Have the Arizona Coyotes already been eliminated from playoff contention in 2017-18? Mathematically, no. There are an almost infinite number of possibilities for the remainder of the NHL season, some which include the Coyotes winning many games and enough Western Conference contenders losing in turn, with Arizona miraculously qualifying for the playoffs. However, a quick look at their record and the standings out west would imply that yes, the ’Yotes are done for already. But just how true is that assumption?
It’s shockingly accurate, it turns out. In their 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, the Coyotes became one of only two teams this season to already hit the midway mark with their 41st game. Halfway through the 2017-18 season, Arizona is 9-27-5 for 23 points. The Coyotes are on pace for only 46 points this season. In 2016-17, the Colorado Avalanche were historically bad, unlike any season this century. It was the sixth worst 82-game record of all time and, taking teams who were recent expansion franchises out of the equation, the ’16-’17 Avs were the worst established team of the modern era. Yet, Colorado finished with 48 points on the year and had 13 wins and 27 points at the midway mark. This year’s Coyotes, it seems, could be the new worst team ever.
So just how close is Arizona to being statistically eliminated on the first of the year? Even if the Coyotes were to win out – going 41-0-0 the rest of the way – they would finish with 105 points on the year. If everyone else in the Western Conference continues at their current pace, Arizona would only finish fifth in the West behind the Vegas Golden Knights, Nashville Predators, Los Angeles Kings, and Winnipeg Jets. The San Jose Sharks, in this scenario projected to finish sixth with 100 points, have played the fewest games in the NHL and have the most time to turn things around and improve on their record. If the Sharks finished with more than 105 points, then Arizona, having gone undefeated in the entire second half of the season, would still just be a wild card team out of the Pacific Division.
It’s far beyond the realm of possibility for a team to win that many games in a row in the NHL though. So, imagine instead (or at least try) that the Coyotes reverse their fortunes and play to the level of the league’s best team – the Tampa Bay Lightning – who have a .763 points percentage thus far. Arizona would take home 63 of their final 82 possible points; an amazing turnaround for the team. Where would that put them in the Western playoff picture? Way out of it. The Coyotes would finish with 86 points and, based on current projections, that would be good enough for only 13th in the conference. They would pass up Pacific foes Vancouver and Edmonton, both on pace for 78 points, and that is it. The Coyotes could be the best team in the league the rest of the way and it wouldn’t even make a difference.
The most realistic best case scenario for Arizona is that they play twice as well in the second half as they did in the first half, doubling their atrocious .280 points percentage to .560. The Coyotes would net 46 points between now and the end of the season for a total of 69 points in 2017-18. That total, despite their impressive progress in the second half, would currently project them to be the second-worst team in the NHL. Arizona could play twice as well through 41 more games and only pass the Buffalo Sabres in the league standings.
While “mathematically” the Coyotes are a ways off from being eliminated from contention this season, there is simply no way they even sniff the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs. Based on current projections, Arizona would need a points percentage north of .800 to make the playoffs and that isn’t happening. So, for anyone still holding out hope that the Coyotes have any semblance of a chance this season, please stop. The only notable thing that Arizona can do in 2018 is be the worst team in NHL history.