With half of the 2019-20 season officially in the books we are starting to get an idea as to which teams have a realistic chance of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and which teams do not. It’s extremely rare for teams to overcome point deficits of even four or five points at this stage of the season, and the standings rarely change much down the stretch.
There are, of course, exceptions to that. They are rare, but they do exist. Every team currently on the outside of the playoff picture is going to look at the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues as a reason for optimism. Exactly one year ago today they were 17-20-4 and needed a near miraculous second-half turnaround just to get into the playoffs. They finished the regular season on a 28-8-5 record from that day on, nearly came back to win the Central Division, then went on a run through the playoffs to finally claim the franchise’s first ever championship.
All it took was finding a new franchise goalie out of nowhere to completely alter their season. Not everyone has that card to play in the second half.
But, if you are a fan of a team currently on the outside of the playoff picture, let’s take a quick look at what that team is going to need to do the rest of the way to make the playoffs.
Let’s start with the Eastern Conference
Right now the Philadelphia Flyers hold the second Wild Card spot in the East and with their current points percentage are on track for 96.4 points this season. So let’s say the cutoff to make the Eastern Conference playoffs this season is 97 points (it was 98 points a year ago, but we will stick with 97 for now).
Here is a complete look at the Conference showing what every team has currently done, and what they will need to do the rest of the way to reach the 97-point mark.
Teams are ranked by their current points percentage.
Washington, Boston, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay have all given themselves a pretty good cushion and have some margin for error in the second half. They basically have to play just a little over .500 (Washington and Boston could actually play below that) the rest of the way and still have their spot secured.
Carolina and Toronto also look to be a solid position, but don’t have quite as much margin for error.
Philadelphia and Florida have almost nothing separating them (a game-and-a-half basically), while Columbus is going to need to maintain its recent hot streak for the next few months.
Everyone after Columbus? They are going to need a miracle. Is there a roster there that you can see making a Blues-type turnaround? Who there is just a goalie away from fixing it? Nobody.
Now the Western Conference
The target for the West is slightly lower than the East, and right now the line to get is sitting at 95 points.
Same deal as above, let’s look at where everyone is and where they have to get to.
The West is definitely the weaker of the two conferences. Once you get beyond the Central’s Top-three of St. Louis, Colorado, and Dallas everything just devolves into mediocrity. Arizona, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Vegas, and Vancouver are all kind of lumped in together in the Pacific, and you know at least three of them are getting in because of the divisional playoff format.
Everybody after Vancouver is in a world of trouble.
It is a testament to how much Nashville struggled in the first half that it still needs that sort of second half just to get a wild card spot in what is a very watered down Western Wild Card race.
The same thing is true for San Jose, only with even more emphasis. How does that roster, sit in that spot, in that conference?
Can the Sharks do it?
If there is a team in the NHL that could possibly do what the Blues did a year ago that might be the one you look at — at least before Logan Couture’s injury. It is a team that is built to win now (just like the Blues were), a team that still has high-end talent (just like the Blues did), and could fix a lot of problems with a significant upgrade in goal (like the one the Blues got).
But I just don’t know that this Sharks team has shown any sign of actually being able to do that, or the desire to actually pursue a goaltending upgrade.
Add in the fact their top forward is now out for several weeks and this season that was supposed to be one more Stanley Cup push for Joe Thornton looks like it might just end up being a completely wasted season.