The NHL’s Western Conference was once the land of giants. The Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have spent the last decade hanging banners. The Anaheim Ducks have won the Pacific Division five years in a row. And, as much as we want to shut the window on the San Jose Sharks, they have been as consistent as any team in the entire NHL over the past 15 years.
But last season, you could feel the power shifting. Teams like Edmonton and Nashville grabbed a seat at the big kids’ table, while Los Angeles fell back and Chicago was bounced in the first round of the postseason.
Coming into 2017-18, the Oilers were expected to be the conference flag-bearers, but that script has been scrapped thanks to a very disappointing first 30 games.
Right now, the West is wide open. The Blues are for real, the Jets seem to be as well, and the Predators are right there, too. But all three of those teams are in the Central Division, which also includes the surging Dallas Stars and the Chicago Blackhawks. That bodes well for teams in the Pacific Division, which is clearly the weaker circuit in the West.
Last week, we identified three teams in the East with great value in the futures market. The Western Conference certainly doesn’t offer the same amount of value in terms of quantity, but there is one team that certainly is worth considering for a punt.
Anaheim Ducks (+1200 to win West, +2500 to win Stanley Cup)
A look at under the hood doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the Ducks. Anaheim is currently the worst possession team in the league with a Corsi For of 45.7 percent, and the Ducks rank 30th in expected goals differential at -12.57. In fact, using PDO (a measure of luck) as a litmus test, it wouldn’t be unfair to call the Anaheim one of the league’s luckiest teams. See Sean Tierney‘s chart below.
All of this suggests the Ducks are actually overperforming and are due to regress over the next 50-plus games.
Not so fast.
Even the most astute hockey fan could be forgiven if they couldn’t recognize some players in the Ducks lineup from a few weeks ago. At some point this season, the Ducks have been without Ryan Getzlaf, Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Patrick Eaves, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler. And now the Ducks may be without Corey Perry, who is listed as “week-to-week” after he injured his knee on Monday (the same night that Getzlaf returned to the lineup).
On that list are Anaheim’s two best defensemen, their first line, two-thirds of their second line and their best two-way forward in Kesler, who has yet to even play this year. In other words, everything that could go wrong for Anaheim off the ice has gone wrong, and yet here we are.
As it stands now, the Ducks sit at 33 points through their first 31 games, which is pretty remarkable when you consider the rash of injuries they’ve had to deal with. They are two points behind San Jose for third in the Pacific, six back of Vegas for second and 10 points behind the Kings, who top the division. The gap between the Ducks and Kings may seem a bit lofty, but weirder things have happened.
They’ve received decent, but not outstanding, goaltending from starter John Gibson and backup Ryan Miller, which has helped their cause, but there’s no reason to suggest their netminders are playing out of their minds and will come back to earth. Same goes for the Ducks’ shooting percentage, which is a tick high but certainly not unsustainable given the talent they will be getting back into the lineup.
One telling sign that the oddsmakers are weary of the Ducks is that they are listed at the same odds to win the West as Calgary, San Jose and Winnipeg – all of whom have spent most of the season in or around a playoff spot. Another thing to remember is that the Vegas Golden Knights are one of the teams the Ducks will be chasing down the stretch. Vegas is certainly not the pushover we expected them to be, but they certainly are catchable and actually may end up selling some assets at the deadline.
With the Pacific’s current state, it is feasible to suggest that the Ducks could finish second or third. That would mean they’d need to finish ahead of at least two of Vegas, Calgary and San Jose. They’d then avoid ending up in the Central bracket for the playoffs and also avoid a first-round matchup with the Kings. All of this is easier said than done, but certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
Coming into the season, the oddsmakers hung the Ducks with an over/under of 103 points. Plenty of pundits thought they had enough in their roster to win the West. They’re clearly a good team and if they qualify for the postseason, they could be an honest threat to run rampant through the tournament.
All odds current as of 3:00 p.m. ET on 12/12