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NHL Betting Observations: Down or Out in the Wild Western Conference? 

NHL

With the NHL season only a couple weeks from the halfway mark, the year has been marked by both surprises and disappointments. In the East, a stuttering Maple Leafs team and a confounding Tampa Bay club are still searching for themselves. In the West, upstart Arizona is flirting with the top-seed, and Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers are on pace to comfortably hit their point total over while making a real push for the playoffs. Meanwhile, three of last year’s eight Western Conference playoff teams are substantially underperforming in the standings, and could very well miss the post-season. Let’s take a look at these three disappointing clubs, and ask, are these teams down or out? 

Nashville Predators 

Over the previous two seasons, Nashville has been one of the best teams in the NHL. The Predators finished last year with a third-place finish in the West on 100 points. The year previous, Nashville were the best regular season team in the league, finishing with a franchise-record 117 points. While there has been some turnover, with the likes of P.K. Subban departing, Nashville has been built on a strong culture for awhile now, and with the big addition of Matt Duchene, much was still expected of the Predators. However, Duchene has been something of a symbol for a struggling Predators team. After a 31-goal season last time round, the star has been somewhat uncomfortable this season. He’s got eight goals in 29 games and has been nothing like the difference-maker some in Nashville had hoped.  

The Predators were projected to put up 97.5 points this year, which was the second highest total in the Western Conference. So far, having taken 33 points from 30 games, the Predators are on pace to barely break 90. Nashville sit sixth in the Central Division.  

However, it’s too early to sell on this talented of a team. Nashville does not lack in experience, and early adversity can be overcome. The Predators rank 14th in Goals For and 17th in Goals Against. But, looking at some advanced stats, the picture is a little rosier. Nashville ranks fifth and third league-wide in Corsi and Fenwick For Percentage, respectively, which rate puck control and possession. The team is creating more scoring chances than it’s giving up, and importantly, rank fourth in the NHL in High Danger For Percentage. This stat demonstrates which team is creating more quality scoring chances than their opponents. Nashville’s scoring should improve. 

Unfortunately, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. The Predators may have had some inflated underlying numbers on account of a strength of schedule that ranks 29th in the NHL. Per Power Rankings Guru, who has developed a strength of schedule remaining tool, Nashville look set to play the fourth-toughest schedule from here on out. As concerning, the Predators have played 18 of their 30 games at home. After a tough home game against Dallas, Nashville begin a difficult four-game Northeast road trip.  

Ultimately, though, some value on Nashville is still there. The team remains deep and has plenty of experience. If the team is going to flirt with its point total future, a significant improvement will come at some point. While it could still end up being a down year for the Predators, there’s reason to believe it has at least one hot streak in them. 

Verdict: Down, not Out 

Vegas Golden Knights 

The Golden Knights followed up their dream expansion-team run to the Stanley Cup Final with a decent repeat effort, putting up 93 points before losing in controversial fashion to the San Jose Sharks in a seven-game first round playoff series. Trade-deadline addition Mark Stone had signed an extension, and expectations were through the roof. Vegas had a point total future of 102.5, which meant this team was expected to be the top-seed out WestFor now, Vegas is on pace for a disappointing 92 points, a total that would likely leave them missing the post-season.  

While a team from which so much offense was expected ranks only 17th in scoring, ranking 18th in goals against is more of a reflection of a team giving up the seventh-highest number of shots, than it is a condemnation of franchise legend Marc-Andre Fleury’s play. His save percentage has actually increased marginally over last season. He’s only played 22 games, but he’s hanging tough. Fleury has also recently had to deal with the tragic passing of his father. In his first game back, the goalie was brilliant, saving 28 shots in a 5-1 win against Chicago.  

Like Nashville, plenty of analytics are there to suggest this team should be able to improve. In 5-on-5 action, this is one of the best teams in hockey. Vegas is 7th in Corsi rating and 9th in Fenwick. Vegas ranks first in the entire league in expected goals for at even strength. Somewhat worryingly, the Golden Knights rank 25th in expected goals against. Another sign of room for improvement is Vegas’ tepid High Danger Chance conversion rate. This stat determines the percentage of quality scoring chances a team gets that it actually scores. Vegas ranks a lowly 28th in this department. For a team with this much talent upfront, it’s very difficult to imagine that’s where it ends up when it’s all said and done. Vegas also rank only 24th in shooting percentage, another sign that things can and should get better.  

Again like Nashville, Vegas has a solid backbone and recent success to draw upon. Head Coach George Gallant is well-known as a player-friendly coach, and the team will likely continue to buy in as it digs itself out of an early hole. Per The Athletic, Gallant said, “You’re not coaching against your players. You’re coaching with your players. We’re all together. I think if you ask my players what type of coach I am, I think they feel like I’m a teammate of theirs. I can’t comment on anyone else but that’s the way I work.” This positivity can only help maintain good team chemistry, and should help Vegas climb up the Western Conference standings. 

Verdict: Down, not Out 

San Jose Sharks 

On May 15 of this year, San Jose were leading the St. Louis Blues two games to one in the Western Conference Finals. There was a feeling that this was an essential moment for the Sharks to grasp. Legends Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski had little left in the tank, and no one knew whether they would even be back. The Sharks arguably outplayed the Blues in game four, but the Blues took advantage of an early lead to hang on, despite San Jose outshooting St. Louis by eight. The Sharks went on to lose the next two games 5-0 and 5-1 and the dream was once again dead.  

That those last three games would be indicative of what to come was something of a surprise. The Sharks had a point total future of 94.5, sixth-highest in the West. Most still considered this a playoff team. Thornton came back again, while Joe Pavelski departed. The Sharks made a huge commitment to Erik Karlsson, and there was a sense that with the defense settled, and Karlsson secure in his future, the benefits would come fast and furious. Yet, the Sharks have absolutely collapsed. San Jose is on pace for 77 points. This is a full-on disaster. 

Goaltending sunk San Jose in that Conference Finals and the organization bizarrely did absolutely nothing to fix it. As bad as Martin Jones was last season, he’s gone above and beyond that this season. A Goals Against Average of 3.30 is up from 2.94. Jones’ save percentage has gone from .915 in 2017-2018, to .888 this year. The way the Sharks’ front office has dealt with the goaltending situation is all the weirder considering how good this organization is in every other regard. The Sharks have remained competitive for years, and Jones’ decline has not been sudden or unexpected. The signs have been there. This guy sadly just cannot be trusted if you’re planning to contend for anything. San Jose have given up 120 goals this season, the worst in the Western Conference. 

The decision to fire long-time boss Peter DeBoer came down on Wednesday, on the heels of a five-game losing streak. DeBoer averaged 100 points a year in his four full seasons with San Jose and took the Sharks to two Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final. But, there was a feeling a new voice was needed, and that’s hard to deny. Nothing about this team has made sense all season. 

In San Jose’s first game after the firing, the nonsense looked just about the same. A 6-3 home loss to the New York Rangers is a testament to how much is wrong here. The team led 3-2, before a couple of brutally soft goals sunk the Sharks. 

Per Power Rankings Guru, San Jose have the 10th toughest schedule for the rest of this season. That said, if the team has any plans to turn things around, the time is right now. Obviously, the margin of error is gone, but there’s a reason DeBoer’s firing came when it did. Starting with last night’s game, the Sharks have a seven-game home-stand to figure out what on earth is happening. There’s a ton of talent on this roster, to be sure, and one could see a brief uptick in form in this spot if the players react well to the new staff. That’s just about the kindest thing that can be said for a team that seems lost. 

Verdict: Out