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Playoff spots at the Thanksgiving marker

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An unofficial mile marker of the NHL season is the teams that pull away even by Thanksgiving

NHL: NOV 27 Canucks at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

An interesting marker of the NHL season is already upon us with Thanksgiving.

Last year, however only 11 of 16 teams in playoff spots in Thanksgiving ended up staying in them by the end of the season in April. In the East, Buffalo, New York Rangers and Montreal all faded from being in a playoff spot on turkey day, and ended up just being turkeys watching the playoffs by spring.

And, last year, for what it’s worth, the Penguins were at 8-8-4, just 20 points in the standings through 20 games and down towards the bottom of the conference and out of a playoff spot.

So it’s in the “for what it’s worth” column since we do have almost 70% of the season left to go. No team is mathematically out of contention, obviously, but a lot of what is falling into place by this point in the season will be tough to reverse. Here’s a look at the east right now:

The Pens are in clearly a much better position than they were 12 months ago at this time as a .500 type of team. It’s also interesting that right now the Metro holds both wildcard spots, but this isn’t likely to hold as Tampa has played a conference-low 22 games and is likely to be stronger down the line than many ahead of them.

The division race is of primary importance, here’s the Metro at Thanksgiving:

This looks pretty much what I expected pre-season, short of under-estimating the Islanders yet again.

At this point of the year though, there are three rebuilding teams who probably aren’t going anywhere this season barring big turnarounds (New Jersey, Columbus, NYR) and five teams in the hunt for what could be 3-5 playoff spots, most likely four.

Washington is way in front of the pack and their playoff spot, while certainly not guaranteed, is looking good. It’s unlikely that teams like Carolina and/or Philly are going to pass the Capitals this season; climbing eight points AND jumping multiple other teams is a very tough task, even with 55+ games left.

PIT-CAR-PHI is the real dog pack of the division right now, all are in a precarious spot where a 2-3 game losing streak probably bumps them to the edge of the playoff bubble, at least temporarily. It’s probably too early in the year for many to want to watch the scoreboard, and other than just general “root against your division teams at all times and hope Metro matches don’t have OT”, if you’re a Pens fan that wants to focus on the important teams that will help Pittsburgh by losing, it’s certainly NYI, Carolina and Philly at the moment.

If you have to bet right now, which team in the East is most likely to fall out of a playoff spot now, and which will climb in? The obvious bet looks like the Flyers will make way for the Lightning, and that’s pretty much what I will go with as well. My other choice as a team that may be vulnerable is the Florida Panthers, who are bunched together with their divisional foes and potentially could slip under any of TOR, MTL, TB and suddenly be in trouble to get a wild card.

Poll

Which team in the East is most likely to slide out of playoff position?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Caps
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    Bruins
    (3 votes)
  • 4%
    Islanders
    (24 votes)
  • 6%
    Pens
    (35 votes)
  • 17%
    Panthers
    (102 votes)
  • 11%
    Maple Leafs
    (63 votes)
  • 4%
    Hurricanes
    (26 votes)
  • 54%
    Flyers
    (310 votes)
569 votes total Vote Now