We’re here to handicap each team’s chances of making the dance along with a look at how they’ve been playing of late.
We’re approaching the home stretch for the NHL season and with about 10 games left for each team the races are really heating up. Out West, just
one point separates two teams that don’t actually seem too interested in the final spot, while the East has three teams vying for two spots. The five teams left in the hunt are probably channeling their inner Han Solo right now with a mantra of “never tell me the odds,” but we in the media just can’t resist speculating about the future. We’re here to handicap each team’s chances of making the dance along with a look at how they’ve been playing of late to get a realistic outlook of what to expect over the season’s remaining three weeks. The probabilities come from
hockeyviz.com, a site run by Micah Blake McCurdy (better known as @IneffectiveMath on Twitter). They’re based on his model dubbed ‘Oscar’ which simulates the rest of the season 100,000 times and figures out how often each team would make the playoffs in a multitude of scenarios.
Oscar intends to measure each team’s true strength using factors that relate most toward winning – specifically recent shot rates, scoring percentages and home-ice advantage – which you can read about
here. That’s where the model differs from
SportsClubStats.com, another site that measures playoff chances. While Oscar uses a combination of metrics that have a good relationship with future winning, SCS uses goal differential which can be noisy over a full season and can obfuscate a team’s true talent level. With that in mind, here’s how the playoff race is currently shaking out.
Pretty Much In: Florida (99%), Pittsburgh (99%), Rangers (97%), Tampa Bay (97%), Islanders (96%).
Fighting For A Spot: Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia.
They may be third in the division, but that spot isn’t remotely safe especially with the way they’ve played. Over the last two months they’ve been a bottom five possession team and their special teams have tanked completely with the second-worst power play and sixth-worst penalty kill. Somehow they’ve managed a 15-10-3 record during that stretch to stay afloat. Of the three teams left, Boston has the best chance thanks mostly to those points they’ve banked already, but there should be some cause for concern as they’ve easily been the weakest team left in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. Thankfully, their remaining schedule doesn’t seem too difficult now that the California road trip, where they lost all three games, is out of the way. There’s road dates with the Blackhawks, Blues, and Rangers left, but no serious threats outside of that. In fact, the Bruins hold their own fate in the second last game of the season, a home game against the Red Wings. In any sense, they’ll need to shape up quickly and get back to how they played at the start of the season.
No team has more on the line this season than the Red Wings, who have made the playoffs in 24 consecutive seasons, which is the longest active streak in North American sports. They’ve slumped of late in the standings making them vulnerable to the red-hot Flyers, but they still have the upper hand in puck possession of the three teams over the last couple months. What’s been an issue recently is their inability to translate that to goals. Goaltender Petr Mrazek has cooled down significantly after a fantastic start to the season and only seven teams have had worse goaltending at 5-on-5 in the last two months. The same thing goes for their shooting percentage which has been similarly bad. Combine that with an ice-cold power play and it’s plain to see why Detroit is where they are. These things tend to even out over time, but with just 10 games left the clock is running out for the team to figure things out.
Before the weekend started the Flyers looked like they were in a very good spot, but a loss to their cross-state rivals in regulation and a win from the Red Wings pushed them right back down. They’re still more likely to get in than not thanks to there being two spots for three teams, but they’ve got the worst chance of the three and they lag behind in ROW’s which is the first tie-breaker. Still, no team has been hotter than the Flyers of late and that’s led to some detractors wrongly accusing the team’s recent record as a mirage. But make no mistake, this team is playing much better hockey of late as the team has finally come around on Dave Hakstol’s system. With elite winger Jakub Voracek back from injury the Flyers are a scary team, one that should make this race interesting, especially considering an April 6th game in Detroit that could likely make or break the season for both teams. Here’s how the playoff race has looked over the last couple weeks and how each team’s possession has trended throughout the season:
In: Los Angeles.
Pretty Much In: St. Louis (~100%), Dallas (~100%), Anaheim (~100%), Chicago (~100%), San Jose (~100%), Nashville (99%).
Fighting For A Spot: Minnesota, Colorado.
Around this time last season, you couldn’t find a team hotter than the Wild. This season has been the complete opposite. The team is wilting to the finish as if they don’t even want the last playoff spot in the West. Their possession is bottom 10 calibre, but decent goaltending pushes them to the middle of the pack. And that’s exactly what they are, an average team in a conference that has seven other teams that can easily challenge for the Cup. That’s probably why the final spot is there for the taking between two teams on pace for 90 points or less. In any other season, this team would likely already be toast, but luckily their only competition is a team that is simply not very good. And that’s what makes this race so frustrating. The Wild are the better team and should be the clear cut favourite to make it. Instead it’s much closer to a 50-50 shot. The team should be good enough to make that final spot, but they need to get back into form. A win this Saturday in Denver will be crucial.
As alluded to above, the Avalanche are just not very good. They bleed shots like no other team and are consistently bailed out by goaltending. And yet, they’re right in the thick of the playoff hunt. Just like the team from two seasons ago, the Avs simply defy logic on a regular basis. It’s hard to ignore the chances they consistently give up as it’s not a brand of hockey that’s generally conducive to winning, but perhaps there’s a method to their madness. They’re clearly better than their shot rates indicate, but even if you look at just goals they’re still a bottom 10 team. And it’s for those reasons that they’re less likely to make the playoffs over Minnesota, despite holding a one point lead and the edge in ROWs. That, and the fact that they have an extremely tough remaining schedule. The average win percentage of remaining teams they face is 0.552 which is essentially a 100 point team. First they’ve got two teams hungry for a playoff spot in Philadelphia and Minnesota then it’s games against Nashville (x2), St. Louis (x2), Washington, Dallas, Anaheim. Good luck with that. If it’s not Colorado’s own putrid play that leads to their demise, the strength of their remaining opponents just might. Here’s how the playoff race has looked over the last couple weeks and how each team’s possession has trended throughout the season:
, probabilities and projections via