Blog Entry

A look at the NHL playoff bubble

Posted on: February 15, 2012 12:08 pm
Edited on: February 15, 2012 12:20 pm
Can the Islanders pull off a miracle run? (Getty Images)

Pucks and Numbers:
a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the playoff bubble and what the teams on it need to do to make the postseason

By: Adam Gretz

Recent hot streaks by the Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning have sparked some playoff hope for their respective fan bases. On the other side, a recent slump that's come in the form of a 9-game losing streak has left some wondering if the Chicago Blackhawks could, amazingly, find themselves on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture when the regular season comes to a close.

Anything is possible, but even though there appears to be a large number of teams that are still "in" the playoff race, the harsh reality is that even a two or three-game deficit (four or six points in the standings) is a lot to overcome. It doesn't seem like it should be, but it is.

A couple of months ago I looked at how a slow start is extremely damaging to a teams playoff chances sooner than you might realize, and as the days of the regular season start to fall away those deficits become even more daunting. I mentioned on Twitter earlier this week that since the start of the '05-06 season there have only been two teams that managed to overcome a 5-point deficit this late in the season (the '06-07 Rangers and the '08-09 Blues) to qualify for the playoffs.

Ninety-five points is usually a safe bet to get your team into the playoffs, so with that in mind, let's take one more look at what each of the bubble teams will need to do over their remaining games to reach that level. Of course, it is possible for a team to make the playoffs with fewer than 95 points, and that may in fact happen this season, especially in the East, but I'm simply going with the number that tends to be a near automatic playoff berth.

Let's start with the Eastern Conference...

Eastern Conference Playoff Race
Seed Team Games Remaining Pts Needed Record Needed
7 Ottawa Senators 23 29 13-7-3
8 Toronto Maple Leafs 25 33 15-7-3
9 Washington Capitals 26 34 15-7-4
10 Winnipeg Jets 25 37 17-5-3
11 New York Islanders 26 39 17-4-5
12 Montreal Canadiens 25 40 18-3-4
13 Tampa Bay Lightning 26 41 18-3-5
14 Buffalo Sabres 26 41 18-3-5

Incredibly, Washington and Winnipeg still have an outside shot (at this point, a very outside shot) at winning the Southeast Division, which speaks more to the quality (or lack of it) of the division than anything else, but that hope of a Division title gets smaller with each loss. Once you get past Washington in the No. 9 spot the remaining teams have almost no margin for error.

The Canadiens? Better start praying. The Islanders, for example, have been playing some pretty great hockey recently, especially veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, but does anybody believe they have a 17-4-5 finish in them?

Even if it only took 90 points to reach the playoffs, they would still need a 15-7-4 finish.

Now, a look at the Western Conference...

Western Conference Playoff Race
Seed Team Games Remaining Pts Needed Record Needed
6 Chicago Blackhawks 25 30 15-10-0
7 Los Angeles Kings 25 30 15-10-0
8 Phoenix Coyotes 25 32 15-8-2
9 Calgary Flames 25 33 15-7-3
10 Colorado Avalanche 25 35 16-6-3
11 Dallas Stars 26 36 17-7-2
12 Minnesota Wild 26 37 17-6-3
13 Anaheim Ducks 26 40 20-6-0

When you look at in terms of how many games these teams need to win the rest of the way, the playoff races may not be as deep as they appear to be. When you get right down to it, there might only be four teams (Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Calgary) in the West fighting for three playoff spots.

Minnesota would need to play almost as well as it did in October through December to get back into the top-eight, which shows just how far that team fell over the past month-and-a-half. After 30 games the Wild had the best record in the league. Just 26 games later they're going to need to play like the best team in hockey for the remainder of the season just to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Bruce Boudreau has certainly helped get Anaheim going back in the right direction, but he's going to need to turn water into wine to get Anaheim, as well as its played in recent weeks, into the playofs this season.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Since: Aug 2, 2011
Posted on: February 16, 2012 8:24 pm

A look at the NHL playoff bubble

As unlikely as it sems, in recent season's the Ducks have been red hot after the All Star break. and remembering back 2 or 3 years when it seemed the Ducks were totally out of the playoff picture, miracously took the 8th place int he Western Conference.  

After last year when 4 of the eight places in the Western conference went to 4 of 5 out of the teams in the Pacific division.

The Ducks and Kings may get the 7 and 8th positions again this year, and ironically if teams such as Minnesota, Dallas and Colorado do falter, the chances are increased in favour of the Ducks

Since: Apr 17, 2010
Posted on: February 16, 2012 2:05 pm

A look at the NHL playoff bubble


7. Maple Leafs
8. Capitals

9. Senators
10. Jets
11. Canadiens
12. Islanders
13. Lightning
14. Sabres
15. Hurricanes


6. Kings
7. Blackhawks
8. Ducks

9. Flames
10. Stars
11. Coyotes
12. Avalanche
13. Wild
14. Oilers
15. Blue Jackets

The 8th spot in both conferences will have between 90 and 92 points.

Since: Sep 8, 2006
Posted on: February 16, 2012 1:57 pm

A look at the NHL playoff bubble

Where is the analysis for Columbus and their playoff hopes? If Mason turns it around and gets 20-25 shutouts and Carter gets a goal a game to catch up to the 40 or so they had pencilled in for him, they'd be a shoe in even minus Nash.

Since: Sep 21, 2006
Posted on: February 15, 2012 7:06 pm

A look at the NHL playoff bubble

Absolutely agree with YEAH YEAH YEAH....   In the Eastern Conference since the lockout the team that finished 8th had 93, 88, 93, 94, 92, and 92 points.  In some of those years that team that finshed in 7th also had below 95 points.  Every team in the East that you mentioned is on pace to finish at 89 points or lower. 

Since: Nov 6, 2009
Posted on: February 15, 2012 3:22 pm

A look at the NHL playoff bubble

Odds are that none of those teams in the East will hit 95 points.  None of those teams are on pace for 95 and only the Caps seem capable of raising their game to get there. It could be a year where 88 points gets the last playoff spot, and if that's the case then all of those teams are still very much alive.  

In the West, I could see the Ducks coming from way, way back and snagging 8th.  They finished about that strongly last year and they certainly have the talent to do it again.  Also, I don't think it will take 95 in the West this year.  There's no reason to think that teams like Phoenix and Calgary have another gear.  90-92 is more like it.

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