With the exception of the Scotiabank North Division, the NHL has seen tremendous battles for division supremacy all season long. The Honda West Division has been no exception to the rule thanks to the back-and-forth between the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche, plus the late push coming from the Minnesota Wild. But with just eight games left on the schedule, Vegas has firmly planted its flag atop the mountain and is daring anyone to come and get it.
This is no slight to either Colorado or Minnesota, two very good hockey teams. But at this point, a red-hot VGK team would have to actually reverse course and slump to not finish atop the HWD. Here’s the breakdown as I see it.
The Golden Knights and Avalanche have only one more meeting this season which doesn’t give the Avs any real opportunity to make up ground there, so that helps.
Vegas has two games against the struggling Arizona Coyotes but then finishes the season with five of the team’s last six games against playoff-ready Minnesota, Colorado and the surging St. Louis Blues. Not an easy gauntlet to navigate and could be a bump in the road heading into the playoffs.
In fact, I expect Vegas to get through this final stretch with a few losses and that’s ok. Over the last eight I could see a mark of 6-2 or 5-3, and that’s still enough to win the division. Keep in mind that with the current cushion (six points on both Colorado and Minnesota as of Friday morning) if the Golden Knights only lose twice before the end of the season they lock everyone out by winning a ROW tiebreak with the Avs.
The real question left in the division is if Minnesota, which has played two fewer games than the Avalanche, can get to second or if they’re locked into a third seed. Either way, it would lead to a potential Avalanche – Wild first-round matchup, which would be one of the best series out there. I’m a big believer in the quality of the Wild and think they have a chance at an upset or two if teams take them too lightly.
When the dust settles, I expect that the division will appear exactly as it does now, leaving the Golden Knights with a first-round matchup with the St. Louis Blues and a Honda West Division title. In fact, if the Vegas Golden Knights can win seven of the last eight games they will wrap up a President’s Trophy as the best team in the league.
This is the most fun time of the year to be a hockey fan. Enjoy the ride.