The trade deadline is behind us, but if you’re looking for analysis on what happened, we’ve produced several articles on the subject. I talked about the trade deadline winners and losers, Gus Katsaros looked at the aftermath of the trade deadline from an analytics perspective, and Corey Abbott focused on the fantasy impact for the players dealt.
With the deadline past though, there are no more major events standing between us and the end of the season. Each team has between 20 and 16 games left, so we’re truly in the final push in the battle for playoff spots. The remaining Fantasy Nuggets are going to be covering that subject in one way or another, but this week let’s start by focusing on an overview of where the battle stands.
We’ll start with the Metropolitan Division, which has been extremely competitive this season. The Penguins have lost four straight games (37-19-6), which has allowed Washington (39-18-6) to capture first place in the Division. However, the Penguins are still very much in the battle for the top spot and Philadelphia (36-20-7) as well as the Islanders (35-20-7) can’t be ruled out either. I’m going to be keeping a close eye on the Islanders in particular, who have underwhelmed since their 22-7-2 start to the campaign, but could really dial it up in the final weeks.
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At this time it also seems like that both of the Wild Card spots are going to be won by Metropolitan teams. Currently Columbus (31-20-14) holds the second Wild Card seed, but Carolina (35-23-4) is just two points behind and has played three fewer games. Columbus, in part due to injuries, has struggled mightily as of late, dropping nine of their last 10 games. Going into the campaign, not much was expected of the Blue Jackets, so from that perspective it’s impressive that they’re even playing meaningful games this late into the campaign. However, given how strong a position Columbus was in before the slump, it’s hard for fans to settle for that silver lining right now.
The Rangers (34-24-4) are the big X-Factor in the division. They’ve clawed their way back into the playoff picture by posting a 15-6-0 record from Jan. 7th onward. The Rangers were sellers at the deadline in spite of their hot play, but they might still be able to claw their way into the postseason.
The Atlantic Division is something of a mess. Boston (39-13-12) and Tampa Bay (40-18-5) are locks to make the playoffs and the only question there is which takes the top seed. That battle has value though as the winner of it is also likely to claim the Presidents’ Trophy and guarantee home ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
Toronto (33-23-8) is a very distant third. The Leafs have been wildly inconsistent, but fortunately for them their primary competitor, the Florida Panthers (33-24-6) haven’t been any better. With the Metropolitan Division’s hold on the two Wild Card slots, only one of Toronto and Florida is likely to make the playoffs. The Maple Leafs and Panthers are playing against each other Thursday night, so that game has obvious playoff implications. Montreal (29-27-9) and Buffalo (29-26-8) are still somewhat in the playoff picture too, mostly just because of Toronto and Florida’s underwhelming play, but there’s probably too little time left in the season for the Canadiens or Sabres to squeak into the playoffs.
Moving onto the Western Conference, the defending champion St. Louis Blues (37-17-10) have won five straight games, which gives them the lead in the Central Division. It’s far from a secure position though as the Colorado Avalanche (37-18-7) are similarly red hot and the Avalanche are just three points back from the Blues despite having played two less games. Dallas (37-20-6) has also been performing well lately and is very much in that battle. Those three teams are all likely to finish between the first and third seeds in the division given how big a gap there is between them and Nashville (31-23-8). The Predators have been pretty good lately too and despite what’s been a largely disappointing season, they still have a real chance of squeaking in as a Wild Card squad. Winnipeg (32-2-6) and Minnesota (30-25-7) can’t be dismissed either, though certainly their paths to the playoffs are less appealing at this point than the Predators. The Jets in particular are a tough one to really evaluate this season. There’s so much talent on that team, but their defense was in a bad state even before the season started, so while their position is somewhat disappointing, it’s not shocking.
The Pacific Division is pretty much wide open with just eight points separating the first and fifth place squads. Vegas currently leads the charge with a 35-22-8 record. Vancouver (34-22-6) and Edmonton (33-23-8) are still very much in the fight for the top seed, but the Golden Knights are starting to pull away after winning seven consecutive games. Meanwhile, the Oilers and Canucks have just been sort of treading water lately.
Calgary (33-25-6) has managed to endure the absence of captain Mark Giordano this month. With Giordano set to return very soon, possibly even on Thursday, the Flames are very well positioned to clinch the playoffs. Currently they hold the first Wild Card spot, but they’re also within striking distance of a Pacific Division seed.
The big X-Factor here is Arizona (31-27-8). The Coyotes rolled the dice when they acquired rental Taylor Hall all the way back in December, but they ultimately might fall short of the playoffs. They’re still very much in the race, but with fewer games remaining (16) than any other team, they’re going to need a strong finish to advance. The Coyotes still have a lot of young talent, so this is far from a do-or-die season for them, but the Hall acquisition did raise the stakes and so far they haven’t come through.