Monday, March 29, 2021

Weekend Rankings: Are 14 of the 16 playoff teams already locked in?

We’re going to flip the calendar over to April later this week, which in a typical year means the regular season is almost done. This isn’t a typical year, so we’ve still got about six weeks to go, and maybe more if rescheduled games keep pushing the finish line out. But with the trade deadline in two weeks and some teams having only 20 games left to play, we’re certainly headed down the homestretch. It’s time to get ready for a thrilling playoff race.

Only… what if there isn’t one?

It’s too early to write off any of the division races, but we’re getting close on a few of them. It’s not hard to imagine some scenarios where we could soon wind up with only one or two decent races to watch down the stretch. And when you take a look at Dom’s projections, you wonder if we’ll even get that much.

Let’s start in the North. The Leafs, Jets and Oilers are jockeying for top spot, with all three looking like reasonably safe playoff bets. A quick glance at the standings shows a tight race for the last spot between Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary, but that glance has to be quick enough that you don’t notice how many games in hand the Habs have – five on the Flames and six on the Canucks. As of yesterday, Dom’s model had the Canadiens with a 92% chance of getting that last spot, meaning the North has four teams with playoff odds over 90%. That’s not over, but it’s definitely in the ballpark.

The East was supposed to be the toughest race, with five or six playoff-worthy teams fighting for four spots. But one of those teams was the Flyers, who are currently spiraling out of contention; Dom had their odds down to 7% yesterday. The Rangers have clawed back into the race, but are still underdogs, with just a 13% chance before their loss to the Caps. That leaves us, once again, with four teams all sitting over 90%. Not done, but getting there.

The Central does have a real race for the last spot, but only that last spot, because the Lightning, Hurricanes and Panthers are all basically locks. That leaves us with the Stars, Blackhawks, Blue Jackets and Predators in the mix for that last berth, which makes for a decent race. We’ll see if any of those teams throw in their cards by selling at the deadline, but for now we’ve got one race to watch.

Then there’s the West, which looked like the easiest race to figure on opening night. You had three elite teams in the Golden Knights, Avalanche and Blues, and one spot that would probably come down to the Wild and Coyotes. But the Wild ran away with that race quickly, and Dom already has them as basically a lock, meaning the West is all over unless one of the three good teams collapses. That might actually be happening in St. Louis, and we’ll get to that in a bit, so let’s call this one an open race for one spot.

That’s it. That’s the whole league, in terms of playoff spots – remember, there’s no wild card or crossover spots this year, so if you’re not in a division’s top four, you’re nowhere. And right now, the races for those four spots aren’t much to look at. Dom has 14 different teams already sitting with playoff odds better than 90%, meaning only two spots up for grabs over the next six weeks unless somebody falls apart.

For what it’s worth, Dom’s model is a little more pessimistic about an exciting stretch run than others out there. If you check out Money Puck, you’ll find they agree that the North is close to over but aren’t quite as confident in the East, and their model thinks that the last spots in the West and Central are wide open. Dom’s not wrong often, but for the sake of entertainment value we’ll have to hope he is here.

Of course, there’s 20+ games to go, and lots of time for things to shift. Of those 14 teams that seemed locked in, at least one or two might completely collapse – 90% is a lot, but it’s not 100%. Some bad team that we’re close to writing off will probably go on a heater and at least make it interesting. And it’s worth noting that the races for seeding in all four divisions could be fantastic, with top spot up for grabs in all four. We don’t know how much that really matters, since home ice in a half-empty building might not be much of a factor, but it will give us some races to track.

But for those last playoff spots? Let’s cross our fingers that things tighten up, because we may be headed towards an anti-climactic finish in at least a few divisions. And maybe even in all four of them.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

No comments:

Post a Comment