Things change quickly in the NHL. Every year, 16 teams make the playoffs. Every year, all 16 of those teams head into the following season expecting to make it again. And every year, a big chunk of them don’t.
Since the start of the salary cap era, the average turnover from year-to-year in the playoffs has been five teams. The most was seven, from 2014 to 2015, and the fewest was three, from 2010 to 2011. The most common number is five, which has happened six times in 10 seasons.
This season is shaping up as another high-turnover year. If the playoffs started today, six of the 16 playoff spots would have new occupants, meaning we’d have a total of 12 teams switching columns from last year, either from in to out or out to in.
Of course, the playoffs don’t start today, and we still have four more months of action for the standings to shift before we settle on our actual playoff matchups. It’s a strong bet that at least a few teams in today’s playoff picture will drop out, replaced by teams that are on the outside today.
But who? Today, let's look through that list of turnover teams and try to figure out which ones will stay where they are, and which ones will shift back to where they were last year.
They'd be in: Montreal Canadiens
Where they are today: They've spent almost the entire season in first place overall, a spot they finally yielded last night when the Penguins passed them.
What's gone right?: The big piece has been Carey Price, who's return to full health has transformed the team. Getting one of the best players in the world back will do that for you. The addition of Shea Weber and Alexander Radulov has helped, Max Pacioretty is heating up, and until he got hurt, it looked like we were getting a breakout season from Alex Galchenyuk.
What could still go wrong?: As we saw last year, any sort of extended absence by Price could change everything.
Their odds of staying put: We've seen this team start strong in each of the last few seasons before coming back to the pack as the year went on—and last year, plummeting right past the pack and out of the playoffs. But they've banked so many points that they're all but a lock for a spot already; the playoffs odds at sportsclubstats.com have them as a 99-percent favourite.
They'd be out: Tampa Bay Lightning
Where they are today: Spinning their wheels in the midst of an extended cold streak. Last night's win in Calgary halted a three-game skid, but they've still won just two of their last nine. That's left them outside the playoffs, and part of a weird phenomenon: All four teams from last year's Atlantic bracket (including the crossover wildcard) would be out right now.
That said, the Lightning aren't out of the running by any stretch, even with the Metro running away with the two wildcards. They're just three points back of Boston and Ottawa for an Atlantic spot.
What's gone wrong?: Other than Nikita Kucherov, the offence has been stagnant; Steven Stamkos went into last night's game as their second-leading scorer, which is a problem given that he's been out of action for a month. Ideally your goaltending would bail you out when that happens, but Ben Bishop hasn't been very good. And the Lightning don't seem to be falling victim to bad luck or fluctuating percentages; their numbers across the board just point to them being a very average team this year.
What could still go right?: The long-rumoured Bishop trade could bring in helpful reinforcements, and Andrei Vasilevskiy might already be an upgrade as the full-time guy. You'd expect some of their better young players to heat up. And if they can hang in the race until March, they'll get Stamkos back.
Their odds of staying put: The Lightning were a preseason Cup pick for many of us, and it still seems unthinkable that they could miss the playoffs altogether. But the turnaround needs to start soon.