Another NHL Trade Deadline has come and gone, and boy, it was a good one. Most players that were expected to move to a new team did move, and there were a few shocking blockbuster trades that no one really could have predicted. When the dust of a very busy February 24 settled, there were a total of 32 trades on the day, making for one of the busier Trade Deadline days in recent history. These 32 trades were not all NHL deals, as there were a number of minor-league trades done between teams as well. If we count all the trades that occurred, whether they are NHL trades or minor-league, a total of 57 players and 26 draft picks were moved to new teams.
As we gear up for the remaining month-and-a-half of the NHL season, we are starting to see a vague picture of which teams will qualify for the playoffs come April. In this article, I will give my predictions for how I think the Western Conference will play out over the last 20 games of the NHL season. The following predictions are separated by division, and the impact that teams made on Deadline Day is taken into consideration.
Here is my final standings prediction for the Pacific Division:
1. Edmonton Oilers – 99 points
2. Vegas Golden Knights – 98 points
3. Vancouver Canucks – 96 points
4. Calgary Flames – 93 points
5. Arizona Coyotes – 92 points
6. Anaheim Ducks – 80 points
7. San Jose Sharks – 77 points
8. Los Angeles Kings – 71 points
Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland made quite the splash on Monday, acquiring veteran defenceman Mike Green and speedy winger Andreas Athanasiou, as well as a prospect from the Detroit Red Wings in two separate trades. The Red Wings received forwards Sam Gagner and Kyle Brodziak in return, as well as two second-round draft picks and a conditional fourth-round pick. Holland then made a deal with the Ottawa Senators, bringing Edmonton native Tyler Ennis to his hometown team in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick. Athanasiou has plenty of speed, and will slot in nicely on Connor McDavid’s wing, while Ennis will be a great bottom-six forward that could provide some secondary scoring if given the right opportunity. Green will likely fit in on the third defence pairing, but is capable of playing big minutes and on special teams if the Oilers require him to. These players will add the depth to the Oilers lineup that they needed, and along with league-leading scorers Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, the Oilers will ultimately come out on top of the Pacific Division with 99 points.
However, finishing first in the Pacific won’t be an easy task for the Oilers, as the Vegas Golden Knights will be nipping at their heels the entire way. The Golden Knights also got better on and prior to the Trade Deadline. On February 19, they traded two second-round draft picks to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for defenceman Alec Martinez, who has fit in very nicely so far since arriving in Las Vegas. In three games with the Golden Knights, Martinez has two goals and two assists for four points, while logging an average of 18:47 in ice time. On Monday, GM Kelly McCrimmon traded goaltender Malcolm Subban, as well as a pick and a prospect to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for 2019 Vezina-nominee goaltender Robin Lehner, who will serve as an elite backup to starter Marc-Andre Fleury. Adding forward Nick Cousins from the Montreal Canadiens later in the day gave Vegas more bottom-six depth. For a team currently on a six-game winning streak, they will continue to play their game and finish a point behind the Oilers for top spot in the division, with 98.
These two teams were undoubtedly the Trade Deadline winners from the Pacific Division (and perhaps the entire NHL) and they will benefit because of it. The Vancouver Canucks will round out the top three in the division with 96 points, as the acquisition of forward Tyler Toffoli on February 17 looks to be paying off for them. The Canucks also got goaltending depth on Monday with the trade for goaltender Louis Domingue, and a young, offence-driven Canucks team will see a playoff appearance this year. Two teams in the Pacific Division that are currently trying to keep pace are the Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes, but both teams failed to add any game-changing players to their lineups on Monday, so I see them both competing for a Wild Card spot in late March. The Flames will have the edge, finishing with 93 points, one point ahead of the Coyotes at 92. Although the Anaheim Ducks were busy on Deadline Day, the ground is too high to make up in the Division and they will fall short of the playoffs, but will leap-frog San Jose to finish sixth with 80 points and will be the best California team. The San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings look to be focused on rebuilding, as they both sent more players away than they picked up, and they will finish with 77 and 71 points, respectively.
Shifting over to the Central Division, here is my final standings prediction:
Colorado Avalanche – 107 points
St. Louis Blues – 105 points
Dallas Stars – 100 points
Nashville Predators – 93 points
Winnipeg Jets – 90 points
Minnesota Wild – 84 points
Chicago Blackhawks – 83 points
There were not a lot of deals that were done on Trade Deadline Day for teams in the Central Division. In fact, two of the top teams in the division, the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars, felt so content with the lineup that they have that they did not even get involved in the action on Monday, making no deals at all. The Blues did acquire defenceman Marco Scandella from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for two draft picks on February 19, but that’s all the team would do. There was no real “winner” from the Central Division on Monday, but the Colorado Avalanche did acquire another depth forward from the Ottawa Senators, sending the Senators a fourth-round draft pick in exchange for forward Vladislav Namestnikov. GM Joe Sakic later received goaltender Michael Hutchinson from the Toronto Maple Leafs, sending the Leafs defenceman Calle Rosen in return. It wasn’t much, but with the way the Avalanche have been playing, and with the Blues sputtering lately, I think the Avalanche finish first in the division with 107 points, with the Blues closely behind at 105 points. Despite a slow start to the season, the Dallas Stars have turned it around and will finish third with 100 points.
The Nashville Predators made a minor deal two days before the deadline, sending forward Miikka Salomaki to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenceman Ben Harpur. The Predators then made one deal on Deadline Day, swapping defencemen with the Anaheim Ducks. The Predators received Korbinian Holzer, and sent Matt Irwin and a sixth-round pick to the Ducks in return. Nashville will be in a very tight Wild Card race with Calgary and Arizona, and will finish the season with 93 points, snagging the second Wild Card spot from the Coyotes.
The Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, and Chicago Blackhawks round out the bottom three of the Central Division standings, finishing with 90, 84 and 83 points, respectively. Winnipeg and Minnesota did not make any deals on Monday, and Chicago sent one of their elite goaltenders to Vegas in exchange for goaltender Malcolm Subban, a prospect and a pick. The Blackhawks also sent defenceman Erik Gustafsson to the Calgary Flames for a draft pick, solidifying their rebuild. This rounded out a quiet Trade Deadline Day for Central Division teams.
Whether my predictions are close or way off, it will definitely make for an exciting Western Conference playoff race as we close in on the last 20 games of the regular season!
Featured photo courtesy of Zach Shapiro / ColoradoAvalanche.com
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