Fans of the NHL are sure to be familiar with the deeper meaning that American Thanksgiving holds each season. With unrelenting consistency, the NHL’s standings on the final Thursday of November have had great predictive ability when compared to the final regular season standings. In fact, over the past seven years the Thanksgiving standings have been about 75% accurate at forecasting eventual playoff teams, predicting 12 of 16 spots on average. Even though American Thanksgiving only rolls around less than two months into the season, three out of four teams in a playoff spot at that time will have retained their postseason berth when the season ends.
The 2019-20 season of course did not have a standard postseason, but if it had then the Thanksgiving trend would have proved even more prophetic in a shortened campaign. Last year, in which teams were limited to between 68 and 71 games apiece prior to the early termination of the regular season, the Thanksgiving standings would have predicted 13 of 16 playoff teams in the standard format. Of the three teams that would have slid out of the postseason, the Florida Panthers trailed the Toronto Maple Leafs by .014 points percentage in the Atlantic Division and the Winnipeg Jets missed out by a measly .001 points percentage behind the Calgary Flames as the final Western Conference wild card. The Thanksgiving standings were that close to predicting 15 of 16 playoff teams in the shortened season, with the unexpected slow start for the Vegas Golden Knights and hot start for the Arizona Coyotes being the other unsurprising course correction.
But how does this trend impact a season that didn’t even begin until well after American Thanksgiving? Based on total games played by Thanksgiving over the past few seasons, Thanksgiving represents about the 30% progress through the NHL season. In the current 56-game season, that comes out to about the 17-game mark. Although postponements and rescheduling have created a wide discrepancy in games played among teams this year, the league as a whole passed that 17-game average on Saturday: Happy Thanksgiving. Admittedly, the 2020-21 campaign does have a different playoff model as well, one that is somewhat stricter than the last few years without the fallback of a wildcard spot for a team on the fifth-place fringe in their division. Yet, it is still a 16-team postseason and the Thanksgiving trend should hold. Using points percentage to rank the standings (the stat may end up determining playoff position for a second consecutive season anyhow) and adjusting for the season’s makeshift divisions, here is the current “Thanksgiving” outlook:
North Division East Division
Toronto Maple Leafs (.789) Boston Bruins (.733)
Montreal Canadiens (.625) Philadelphia Flyers (.679)
Winnipeg Jets (.618) Washington Capitals (.594)
Edmonton Oilers (.600) Pittsburgh Penguins (.594)____
Calgary Flames (.472) New Jersey Devils (.583)
Vancouver Canucks (.405) New York Islanders (.559)
Ottawa Senators (.237) New York Rangers (.469)
Buffalo Sabres (.429)
West Division Central Division
Vegas Golden Knights (.700) Carolina Hurricanes (.781)
Colorado Avalanche (.679) Florida Panthers (.750)
St. Louis Blues (.611) Tampa Bay Lightning (.700)
Minnesota Wild (.571) Dallas Stars (.583)
Los Angeles Kings (.531) Chicago Blackhawks (.579)
Arizona Coyotes (.500) Columbus Blue Jackets (.526)
San Jose Sharks (.500) Nashville Predators (.412)
Anaheim Ducks (.417) Detroit Red Wings (.325)
Now this begs the question, especially seeing how accurate the Thanksgiving standings were in last year’s shortened season but also accounting for the many disruptions for a number of teams early this season, who is the trend currently overlooking? Which teams currently outside the playoff picture, if any, do you think will make the postseason when all is said and done later this season? Use the comments section below as well to discuss which teams may fall out of the postseason and whether you feel the Thanksgiving trend will apply this season.