If you haven’t heard, U.S. Thanksgiving is pretty significant among NHL folk — and no, not just because everybody got the night off.
(Well, most people got the night off. I’m here. But I’m Canadian and don’t mind working what we refer to as “Thursday, But With More Football.”)
See, turkey day has major ramifications for the NHL playoffs. As CBC put it, conventional wisdom says American Thanksgiving is “a mark on the calendar where essentially the playoffs are decided.”
To further illustrate that point, the Associated Press (courtesy STATS) ran a report last year showing that — since the 2005-06 season — teams in a playoff spot entering the holiday have gone on to make the Stanley Cup postseason 77.3 per cent of the time.
So yeah. Late November standings are worth paying attention to.
And a quick glance at those standings reveals that 16 clubs — Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, New York Rangers, Washington, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, Detroit, Dallas, St. Louis, Nashville, Los Angeles, San Jose, Vancouver, Chicago and Minnesota — currently have, according to the above statistic, better than a 75 percent chance of making the dance.
The other 14 clubs — Tampa Bay, New Jersey, Florida, Carolina, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Toronto, Columbus, Arizona, Winnipeg, Anaheim, Colorado, Calgary and Edmonton — have less than a 25 percent chance.
— The biggest surprises? Two conference finalists from last year’s playoffs on the outside looking in: Anaheim and Tampa Bay. The Ducks are 8-11-4 and with 20 points, five back of the final wild card spot in the West; the Bolts are 11-9-3, tied with the Wings and Isles on 25 points but on the outside looking in due to the tiebreaker.
— To further illustrate how those two clubs have fallen: Last Thanksgiving, Tampa Bay was 15-6-2 with 32 points. Anaheim was 14-4-4 with 33 points. And yes, both were comfortably in playoff positions.
— Three teams that missed from the Western Conference last year (Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose) are in good shape to get back in. The same cannot be said for the Ducks and two other clubs that made it last year: Winnipeg (three points back of the wild card) and Calgary (eight back).
— Other than Tampa Bay, the East looks remarkably similar to how last year finished. The Habs, Sens, Rangers, Isles, Pens, Red Wings and Caps were all postseason entrants.
— Speaking of the Sens, they deserve mention. Ottawa was outside the playoff picture last Thanksgiving but, as has been well-documented, bucked convention by going on a crazy run down the stretch and pulling off the greatest comeback to the postseason in NHL history.
— And it’s because of those Sens that I’m loathe to write anybody off. Of course, if I was going to write anybody off, it would be Carolina and Columbus and Buffalo and Edmonton.
— If I had to pick one team currently holding a spot that I think will drop out, it’d be Vancouver.
— If I had to pick a second, it’d be the Canucks.
— Finally, it’s worth noting that, last year, only three of the 16 teams holding a playoff spot at Thanksgiving failed to make it: Boston, Toronto and Los Angeles.
— In other words, 81 percent of the teams that were in on turkey day proceeded to qualify.