Much has happened in the Western Conference in the past six weeks as the Los Angeles Kings have won just three of their past 15 games, effectively dropping them to 12th place in the West. They are now five points behind the Vancouver Canucks for the final wild card spot, though the Canadian team holds a game in hand. Because of this development, Los Angeles’s chances at finishing as one of the top three teams in the Pacific Division have been dealt a serious blow. With that in mind, it may beneficial for the San Jose Sharks to finish in one of the two wild card spots. It is a risky move, but it may help them in their quest for the cup.
Dodging the Bullet
San Jose has been absolutely terrible against teams in their division not from California. The Sharks are 2-4-1 versus the two other teams competing in the division (Vancouver and Calgary). Since it is unlikely for anyone in the division to catch the Anaheim Ducks, it may be wise for San Jose to actively avoid earning a spot in the three guaranteed playoff positions, as it seems likely it would mean a first round playoff series against either the Canucks or the Flames.
A Brighter But Dangerous Road
Finishing in a wild card spot would likely lead to an opening round playoff series against either the Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators, or St. Louis Blues. San Jose’s record against these teams is significantly better than those fighting for a place in their division, as they are 6-2-1 when performing against the above squads. This record is astonishing, especially when taking into account that their two regulation losses came against the Blues while their first-line center, Joe Thornton, was out with an injury.
The other potential benefit to finishing in a wild card position is that it may put the Sharks in a bracket with the Central Division teams rather than the clubs in the Pacific. This may help San Jose avoid a series featuring either Calgary or Vancouver and may set up a Western Conference Final against the Ducks, who the Sharks are 4-0-1 against this season. Going through the Central division and having to face either Nashville, Chicago, or St. Louis will not be easy. But, it will be better than having to compete with division rivals that have had San Jose’s number this year.
A Necessary Sacrifice
Unfortunately, finishing the season in a wild card position would require sacrificing home-ice advantage for practically the entire playoffs. San Jose currently has a 14-10-3 record on the road compared to a 14-8-4 record at SAP Center. They perform marginally better in their own building, which could be the difference in a tight playoff series (see Los Angeles vs. San Jose, 2013). Even if they do make it past the first round, their road to the cup would be a struggle without home-ice advantage, especially against the likes of Calgary, Vancouver, and Chicago. Thankfully, the Sharks’ road record is respectable, so achieving a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals is not completely out of the question. Forfeiting the advantages of playing at home will be difficult, but it is for the best.
I admit San Jose winning the Stanley Cup in 2015 is unlikely, but not impossible. To be competitive, they need players like Antti Niemi, Patrick Marleau, and Justin Braun to get hot and stay hot. It is safe to say that they are not contenders at the moment, but they could become a threat down the stretch. With the help of some players getting off their cold streaks and a bit of luck in the postseason, this team could still potentially win it all.