What We Learned: Are NHL playoffs really almost set?

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(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how all the long winning streaks in the NHL this season have made a lot of the season a fait accompli: there’s already a sizable gap between the playoff teams in most divisions and their closest competitors.

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Entering the Christmas break is a pretty good point at which to evaluate the situation, because everyone’s off and a lot of teams are within two or three games of each other in terms of what they’ve played so far. And in the East, for example, there’s a seven-point gap between the last widl card team (Philadelphia) and the first non-playoff team (Carolina). There’s an even bigger gap between the last team in the Atlantic (Boston) and its next-closest divisional rival (Tampa).

In the West things are slightly tighter, but not by much. Calgary and Los Angeles has a tenuous three-point lead on both Nashville and Dallas, and both those teams have games in hand of the Flames. Everyone else seems pretty comfortable in their current positions except, maybe, Anaheim, which has two extra points in one extra game played on the Kings.

Point being: We’re talking about maybe three playoff positions, all in the West, that are really up for grabs at this point. And that’s if we think Dallas and Nashville continue to struggle on the road as they have to this point. It is, just as a reminder, the day after Christmas, and no team in the league is particularly close to having played even half its schedule yet. So for things to be this sewn-up is pretty weird.

Remember, most of the time you’re going to need about 92 points to hit that last postseason spot in the current playoff format. Because of all the winning streaks, six teams are already halfway there through only about 40 percent of their schedules, so they’re at significant advantages and all but assured a playoff berth unless they collapse completely. So to once again illustrate how much of a gap to overcome even three points can be, here is every team’s current point total, along with their games remaining and the 82-game pace at which they will have to play to reach the 92-point cutoff.

Highlighted in yellow are the only teams that appear to be legitimately on the bubble.

NHL
NHL

The Metro, as has been discussed at length, is basically all locked in. If your fifth-best team needs to only play at an 86-point pace or so for 46 games to make the postseason they’re pretty much all set. The Atlantic is closer. Tampa is certainly capable of playing at a 96-point pace, and Boston is only three points up with an extra game played. Both of these scenarios seem at least a little likely (as does Ottawa crashing and burning).

Interestingly, Philadelphia is one of the worst expected-goals teams in the league — sandwiched between Calgary and Vancouver is not where you want to be, for sure — while Carolina is currently ranked ninth. But at some point you have to use your brain a bit: The Flyers have a talent level that the Hurricanes can’t really match yet this year, and also Carolina has only been this good because Cam Ward is basically a league-average goalie for the first time in years. Because the gap is so big and based on what we know to expect from both teams, it’s probable that even if they start playing to the level of their performances so far this year, it would be hard to bridge the gap.

Then there’s the Western Conference, where the only playoff drama will even come close to happening this year. Based on the numbers, and obviously what we know about the quality of players both teams have, I think it’s pretty easy to say the only likely outcome in the Western wild card race to shake anything up would be Nashville overtaking Calgary. The Predators are currently the fifth-best expected-goals team in the league at 5-on-5, while Calgary is sixth-worst. The Flames have the obvious benefit of being in the worst division in the league this year, while Nashville will be in a knife fight for most of its remaining 49 games, but even still I’d lean toward the Preds closing the gap thanks mainly to its games in hand.

This is not what the NHL wants. It wants robust competition throughout the season. It’s just not getting it. However, this could make things a little more interesting for the networks that have trade deadline shows, because there is now a very clear divide between the teams that are likely to be looking for help and teams looking to sell that help at a high price.

It leads one to wonder how soon a team like the Islanders, Jets, or Sabres start putting for-sale signs over some of their older players’ stalls, or whether a team like Vancouver and Detroit realize it’s time to try to blow it up and sell accordingly.

It’s also interesting to think about whether clubs like Columbus, Ottawa or Edmonton will be buyers. It would be pretty tough for them to lose their playoff spots at this point, so it’s definitely something they need to consider carefully over the next month and a half. After all, these are teams that seem likely to make the postseason but not necessarily get as far as they might think, so pursuit of players to “help” might be a misallocation of resources.

The good news is that most of those would-be buyers have played so well to this point that their GMs can really focus on that issue alone; they don’t really need to worry about their teams as they’re currently constituted any more.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: This is not a take with which I can agree.

Arizona Coyotes: It only took Shane Doan 30 years in the league to hit 400 goals.

Boston Bruins: You gotta give the Bruins credit: No one thought their defense was any good, but they’re very much making it work.

Buffalo Sabres: This is a nice picture!!!

Calgary Flames: Yeah playing the Canucks will make you feel a lot better about yourself than you really should.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes are really good at home lately, winning nine of their last 10 there. Having your ice replaced by the mix they use to make Slurpees can give you a serious advantage.

Chicago: Jonathan Toews scored his first goal in 13 games so he’s back to being the best player in the world.

Colorado Avalanche: Hey remember Nathan MacKinnon? He’s still in the league (but only has nine goals in 33 games)! Wow.

Columbus Blue Jackets: There’s a stat called “quality start” in which a goalie has a save percentage greater than the league average. Sergei Bobrovsky’s quality start percentage is 75. His career average is 60. Good lord.

Dallas Stars: The Stars beat the Kings in OT and now they’re feeling like it could be the start of something. It isn’t not, anyway.

Detroit Red Wings: Just give it up, guys.

Edmonton Oilers: Who could have guessed that Jonas Gustavsson would be, y’know, not good? Big big big big big shocker.

Florida Panthers: What a nice man. May he never be surpassed.

Los Angeles Kings: That OT loss to the Stars? It was the Kings’ first OT loss all year.

Minnesota Wild: It’s almost like Bruce Boudreau is an elite coach whose teams are literally always really good.

Montreal Canadiens: World Junior in Montreal means the Canadiens have a long road trip ahead.

Nashville Predators: Blessings to my large son!!!!

New Jersey Devils: The Devils are on an even worse pace than they were last year. Yikes.

New York Islanders:Nearly shut out” is a good way to put “gave up a goal.”

New York Rangers: So is calling any Rangers losing streak “stunning.”

Ottawa Senators: The Sens have four straight wins? Hockey sure is weird sometimes.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers’ blue line has more goals than any team defense in the league, not due to a “tweak in mindset” but beause they have a lot of talent for a full season for once.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins have a lot of good young role players. It’s almost like that’s a requirement to be elite in the league these days.

San Jose Sharks: “Sharks lead the division as of Christmas” sounds about right.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues are six games below .500 on the road right now. They have two home losses. That’s bonkers.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Brian Boyle rules. Wonder what he gets this summer.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Jhonas Enroth and his .872 save percentage are back, baby!!!!

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks’ first line hasn’t been great. Totally unforeseeable.

Vegas Golden Knights: Oooo put their AHL team in Quebec.

Washington Capitals: These Oshie shirts aren’t good. Sorry.

Winnipeg Jets: Now this is the guy who should’ve gotten the big picture of the queen.

Play of the Weekend

This isn’t from the weekend but whatever here’s a good goal. Guess you could say this was…….. money in Labanc.

Gold Star Award

AFP
AFP

It’s World Junior time folks! Oh heck yeah.

Minus of the Weekend

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Getty Images

Which means we’ll have to listen to how Canada is so good. Heck no.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “MartinLetain21” is losing it.

To Colorado

D Jake Muzzin

F Dustin Brown (2 mill retained)

To Los Angeles

F Gabe Landeskog

D Chris Bigras

F Andreas Martinsen

Signoff

Buy me Bonestorm or go to hell.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.


 

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