Just how important is playoff position in just the second month of the regular season? Very, if you look at recent results. Over the past six years, more than 70% of teams in a playoff position at American Thanksgiving have held on to their spot. While last year was slightly below the mark – 11 of 16 teams (69%) in a playoff position on November 22 qualified – the standings at the time were even more predictive than usual. The Lightning, Predators, Flames, Maple Leafs, Jets, and Sharks all finished in the same divisional seed that they occupied at Thanksgiving.
So who were the outliers in 2018-19? Obviously, the St. Louis Blues’ return from the basement of the league standings to win the Stanley Cup is a story that will stand the test of time. However, four other clubs also turned their seasons around: the Islanders, Penguins, Hurricanes, and Golden Knights. And the teams whose seasons took a turn for the worse: the Sabres, Wild, Rangers, Canadiens, and Ducks. Ironically, the Canadiens were narrowly inside the playoff window on Thanksgiving and ended up just barely outside in the spring. Meanwhile, the Ducks, Oilers, and Coyotes were all tied for the lowest playoff-qualifying record on Thanksgiving, with the Ducks getting the tiebreaker at the time, and all three failed to qualify for the postseason.
This season has gotten off to an unpredictable start, which could potentially threaten to derail the Thanksgiving trend. Several teams considered Cup contenders are currently outside the playoff picture, while multiple surprises currently occupy a spot. With Thanksgiving arriving tomorrow, this is the current status of the NHL standings (reminder – points percentage is the ideal way of viewing NHL standings):
M1 New York Islanders (.773)
A1 Boston Bruins (.771)
M2 Washington Capitals (.740)
M3 Carolina Hurricanes (.646)
A2 Tampa Bay Lightning (.619)
A3 Florida Panthers (.604)
W1 Pittsburgh Penguins (.625)
W2 Philadelphia Flyers (.604)
Outside the Playoff Picture: Montreal Canadiens (.563), New York Rangers (.545), Columbus Blue Jackets (.522), Buffalo Sabres (.521), Toronto Maple Leafs (.520), Ottawa Senators (.479), New Jersey Devils (.435), Detroit Red Wings (.327)
C1 St. Louis Blues (.680)
P1 Edmonton Oilers (.673)
C2 Dallas Stars (.615)
C3 Colorado Avalanche (.609)
P2 Arizona Coyotes (.620)
P3 Vancouver Canucks (.560)
W1 Winnipeg Jets (.604)
W2 Nashville Predators (.543)
Outside the Playoff Picture: San Jose Sharks (.540), Chicago Blackhawks (.521), Anaheim Ducks (.500), Vegas Golden Knights (.500), Calgary Flames (.481), Minnesota Wild (.480), Los Angeles Kings (.417)
2018-19 playoff teams jump off the page as potential candidates to disrupt the status quo. Particularly in the Pacific Division, it is hard to image none of the Golden Knights – who beat the Thanksgiving odds last year – the Sharks or the Flames will make the playoffs, especially as they look up at the Oilers, Coyotes, and Canucks. There could also be hope in West for the Ducks and Blackhawks, who sit at .500 currently. Over in the East, the Maple Leafs stick out like a sore thumb among non-playoff teams and could be line for improvement following their coaching change. But will it be enough given their difficult start? The Canadiens will also hope for a reverse of fortunes from last year, going from first team out in the conference at Thanksgiving to in the postseason come April. The Sabres have started hot and collapsed two years in a row, but there is still time for them to turn things back around. All three Atlantic clubs see a Panthers team with plenty of problems ahead of them in the standings right now. Meanwhile, the Rangers and Blue Jackets will look to make an unlikely run to the postseason as they chase down the Flyers.
What do you think? Which of these teams will find their way into the playoff picture and which will fall victim to the Thanksgiving postseason trend? Select as many teams below as you like, but remember that for every addition, there has to be a subtraction of a current playoff team.
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