Ranking the top teams in an ultra-tight Western Conference wild card race

These seven squads are in the thick of it right now, but that doesn't mean they'll be hunting down a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs come April.

Welcome to RANKED. Every week during the NHL season, we will be ranking players, moments and anything else we can think of throughout hockey history. This week, we’re ranking the teams currently in the Western Conference wild card race.

At this time of the NHL season, teams are slowly beginning to separate themselves from each other. The good teams that have a real shot at making noise are competing for the top spots, while those who are not so fortunate find themselves fighting for scraps.

Right now the separation between the top teams and the middling teams in the Western Conference is starting to grow earlier than expected. The Avalanche, Stars and Jets all sit atop the Central division with at least a .619 points percentage, while the Golden Knights, Canucks, and Kings all own at least a .674 points percentage in the Pacific.

Beyond those six Western Conference teams, however, there's a substantial gap, with a handful of teams competing for the two Wild Card spots in the West and none of them looking particularly exceptional. Each of the teams has at least one substantial flaw holding them back as they continue to scrape by for the chance to try and not get completely pummelled by one of the league's elite.

With those six teams pulling ahead in their respective divisions, now is the time to determine which of the rest we think can claim the final two wild card spots.

7 – Anaheim Ducks (9-13-0, .409)

The Ducks had a dream start to the year, proving most people wrong with a boatload of young prospects developing and finding opportunities in the NHL. There was certainly a period where people wondered if this was the time they would make the leap from bottom-feeder to just alright.

Now, they're in the midst of a 2-8-0 stretch and have sunk to near the bottom of the conference. Over a few short weeks the Ducks have collapsed, returning to what most predicted they would be. It seems unlikely that they'll be in the race when it's all said and done, even if they are at the moment, but at the very least their strong start could serve as some fuel by the time next year’s training camp rolls around.

VANCOUVER, CANADA - NOVEMBER 28: John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks looks at the puck in the net after Vancouver's second goal during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on November 28, 2023 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Canucks won 3-1.(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
After starting hot, the Anaheim Ducks have tumbled down the standings. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

6 – Seattle Kraken (8-10-5, .457)

After catching lightning in a bottle last season, it seems as though the Seattle Kraken have lost their spark as quickly as it arrived. Seattle appeared to be a savvy team that boasted exceptional depth but was held back by terrible goaltending. Now, the offense has lost its magic touch, with the likes of Jared McCann and Matty Beniers struggling to score after carrying the load last season, while still running out the same brutes in between the pipes.

They had been involved in the Wild Card picture, but have recently sunk dramatically, and appear in need of a major change of fortunes. Until they address their .888 team save percentage or get involved in trading for a needle-mover rental, they will remain outside of the playoff picture.

5 – Calgary Flames (9-10-3, .477)

It’s pretty easy to see how the Flames are out of it. The only reason that this team isn’t at the bottom of these rankings is that they have somehow strung together enough points of late to offset some of their struggles during the dreadful start they had.

It also seems unlikely the Flames current hot streak — at least by, hot their standards — will continue into the foreseeable future. With a handful of expiring contracts on their roster, they are already reportedly discussing a substantial fire sale. Nikita Zadorov, Noah Hanifin, and Chris Tanev (half of their blue line) will likely find themselves on different teams by the end of the season, while other key players like Elias Lindholm are also on expiring deals, meaning they'll need to make up their mind there as well.

The Flames are already selling and have signaled that they won't even attempt to sneak into the playoffs. No matter their current record, they will not be getting there.

4 – Arizona Coyotes (10-9-2, .524)

Maybe the most under-the-radar team in the entire National Hockey League right now is the Arizona Coyotes. Just like Anaheim, the Coyotes started hot, taking advantage of slow starts from some projected contenders and finding themselves snagging a few surprising wins.

They have continued to pick up wins and find themselves now tied for the second Wild Card spot. Thanks to the likes of Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz rediscovering their games, Matias Maccelli avoiding the sophomore slump, and adding plenty of talent last summer like Sean Durzi, Alex Kerfoot, Matt Dumba, and Jason Zucker, the Coyotes are good.

Will their hot start continue, though? It’s hard to look at what they have done and say that they won’t be in it by the end of the season. They won’t bottom out like some other overperformers, thanks in large part to the depth they've accumulated to be a competitive hockey team.

The Coyotes may lack the top game-breaking talent to squeeze in, but they've certainly graduated from being the butt of the joke.

3 – Edmonton Oilers (8-12-1, .405)

We believe in the Edmonton Oilers. They might have the worst record of all the teams listed in this ranking, and have somehow found themselves third on the list, but we believe.

EDMONTON, CANADA - NOVEMBER 28: Connor McDavid #97 and Leon Draisaitl #29 of the Edmonton Oilers participate in warm ups before the game against the Vegas Golden Knights at Rogers Place on November 28, 2023, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Edmonton has all the makings of a good team, save for one key missing ingredient: their goaltending. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

There is too much talent on that roster — Connor McDavid is heating up with a remarkable 12 points in his last three games – and they are not playing terrible hockey at all. According to Evolving-Hockey, the Oilers have the second-highest expected goals for percentage with 55.7 percent, and have the fifth-highest shot attempt share at 54.4 percent, at 5-on-5. They are the better team on the ice for the majority of the time, but are in dire need of a solution to their most glaring problem: their goaltending.

Beyond that, however, the Oilers look stout. Their defense and the offense are more than fine (some of the best in the league), and their special teams are clicking, even if it isn't at the same historic pace it was last season. Their struggles can almost entirely be boiled down to their complete lack of ability to find a competent goaltender.

It isn’t far-fetched to think if they just had league-average goaltending, that they would be with the other elite squads at the top of the standings. Now, they'll instead have to fight for their spot in the postseason, while trying to find somebody between the pipes to solve their problems as soon as possible.

2 – St. Louis Blues (11-9-1, .548)

While the Oilers could end up finishing above our next two teams, they've simply banked too many points to not make the top of our predictions.

The Blues are a good team. They have consistent leaders like Brayden Schenn, and are getting a lot out of their new young core made up of Robert Thomas, Pavel Buchnevich, and Jordan Kyrou. The Blues also have many of the same familiar faces on the roster and aren’t in a place to try to sell off assets.

Just like St. Louis often is, the Blues find themselves right in the middle of things, hanging around and waiting for others to drop off. Now with some teams from the Central sputtering, their chances of claiming a playoff position are growing more likely.

1 – Nashville Predators (11-10-0, .524)

The Blues are good, sure, but they don’t have the top-of-the-lineup talent like the Nashville Predators have. Put simply, Filip Forsberg is better than any Blues forward, Juuse Saros should finish stronger than Jordan Binnington, and Roman Josi could walk onto any blue line and serve as their top player (save for perhaps the Colorado Avalanche).

Nashville has too talent to not wind up in the thick of it when all is said and done. Others like Ryan O’Reilly and Gustav Nyquist finding a second wind on their new team only helps that cause.

They'll need to have their depth players continue to produce and see consistency out of veterans like Ryan McDonagh, but they certainly have the horses to stay tight in the race.