We’re only about a dozen games away from the playoffs and things are getting pretty interesting.
Both Wild Card races are now officially contentious after looking like they would only end up appearing contentious. Columbus actually is figuring it out, Arizona is peaking at the right time, and you can honestly see any of the seven teams still in it occupying playoff spots a week from now.
Meanwhile, the divisional races look really interesting too. Calgary and San Jose, Winnipeg and Nashville, Washington and New York, all separated by a single game, or less. This is crunch time, and it kicks ass.
Joanna asks: “What’s the likelihood that the Coyotes actually make it into the playoffs?”
Less than 50 percent, I think.
Both MoneyPuck and The Athletic have them in the 43-46 percent range, and that sounds about right. They’re going to make a real honest run, and to be fair those numbers are climbing quickly. Up 11 percent in five days and 21 percent in a week, respectively.
I can see it being a coin flip at the end of the season but in this run — 12-4-0 in the last 16 — they’re not actually playing great hockey. Way below water in Corsi, shots, Fenwick, you name it. They’re not even scoring a lot, less than three goals a night. It’s the goaltending from Darcy Kuemper (.938 in the run) that’s keeping them afloat.
Can it last another month? Tough to say but probably not. I’ve always liked him fine but no one’s .940 over a long enough timeline, y’know?
Joseph asks via email: “Is there any oddity you’ve thought of that you always wanted to see in an NHL game that has never happened?”
Johnny Gaudreau’s six-point game the other night reminded me that I just want to see someone absolutely go off for either a double-hat trick or 10 points in a game.
We haven’t had a six-goal game since the bicentennial, but Patrik Laine had five earlier this year. There have only been three five-goal games in the cap era (Johan Franzen and Marian Gaborik also had them).
Meanwhile, 10 points in a game has famously only happened once, for Darryl Sittler. No one else ever had more than eight. Shoutout to Sam Gagner for doing it in 2012, though.
I’d also accept a 60-save shutout, but y’know. One time, Ben Scrivens stopped all 59 against the Sharks. That was a wild night.
But yeah, that’s my answer.
Kyle asks: “Who is the most likely team in the East that would even have a shot at toppling Tampa?”
It’s probably Boston, right? Second-best team in the conference by record, good goalie who can absolutely get hot for seven games, elite top line, decent depth (obviously not on Tampa’s level), strong defense, good coach.
That’s not to say I think Boston wins any series like that, and probably Washington, who just did it last year, could give them problems. But still, the Bruins are 1-1 against the Bolts with one more to go; the win was a 4-1 blowout a couple weeks ago, in which Boston outshot them 41-21. The loss was 3-2 with a 35-30 shot advantage for the B’s.
It’s not out of the question. But I guess that’s true of any series between any two teams in this dumb sport.
Rhys asks: “’Who will be GM?’ is obviously the most important question for the Oilers, but they also don’t have a head coach under contract for next season. Who will it be? Who should it be?”
Depends a lot on who the GM is, because if after Bob Nicholson completes his Thorough Search he hires another Hockey Canada guy who thinks the best coach is, like, Mike Kennan, well that wouldn’t surprise me at all.
But who it should be is a really interesting question. Sheldon Keefe seems like an obvious candidate if the Leafs would part with him willingly. Maybe Dave Tippett, who I always thought got a raw deal in Arizona. Couldn’t be totally shocked if the Oilers did what a number of other teams have done recently and gone with a less conventional candidate, like a college coach.
They probably go with someone established, though. You can’t risk blowing another year, or two, or three of McDavid. And if you can get Quenneville, I don’t know why you wouldn’t.
Phil asks: “If you could add or change one NHL rule, what would it be?”
I feel like I’ve been asked this one a lot before, but there are a lot of things I’d change so let’s just doing a clearinghouse. If we’re talking straight up rules, in order of importance to me: Eliminate offside, eliminate fighting, eliminate offside review, make overtime 10 minutes, make regulation hockey 4-on-4, eliminate open-ice checking, eliminate checking altogether.
And if we’re talking about how the league works: 3-2-1-0 points system, go with a 1-16 playoff format, give players a 60-40 split of revenues.
Corsi asks: “How worried should Calgary be about goaltending in the playoffs?”
Yeah so the answer here is, “A lot.”
Here are Rittich and Smith’s save percentages by month:
October: .939, .879
November: .911, .895
December: .915, .899
January: .911, .888
February: .884, .919
March: .879, .878
When your team goaltending down the stretch (i.e. post-All-Star break) is that bad, your chances of even winning one playoff round aren’t great. Rittich seems to have turned back into a pumpkin after spending most of the season propping the team up with slightly-above-average goaltending.
The Flames, by the way, haven’t been great in front of these guys over the last 10 or so games, but with even average goaltending they’d been in good enough shape to coast into the playoffs. Now, not so much.
Graham asks: “Are you buying the evolution of Tom Wilson or are we in an extended quiet period between major flare-ups?”
Well it’s interesting, right? Because the big story around his comeback from that lengthy suspension was that he was playing at a level to leave all the Haters speechless. Hard to argue: 13-9-22 in 24 games is real good, even it comes with the acknowledgement that he was scoring at an unsustainable pace (23.2 percent shooting).
Since then, he’s on 6-7-13 in his last 27 games, which is still an okay pace (39 points per 82 games) but definitely more in line with what we think Tom Wilson is. And that’s not to say he’s been on his best behavior, since the NHL now feels like it has to implement a rule to keep people from sucker-punching opponents like he did to Ian Cole. So that’s him getting off on a technicality, when he honestly doesn’t deserve to have that kind of leeway given who he is.
Basically I feel like because of who Tom Wilson is, how he plays, and the kind of money he makes, he’s always going to be a big points drought away from trying to murder someone as a means of “earning his keep” or whatever. No coincidence, I think, that Wilson went 1-2-3 in the 11 games leading up to the suspension-worthy beating he laid on Cole.
So yeah, I’m never going to be convinced that he’s not just trying to hurt people out there, even if he’s scoring more than he ever has.
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All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise. Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.