March 05, 2010
The Olympic torch has been snuffed. The trade
dud deadline has passed. The focus is squarely on the playoff races in the NHL, which means your focus should be back on Sports Club Stats' playoff percentages site, an addictive collection of daily-changing numbers that predict (through weighted methodology) who's in and who's toast in the postseason hunt.
Take a look at the East. As of Friday morning, the Washington Capitals have a 100 percent chance of taking the top seed in the conference, while the New Jersey Devils are still favored to place second overall. The Buffalo Sabres appear locked into the No. 3 seed, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are the logical No. 4 at the moment.
After that: crapshoot city. The Philadelphia Flyers and Ottawa Senators are great bets to make the cut as either the fifth or sixth seeds. The Boston Bruins, Atlanta Thrashers, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning linger on the bubble. It's a hell of a race for the final two spots.
But all of this has happened before and will happen again. There are discernable post-deadline trends for teams, as The Falconer discovered in what's probably the best bit of hockey blogging you're going to read today over on Bird Watchers Anonymous. He looks back at the previous four playoff races in the East and draws a few interesting conclusions that indicate whose bubble will pop this season.
And it's looking like it won't be Atlanta's.
First, here' The Falconer on the state of the race before the trade deadline (who's the enterprising blogger that'll do this for the West?):
Based on past patterns any team with a 3 point lead or greater is highly likely to make the post-season, so I count 6 likely playoff teams including the Flyers. Much like last year that leaves a desperate scramble of four teams (BOS, ATL, NYR, MON) for the last 2 berths. Tampa has an outside chance but they would need to play .750 hockey the rest of the way to have any shot. At the Trade Deadline, Montreal had more points but other teams like the Thrashers have as many as 3 games in hand on them. If you look at points, Montreal is in 7th, but if you look at Win % they are in 10th--that's how close the East is this year.
As you can see, Thursday night's games already flipped some names around in the standings, something that'll continue until the end of the regular season we're sure.
Two interesting findings from the study:
It is extremely difficult for a team to make up ground after the Trade Deadline. If you're not within a point or two of 8th place on Trade Day the odds of making the post-season are very tough.
The other interesting finding:
No team with a 4 point cushion on Trade Day has collapsed and fallen out of the playoffs.
Over in the West, the Nashville Predators had a 3-point cushion on the eight seed on deadline day. Sports Club Stats says there's currently a 15 percent chance the Preds miss the postseason, so the odds are in their favor. But again, based on the schedule for March and April, it won't be easy; especially with three games each against the Detroit Red Wings and the St. Louis Blues remaining.
If this were Vegas and we left the brothel long enough to place a wager, we'd go with Nashville and Detroit getting the last seeds in the West and Boston and the Thrashers making the final two spots in the East.
Why Atlanta? Check out the Thrashers' schedule for March and April. Five games against the Hurricanes and the Maple Leafs, and an entire April slate against teams that might not have anything to play for at that point. Meanwhile, the Rangers have to close against the Flyers. (The Habs are another team with a favorable schedule, but those Leafs games take on a different dynamic for them.)
It would be an enormous kick to see Atlanta, in a season in which they were forced to deal their franchise player, make the postseason cut with a rag-tag group. They'd likely be a sacrifice to the Capitals, but who cares? Even two playoff home games would be two more than most thought the Thrashers would play this season.
For more on why the Thrashers will make the cut, check out Anjul Virk on The Hockey Writers, who also loves the Atlanta schedule down the stretch. John Anderson for Jack Adams!