And just like that, there are only two more weeks left in this NHL regular season. Micah Blake McCurdy is working overtime to get his playoff spider up and running and every Maple Leafs fan is trying to keep their heart from vomiting out of their bodies in hopes of making the playoffs. These are great times for NHL fans, but only if the system is fair. That’s right, I’m going to complain about the playoff formatting just like everybody else.
With the way the format is now, the champions from the league’s four divisions will play the team with the second-best standings point total from each conference outside the top three from each division. The second and third best teams from each team will play against each other in the first round.
If this format were to take place, Washington, the current favorites for the President’s Trophy, will have to play either the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders or Boston Bruins. If they win that series, they’ll have to play the winner of the Columbus Blue Jackets or Pittsburgh Penguins: two teams that are on pace to be the second and third best teams in the entire NHL, let alone the Metropolitan Division. Meanwhile, the New York Rangers, currently the fourth best team in the Metropolitan Division and on pace for the sixth best record in the NHL, could play any of the eighth, 10th, or tied for 11th best teams in the NHL to get towards the conference finals. Last time I checked, that’s a significantly easier road towards a championship than their much better Metropolitan division rivals could go through to win the Stanley Cup.
Only Gary Bettman (and maaaaaaaaybe Roger Goodell) could find such a creative way to screw this up. Neil Greenberg has come up with an idea to use winning-only percentage to determine playoff seeding and then use the entirety of each conference to determine match-ups. The problem with this proposal to me is what is the darn point of using overtime losses all year if they aren’t the most important thing in determining who makes the postseason?
For me, I would go with scrapping divisions entirely and finding a way to go with a European Soccer format in terms of regular season scheduling. In other words, we scrap any notion of divisions entirely and play everyone within their conference three times each followed by playing everyone outside their conference two times each. Along with that, with Las Vegas being the latest NHL franchise, I would either consider the Arizona Coyotes completely bankrupt since Bettman didn’t get his David Stern on by sending last summer’s number one pick to them (Austin Matthews is coming home!!!!) or I would add a franchise in Seattle, Kansas City or Milwaukee and call it a day.
That way, you have as even of conferences as possible with either 30 or 32 teams and that results in a 72 or 77-game regular season. From there, you still keep the current standings points format, but you simply get back to the previous version of playoff positioning where the top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs and match-ups from each round are determined by the regular season standings points of each remaining team that advanced.
Some will be quite furious at my proposal because it shortens the regular season and might make some statistical milestones much tougher to break, but unlike Republicans towards Obamacare and Philadelphia Eagles fans towards Donovan McNabb during the entire 2000s, I came with a plan B proposal that shouldn’t be significantly detrimental towards anyone. Anywho, that’s my two cents on this. In the meantime, it’s time to say goodbye to the playoff chances for team Computer Boys and Jaromir Jagr from the latest edition of the Nerdy 30.
30. Colorado (82-game standings points pace: 48 points, Last Week: 30) 29. Arizona (Pace: 70 pts, LW: 29) 28. Vancouver (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 28) 27. New Jersey (Pace: 74 pts, LW: 27) 26. Buffalo (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 26) 25. Detroit (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 25) 24. Dallas (Pace: 78 pts, LW: 24)
Before we start with the Panthers, I guess I’ll have to talk about the Arizona Coyotes since I’ve written about them once in previous Nerdy 30 posts all year. First, after starting the season 11-22-6, they have gone 16-16-3 since. Last time I checked, playing like an 82-point team is a whole lot better than playing like their 59-point version, but that’s still not close enough to make the playoffs anytime soon.
Once again, this team has zero forward depth for the short-term and long-term. Somehow, 35-year old Radim Vrbata is their leading scorer with 54 points and shot taker with over 14 attempts per hour at even strength and 215 shots in all situations. No other forward on this team is racking up more than 34 points or averaging over two shots on goal per game. Max Domi might have had his presidential candidate win, but he has missed so much playing time due to injuries that it has stunted a bit of his development. Along with that, Anthony Duclair has probably had the worst season any player under 23-years old can have this season (46.9% puck possession and 12 points in 51 games).
Oliver Ekman-Larsson literally is doing everything on his own in the blue line even though Alex Goligoski is doing whatever he can to redeem himself (15 points in his last 25 games). Beyond that, Jacob Chychrun might be the lone bright spot on the entire team for the long term (19 points in 61 games and +0.9% relative to team puck possession). Beyond that, every spot on this team is in dire need of an upgrade. Arizona can possibly get the top pick, possibly having the best prospect pool, and having so many draft picks within the next couple of entry drafts however it wants, but eventually, those prospects have to become talented NHL players. Dylan Strome should have gotten an entire NHL season under his belt instead of the measly seven games he had in October. Clayton Keller could be another franchise saviour, but will that genuinely be enough to convince veteran free agents to come over to Arizona. The whole franchise just feels eternally stale and I just don’t know what to make of them anymore until I see otherwise.
23. Florida (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 19) 22. Philadelphia (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 23) 21. Winnipeg (Pace: 81 pts, LW: 22) 20. Carolina (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 21) 19. Tampa Bay (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 20)
- 18. New York Islanders (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 18)
- 17. Ottawa (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 17)
At first, it looked like the Panthers could make it back to playoff contention. They won eight of nine games from January 26th to February 20th. Since then, the wheels have come off as Florida has gone 4-10-1 during that span. Unlike their crazy winning stretch before hand where goals were coming from everywhere (out-scoring the opposition 35-26), the Panthers have seen their offense dry up and, thus, get out-scored 35-46 in the process.
It is great to see Jonathan Hurberdeau back in action, but it was clearly too little too late for him to be such a game changing force that was required from him. Along with that, Thomas Vanek might have eight points, but his shooting percentage was starting to worsen at just the right time. Before he came to the Panthers, the former Red Wing was on pace to have 15.2% of his shots on goal go in the back of the net. That would have been his highest percentage since his age-26 season in 2009-10. Vanek is 33 now and to see his shooting percentage drop to 5.9% is vindication that you simply can’t use goals and assists as a perfect indicator for how talented you are each season without more context. Surely enough, Vanek continues to be a disaster in puck possession (44.2% since the trade deadline) and has sunk Jonathan Marchessault and Nick Bjugstad in the process.
Along with that, the injuries to both Aaron Ekblad and Roberto Luongo have come at the worst possible times. For Ekblad, we might start to be seeing a bit of a concussion history for the prized defenseman and this will certainly throw a massive monkey wrench into Florida’s plans long term if these problems keep persisting. James Reimer and Jakub Kindl have actually held the fort down quite decently in their absence, but they’ll never be able to completely replace them in such an important part of the season.
In the meantime, it is back to the drawing board for Florida’s offense in particular, as they will have to figure out how they are going to get some more scoring when an injury crisis hits again and if Jaromir Jagr ever decides to retire.
- 16. Calgary (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 16)
- 15. St. Louis (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 15)
- 14. Nashville (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 13)
- 13. Los Angeles (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 12)
- 12. Anaheim (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 14)
- 11. Chicago (Pace: 113 pts, LW: 11)
- 10. Montreal (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 8)
- 9. Edmonton (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 10)
With Calgary going on a 10-game winning streak this month, they have not only solidified themselves as a playoff team this season, but they have also raised their status as a possible conference finalist if the match-ups go their way. If you really want to expand how well the Flames have been lately, consider that they have now gone 17-5-1 since January 26th. During that time, they have scored three goals or more on 17 occasions while giving up three goals or less 18 times. That is shear dominance!
It is really good to see Brian Elliott return to normal (93.2% save percentage in all situations) after starting the season so horribly. Along with that, head coach Glen Galutzan has wisely dropped Troy Brouwer down to the third line while using a poo-poo platter of forwards to line up with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Amazingly, Michael Ferland has been the biggest beneficiary with 9 goals and 11 points in his last 21 games. Along with that, the second line tandem of Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik continue to work wonders for this hockey team and the top pairing of Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giotdano has been an absolute nightmare in all facets of the stat sheet.
If the Hamilton-Giordano pair impose their will in April and May, there’s no telling how far this Flames team can go and who says no to having four skilled forwards plus rookie Matthew Tkachuk that can be counted upon on both sides of the rink?
- 8. Toronto (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 9)
- 7. San Jose (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 7)
- 6. Boston (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 6)
- 5. New York Rangers (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 5)
- 4. Pittsburgh (Pace: 114 pts, LW: 4)
- 3. Columbus (Pace: 114 pts, LW: 3)
Welp, their possible first round opponent might have something to say about it. But first, they need to get out of a losing funk that they have put themselves in. The Sharks have lost three games in a row, four of their last six and six of their last 10 games. Goals have been coming at a premium for San Jose during these last 10 games as their have been 22 total goals (including fifteen even strength goals) have been scored by the good guys and the opposition each during this run of form.
What can be a bit spooky is that the expected goal total during these last ten games has only been 25.9-25.8 in all situations according to Corsica. It’s been a bit of a never-ending story with the Sharks that they don’t have much depth on offense beyond their star players. Beyond should-be Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, no one else on the Sharks has over 10 goals this season. Along with that, the Marc Edouard-Vlasic-Justin Braun pairing have been a disaster being the shut down the team’s top opposition lately (47.7% and 46.9% puck possession, respectively). Even during this 10-game funk, it’s been the usual suspects and Joe Thornton’s assists as the only Sharks players racking up over a half-point per game.
That’s simply not good enough if they want to go far in the playoffs. Last season, Joel Ward and Thomas Hertl provided the extra goal scoring depth that San Jose needed. Now, the two are both shooting well below 10% this season. In fact, Ward’s 8.5% shooting would be the lowest it has ever been for one season since the 2010-11 campaign. Fortunately, he made up for that with the Predators by racking up 13 points in 12 playoff games that postseason and getting a big contract and quasi-overrated reputation with the Washington Capitals afterwards. You eliminate those two weapons and Janik Hansen’s impact due to an upper body injury and who knows where the rest of the scoring is coming from. Boy does Peter DeBoer need to find the answer to that fast.
- 2. Washington (Pace: 117 pts, LW: 2)
- 1. Minnesota (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 1)
After so much misery, the Capitals are back where they belong thanks to three straight wins, including arguably must win games against Calgary and division rivals Columbus. Now they play Arizona twice, Colorado and Minnesota to round out the month. Time to build on that division lead indeed.