NHL Mailbag: Which wild card team is most likely to pull the upset?

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Three weeks from the playoffs. Lots of teams are locked into their spots with only a little remaining wiggle room. Others are fighting like hell to stay alive or get prime seeding.

But weirdly, I got a lot of hypothetical and theory types of questions, so I went with those, mostly. You gotta keep the audience happy, folks. No point in trying to outsmart anyone.

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Let’s go:

Jacob asks: “Which wildcard do you think is most likely to upset a top seed?”

Obviously it depends on how things shake out the rest of the way, but as I write this ahead of Wednesday’s games, the wild card matchups are Washington/Carolina, Tampa/Columbus, Arizona/Calgary, and Winnipeg/Dallas.

Of that group, I think it’s pretty clear that Washington/Carolina is the closest to a coin flip. Doesn’t even really need much explanation. Both teams are really good and Carolina is only in its current situation because of some really rotten shooting luck and bad goaltending for the first chunk of the season. No reason to think they aren’t as good as or even better than any team in the Metro.

But with that said, I can see either Western series being an upset as well. Both Arizona and Dallas have hot goaltending right now, and the latter has all year. Both the Flames and Jets are visibly flawed, too. Calgary in net, Winnipeg at the back end and perhaps in net as well depending upon how you feel about Hellebuyck. So, just something to think about.

(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

John’s Dad asks: “What are the teams most likely to land Coach Q?”

Joel Quenneville gave an interview this week saying he still wants to coach and you’d think every open job in the league would be available to him. Right now I think it’s safe to say there are likely to be five openings this summer for sure (LA, Edmonton, Philly, Anaheim, Ottawa). Doubt Quenneville takes either of the last two, and probably not LA either.

Edmonton, well, there’s the McDavid factor. Can’t be discounted. Philly is probably more interesting than that for a few reasons. But you also have to think about the jobs that could open up. Buffalo? That would be a decent situation for him, I’d think. Maybe Columbus? Minnesota? Hell, they’re even saying “maybe Toronto” now.

But of the for-sure vacancies, I think it’s Philly then a decent gap before you hit Edmonton. But this is probably a better question for June.

Kelly asks: “Who should Vegas be hoping for in Round 1?”

Probably San Jose, right? The way they handled the Sharks on Monday night was terrifyingly easy, wasn’t it? They’ve played the Flames twice since the deadline and split with them, winning narrowly, then losing 6-3.

They have one more date with the Sharks, on March 30, and that’ll be telling. But the extent to which they made Micheal Haley lose his mind and Martin Jones look like an AHL backup can’t be discounted here.

Yann asks via email: “Do you think an increase in scoring (seen each of the last two years) is a new trend, based on strong underlyings, or do you expect a regression soon with Dead Puck Era III looming?”

I wrote about this a bit earlier in the season. Things haven’t changed much since then. Shooting’s actually down this year, but it’s up from where it was five years ago. Save percentages peaked at .915 in 2014-15, held steady the next season, then dropped in each of the last three.

Just as I once wrote a take I can’t find anymore saying that maybe .915 is the most you can expect from a group of 40 or so goalies in modern hockey, I’d think there’s a natural point at which save percentages with this goalie crop drop to a level they can’t sink beneath. Is it this year’s .909? Or .905? Or even .905?

I’m not sure. But if we end up hovering in the .907-.912 range for a while, as long as the rules stay as-is I won’t be surprised.

Telfo asks: “Would it be better to have the best PK and worst PP in the league, or vice versa?”

It depends on how often you take or draw penalties, obviously. But if we’re just taking a league-average team that draws as many as it commits, or thereabouts:

Teams usually commit or draw about 250 a season, which is a nice round number. The best power play in the league is usually somewhere between 24-26 percent. The worst is usually in the 14-16 percent range. That gives you a “best” range of 60-65, and a “worst” range of 35-40.

On the other hand, the best PKs usually run at about 85 or 86 percent, and the worst are usually something like 73-74 percent. Potential range of 33-35 and 65-68 against. So you can see that the best PKs allow slightly fewer goals than the best power plays score.

So your special teams net is going to be roughly the same either way, but you’re probably gonna come out a couple goals ahead if you have the best PK and worst PP.

Phil asks: “Best three and worst three retro jerseys?”

This comes up because the Flames are reportedly bringing back their “White C” retros full-time in 2020-21 (because of NHL rules about formalizing the process of changing uniforms a couple years in advance). The problem is that a lot of teams have no recognized that their old jerseys were their best ones and have reverted back to them, at least for thirds, as the Flames did. So have the Coyotes and Blues. And Sabres. And Caps.

I’m also not going to count, like, Whalers or Nordiques or North Stars jerseys because those teams aren’t bringing them back permanently. Or third jerseys.

I’d lean toward the Forum blue Kings jerseys (no shoulder caps) from the 70s and as much as I like the current Bruins jerseys, they should go back to the Neely days, including bringing back that ugly-ass bear.

As far as the three worst: Buffaslug, Deep Vs, and Blue Caps.

Brandon asks: “Pretend the NHL has a loan system and you can take any three players from non-playoff teams and put them on playoff teams for the postseason. Who would you put where?”

In the interest of making already-good teams Cup competitive, rather than beefing up lost causes: John Gibson to San Jose, Connor McDavid to Nashville, and Drew Doughty to Toronto.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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.

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