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Checking in with all the other playoff races

The Leafs last had a realistic chance of not being third in the Atlantic in January, so we have to live the stretch drive vicariously.

New York Rangers v Vancouver Canucks
Daniel: we could just go back to MODO. Henrik: have you seen how bad they are?
Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

The Atlantic division has looked like three beads on a string for weeks, each team maintaining the distance between them as adeptly as the Boston defence does. There have been teases of movement, but it’s never come. If Boston surges so do the rest of us, and the equilibrium is maintained.

Right now the spread in points is 104 - 99 - 93, and while Boston has their perpetual games in hand still to be played, as Florida is learning: Games in hand only count if you win them. The results are unlikely to change, although it is possible, to be sure, or we wouldn’t watch the games.

Eastern Wild Card Race

Speaking of Florida, we’ll look at the simple race first. Last night Columbus won and Philadelphia lost in overtime and they ended up tied with the same number of games played. Based on the ROW first tie-breaker, Columbus moves into third in the Metropolitan Division, and the Flyers drop to the first wild card spot. Obviously, with eight games left for each team, that could change.

New Jersey also lost and is clinging more precariously to the second wild card than ever before. This is where those games in hand Florida has come into play. They still have not sat in that playoff spot for one second, and yet they sure look like a lock.

Florida’s points percentage is .570 and New Jersey’s is .562. That’s not much of a difference, but the real difference is in those two games in hand. But you do have to actually win them, although, to be fair to the Panthers, they’ve pulled to one point behind the Devils who are at 82 and four points behind Philadelphia/Columbus.

Carolina who don’t have a goalie, and therefore don’t have a General Manager, are well back with only 73 points.

Both Florida and Carolina need a playoff round for financial reasons. New Jersey sure could use it for the same reason. But Carolina gave it away when the gamble on Scott Darling as a starter failed. It was a reasonable throw of the dice, but it did fail, and he is last on the NHL’s list of starters by Save Percentage. They did not have a backup plan. Cam Ward, their backup, is ninth last and tied with Carey Price.

That’s the sum total of the Eastern Conference fun, a duel in the sun by the Panthers and the Devils, two teams who no one ever expected to be in playoff contention at all.

Western Wild Card Race

The west is a mess. Nashville sits happily on top of the pile, with a playoff spot clinched, and they are in a race with Tampa for the Presidents’ Trophy. Winnipeg, second to Nashville in the Central Division, and Vegas who are atop the Pacific Division are secure. After that, who knows.

San Jose has only 91 points in second place in the Pacific, and LA is next with 87, so they can flip. LA is also below the top wild card team — Colorado with 88 points. Anaheim, the only team that can jump up into the Pacific top three, has 86 points, so they can easily do that or not, as the games play out.

On the Central side, Minnesota, in third place, is only two points up on the Avalanche. Below the wild card spots right now are Dallas with 84 points and St. Louis with 83. I thought the Blues were definitely out after the deadline, but they aren’t. A winning or losing streak over the last eight or nine games could decide it, and the Blues are the only team in this tangle with 10 more games to play.

Calgary, at 80 points needs a big miracle. Every game counts for all of these teams.

Bad Team Race to the Bottom

Yesterday, the Montréal Canadiens announced Carey Price was back and would start soon. I called them too dumb to tank, but given his terrible season, maybe it’s just really clever stealth tanking.

The other teams too proud or too dumb to tank are: the Detroit Red Wings, who won last night in overtime; Chicago, who have no choice about not playing their starter, but would if he was available; the Oilers, who have never had to try to lose before and don’t know how. The rest of the lottery teams high up the list started out too good to fall very far now.

Dallas is now sitting in the highest position league-wide but still out of the playoffs and Florida is second highest.

At the bad end, the Sabres still reign supreme with 58 points. They have 10 more games to play, however, so they can screw that up by winning. Games in hand are not a good thing when you flip the standings table upside down. Games you’ve already lost are gold. And that brings me to Vancouver, who have successfully charged to the second worst place and are tied in points with Arizona with 59. Vancouver has a loss in hand, however, so they get to be second worst.

That trio will almost certainly be the bottom three with the best chance to win the lottery in April, but it’s anyone’s game to win by losing. It’s hard to bet against Buffalo when the game is won by losing.

Ottawa has only 63 points, Montréal have 64 and Detroit 65, so they can’t come last and just need to ride out the season not getting any better. Florida spent most of this season tied in points with Detroit, so this late season surge of the Panthers really is impressive.

Okay, time to pick who you think has the tools in the shed to come last in the NHL? Don’t sigh at me, Gary, you built this system, so yeah, we are going to pop the popcorn and watch the tank race.

Poll

Who is going to come last this season?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Buffalo, but they’ll lose the lottery (please, Hockey Gods!)
    (115 votes)
  • 29%
    Vancouver, but they’ll lose the lottery to Edmonton
    (68 votes)
  • 13%
    Arizona, and then they’ll be sold to another hedge fund the day before the lottery
    (31 votes)
  • 5%
    Some other amazing hard-charging loser
    (13 votes)
227 votes total Vote Now