The Pacific Division was taken by storm a season ago by the expansion Golden Knights, something that not even the most optimistic of preseason pundits could have imagined.
While Vegas ran away with the division and won it by eight points, some late-season drama unfolded between the trio of California teams. The Ducks stormed into second place in the final days of the season, surpassing both the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks in the process.
While they didn’t win it, Anaheim’s late surge shows that anything can happen so long as there are games remaining on the schedule. While today’s standings have an impact on the season-ending standings, the fact remains that there is plenty of time left in the regular season.
From a betting standpoint, that can be a positive. We can take advantage of the odds and grab some value, while we can discard some teams that have been good to this point, but are still unlikely to walk away with the division. In a division as tight as the Pacific is right now, the favorite isn’t a bad play either given the odds.
With that in mind, there are a few things we need to identify here. The odds in this division are rather valuable on a handful of teams. We are still going to identify a favorite, a value play and a team that is overpriced at their current odds.
First, let’s take a look at the current odds to win the Pacific Division, courtesy of Bovada.
At the moment, we have a pair of co-favorites in the Flames and Sharks while there are some other teams on the cusp of contention that we could identify as either a value play or an overpriced team.
So, let’s get started!
*Stats are as of before play on 11/30/18
San Jose Sharks (+265)
Despite their underwhelming start to the season relative to the talent on the roster, I still don’t see a scenario where the Sharks don’t prevail and win this division.
After acquiring Erik Karlsson just prior to training camp, the Sharks became the odds-on favorite to win this division, however they just haven’t played up to their potential at either end of the ice
The offense has only been slightly above league average as they sit in a 13th-place tie with the Sabres with 3.08 goals per game, however the true disappointment has been on the back end for a Sharks team that is perennially among the league’s top defenses.
Despite owning what could be argued as one of the best top-four groups of defensemen in the league, the Sharks check in at 18th with 3.08 goals against per game. Of course, that equals a per-game goal differential of exactly zero for a team expected to compete for a Stanley Cup this season.
Karlsson has not been the same player in his first season in San Jose as he was in the previous nine with the Ottawa Senators. After tallying at least 62 points in each of his last six fully-healthy seasons with the Senators, Karlsson has just two goals and 15 points in 26 games with San Jose. Those are still impressive figures for a defenseman, but they aren’t Karlsson-esque.
Martin Jones hasn’t helped the cause. I thought Jones could be a real sneaky Vezina candidate this season with an expected high win total and solid defense in front of him, but like his team’s defense, Jones hasn’t held up his end of the bargain.
He sits with an even 3.00 GAA and .892 Sv% on the season, and he hasn’t been a whole lot better on home ice where the Sharks have gone 8-3-2 on the year.
The good news? They haven’t played close to their potential, especially on the road, where they have gone 4-6-3 on the season, but still sit just one point back of the division-leading Flames in what has been a weak Pacific Division.
The Sharks remain an excellent team on home ice despite Jones’ shortcomings, ranking 12th in home offense and tied for 11th in home defense. There’s plenty of room for improvement in both of those categories with plenty of season to play.
With Karlsson a free agent at the end of the season, it’s possible GM Doug Wilson is all-in Stanley Cup this season with the Sharks’ contention window slowly closing and possibly in Joe Thornton’s last season in the league. As a result, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Wilson pull the trigger on some upgrades as the season moves along prior to deadline time to give his team a shot in the arm for their playoff run.
At the end of the day, this team is going to be very, very good once they hit their stride. It’s a team that is going to be right there in the division, and one that will come out on top at season’s end.
Edmonton Oilers (+900)
Hey, crazier things have happened.
The Oilers currently sit outside the playoff picture all together with a 12-11-2 record on the season, but they remain just three points back of third-place Vegas with two games in hand on their newest division rival.
They also have the best player in the world at their disposal.
A less-than-ideal start to the season cost head coach Todd McLellan his job, and veteran no-nonsense bench boss Ken Hitchcock came out of retirement in an attempt to steer the storied franchise back to the promised land.
The struggle has been to find linemates that can work, and keep up with, Connor McDavid, but Hitchcock seems to have found the right formula with Leon Draisaitl and Alex Chiasson who only came to Edmonton on a professional tryout prior to training camp. The result has been 11 goals in 19 games for the veteran coming off a Stanley Cup championship last season with the Capitals.
With the top line producing as a whole, and not just McDavid on his own, the task becomes secondary scoring. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be relied on to do just that as the second line center, but the truth is Edmonton doesn’t exactly sport a ton of scoring depth, which is why see them tied for 27th with just 2.72 goals per game on the season.
They have found some stability on the back end in the form of Mikko Koskinen. Koskinen has taken over the starting reigns of late from Cam Talbot who endured the league’s heaviest workload over the last two seasons.
The results have been there for the Oilers’ low-key offseason signing out of the KHL as the 30-year-old has produced a stout 2.26 GAA and .924 Sv% in 10 starts and 11 appearances on the season. The Finland native has allowed just four goals over his last three starts and it’s clear that Hitchcock is going to move forward with the hot hand of 6’6” netminder.
It’s an uphill climb, but the reality is the Oilers are just four points behind Calgary for the division lead with each team sporting 57 remaining games on their schedule. At +900 odds and within arm’s length of the division lead with the best player on the planet at their disposal, I think there’s value to be had in the Oilers to take down the Pacific Division.
Anaheim Ducks (+400)
It’s unfortunate that the Ducks have had to deal with so many injuries again this season after being decimated last year, but they have done well to hang around the playoff bubble thanks to four wins over their last five games.
Also helping their cause is 25-year-old netminder John Gibson. Gibson has dazzled once again this season to the tune of a 2.54 GAA and .927 Sv%, the latter of which ranks fourth among goaltenders with at least 15 games under their belt this season. These numbers become even more impressive when we realize Gibson has seen the second-highest workload this season. Only Ottawa’s Craig Anderson has seen more shots than the 717 shots Gibson has faced on the campaign.
That leads me to my next point and perhaps the biggest hindrance on the Ducks’ chances to win this division, and that is possession.
You can argue the validity of advanced stats, but the Ducks have been outplayed by a variety of measures this season. Take a look at some of the numbers and rankings in the table below.
|Goals Per Game||2.22||30th|
|Shots For Per Game||26.4||31st|
|Shots Against Per Game||35.9||30th|
|Average Shot Differential||-9.8||31st|
|Even Strength Corsi For%||44.2%||30th|
There is being outplayed, and then there is being dominated and that’s pretty much what has happened with the Ducks this season. Their saving grace has been their defense which is tied for eighth with just 2.78 goals against per game, but given the shots against total above, they can mostly thank Gibson for that number.
Prior to the season, I expected the Ducks to be a stout defensive club while scoring enough to win on a consistent basis. That was before Corey Perry went down and with the expectation that Patrick Eaves would return to health, which hasn’t been the case. Those are a couple of early-30 veterans, but their absence has left the Ducks without any depth down their group of forwards.
The way the numbers have turned out this season, there’s just no way Anaheim climbs over the Golden Knights, Sharks and Flames while fending off the Oilers to win this division. Their health has been an impact on their success, but Anaheim is closer to a roster overhaul than it is a division championship in this season. Don’t waste your money on the overpriced Ducks at these +400 odds.