By Andy Eide
As we storm down the home stretch of the NHL season, the only real drama left in the Pacific Division is which team is going to win the division title, and it’s a two-horse race.
Heading into action Thursday night, the Calgary Flames – who have been, um, red hot – hold a seven-point lead over the San Jose Sharks for the Pacific top spot. The Flames have reeled off – or perhaps scorched their way to – seven straight wins to build a cushion in the standings.
Their 89 points are also good enough to lead the Western Conference and could secure them home ice throughout the conference playoffs. Calgary general manager Brad Treveling stood pat at the recently completed trade deadline, deferring to stick with the team that has led the Pacific Division from almost the start of the season.
And who can blame him?
The Flames are one of the top possession teams in the NHL, have scored the most goals in the West and have the top goal differential of plus-48. Their big trade came in the summer when they picked up Elias Lindolm from Carolina who, along with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, have given Calgary one of the best top lines in the NHL.
Can the Sharks catch them for the division title? Both clubs play the majority of their remaining games at home and play each other, in San Jose, on March 31st. Winning the division will mean more than just the opportunity to hang a new banner in the rafters, it will mean avoiding the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round.
Vegas and San Jose were active at the trade deadline as both teams take aim at the Flames.
Here’s the latest news surrounding the Pacific Division.
Vegas sets in Stone
The Golden Knights pulled in the biggest name at the trade deadline when they acquired Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators for prospect Erik Brannstrom, Oscar Lindberg and a 2020 second-round draft pick. Not a steep price to pay for Stone, who was having a career year in Ottawa with 28 goals and 62 points. He gives the Golden Knights another weapon in their top six and while they probably can’t make up the 11 points they trail San Jose by, this does make them a tougher match up in the playoffs.
Vegas has significantly upgraded their top six from the team that made its historic run last year. They added Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty in the off season and now will throw Stone into that mix. Stone is more than a rental as the Golden Knights immediately signed him to an eight-year contract that will pay him $9.5 million annually.
Sharks pick up ‘Gus
San Jose was active at the trade deadline as well and acquired forward Gustav Nyquist from the Detroit Red Wings for a second-round pick in 2019 and a conditional third-round pick in 2020. Nyquist was on pace for his second straight 20-goal season with Detroit and had waived his no trade clause in order for the deal to go down.
He’ll be a boost to the Sharks top nine forwards and could end up playing along Joe Thornton on the team’s third line. At least, that’s where he was in his first game with the club, a loss at Boston. He gives the Sharks more offensive fire power as they look to compete with the Flames down the stretch.
Nyquist is a free agent at the end of the year as this move is another ‘all in’ move for San Jose. The Sharks have some big time salary decisions to make this summer. Along with Nyquist, guys like Joe Pavelski, Thornton, and Eri Karlsson will all be unrestricted free agents. Its going to be hard to sign them all.
Anyone want the wild card?
With the top three teams in the division locked into a playoff spot, the rest of the Pacific is kind of, well, a mess. The Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks are both within striking distance of the last wild card spot in the Western Conference but still on the outside looking in.
The Coyotes may have the best chance to sneak in. After a season riddled with injuries, they’re healthy now and riding a four-game win streak into a Thursday night clash with the Canucks. Vancouver, on the other hand, has slowly been slipping in the opposite direction and Wednesday night missed a chance to pick up two points as it dropped a shootout decision to Colorado.
The two teams meet in Glendale Thursday night in a game that has two crucial points up for grabs.
The rest of the division? It isn’t pretty as the Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings bring up the bottom of the Western Conference. Not quite the way Pacific Division enthusiasts wanted to see things stacked.
Evander Kane sends a message
San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane had a run in with Boston’s Zdeno Chara this week and wasn’t too happy with the way it turned out.
After the game there was speculation whether or not Chara would face disciplinary action for the hit and it turned out the league gave him a pass on the play. That didn’t sit well with Kane, who subtly, or not so subtly, tweeted out what he thought of the decision.
Pacific Division goal of the week
Flames defenseman Mark Giordano turned in a beauty against the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday. He fakes a shot, gets in closer and dekes Mackenzie Blackwood completely out of the crease.
It turned out to be the game winner in a 2-1 Flames win and for Giordano, his 14th and 60th point. That smells a lot like Norris Trophy material.