Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Everyone wants to win, but who can’t afford to lose? It’s the 2022 playoff pressure rankings

The playoffs are here, and the pressure is intense. That’s true for everyone. You’re a rookie in your very first postseason? Pressure. A veteran chasing that elusive ring? Pressure. A coach, GM, a referee or the guy who has to run out and fix the broken glass? Pressure. A sportswriter? Let’s not get crazy, but sure, feeling hungry and kind of hungover is its own kind of pressure.

Pressure is everywhere. But it’s not spread out evenly, and some teams are facing more than others. So as the eight first-round series get under way and the narratives start to form, lets take our annual look at which teams are under the most pressure, and which ones are carrying a more manageable load.

As in previous years, we’ll use the following categories to make this seem scientific.

Expectations factor: You can’t be under all that much pressure to win if nobody think you actually can.

Drought factor: It’s just not the same if you have a recent banner or two already hanging in your rink. But if the guy who captained your last Cup winner has already gone grey, that’s bad. Somehow, the Washington Capitals fit into both categories. We’re working on that.

Ticking clock factor: Is the window slamming shut, either due to age, pending free agents or a cap crunch, or is the future looking bright?

Special circumstances: The part where I put my thumb on the scale to make sure the numbers add up to the ranking I’d already decided on.

Spoiler alert – You’re not going to be all that surprised by the top of the list, but I’ll do my best to keep you entertained along the way. See? Pressure!

16. Los Angeles Kings

Expectations factor: 2/10. The whims of the weird playoff format and Mike Smith’s weird puck-handling instincts have served up a winnable matchup in round one, but nobody thinks the Kings are winning the Cup this year.

Drought factor: 3/10. It’s been eight years since their last Cup, but that’s hardly a drought.

Ticking clock factor: 4/10. This one’s a bit tough. On the one hand, they’re a young team just coming out of a rebuild, and there look to be plenty of bright days ahead. On the other, this may be one of the last shots for the veteran core from the previous Cups, with Dustin Brown already announcing his retirement and Jonathan Quick somehow having just one year left on that forever-contract he signed in the heyday.

Special circumstances: +1. Beating the Oilers would lead to another round of Connor McDavid trade rumors, and you know those “generational superstar gets traded out of Edmonton” stories usually turn out for the Kings.

Pressure score: 10/30. You want to see Brown go out on a high note, but really, the rebuilding Kings are already playing with house money.

15. Nashville Predators

Expectations factor: 0/10. Without Jusse Saros at full health, just about nobody on the planet thinks they can beat the Avalanche.

Drought factor: 5/10. They’ve never won the Cup, and David Poile is about to head into decade five of his quest for a ring as GM.

Ticking clock factor: 5/10. Filip Forsberg is about to hit free agency, and Roman Josi and Matt Duchene both just had career years at 31. It’s also hard to see the Predators being significantly better than this in the next few years, which means the path back to the playoffs is shaky if Vegas and/or Winnipeg get back on track.

Special circumstances: +1. The Predators upsetting the Avalanche might cause an overreaction bordering on an existential crisis in Colorado, and more importantly would also be very funny.

Pressure score: 11/30. If they’d held on in Arizona and were playing the Flames, I’d have them a notch or two higher. But since everyone is already writing them off, there’s nowhere to go but up.

14. Washington Capitals

Expectations factor: 3/10. At some point, a consensus seemed to form that the Capitals were the weakest of the eight Eastern playoff teams, and that was before Alexander Ovechkin got banged up in the final week. All that said, they’re still a 100-point team.

Drought factor: 2/10. It’s been four years, which is probably long enough for everyone to sober up but that’s about it.

Ticking clock factor: 8/10. Ovechkin is a once-in-a-lifetime franchise player, and while he should be around for a few more years, the window to win a second Cup is starting to close. With the rest of the core also over 30, maybe it already is.

Special circumstances: +1. The fact that they spent all year long talking about the goaltending and then didn’t upgrade it at the deadline means that Brian MacLellan will be hearing some tough questions if they get lit up. Hey, they’re not playing an especially good offensive team, are they?

Pressure score: 14/30. Oh, also every neutral fan on the planet will be cheering for the Panthers.

13. New York Rangers

Expectations factor: 4/10. They’ve got a winnable first-round matchup and maybe the scariest goalie in the league, but I don’t see many picking them to go all that deep.

Drought factor: 9/10. That 1994 Cup win is getting pretty musty; at the time, it snapped what felt like an impossibly long 54-year drought, and they’re already more than halfway to getting back to that number. One lonely Cup in 82 years is kind of amazing.

Ticking clock factor: 2/10. Other than Chris Kreider, all the key guys are young enough that they’re either holding steady or getting better. Still, Igor Shesterkin may have just had a career year, and you don’t want to let that go to waste.

Special circumstances: 0. They just missed out on a matchup with the Capitals, which would have ratcheted up the pressure based on how last year and offseason played out. They certainly don’t like the Penguins, but it won’t be quite as embarrassing to lose to them.

Pressure score: 15/30. It’s New York, so the pressure will crank up in the years to come. Just not quite yet.

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