick is anything but a foregone conclusion. I’m sure everyone here agrees with you on this point: a top 1 or 2 overall pick would be a great thing moving forward, but I fail to see how that has any merit if the team doesn’t finish poorly enough for it to happen. Sure, they can finish 17th overall, win the draft lottery and pick Matthews. They could also finish last, and draft fourth overall.

          The point I’m trying to make is that these kind of arguments are just as fallacious as saying “this team is better off winning their next 55 games straight and finishing with 134 points”. Be patient is exactly correct. Let things fall where they may. If it ends in a top draft pick, then yes, that’s a good thing for the organization. If this team is able to overcome their horrible start simply by virtue of the division being an absolute gong-show, I don’t see that as inherently negative. It’s only negative if Treliving falls prey to thinking this team is further along than it is–and after the way he’s handled the organization thus far, I’d say it’s a fair bet he wont.

          • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

            No, I don’t want them to lose on purpose.

            I just don’t want to end up picking in the mid teens, because you know… Sam Bennett or Sean Monahan vs Mikael Backlund or Sven Baertschi.

            That is the difference between just missing the playoffs or finishing low enough to get a top 6 pick.

            I hope that at the deadline we are moving players out for assets and bringing up young guys if we are looking like not making the playoffs. (it would be my preference over making the playoffs though if I am honest)

          • piscera.infada

            I understand that, and I partially agree (at least in principle). I just fail to see how that is an attainable goal, short of telling your players to lose.

            As for hoping for a poor finish, that’s your prerogative I suppose, but you’re going to drive yourself crazy trying to convince people that losing is good, and that a playoff push (however unwarranted it seems) is an unmitigated disaster.

          • The Real Slim Brodie

            The way you do it is substituting Bollig in for Ferland, sitting Jooris indefinitely and sending Granlund back to the minors for “reasons” so that you are down to a three line roster with at least two less effective lines than you had.

            You then add Kris Russell back in and take out someone, anyone, that’s playing effectively.

            Then you play head games with the goalies.

            That’s how it’s done.

        • cberg

          I agree we need to continue to grow and develop, but I think you might be missing my main point. That is that there are many roads to get to the Promised Land, and the assumption that tanking to draft high is the only, or even the best route from here, is wrong.

          The Flames already have some very solid, dare I say, elite talent forming a solid core that I fully believe is capable of winning it all within the next few years. They also have some very solid complementary pieces and exciting prospects. Will these all develop to their fullest potential? Not likely, but many will. And even if they do, will they guaranteed win a Cup? Absolutely not, there’s only one winner and every year several very good teams don’t win.

          You say we need a couple more young top6 wingers and a top4 D. Well, besides the ones we already have, I could easily say Poirier, Klimchuck, Jankowski, Agostino, Mangiapanne for forwards (way more than a couple), and Kulak, Culkin, Anderrson, Kylington, Wotherspoon and Nakladal for D (way more than one). These and others are already showing strong promise and if they continue to develop will get there, at least some of them.

          Future draft picks, no matter how high are not more assured than these. And if you have to derail the team ethic and start losing to get there you are doing a disservice to the team and teaching some lessons that are very hard to reverse down the road.

          • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

            I guess I am greedy. You sound like a “new ager” who thinks everybody who participates should get a trophy. As far as I’m concerned there is only one winner and that is whoever wins the Cup. Sorry for my caveman way of thinking. As for your wishes, building a team capable of winning the Cup every year will cover all your wishes.

            Sam, Johnny and Sean are or are going to be awesome, but I don’t see Poirier or any of those forwards you listed as a top 6’er on a Cup winner. I like Granlund, Magiapane and Klimchuck and if we get lucky, Janko as top 9 depth players.

            I love Andersen(top 4) and think he will make the team next year if he can get rid of the baby fat and man boobs that I saw at the Dev camp. Kylington (#5/PP guy) also will be a player for us and that gives us 5 D moving forward.

            So, yeah, we are looking good but still a few years away.

      • ville de champignons

        Multiple unsupported assumptions? I do not assume a FOA pick from the draft (but it would be good), nor do I assume a first round playoff exit (if we make the playoffs). I do however think that a top 4 draft pick is better than making the playoffs and that a first round playoff exit does NOTHING to advance this team going forward. But if you want to press the point, a second or third round playoff exit won’t help us as much as a top 4 pick either. No assumptions involved.

      • ville de champignons

        Another way of looking at it is that making the playoffs this year will actually extend the timeline on the rebuild, as it did last year. Whether we would have picked FOA last year is a moot point – we missed an opportunity to score a player with a lot of upside on an ELC.

        As for having more “integrity” than the oilers, thats already been demonstrated, but at the end of the day its about winning the cup. Thats all.

        I just want to see this team win another Stanley before we’re all wearing diapers again.

        • cberg

          Well, instead we scored a high potential, young top2 D that hopefully will help anchor our blue line for the next decade plus. As I’ve said, there are lots of ways to get to where you want to be.

          As for the only thing that matters is the Cup, well… I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one. Winning the Cup isn’t even on my top 10 list, but perhaps that’s just me. As a fan, sure I want them to win. But trust me, decades of incompetence and one glorious run, like our friends up North isn’t too attractive.

  • Cfan in Vic

    So, unrelated to the article:

    Apparently Bollig plays tonight, with both Ferland and Jooris sitting. I’m not too pleased with that.

    Related to the article:

    Pacific stinks this year. I always cheer for wins, but I certainly don’t expect playoffs this year. It seems that Edm/Van/Cgy all warm up at the same time, so it’ll be tough to climb the ladder.

    • ville de champignons

      Ferly should be getting as much ice time as he can. He’s essentially a better version of Bollig except for punching people in the face. Which he is a close second on the team.

    • ville de champignons

      Further proof Hartley is still bad at his job, and STILL plays favourites.

      Bollig out of the lineup allows this team to roll four lines all night. So let’s put him back in? Riiiight.

      Bets on how far in to the game before he takes a stupid penalty?

    • ville de champignons

      Bollig in and Ferland out = Hartley playing favorites, followed by a facepalm , why????? and a NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  • Greg

    While it’s fun that we aren’t out of it yet, I really hope that we are clearly better or clearly worse by the trade deadline. I don’t want to be holding on to UFAs just because we still have an outside shot come late January. Either be in the top 3 by then, or 10 points out and still needing to leapfrog 4 teams, and self-declared sellers, please.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    you are complaining about other teams being ahead of us because of the loser point? Last time I checked the Flames had a grand total of 4 regulation time wins.

    Such odd thinking. Points collected are points collected.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    “At this rate, it’s entirely possible the Pacific teams that just miss the playoffs will end up with great lottery odds.

    And hey, wouldn’t that be a great way for the season to go? You get the fun of the chase for the playoffs, and the disappointment of coming up just short would definitely sting – but making the playoffs in the Pacific, unless you’re the Kings, is probably going to mean nothing. One team would win a playoff round by default, but after that, it would likely be a slaughter.

    Remember how the Flames stood no chance against the Ducks in the second round last season? It was fun getting there, and I wouldn’t want to trade that experience… but that’s not what’s going to bring the Flames closer to the Cup.

    Having a fun season rather than a hopeless one and coming up just short, only to end up with a top draft pick would probably be ideal. You have fun in the short term, get better in the long term, and ultimately, have more fun in the long term.

    That’s the real blessing the state of the Pacific provides: the excitement of a playoff chase with the thrill of keeping an eye on the top draft picks, knowing there’s a good chance one of them is going to make your team better for years to come. Then it’s more likely you’ll experience meaningful playoff chases – and meaningful post-seasons.

    Hey, I’ll take it.”

    That Ari, makes me happy, because the last thing we need right now is to do what Sutter’s teams were doing… just missing, or just making the playoffs and ending up picking in the teens.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    Flames were 22-6-1 last year against the Pacific Division; this year they are 3-4-1…..

    Well, the Flames are now playing better, but by the time the Flames get more games against the Pacific Division the other teams in the Division will be playing better… example – no games against the Kings at the start of the year when they were hot garbage (but so were the Flames – so I guess that evens out).

    Canucks are in a transition year with a mix of veterans and youth; Anaheim and San Jose are inconsistent; Phoenix is finding their old non-playoff level, oilers are winning with better goaltending from Nilsson…that will soon fall off and oilers out of the playoffs too…

    Pac Division finish: LA Kings, Ducks, Flames, Sharks, Canucks, Oilers, Coyotes…. or is that just wishful thinking?

  • The Real Slim Brodie

    Yeah and like I said we won which makes your point about regulation mute..and his point about about loser points valid..are you a canucks fan or just a know it all?

    • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

      Hey bud, what’s you’re problem?!

      Insulting me like that isn’t cool. If I attacked you like that out of the blue I would get the moderator telling me that I am a bad person.

      As for my point about the points:

      If for instance Calgary and Vancouver ended the season tied in points and also tied their season series but Vancouver had more regular season wins than us (us being the Flames, because I am one of us) then Vancouver makes the playoffs and we don’t. Therefore it is better to win in regulation than in OT.

      • The Real Slim Brodie

        I didn’t mean to offend you. Put that way it makes sense the point you were trying to make..just to clarify what part offended you the Canucks fan or know it all?..I would be extremely mad if I was called a canucks fan lol