Analyzing the remaining NHL Playoff races

3 Comments

We are down to the final days of the 2018-19 regular season and as of Thursday there are still four playoff spots up for grabs, two divisions that need to be won, and seedings to be set.

So let’s take a closer look at who is still in it, what they have ahead of them, and what all can happen over the next four days.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

The Playoff Spots Up For Grabs

In the Eastern Conference there are four teams fighting for three remaining playoff spots as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens compete.

The Penguins and Hurricanes could claim two of those spots on Thursday night.

The Penguins have three potential paths to clinching a playoff spot: A win against the Detroit Red Wings; an overtime or shootout loss combined with either a Montreal loss in any fashion OR a Carolina loss in regulation; A Montreal loss in regulation.

The Hurricanes are in on Thursday if they win in regulation and Montreal loses in any fashion, or if they win in a shootout and Montreal loses in regulation.

The Canadiens can not clinch a playoff spot on Thursday, while Columbus has the night off.

Remaining Schedules For All Four Teams

Pittsburgh Penguins: Detroit Red Wings (H), New York Rangers (H)
Carolina Hurricanes: New Jersey Devils (H), Philadelphia Flyers (A)
Columbus Blue Jackets: New York Rangers (A), Ottawa Senators (A)
Montreal Canadiens: Washington Capitals (A), Toronto Maple Leafs (H)

While the Penguins, Hurricanes, and Blue Jackets all wrap up their regular season schedules with teams on the outside of the playoff picture, the Canadiens have to play a team fighting for a division championship and their biggest rival in the regular season finale. They are not only on the outside of the playoff picture entering Thursday, they have what is by the toughest road in terms of the remaining schedule.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Everything is clinched. The Tampa Bay Lightning have secured the top spot and will play the second wild card team in the first round, while the 2-3 matchup is locked in with the Boston Bruins facing the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins will have home ice advantage.

The winner of that series will play the winner of the Tampa Bay-WC2 in Round 2.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

Who can still win it: Washington Capitals, New York Islanders

The Capitals enter Thursday night with a three-point lead over the Islanders, and can clinch it in one of three ways. If they win, if they get one point and the Islanders lose in any fashion, or if the Islanders lose in regulation. If the Capitals fail to secure the division title on Thursday night it sets up a winner-take-all regular season finale in Washington on Saturday, when the Capitals will host the Islanders.

Given the circumstances (Barry Trotz returning to Washington one year after leading the Capitals to a Stanley Cup and trying to steal the division away on the final day of the regular season?!) it would probably be the game of the year.

Remaining schedules for both teams

Washington Capitals: Montreal Canadiens (H), New York Islanders (H)
New York Islanders: Florida Panthers (A), Washington Capitals (A)

Potential seeding still up for grabs

This is the division that has the potential for the most chaos.

While only the Capitals and Islanders can still claim the top spot, every spot after first place is up for grabs. The Islanders, Penguins, and Hurricanes could all still finish as high as second place and get home-ice advantage Round 1, while the Blue Jackets can finish no higher than third. The Capitals can finish no lower than second. All of that means the 2 vs. 3 matchup could feature anything from Penguins-Capitals, to Islanders-Penguins, to Islanders-Blue Jackets, to Capitals-Hurricanes, to Capitals-Blue Jackets.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

The playoff spot up for grabs

There is only one playoff spot still open, and it is coming down to the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes.

The Avalanche clinch with at least one point in the standings or any loss by the Coyotes.

The situation is very simple: The only way Arizona can take the second Wild Card spot is if the Avalanche lose their remaining two games in regulation and the Coyotes win their remaining two games in regulation or overtime. Basically, the Coyotes need a small miracle. It seems like a long shot, yes, but the very fact they are still even in the race given all of the injuries they have dealt with this season and where they were coming from a year ago is something of a small miracle on its own.

Neither team has a favorable schedule, and that definitely favors the Avalanche.

Remaining schedules for both teams

Colorado Avalanche: Winnipeg Jets (H), San Jose Sharks (A)
Arizona Coyotes: Vegas Golden Knights (A), Winnipeg Jets (H)

CENTRAL DIVISION

Who can still win it: Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues

The Jets can clinch the division on Thursday if they win AND Nashville loses in regulation and the Blues lose in any fashion.

Remaining schedules for all three teams

Winnipeg Jets: Colorado Avalanche (A), Arizona Coyotes (A)
Nashville Predators: Vancouver Canucks (H), Chicago Blackhawks (H)
St. Louis Blues: Philadelphia Flyers (H), Vancouver Canucks (H)

Seedings still up for grabs

All of them. The Jets, Predators, and Blues could all finish anywhere from first to third, while the Blues could also drop down to fourth as the Dallas Stars still have a very slim chance to move up to the third spot if they win out and the Blues lose out. Like the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference, there are an insane number of potential Round 1 matchups still in play here.

If Dallas loses its remaining two games and the Avalanche win their remaining two games, the Stars could also fall down to the second Wild Card spot and have to face the top-seed Calgary Flames.

PACIFIC DIVISION

Everything is clinched.

The Calgary Flames have locked up the division and the top spot in the Western Conference, giving them a Round 1 meeting with the second Wild Card team (Dallas, Colorado, or Arizona).

Meanwhile the 2 vs. 3 matchup is locked in between the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights, with San Jose claiming home-ice advantage.

Related: Avalanche on verge of playoff berth

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NY governor says pro teams can resume training

Leave a comment

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says teams in his state can return to their facilities for training after a pause of more than two months.

”Starting today, all the New York professional sports leagues will be able to begin training camps,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference Sunday.

The New York City area was one of the hardest-hit parts of the U.S. by the coronavirus pandemic, but COVID-19 deaths and new infections in the state have been trending downward.

Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are discussing the resumption of their seasons with their players’ unions.

”I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena – do it! Do it!” Cuomo said. ”Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

WCHA’s Alabama-Huntsville cuts hockey program

Leave a comment

Alabama-Huntsville is dropping men’s hockey and men’s and women’s tennis as part of budget cuts in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

School officials said athletes in those sports who want to join another team’s roster will be released without penalty and free to transfer immediately. If they choose to stay, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of their academic careers.

Alabama-Huntsville was one of the only southern schools to have a men’s hockey varsity program. The Chargers won Division II national titles in 1996 and 1998 and were Division II runners-up in 1994 and 1997 before making the move to the Division I level for the 1998-99 season.

Men’s hockey had been the lone Division I sport for Alabama-Huntsville. It competes at the Division II level in all other sports.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

2 Comments

Canada’s NHL teams have offered season-ticket holders rebate or refund options in acknowledgment that no more 2019-20 regular-season games will be played in front of fans in their respective buildings.

In a four-day span May 13-16, all seven teams contacted their season-ticket bases with options and, in some cases, deadlines to make a decision, according to The Canadian Press.

“It has become increasingly apparent, that any possibility will not include any further games being played this season in front of fans at Bell MTS Place,” the Winnipeg Jets said in an email.

That admission may seem anticlimactic given leagues and teams around the world are either playing in empty stadiums, or trying to figure out a way to just resume play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But season-ticket money is a key element of NHL business. Clubs are loathe to part with it.

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money.

Toronto Maple Leafs season-ticket holders had to declare they wanted their money back by Victoria Day or a credit would be applied to their accounts.

Their Montreal Canadiens counterparts had to make a decision by Friday, while the Vancouver Canucks’ deadline is June 3.

NHLPA board approves 24-team, return-to play-format

11 Comments

We have our first step towards resuming the 2019-20 season with the approval of the return-to-play format by the NHLPA Executive Board.

The 31 NHL team representatives voted and a majority gave the thumbs up to the 24-team, conference-based proposal.

According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, the vote was 29-2 in favor.

Now the plan moves on to the Board of Governors for their approval.

From the NHLPA:

The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.

If the BOG green lights it, the next steps would include figuring out proper safety protocols for all involved and how the hub city plan would work, among numerous other details.

Based on points percentage at the time of the March 12 NHL pause, the top four teams in each conference (Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, Dallas) will receive a first-round bye. Round 1 will feature eight play-in matchups in a best-of-five series.

As the play-in round takes place, the eight conference leaders could potentially take part in a mini tournament that will determine the seeding for Round 2. Reseeding after the play-in round is another topic likely to be discussed.

Here’s what it might end up looking like:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Bruins
• Lightning
• Capitals
• Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Blues
• Avalanche
• Golden Knights
• Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

Games would be played without fans with teams based in hub cities potentially located in both the U.S. and Canada. Columbus, Las Vegas, and Edmonton are a few of the cities that have shown interested in playing host to playoff games.

Since the 24-team format entered the rumor mill, it’s received a mixed reaction from players.

“Twenty-four teams sounds like a lot of teams to me,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson told Mike Tirico on Thursday. “You have to make sure there is some level playing field in terms of intensity…So while 24 teams sounds like a lot, maybe due to logistics, that makes the most sense.”

“I will say that when it comes to the format I think it is almost impossible to make everyone happy … the situation is what it is,” Lars Eller of the Capitals said via the Washington Post. “It is far from perfect. We are going to manage the best we can and I do think we will come together and find a solution regarding that. It is not going to be easy.”

Kris Letang told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Penguins players voted “yes” on the proposal citing “greater good for everyone.”

“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” Letang said. “But, we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game.”

MORE:
Predators’ Duchene: ‘You don’t want to have a COVID Cup’
Our Line Starts podcast: Evaluating fairness of 24-team NHL playoff

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.