We are quickly approaching the halfway point of the 2021-22 NHL season, and while you might think that is still a lot of time to make up ground in the Stanley Cup Playoff race, the reality is that it is not.
Making up ground in the standings this late in the season is an extremely difficult task, and even a five-or-six point gap between you and a playoff spot might be asking a lot to overcome.
So let’s take a quick look at the current standings (before Saturday’s games) and see where things stand in the Eastern and Western Conference playoff races.
The Eastern Conference
It is kind of stunning how big of a gap there is right now between the teams currently in a playoff position in the Eastern Conference and the teams outside of a playoff spot.
Entering play on Saturday the two Wild Card teams (Pittsburgh and Boston) were both on pace for more than 106 points this season based on their current points percentages. That is an exceptionally high floor for a playoff spot because in most years 95 or 96 points tends to be the cut off. But right now every team in a playoff position in the Eastern Conference has a points percentage of at least .647, while six of them are over .660.
If those eight teams manage to play just a little over .500 hockey over their remaining games they are going to easily reach 95 points on the season.
That is bad news for the eight teams on the outside of the playoff race because right now only one of them — Columbus — has a points percentage of .500 or better for the season, and the Blue Jackets are exactly at .500. Detroit and the New York Islanders are the only teams over .460 in the conference.
Here is a look at the Eastern Conference standings, sorted by points percentage, and what each team needs to do to reach the 95-point mark this season. And keep in mind, the current playoff cut-off in the Eastern Conference is actually 10 points higher than that at the moment.
Given where all of those teams are right now, which ones below Boston do you see playing at the required level and making up that much of a gap in the second half of the season?
Head-to-head matchups help, sure, but nobody is going to sweep every single head-to-head matchup they have remaining with the teams they are chasing, while many of those teams are going to reach a point in the coming weeks where they make the decision to start selling assets before the NHL trade deadline.
You can never say never because strange things do happen in sports sometimes, but it would be a pretty significant shock if the current Eastern Conference playoff teams change much — if at all — between now and the start of the postseason.
The Western Conference still looks to be a little more wide open.
The Western Conference
Based on current points percentage the Colorado Avalanche are starting to run away with the top spot, and there is a clear group of teams that look to be sitting in a good position with Minnesota, St. Louis, Nashville, Vegas, and Calgary sitting in what would seem to be a good position.
After that, there is still some pretty stiff competition for the remaining spots while the current playoff cut off is at 95 points.
A look at the table, again sorted by points percentage.
Arizona, Seattle, and Chicago are pretty much out of it, and for as strong as Vancouver has played under Bruce Boudreau even that is looking like a long shot.
But everybody else between Calgary and San Jose? There are seven teams there still fighting for what should be three playoff spots. That race at least looks like it has the potential to be interesting down the stretch.
The Ducks, after a great start, are starting to fall back a little bit over the past couple of weeks while the Kings, Jets, and Stars are starting to put things together. Who knows what to expect from Edmonton the rest of the way, while San Jose has been a surprising playoff contender.
In the end, if you are an Eastern Conference team currently outside of the playoff picture your chances seem slim. If you are outside of the top-five in the Western Conference, prepare yourself for quite a scramble in the second half.