Here’s a little tidbit: NHL teams that are out of the playoffs at Thanksgiving are usually done for the season. Well, not exactly done for the season, but these teams don’t have much of a shot at taking the ice when the playoffs roll around in mid-April. Just how slim of a chance, you ask?
Well, according to the stats, since the 2005-06 NHL season, teams that were out of the playoff mix at Thanksgiving made the playoffs only 22.7% of the time. So, there’s a chance, but don’t lay money on it — unless you have a lot of money. Things are pretty tight right now in the NHL. In both the East and West, there’s only a one-point difference between the No. 8 and No. 9 teams, so there may be some movement, but that’s not what we consider here. We’re looking at the current, cut-and-dried numbers.
What puts a team on this list? What makes a team a surprise? Well, they have to be a team that made the playoffs last year and were picked to make the playoffs this year. The Edmonton Oilers are out of the mix — not a surprise. But a team that went to the Stanley Cup Final last season and is currently out of a playoff spot? Yeah, that team is a surprise. Here are the four teams that are shockingly out of the playoff race at this time.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning finished the 2014-15 season with a record of 50-24-3. The team’s 108 points were good enough to put them in third place in the Eastern Conference. If you consider the entire league, Tampa Bay was the fifth-place team. Right now, they sit at 10th place in the Eastern Conference and would be outside the playoffs if they began today. The Lightning struggled early in the season, perhaps the result of a hangover after their run to the Stanley Cup final. In the end, the team that led the NHL in scoring last season is not getting it done at this point in 2015-16.
2. Anaheim Ducks
The Anaheim Ducks finished last season in first place in the Pacific Division with 109 points, the third-highest total in the NHL. Heading into this season, many pundits picked the Ducks to win the Stanley Cup. Right now, they wouldn’t even make the playoffs. Anaheim ranks 29th in scoring, averaging two goals per game. They are in the middle of the pack with an average of 2.56 goals per game. The Ducks, like the Lightning, are a talent-rich team that should not be in this position at this point in the season. They may buck the trend and sneak into the playoffs, but they need to get it together — and quickly.
3. Winnipeg Jets
The team now known as the Winnipeg Jets was once the Atlanta Thrashers. In 2011, the Thrashers were relocated to Winnipeg thanks to new ownership. Last season was the first time the team made the playoffs since moving, finishing in fifth place with 99 points in the Central Division. It was by far the best season the team has experienced since relocating.
In fact, those 99 points were the highest number the team had ever put up. The previous high was 97 points by the 2006-07 Thrashers. Coincidentally, that’s the last season the franchise made the playoffs, and like last year’s Jets, they were swept in the first round. Needless to say, the Jets are going to need some help to make a second-straight playoff appearance.
4. Calgary Flames
Bob Hartley won the Jack Adams Award as the best coach in the NHL last season, taking the Calgary Flames to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Last season, under his watch, the team improved by 20 points in the standings, which was good enough for third place in the Pacific Division and the final Western Conference playoff berth.
This season, the Flames are among the worst teams in the West, tied in points with the Edmonton Oilers with 18. Their -31 goal differential is the worst in the league. Yes, the Flames are in a rebuild year, but after the season they had last year, this is the type of drop-off that no one expected to see.
Statistics courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com.