Thursday, May 20, 2021

Every team wants to win. Some teams have to win. It’s the playoff pressure rankings

Playoff pressure comes in different levels. Every game is crucial, and every team wants to win. But what if you don’t? After all, 15 teams are eliminated in every postseason, but the reactions can be very different. Some teams, if they’re being honest, might just be happy to be there, and consider any kind of postseason success as a bonus. Other teams absolutely need to go on a deep run or even win it all, or else the world will end and everyone will be fired, traded or jettisoned into the center of the sun.

So today, let’s go through the 16 teams that are still alive and rank them based on how much pressure they’re under to have a successful postseason. We’ll do this scientifically, assigning scores to some key categories.

Expectations factor: How far does everyone expect you to go? Everyone wants to be the favorite, but that brings extra attention and more pressure, while being an underdog takes some of the heat off.

Drought factor: How long has it been since a team has had postseason success? If your fan base is still working off the hangover from the last Cup celebration, you can’t be under that much pressure. But if its been a rough last few years (or decades), the temperature gets turned up.

Ticking clock factor: Some teams are built to last, while others are running out of chances. Is there reason to think that this might be a last chance for this team to contend, due to age, salary cap, pending departures or other factors? A closing window ratchets up the pressure significantly.

Special circumstances: A chance for me to cheat weight any additional factors that don’t fit into the previous three categories.

We’ll start from the bottom, which is to say the team facing the least pressure, and work our way up to a top spot selection that I’m sure will come as a jaw-dropping surprise to all of you. Let’s do this…

16. Nashville Predators

Expectations factor: 0/10. They weren’t even supposed to make the playoffs until they got hot in the second half. Now they’re facing a Presidents’ Trophy near-miss that may not even be the best team in the division.

Drought factor: 5/10. The Predators have never won a Cup. Neither has David Poile.

Ticking clock factor: 6/10. The core is getting up there, Filip Forsberg is one more year away from UFA status, and this is almost certainly the last chance to get a Cup for Pekka Rinne in Nashville.

Special circumstances: +1. Their late run meant they passed on a chance to be the deadline’s biggest sellers. It was the right call, but will feel like a missed opportunity if they just go out in four.

Pressure score: 12/30. They’re under the least pressure of any playoff team. Which is to say, still a ton of pressure.

15. St. Louis Blues

Expectations factor: 3/10. Expectations were reasonably high heading into the season. Now? Not so much, as the Blues will have to go through two of the best teams in the league just to get out of the division and look like enormous underdogs. Mix in an ongoing COVID situation, and the deck is stacked against them.

Drought factor: 1/10. Blues fans who waited five decades for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup shouldn’t even be paying attention to this season, because they’re still celebrating from two years ago.

Ticking clock factor: 7/10. There’s no imminent exodus coming, but the core of this team is almost entirely made up of guys in their late 20s and early 30s, and they look like they’ll lose a few key players to free agency.

Special circumstances: +2. Maybe this is just me, but it sure feels like there’s more pressure on the Blues than there should be, right? By all rights, they should still be paying with house money after 2019. But Doug Armstrong and Craig Berube aren’t exactly giving off the vibe.

Pressure score: 13/30. When your team finally wins a Cup after a long drought, does that lower the pressure in future years? No really, I’m asking, I have no way of knowing.

14. Minnesota Wild

Expectations factor: 1/10. Oh didn’t you hear, the Avalanche and Golden Knights are already scheduled to play for the Stanley Cup in round two.

Drought factor: 9/10. The Wild haven’t won a Cup in franchise history, and have only been out of the second round once, 18 years ago. And before that, the North Stars didn’t win in 26 seasons, including two trips to the final where they got to run into dynasties.

Ticking clock factor: 5/10. It’s Kirill Kaprizov’s team now, but guys like Ryan Suter and Zach Parise are winding down.

Special circumstances: -1. The Wild exceeded expectations and delivered arguably the most entertaining regular season in franchise history, so we’re kind of already into icing-on-the-cake territory here.

Pressure score: 14/30. But seriously, screw all those people raving about Knights/Avs, am I right?

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