Anyone who bets on sports is an idiot. An individual player’s performance can be affected by many things: an injury, an accident, an illness, depression, loss of confidence, practice, an addiction, divorce, a fight with a girlfriend, a death in the family. Not to mention luck. The difference between a goal and a goalpost is less than an inch. Multiply that by the couple of dozen players on an NHL team, and the variables are enormous. Then add team dynamics into the mix: coaching, personality clashes, compatibility of playing styles, trades, scheduling, etc.
So why do I think the Vancouver Canucks will make the playoffs next year? The Canucks finished dead last in the North (Canadian) Division this year. Why would I expect them to do better next year?
There are several reasons. First, it is unlikely that their top offensive player, Elias Pettersson will miss most of the next season due to an injury as he did this year. The Canucks finished the year with half of their forwards injured. That is unlikely to happen next year.
Second, the Canucks will not likely be struck down with COVID-19 next year. Almost the entire team became sick mid-season. The lingering effects of the disease and the brutally compressed schedule that followed devastated their chances of success.
Third, the Canucks have some good young players likely to join the team next year, including Vasili Podkolzin and Jack Rathbone.
But the most compelling reason the Canucks will make the playoffs next year is that they will be in the Pacific Division next year, not the Canadian Division. (The divisions were temporarily realigned this year due to COVID.) There are eight teams in the Pacific Division, and four will make the playoffs. Only seven teams had worse records than the Canucks this year, but three of them are in the Pacific Division. The California teams—San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks—are struggling to rebuild while saddled with bad contracts (large contracts being paid to declining veterans). One or more of them could rebuild enough to have a successful season next year, but the odds are that it will take longer than that.
The Calgary Flames, whose players did not have COVID, finished only five points ahead of Vancouver and are facing a rebuild after another disappointing season.
The expansion Seattle Kraken are also in the Pacific Division. Expansion teams usually do not do well. General managers of other teams will be better prepared and will likely handle the expansion draft better than they did the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft a few years ago. Seattle’s draft choices are unlikely to produce at a higher level than expected, as Vegas’s did. Seattle is therefore unlikely to repeat the instant success Vegas enjoyed.
The Edmonton Oilers are the seventh team in the Pacific Division, a team with two superstars and some obvious weaknesses. Vancouver won three of nine games against Edmonton this past year. I do not expect the Canucks to pass Edmonton in the standings next year, but they will at least get some points out of the games. The Vegas Golden Knights are expected to win the division.
The bottom line is that there are five teams that the Vancouver Canucks have a decent chance of surpassing next year, and they only have to outplay four of them. That is why I am confident that the Vancouver Canucks will make the NHL playoffs next year. But I wouldn’t bet on it.