An updated look at which teams have realistic chance to make Stanley Cup Playoffs

NHL Playoff Race
Andy Devlin, Getty Images

Back in January we looked at the Stanley Cup Playoff race and which teams still had a realistic chance of qualifying for the 2021-22 season. The Eastern Conference race looked completely set, while the Western Conference still had several spots up for grabs and most of the conference still having some realistic hope of qualifying.

It is time to take an updated look at that race now that almost two months have passed and the NHL trade deadline gets closer.

In the Eastern Conference, literally nothing has changed. The eight playoff teams look to be completely set with the only thing remaining to be decided being seeding and First Round matchups. There is literally only one team outside of the current playoff teams that had a points percentage for the season higher than .482, and that team is the Columbus Blue Jackets at .527. That is an 86-point pace over an 82-game season. That will not get a team close to a playoff spot in any season.

The Washington Capitals, currently sitting in the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, have a .605 points percentage. That is a 99-point pace over 82 games. That is a significant deficit between the two teams. Just for some perspective on that gap: Columbus is 10-4-2 over its past 16 games. The Capitals are only 7-5-0 over the same stretch. Columbus is still 10 points behind Washington in that playoff race. Almost no meaningful ground gained.

The Western Conference is still a little bit more open, but even that playoff race is starting to get some separation in it.

The Western Conference Teams Are Distancing Themselves

Here is the current look at the Western Conference with each team ranked by its current points percentage.

Stunningly, Vegas is the team currently on track for lowest point total among Western Conference playoff teams. They currently occupy the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division with a four-point lead over the Edmonton Oilers, while Edmonton still has a game in hand. That is not a huge cushion, but it is a cushion.

For as good as Vancouver’s recent surge has been it is still facing a pretty significant uphill climb.

We have the playoff target at 95 points here because that is typically a “safe” number for a playoff spot. Only a very small handful of teams in the salary cap era have hit that number and failed to qualify for the playoffs. If you get there, that is typically going to get you in. Vegas, for what it is worth, is currently on a 97-point pace while Edmonton is on a 93-point pace.

Edmonton, for all practical purposes here, seems to be the line between “realistic chance this season” and “start preparing for next season.

That means you have nine teams in realistic contention for eight playoff spots.

Colorado, Calgary, St. Louis, and Minnesota (even with its recent slump) seem to be locks. Dallas and Los Angeles should be fairly comfortable. That leaves Vegas, Nashville, Edmonton for two spots.

Arizona and Seattle can not mathematically reach 95 points even if they went undefeated the rest of the way. Chicago would need to be nearly perfect. San Jose and Winnipeg would need an unbelievable run to get there. So consider all of them out of it.

Anaheim has made nice progress this season, but do you see the Ducks playing .667 hockey the rest of the way? No way.

Vancouver is the other true bubble team here. You might be tempted to look at them and say “hey, only four points out of a Wild Card spot!” They can do this! Especially with the way they have played lately. But the games played is key. Nashville and Dallas, the two wild card teams, both have two games in hand on them, while Vancouver would have to maintain a .660 points percentage the rest of the way just to hit 95 points, which still might not be enough.

The Canucks have played at a .688 pace since Bruce Boudreau took over as head coach from Travis Green. So they would basically need to maintain that pace the rest of the way just to stay in the discussion. It is possible. It is not out of the question. But it is asking a lot.

If you are the Canucks, Ducks, Jets, Sharks, Blackhawks, Kraken, Coyotes, and any team currently on the outside of the Eastern Conference Playoff picture is probably time to start selling and preparing for next season. Those races seem pretty set.

Scroll Down For:

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports

    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

    caufield surgery
    David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.