Following the divisional realignment imposed by the NHL for the shortened 2021 regular season, the path to the playoffs and beyond will be solely based on head-to-head matchups with divisional foes. With the regional realignment, which sees all Canadian teams moving into the North Division, the resultant three other divisions are a bit unbalanced in terms of competition.
Each of the divisions’ top four teams will advance to the division playoffs, with the first seed playing the fourth seed, and the second seed playing the third seed. A division will have one division playoff champion that will match up against another division champion for the Stanley Cup Semi-Finals.
Some divisions have more of an even balance of quality throughout, but others are a bit more top-heavy, giving the better teams in those divisions a path of less resistance to the playoffs.
Prior to opening night, NoVa Caps will breakdown each of the new divisions and assess the strength of each divisional team through the use of the Goals Above Replacement metric. In this piece, we’ll take a look at each team in the West Division’s 2019-20 regular season goals above replacement (GAR) to assess the strength of the division. [Statistics courtesy of Evolving Hockey.] You can access our analysis of the North Division here.
The West Division is a particularly intriguing division, as we’ll see two bona-fide Stanley Cup contenders in the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights, and not much else. Here’s a ranking of the West Division ordered by overall team GAR in the 2019-20 regular season [Click to Enlarge].
It’s no surprise to see Colorado leading the pack here, as they had a strong regular season last year, and were only derailed in the 2020 Playoffs by injuries to Philipp Grubauer, Pavel Francouz, and Erik Johnson.
The Avalanche had one of the strongest performances in even strength goals above replacement as a team, and lead by a pretty substantial margin over the Wild, who had the next highest EVO GAR last season. The Avalanche have the highest overall GAR in the NHL for the 2019-20 season, slightly beating out the Boston Bruins by .1 GAR.
The West Division has three teams (Colorado, St Louis, and Minnesota) in the top ten for overall GAR in the NHL for the 2019-20 regular season. The East Division is the only other division with more teams in the top ten (Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington).
It’d be hard for Minnesota to have a repeat performance in a top ten GAR season overall in the NHL. Eric Staal’s departure and replacement in Marcus Johansson doesn’t help there. Johansson is a quality player, but is now injury prone and will likely struggle to perform up to Staal’s level the past few seasons in Minnesota.
Minnesota also traded Luke Kunin and Ryan Donato, solid middle six forwards for middling returns, as well as former franchise goalie Devan Dubnyk. Both Donato and Dubnyk are now on division rival San Jose. Kevin Fiala will have to play at a high level, and newcomer Kirill Kaprizov will have to have a Calder Trophy caliber season to have Minnesota in the hunt.
Vegas is an intriguing team. They had to shed some salary by trading Nate Schmidt and Paul Stastny after re-signing Robin Lehner to a five year contract and signing the premier free agent of the 2020 class in Alex Pietrangelo.
Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury (pending any trades) would be one of the most formidable goalie tandems in the NHL, and Vegas is still full to the brim with talent up and down the roster. It’ll be a dogfight between Vegas and Colorado all season, and likely in the Division Finals in the playoffs.
The top three teams in the division are most likely going to be some combination of Colorado, Vegas, and St Louis. Minnesota, Arizona, and San Jose will battle it out for the fourth and final spot in the division playoffs.
It’s hard to think San Jose will be beleaguered in the 2021 season with the quality of players on that team, namely Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Timo Meier, and Erik Karlsson. If they can stay healthy, they should qualify for the division playoffs.
Anaheim and Los Angeles will likely finish in the bottom of the West Division standings based off of the quality of their rosters and lack of game-changing additions.
Here’s how the West Division standings could shake out based on GAR:
- Colorado Avalanche
- Vegas Golden Knights
- St Louis Blues
- San Jose Sharks
- Minnesota Wild
- Arizona Coyotes
- Anaheim Ducks
- Los Angeles Kings
By Justin Trudel