An updated look at which teams have realistic chance to make Stanley Cup Playoffs
Back in January we looked at the Stanley Cup Playoff race and which teams still had a realistic chance of qualifying for the 2021-22 season. The Eastern Conference race looked completely set, while the Western Conference still had several spots up for grabs and most of the conference still having some realistic hope of qualifying.
It is time to take an updated look at that race now that almost two months have passed and the NHL trade deadline gets closer.
In the Eastern Conference, literally nothing has changed. The eight playoff teams look to be completely set with the only thing remaining to be decided being seeding and First Round matchups. There is literally only one team outside of the current playoff teams that had a points percentage for the season higher than .482, and that team is the Columbus Blue Jackets at .527. That is an 86-point pace over an 82-game season. That will not get a team close to a playoff spot in any season.
The Washington Capitals, currently sitting in the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, have a .605 points percentage. That is a 99-point pace over 82 games. That is a significant deficit between the two teams. Just for some perspective on that gap: Columbus is 10-4-2 over its past 16 games. The Capitals are only 7-5-0 over the same stretch. Columbus is still 10 points behind Washington in that playoff race. Almost no meaningful ground gained.
The Western Conference is still a little bit more open, but even that playoff race is starting to get some separation in it.
The Western Conference Teams Are Distancing Themselves
Here is the current look at the Western Conference with each team ranked by its current points percentage.
Stunningly, Vegas is the team currently on track for lowest point total among Western Conference playoff teams. They currently occupy the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division with a four-point lead over the Edmonton Oilers, while Edmonton still has a game in hand. That is not a huge cushion, but it is a cushion.
For as good as Vancouver’s recent surge has been it is still facing a pretty significant uphill climb.
We have the playoff target at 95 points here because that is typically a “safe” number for a playoff spot. Only a very small handful of teams in the salary cap era have hit that number and failed to qualify for the playoffs. If you get there, that is typically going to get you in. Vegas, for what it is worth, is currently on a 97-point pace while Edmonton is on a 93-point pace.
Edmonton, for all practical purposes here, seems to be the line between “realistic chance this season” and “start preparing for next season.
That means you have nine teams in realistic contention for eight playoff spots.
Colorado, Calgary, St. Louis, and Minnesota (even with its recent slump) seem to be locks. Dallas and Los Angeles should be fairly comfortable. That leaves Vegas, Nashville, Edmonton for two spots.
Arizona and Seattle can not mathematically reach 95 points even if they went undefeated the rest of the way. Chicago would need to be nearly perfect. San Jose and Winnipeg would need an unbelievable run to get there. So consider all of them out of it.
Anaheim has made nice progress this season, but do you see the Ducks playing .667 hockey the rest of the way? No way.
Vancouver is the other true bubble team here. You might be tempted to look at them and say “hey, only four points out of a Wild Card spot!” They can do this! Especially with the way they have played lately. But the games played is key. Nashville and Dallas, the two wild card teams, both have two games in hand on them, while Vancouver would have to maintain a .660 points percentage the rest of the way just to hit 95 points, which still might not be enough.
The Canucks have played at a .688 pace since Bruce Boudreau took over as head coach from Travis Green. So they would basically need to maintain that pace the rest of the way just to stay in the discussion. It is possible. It is not out of the question. But it is asking a lot.
If you are the Canucks, Ducks, Jets, Sharks, Blackhawks, Kraken, Coyotes, and any team currently on the outside of the Eastern Conference Playoff picture is probably time to start selling and preparing for next season. Those races seem pretty set.