The Oilers Can Catch the Canucks for the Pacific Division Lead


Jan 16, 2024

We are at the halfway point of the NHL season for all intents and purposes. Sure, a few teams have played more than 41 games, while several others have fallen below the official halfway threshold, but effectively, this is as close as we are going to get. 

Several compelling narratives have emerged from the first half of the season. The Corey Perry drama continues to unfold. Pierre Dorion was removed as Ottawa Senator’s GM, and several coaches are already searching the Help Wanted pages.

But as exciting as the first few months have been, we have yet to get a taste of just how intense things will get. 

Wide Open Races

That’s because the NHL races remain wide open across the board. No one is walking away with any player awards, the top teams continue to battle for position atop the Stanley Cup futures board, and every division race is still up for grabs. 

Among those is the battle for Pacific Division supremacy. The Vancouver Canucks have staked themselves to an early lead, but our analysis supports the Edmonton Oilers are worth backing in the betting market.

Vancouver’s Unsustainable Play

The Canucks have been nothing if not unsustainable. Vancouver has exceeded its wildest expectations this season, outperforming their expected goals for rating while delivering the highest PDO in recent memory. 

Analytically, the Nucks are a middle-of-the-road team. They’ve compiled a 50.2% expected goals-for rating through the first 43 games of the season, placing them 15th among 32 NHL teams. Conversely, they are operating at an actual rate of 61.5%, second-best in the league. 

Consequently, that has inflated Vancouver’s PDO beyond sustainable levels. The Canucks benchmark of 1.050 is nearly two points higher than the next-closest team, well ahead of the Boston Bruins’ league-leading PDO of 1.036 last season. 

Inevitably, those metrics will start working back into normal ranges, bringing more losses with them. 

Surging Oilers

Edmonton is no longer the buy-low team they were in the first few months of the season, but there is still plenty of value to be had in backing them in certain futures markets. 

The Oilers have re-captured the elite form that vaulted them near the top of the NHL standings in 2022-23. Still, their underlying metrics support that they have yet to reach their pinnacle.

Elite Analytics

No team can match wits with the Oilers’ brass. Edmonton’s new coaching staff has maintained this team’s elite analytics profile while leveling up output. As we’ve seen during the Oilers’ ten-game winning streak, no one can skate with them when the Oilers are at their best. 

So far this season, Edmonton has put together a league-best 58.1% expected goals-for rating, sitting two points ahead of the next closest team. For reference, the difference between Edmonton and the second-place Los Angeles Kings is equal to the difference between LA and the sixth-place New Jersey Devils. 

But with a PDO still hovering below 1.000, Edmonton’s upward trajectory is expected to continue.

Pacific Division Considerations

As it stands, the Canucks are a robust 14-points up on the Oilers; however, there are a few essential considerations to make. 

First, Edmonton has four games in hand. They must make the most of those opportunities, but at best, they could be just six points back of Vancouver as the schedules condense. 

Second, Vancouver has a daunting schedule to end the season. The Canucks have 13 games against divisional opponents remaining, with nine of those coming against the Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, or Vegas Golden Knights.

Finally, the Canucks have a dismal 8-5-3 record in one-goal games. With a tougher schedule on the horizon, we could see Vancouver start to crack under the added pressure.

Final Thoughts

The NHL remains the most chaotic professional sport. And we’re expecting that to be illustrated in some of the second-half results. 

Vancouver has substantially overachieved relative to underlying metrics, inflating their analytics beyond sustainable levels. However, we’re just starting to see how good Edmonton can be. Even though they would have to leapfrog the Knights and Kings to get there, we like the Oilers’ chances of claiming their first division title in 37 years. 

At +420 or better, it’s time to make space on the Oilers bandwagon.

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Thumbnail photo via Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

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