So far there has been talk of the start of the season and surprises on both sides of the playoff line. Overnight, it still becomes a matter of life and death – according to the “Thanksgiving law”, 13-14 teams out of 16 are in practice playoff-ready.
Surprising season starts are also one of the NHL podcast’s topics of discussion this time. Florida Panthers and big star & captain Aleksander Barkov’s shaky start gets the most attention.
Giving thanks for the autumn harvest is the background to the Thanksgiving holiday, which in the United States is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November by overeating turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.
The Thursday weekend also has as strong a connection to the NHL as groundhog day has to the length of winter. Any NHL follower knows that Thanksgiving pretty much determines who will be in the playoffs next spring and who will be on the golf course.
By the time the USA is feasting on turkey, the opening bull rush is over, about a quarter of the season complete and no games being played on the holiday itself. Therefore, it is traditionally the right position to pick up the crystal ball.
And the Thanksgiving crystal ball is certainly no cheap circus trick. Every season, it gets it right with stunning certainty: close to 80 percent of the teams above the playoff mark at Thanksgiving are in the playoffs after 82 games have been played.
For those who like precise information: since the 2006-2006 season, 76.3 percent of the teams parked in a playoff spot by Thanksgiving have held on to it.
With 16 teams making the playoffs, that means two, three or sometimes four teams fall below the mark for the remaining three-quarters of the season. Conversely: only 2-4 teams step into the playoffs from the cold.
Almost every season, it feels hard to believe that this particular year will not be different. Even this time.
The top teams are “for real”
At the latest, it’s time to stop waiting for New Jersey weekdays. Young Devils have been hyped as a team of the future for a couple of years already – now the future is here. The winning streak that ended on Thursday night was thirteen games long.
Already last season, Jesper Bratt, Niko Hischier, Jack Hughes and others flew into the offensive zone and created the third most scoring chances in five-on-five of all teams in the Eastern Conference. Behind Florida and Toronto. Last year, the pucks still didn’t go in and it was usually a beating.
This season, “The Bratt Pack” is a year more experienced, a little cooler and now the net is rattling. Tempo hockey is no longer going away. On the contrary, the Devils are the Eastern Conference’s answer to Colorado: no one keeps up with the changes.
The Devils may not take home the Metropolitan or the Eastern Conference, but an outright playoff berth will. Skeptical? No team that has won thirteen games in a row has ever missed the playoffs. Forget the mistrust.
Boston would be a team in trouble, with both Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy out due to injuries as the season began. Everything else – now both are also back in top form. And under new coach Jim Montgomery, the Bruins are playing exuberant offensive hockey.
Thanksgiving tells us that Boston leads the Atlantic Division by seven points, the Eastern Conference by two points and the entire league by the same two points. Bet an overcooked turkey on the Bruins entering the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the East.
In the West, former Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, in turn, has the Vegas Golden Knights playing winning hockey. In a weak Pacific, this means that Vegas maintains its clear lead in the division without major problems and can start filing for the playoffs in complete peace.
Fourth team to top their division at Thanksgiving is Dallas. The Stars are also running towards the playoffs like a train, but could very well still be relegated to second in the Central by reigning champions Colorado. The champions from 1999 still have seven points down on the first Wild card team. Playoffs.
Bombproof playoff teams, calculated WC resources and the elevator gangs
Behind the teams that celebrated Thanksgiving at the top of their divisions are half a dozen more or less bombproof playoff teams on the right side of the playoff line.
Avalanche was already mentioned. Toronto, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Rangers and Calgary will be there when the playoffs start. The Rangers and Calgary may not leave much room for the bar, but all that matters is going over.
At the other end, there are also as many as eleven teams that have already run their playoff race into the wall. Just starting to think about contracts, trades and which players you release for the World Cup in May.
Here it is: Anaheim, Chicago, Arizona, San José, Vancouver, Ottawa, Columbus, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Montreal and – listen and be amazed – Washington are not making the playoffs.
Washington and Vancouver have not yet realized it, but according to the Hockey Reference site’s simulations, both the Capitals and Canucks miss the playoffs with over 83 percent probability. The eye test tells the same story: Tampere or the green calls.
Ten teams are thus nailed in the playoffs and eleven are frozen out. This means that eleven teams remain in a bloody fight for six playoff tickets. The elevator beat.
Of those, six are currently on the right side of the line: Detroit, Islanders, Winnipeg, Seattle, Kings and Blues. Heading for vacation in May at Thanksgiving are Nashville, Edmonton, Minnesota, Florida and Pittsburgh
Just a safe in-out change in the East
Florida is the team that no power in the world should be able to keep out of the playoffs. A month before Christmas Eve, only one point separates a direct place in the playoffs and goal difference from the last wild card ticket. The Panthers create the most scoring chances in the entire league and will fix this.
The team that gets to shine, at least in terms of a direct playoff spot and also the first wild card spot, is the Atlantic’s Thanksgiving third, Detroit. Since Tampa will also get past the Red Wings, the Motor City gang gets to aim for the last wild card ticket.
Then the question is: which team is the eighth in the East to reach the playoffs out of the trio of Detroit, Islanders and Pittsburgh?
Sidney Crosby is awesome again, Evgeni Malkin has a point/game machine set up, the goaltending duo of Jarry-DeSmith is playing at an adequate level and coach Mike Sullivan is one of the best in the league. Penguins step in – overachieving Detroit and Islanders don’t playoff.
The undersigned thus predicts that two teams out of eight will be replaced in the East: Florida and Pittsburgh in, Detroit and Islanders out.
Much new on the western front
The Western Conference offers bigger tremors.
In the Pacific, only Edmonton with the super duo McDavid-Draisaitl has to get into the playoffs. But where it feels totally certain that Florida in the East will fix its challenges without major problems, the Oilers are dancing on a knife’s edge.
Edmonton is so completely action-crippled without their superstars that injuries can ruin everything. Especially as intended first baseman Jack Campbell is the league’s most insecure cage keeper.
Lucky then that the Pacific is the league’s worst division – the Oilers join Vegas and Calgary in the playoffs.
The other five playoff teams from the West come from the Central – the league’s official hornet’s nest.
Colorado and Dallas are playing in the playoffs, no question about it. Behind them, there will be a bloody battle between four equal teams for the three free playoff tickets.
At Thanksgiving, Winnipeg sits in an outright playoff spot, while Minnesota and Nashville right now look like resources for World Cup teams. St. Louis is in via wild card.
After all, the writer is betting that Winnipeg will ultimately miss the party. Where the other candidates have yet to really pay off, the Jets win all too often in ways that feel haphazard. Doesn’t usually last long.
Guessing which team will end up third in the Central is a real lottery, but on the other hand, the undersigned dares to stick his chin out and elevate three potentially compact packages to playoff teams: St. Louis, Minnesota and Nashville.
Western Conference summary: surprise Seattle, semi-finished Los Angeles and mystery Winnipeg lose their playoff spots. Edmonton, Minnesota and Nashville are working their way in.
So a season in which a total of five playoff teams, or 31.25 percent, are replaced and the Thanksgiving myth is thoroughly shattered.
Still, it wouldn’t be the first time that Turkey Eater Day gets the last word.
Thank you for reading.
Sources: nhl.com, naturalstattrick.com, hockey-reference.com