The NHL's Western Conference has a crazy Wild Card race going on

The NHL's Western Conference has a crazy Wild Card race going on.

Nashville Predators v Washington Capitals
Nashville Predators v Washington Capitals / Scott Taetsch/GettyImages

As the amount of games remaining on the NHL schedule dwindles down and the calendar inches closer to post-season play, points have become a premium for teams jockeying for playoff position.

With most teams having less than 30 games remaining, the playoff races are heating up and the Western Conference wild card race is the tightest in all of hockey right now.

Five teams are all seperated by three points or less for the final wild-card spot and all these teams have taken very different paths to making their way into contention.

The top six teams in the Western Conference seem to be locked up (aside from seeding) with Vancouver, Vegas, and Edmonton starting to create separation from the Pacific along with Dallas, Colorado, and Winnipeg a mile away from any team in the Central.

The Wild Card race in the Western Conference is absolutely crazy

That leaves the wild card race in the Western Conference as the only spots seemingly up for grabs. The Los Angeles Kings hold the first wild card spot and have found their way back on track after firing Todd McLellan.

For the sake of this experiment, let's assume the Kings get a grasp create some more separation from the pack, and secure the top wild card spot (currently six points ahead of the second wild card team).

That leaves five teams currently in the race for the final spot to create a very fun final stretch in the Western Conference.

St. Louis Blues: Tied For 2nd Place Wild Card Spot (60 points with 27games remaining)

The team currently holding the second wild card spot is a team not many expected to be competing for it, the St. Louis Blues.

After firing Craig Berube earlier this season, the Blues were seen as a lost cause and heading for a second straight season picking in the top 10 in the NHL Entry Draft.

However, General Manager Doug Armstrong brought in AHL coach Drew Bannister to try and steer a ship that appeared to be lost at sea and has seemingly done just that.

The Blues under Bannister have climbed their way into playoff position and have beaten a lot of good teams as of late including the Edmonton Oilers this past week and two key victories over the Vancouver Canucks over the last month.

Winning 8 of their last 12 games and building one of the league's best power plays over the last month has put the Blues in the driver's seat of the second wild-card spot.

Looking at the roster on paper, this team is outperforming expectations while getting very little production from anyone but their top line. They are being bailed out by a great goaltending season from both Jordan Binnington and Joel Hofer.

Center Robert Thomas has turned into a budding superstar in the NHL having 62 points in 55 games while facing the league's toughest lines and players every night.

The leadership and improvement in the defensive zone from defenseman Colton Parayko is also not something that should go unnoticed. However, is this team truly a playoff-caliber hockey team? That is hard to tell.

What can be said is if this team wants to make a push in the playoffs they are going to need to find some supplemental scoring.

As good as Jordan Binnington and Joel Hofer have been in net this year, the goaltending can only carry a team so far. Scoring 5 on 5 is something the Blues have struggled with all season and will need to address to become a threat in the wild card race.

The team called up former 2021 first-round pick Zachary Bolduc earlier this week and has slated him immediately in the top six for his NHL debut on Thursday which could lead to some offensive output but the team will need to find other avenues to find offense.

Players like Kasperi Kapanen, Brandon Saad, and Kevin Hayes have seemingly been invisible on the offensive end for most of the season and those players taking middle six minutes will have to produce if St. Louis will want to be playing hockey in April.

If the Blues manage to sneak their way in, there is no doubt they would be a very tough out for anybody they draw.

Nashville Predators: Tied For 2nd Place Wild Card Spot (60 points with 26 games remaining)

Similarly to the Blues, when looking on paper at the roster constructed very few people foresaw the Nashville Predators being a team in the mix for a playoff spot.

If you were to ask anybody beginning of the season how Nashville would have gotten here almost all of them would have said "Jusse Saros" but that has not been the case either.

Saros has been pretty average most of the season to his standards posting a .902 save percentage and a goals-against-allowed rating of just over 3.0.

Nashville is winning games with their tenacity and grit. Ranking in the bottom half of the league in special teams, goals scored, and goals allowed per game, the Predators are a streaky bunch.

When entering this season Nashville was seen to be taking an off year in a quick re-tool (similarly to what many thought St. Louis did last season) but then they signed 33 y/o Ryan O'Reilly to a four-year contract which puzzled many who thought the Preds wanted to get younger for the future.

O'Reilly has been great for the Predators this season posting 47 points in 56 games as well as being one of the league's best power-play goal scorers (tied for 5th with 12). He has become an integral part of this Predators team that is floating around the playoff hunt.

However, just like St. Louis, the Predators are lacking supplemental offense with just two players having more than 15 goals this season and only four players producing at a half-point per game pace or better.

All of those players are older veterans above the age of 29 and nearing the back half of their careers. What Nashville needs to find is some young assets and players they can focus on helping them in the future.

It would not be a surprise if they buy low to make some moves that benefit them this season and the next, but the Predators are a hard team to gauge right now and they could end up being big sellers at the deadline and fall out of this playoff race.

Minnesota Wild: 2 points back of 2nd Wild Card Spot (58 points with 26games remaining)

The Minnesota Wild have been on a heater over the last few weeks winning 8 of their last 11 and climbing from 7th in the Central to within striking distance of the post-season.

Out of all the teams in contention for the final wild-card spot Minnesota arguably has the best chance on paper. Their roster has 2-3 lines that can produce high-level offense and even with some injuries on the back end a defense core that fits playoff-style hockey.

After terminating Dean Evason back in November, the Wild brought in former New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators coach John Hynes.

Although he is widely criticized, the Wild have been playing better with him at the helm. Brock Faber has been a terrific anchor on defense after captain Jared Spurgeon went down with several injuries ending his season.

Kirill Kaprizov is finally healthy again producing at a 90-point pace. What Minnesota has going for it that the previous two teams lack is a supplemental offense.

Although still near the bottom of the league in 5-on-5 goal-scoring percentage, Minnesota has a lot of pieces that are producing at a high level this season.

Their entire top line of Kaprizov, Eriksson Ek and Boldy are on pace for 30-35 goals each. They are getting production from players up and down the lineup like Marco Rossi and Ryan Hartman, both of whom are half-point per game players this season.

What will hurt Minnesota is their goaltending. Filip Gustavsson, after a terrific year last season, has fallen off a cliff with a .895 save percentage and a 3.27 goals against average.

Marc-Andre Fleury has been slightly better with a .897 and a 2.97 but nothing to truly be impressed by.

With the rumors that Fleury could be traded to a team more cemented in playoff contention, the Wild will have to hope that Gustavsson can turn it around and give some average goaltending performances if they want to stay in the mix for a post-season spot.

Similarly to St. Louis, if Minnesota can get in, they could be a very tough out for anybody that has to face them in the first round.

Calgary Flames: 3 points back of the 2nd Wild Card Spot (57 points with 26 games remaining)

Out of all the teams that are in the mix for a post-season spot in the West, the next two teams are by far the least likely to make it in are the Calgary Flames.

Sitting only three points behind St. Louis and Nashville of course Calgary has just as good of a shot to get in as the other teams on this list.

However, come the trade deadline on March 8th, this team is going to look a whole lot different and their position in the standings will reflect the significant roster changes that will be taking place.

Already trading away Elias Lindholm to the Vancouver Canucks, the Calgary Flames have been very vocal about being sellers at the trade deadline to help jumpstart their rebuild. No team in the NHL has more valued assets than the Flames.

As mentioned, Lindholm has already been moved out the door. Players like Noah Hanifin, Christopher Tanev, Jacob Markstrom and maybe even Rasmus Andersson could be following him.

Like Lindholm, both Hanifin and Tanev are pending unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. A Stanley Cup contender will pay a decent amount for their services in chasing a championship.

Calgary was able to get a good NHL-level player in Andrei Kuzmenko, two prospects, and two draft picks for Lindholm. It is reasonable to believe that for Hanifin and Tanev a first-round pick and prospect are reasonable starting points.

With the team in selling mode, Jacob Markstrom and Rasmus Andersson's names have both been linked to potential deals.

While Markstrom is far more likely than Andersson at this particular time, with the Flames getting calls on them it is reasonable to believe they will be falling out of the playoff race shortly before or after the trade deadline.

A roster overhaul is exactly what the Flames needed after losing Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk back in the 2022 off-season. Now they have that chance this year by acquiring premier picks and prospects for veteran players who are not under long-term contracts.

If the team can somehow make the playoff this year while potentially losing five key starting pieces, that's great. That should not be the focus this season for Calgary as they look towards the future of the organization.

Seattle Kraken: 3 points back of 2nd Wild Card Spot (57 points with 27 games remaining)

The wild card team in this wild card race is the Seattle Kraken. After making the post-season last year and knocking off the Colorado Avalanche in the first round, the Kraken have taken a step back this season but their intentions at the trade deadline remain unclear.

Lacking significant offense with only one player over 15 goals this season (Jared McCann), the Kraken could throw the towel in and sell some veteran pieces like Jordan Eberle and Alexander Wennberg to recoup prospects and picks to make a run next season.

What separates Seattle from the rest of the teams on this list is the Kraken are getting elite level goaltending from Joey Daccord this season.

Daccord, who has a .921 save percentage and 2.37 goals against average (both of which rank fourth in the league) emerged out of nowhere this season and is single-handily pushing Seattle into the playoff picture.

That being said, if Seattle wants to make any sort of noise in the Western Conference they will need to find some offense as they rank 28th in goals per game at a whopping 2.73.

For reference three of the four teams Seattle is ahead of are the bottom three teams in the standings this season (Chicago, San Jose, and Anaheim).

That lack of offensive production is not going to get you very far in the regular season or the post-season. They are in this position to make a push because of their elite goaltending and defense this season.

We will know a lot about Seattle in the coming weeks. If they sell off Eberle, Wennberg, and others they could slip like Calgary and make this playoff race a three-headed beast between the Central Division rivals.