You hear players and coaches say it ad nauseam and it can get lost in the clichéd platitudes of the post-game press conference, but there’s a lot of truth in it: It’s really hard to make up ground in the standings.
How hard? You hear GMs use Thanksgiving as a cutoff time to really decide if they have a team who can make a run. That’s four and a half months before the end of the season. Yet, even earlier you can start to cross off some teams whose odds are getting a little too long.
Since the 2005-06 season only five of 44 teams who were at least five points out of the playoffs on November 1 have rallied to clinch a postseason berth.
That’s just 11.4% of the teams in that position finding a way to step on the gas for the next five and a half months.
This season, November 1 saw four teams at least five points out of the playoffs.
Columbus Blue Jackets
There aren’t many people looking to put down money on Columbus rallying to grab a wild card spot. With a 2-10-0 record and the fewest points in the NHL, the odds of Columbus being the team that beats the odds to clinch a playoff berth are slim.
They’re 21st in the NHL in goals for with 29 (and have played at least one more game than everyone below them) and they’ve allowed the second most goals of any team. They’re 21st in CF% at 48.4%.
Last season’s lack of success was largely placed on their league-leading number of man-games lost. A late-season standings surge when the team was at its healthiest helped to cement that narrative. In their final 19 games the team went 16-2-1.
However, there were warning signs that that surge may not have been all it was cracked up to be. Getting 86.8% of the standings points while posting a 17th ranked CF% of 49.9% was one of those warning signs. They weren’t controlling play during those wins. They were also grabbing those points with a high shooting percentage and save percentage, leading to a league-leading PDO of 103.1.
Now, they deserve a better fate than being dead last in the NHL, but this isn’t a playoff team.
Toronto Maple Leafs
If you knew in July that on November 1 the Maple Leafs and Ducks would be tied in standings points, wouldn’t Leafs fans have been pumped?
The Maple Leafs are probably better than expected, but they’ve found themselves inside this group. But unlike Columbus, no one thought that Toronto was trying to get into the playoffs. They’re in full rebuild mode and their 15th ranked score-adjusted CF% of 50% is just a bonus note that something is going right there.
Maybe it’s the system of new coach Mike Babcock, maybe the One-Year Contract Army is starting to gel a bit.
But with their dreadful numbers last year and the spectre of all these one-year deals getting shipped out for draft picks are assuring that the best case scenario in the standings is that they’ll damage their draft lottery odds and be well rested for the World Cup.
That’s especially true when you look down the middle over their first games and see the four players who have been at center the most are Nazem Kadri, Nick Spaling, Tyler Bozak and Peter Holland. Next in ice time at center? Shawn Matthias, Daniel Winnik, Byron Froese. That’s the Toronto Maple Leafs, not the Marlies.
Patrick Roy’s Avalanche have been a possession nightmare. He can say all he wants about how they don’t play that way — with the puck? it’s a stat, not a system — but it’s clear that it’s not working. They’re kind of the inverse of the Maple Leafs. Great center and forward depth overall, but they just can’t control play at all.
They currently sit at the bottom of an incredibly tough Central Division that is going to be difficult for anyone to climb through, especially when your team sports a league-worst 41.3% CF% and a 4-7-1 record. That puts them five points back of the sixth place Chicago Blackhawks, who currently sit outside the playoff picture.
You could argue for a small sample size, but this has been the case since Roy took over in Colorado. Their 42.7% CF% last season was only better than the historically bad Buffalo Sabres.
If you’re picking one of these teams to buck the trend, it’s probably the Anaheim Ducks. For some it might be a gut feeling that a team with the individual player talent on this roster couldn’t really be this bad.
In reality, they’ve been among the worst of this group in many metrics, scoring just 14 goals in 11 games, the fewest of any NHL team, and they’ve been shutout five times, once more than they were all of last season. They’re doing this while getting some pretty solid goaltending from Frederik Andersen, who has a .935 save percentage. Overall the team save percentage at even strength of .933 is 11th in the NHL.
Why pick them? Scoring goals is something that should turn around and the rest of their game isn’t scraping the bottom of the barrel.
They have a team shooting percentage at even strength of 4.2%. That’s ridiculously low and would be historic if it stays that way all season. They have three players among the top 20 players who have taken the most shots in the league without scoring a single goal: Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Jakob Silfverberg. I’m betting those three start to score.
I’d also track back to last season as a reason that they’re most likely to get in from this group. The Ducks made it to the Western Conference Final last season and had a 51.5% CF%, which ranked 13th in the league. It’s not an outstanding ranking, but it at least provides some hope, unlike the others in this group. If someone can do it, it’s probably the Ducks.
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All CF% are score-adjusted. Advanced stats via War on Ice.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.