Now or Never

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American Thanksgiving falls on the 4th Thursday of November.

This year that Thursday falls on November 27th.

It also coincides roughly with the end of the first quarter of the NHL season and for almost every team in the league, the first 20 games determine who will taste playoff success and who won’t.

“The magic playoff number seemed to be 21 points. Those with at least 21 points were more likely to make the playoffs. Those with 20 or fewer points were more likely to miss.

The extra point — introduced for overtime losses in the 1999-2000 season — changed very little statistically. In the five seasons before the extra point was introduced, 63 of 80 playoff teams (78.8 per cent) were in a playoff spot. In the five years afterwards, 61 of 80 (76.3 per cent) were in the same spot.

New rules introduced after the lockout – including the introduction of the shootout — also changed little. In the five years since the lockout, 62 of 80 of playoff teams (77.5 per cent) were in a playoff spot by the fourth Thursday of November.”

Source

In the Western Conference, I think we can group the teams into age categories that should help simplify the actual chances of teams making the playoffs or not.

The Locks:

It would take several acts of God for these teams to miss the playoffs:

Los Angeles

Chicago

Anaheim

St. Louis

4 of the playoff spots in the WC are already gone folks so we’re looking at 12 teams vying for 4 spots. Who is in the next tier?

The Contenders:

I’m going to go out on a bit of limb here (not really) and predict that 5 teams from the Central Division will make the playoffs this season and I’ll tell you why.

We’ve already accounted for Chicago and St. Louis so we have the following in the order I think they will finish:

Dallas – The Stars are the most improved team in the league with the addition of Spezza and Hemsky. They’re deep down the middle have a passable D and decent goaltending.

Minnesota – The Wild added Thomas Vanek to address scoring, Mikael Granlund is an emerging star and Matt Dumba had an outstanding training camp. Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula and Jason Zucker add developing depth and scoring.

Colorado  – The Avalanche rode percentages last year and are likely to falter somewhat but a top 6 that includes Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay should be able to outscore almost any other problems.

That’s 7 playoff spots already accounted for kids…there’s only ONE left!

The Hopefuls:

To my mind, the only real playoff race (despite what the Bettman point tells you) is between only 2 teams.

San Jose – The Sharks had a tumultuous offseason in which they stripped the captaincy from Joe Thornton, inexplicably added John Scott and then….nothing. The Sharks remain, however, a deep, extremely talented team who could challenge the top group or fade away.

Vancouver – The Canucks have a new President, GM, coach, assistant coaches and second line centre. The also added some secondary scoring but, let’s be honest, to make the playoffs, the Sedins will have to rebound in a big way and Willie Desjardins will have to get their power play back to among the league’s best if the Canucks are going to make it.

Based solely on skill, I have to give the nod to the Sharks here but the Canucks and Sharks play each other 5 times this season and the team that prevails in that series likely makes the dance while the other goes home. Those 5 games should be treated like game 7’s in the Stanley Cup finals since each game will likely have a deciding impact on the standings.

The Rabble:

Occasionally, a team will rise up from the depths and surprise everyone with their performance as Colorado did last season. Are any of the other teams in the WC capable of that feat?

Nashville – To my eye…this is the most unpredictable team in the WC.  They’ve added much needed scoring in James Neal, Mike Ribiero  and a raft of second tier centres. Their D and goaltending are solid but their forward depth is a question mark. Likely close but no cigar.

Phoenix – Weren’t good enough last year and got worse in the offseason.

Winnipeg – The Jets should be better but likely not enough to close the gap on 8th place.

Calgary –  The Flames are better than you think but a long, long way from a playoff contender. They should be fun to watch though.

Edmonton – If the Oilers won 10 more games this season than last, they would still miss the playoffs by 5 or 6 points. They won’t win 10 more games.

So, to me the races will really be between San Jose and Vancouver for the final playoff spot and who will finish last in the division.

I think the Coyotes will finally implode this offseason while Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Nashville jostle for the Best of the Worst.

We’ll have a pretty good idea by the 27th of November.

 

 

 

 

 

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