Though the Vancouver Canucks are once again poised to finish near the very bottom of the NHL standings, the Pacific Division looks much less dominant and scary than past years.
After winning their first two games in December, the Vancouver Canucks sat at 14-10-4, and were hanging around in the Western Conference playoff picture.
But things have been nothing short of misery ever since. Injuries to Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi and Chris Tanev contributed to an awful month-long stretch. The Canucks have lost 13 of their last 17 games, and just snapped a five-game losing streak on Friday.
Take away a potential Calder Trophy season for Brock Boeser, and there are almost no positives in the 2017-18 season. Loui Eriksson hasn’t bounced back as hoped, and the Sedin twins continue to lose to father time — which was expected.
However, Canucks fans must look outside of the organization to see why there is a silver lining to this 2017-18 season. It ‘s called the Pacific Division.
At the start of the year, there were four teams in the division who were shaping up to be Stanley Cup contenders: The Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks. Folks didn’t want to discount the Los Angeles Kings — who do have two Stanley Cup championships in this decade.
As such, nobody thought the Canucks were anywhere close to contention — nor would they be for a long time. But the Pacific Division has underachieved as a whole, and the Canucks may not have to wait long to start making noise again.
But here’s what’s happened:
(20-16-9, four points out of the playoffs): Injuries to top stars
have exposed this team’s lack of forward depth. Trading
have also depleted this team’s traditionally strong defensive core.
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The Arizona Coyotes are the worst team in the NHL, and it’s not close. They pose no long-term threat to the Canucks. As for the Vegas Golden Knights? Yes, they’re leading the Pacific Division. But let’s see how they fare in the second half. Superstar James Neal could walk in free agency, which would hurt their chances of winning next year.
As you can see, the three California powerhouses are starting to slow down quite a bit. Aging rosters, thin prospect talent pools and salary cap constraints mean the Ducks, Kings and Sharks are nearing the end of their Cup windows — if they haven’t already.
The Coyotes are in turmoil, and shouldn’t be a long-term threat any time soon. We can probably expect the Oilers to pick it up at some point, and the Flames are going to be winners for a long time.
If the Canucks didn’t have so many injuries to key players, it’s safe to guess they’d still be in the playoff race. They have yet to bring up Elias Pettersson, Jonathan Dahlen, Adam Gaudette and Thatcher Demko to the NHL level. They’re sure to land another high-profile player at this year’s Entry Draft, too.
This all adds up to the Canucks being on the cusp of making some noise. The old division bullies are starting to slow down significantly, and the Canucks will soon be there waiting to join the Flames and Oilers as the top-three teams in the Pacific.