Stock Watch for NHL Teams on the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoff Bubble
With 10 games or less remaining in each team's NHL schedule, the fight for a precious playoff position is reaching its boiling point. Four teams are already sitting pretty with more than 100 points, but further down the standings, the intensity—and scoreboard-watching—cranks up as virtually every game becomes a must-win.
The fantastic website SportsClubStats.com provides up-to-the-minute odds of each team's chances of reaching the playoffs, as well as their prospects for winning the Presidents' Trophy or the Stanley Cup.
I've used that data to determine our bubble teams. They're either currently in wild-card position or still have a chance to break into the top eight in their conference.
But those odds aren't the end of the story. As they say in the stock market, "past performance doesn't predict future performance." Here's a look at how these nine teams are trending as they fight for their playoff lives.
Current Status: 9 games remaining, 37-25-11, 85 points, first wild card in Western Conference
Odds of Making Playoffs: 85.3 percent
Stock Report: FALLING
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper kept the Minnesota Wild's playoff hopes alive when both Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom were sidelined in January. The rookie put up an 11-2-2 record during 16 straight starts for Minnesota, including five straight wins right before the trade deadline.
Veteran Ilya Bryzgalov was acquired from Edmonton to provide some relief down the stretch and into the playoffs. Instead, Kuemper's performance has taken a dip.
He's 1-4-2 since Bryzgalov's arrival and has given up three goals or more in five of those contests. Kuemper was pulled after two periods against Vancouver on Wednesday, allowing three goals against the league's 28th ranked offense on just 12 shots.
The Wild remain six points ahead of the ninth place Dallas Stars in the Western Conference, so their playoff position should be secure.
If they hope to improve upon their five-game appearance in Round 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks last year, the Wild will need to get stronger down the stretch than the ho-hum 3-3-4 record they've posted in the last 10 games.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Current Status: 10 games remaining, 37-29-6, 80 points, first wild card in Eastern Conference
Odds of Making Playoffs: 71.1 percent
Stock Report: RISING
The Eastern Conference wild-card race is a dogfight. Four teams are currently tied with 80 points, which puts two of them in the playoffs, while two will miss the cut.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games. They improved their playoff chances significantly on Tuesday with a 4-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings—one of the teams they're battling. The win came even though Jackets' starter Sergei Bobrovsky left the game after one period because of the flu with his team leading 2-1 (per NHL.com).
The Blue Jackets just missed out on the playoffs in 2012-13. They finished the season tied with the Minnesota Wild with 55 points, but lost the tiebreaker as the Wild had two more wins. They won't want to be caught on the outside for a second straight season.
Backup Curtis McElhinney has been solid this season with a 9-9-1 record, but Columbus will need a healthy Bobrovsky back in net as soon as possible to backstop this final push.
Current Status: 9 games remaining, 35-26-12, 82 points, second wild card in Western Conference
Odds of Making Playoffs: 69.9 percent
Stock Report: OSCILLATING
Here's the good news for the Phoenix Coyotes. They're currently in a playoff spot and have the best record of the teams they're battling in the past 10 games at 6-3-1.
Now, the bad news. The status of goaltender Mike Smith remains uncertain after he left Phoenix's Monday game against the New York Rangers with a leg injury.
The Coyotes had a 3-2 lead over New York when Smith left the game with 7:34 remaining in the third period. They let a point slip away when the Rangers came back to win in overtime.
The following night, backup Thomas Greiss shut the door on the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 3-2 Coyotes win, but Greiss has never played more than 19 games in a season. The Coyotes will hope they won't have to rely on him to start a long stretch of key games down this home stretch.
John Gambadaro of Arizona Sports Radio 98.7 has offered up the most specific prognosis for Smith to date:
Hearing Coyotes Goalie Mike Smith has a leg strain and will be out at least two weeks.— John Gambadoro (@Gambo987) March 25, 2014
That would put Smith back in the lineup with a week to spare before the playoffs start, but would leave the Coyotes in the lurch for six games as they fight to fend off the threatening Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks.
Detroit Red Wings
Current Status: 10 games remaining, 33-25-14, 80 points, second wild card in Eastern Conference
Odds of Making Playoffs: 85.3 percent
Stock Report: STEADY
If there's one thing we've learned over the past 22 seasons, it's never to count out the Detroit Red Wings at playoff time.
The Wings hold the record for the longest series of consecutive playoff appearances in professional sports. The last time they missed out was 1990—the year of the Edmonton Oilers' last Stanley Cup win.
The Red Wings don't just show up—they get things done.
Of those 22 appearances, they've been knocked out in the first round just seven times. Balance that against four Stanley Cups—the most of any team during the same stretch—and it's easy to see why the Red Wings franchise is one of the most well-respected in the league.
Last season, the Detroit snuck into the seventh seed on a late season surge, then upset the Anaheim Ducks before pushing the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks to seven games. This year, despite being ravaged by injuries, once again they remain in the hunt.
The Wings are currently in position to meet the Boston Bruins in the first round. That could spark a brand new rivalry between two Original Six teams that haven't met in the playoffs since the 1956-57 season.
Current Status: 10 games remaining, 34-27-11, 79 points, ninth place in Western Conference
Odds of Making Playoffs: 40.1 percent
Stock Report: FALLING
After five straight seasons out of the playoffs, the Dallas Stars undertook a major makeover last summer in an attempt to reset the team's fortunes and get back to playing competitive hockey.
New general manager Jim Nill and coach Lindy Ruff spearheaded the franchise reset, which has yielded solid results in its first year. Tyler Seguin is fourth overall in NHL scoring and has formed a dynamic pairing with Jamie Benn that echoes the glory days of Brett Hull and Adam Oates.
Unfortunately for the Stars, it might be one more year before the team is ready to make a real playoff push. Dallas has gone cold in March and is 2-4 in its last six games, with the only wins coming against the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets.
So far, the Stars haven't shown enough determination to keep up with the resilient Coyotes, who now sit three points up in the last playoff spot. Dallas is also now threatened by the determined Vancouver Canucks, whose three-game winning streak has put them just one point back.
The Stars will need to dig deep if they hope to turn around their swoon and make a late charge towards ending their playoff drought this season.
Current Status: 9 games remaining, 34-27-12, 80 points, ninth place in Eastern Conference
Odds of Making Playoffs: 31.9 percent
Stock Report: RISING
This season's new divisional alignment hasn't done the Washington Capitals any favors. With their automatic top-three seed stripped away, old-time Southeast Division champs are now in a battle to stretch their string of consecutive playoff appearances to seven seasons.
Washington is fifth in the Eastern Conference in goals scored. League-leader Alex Ovechkin has 48 of the Caps' 212 goals—more than 22 percent. But Ovechkin truly represents both sides of the coin for this franchise—he's also second last in the league with a stunning minus-31 on a team that's 12th of 16 in the East in goals-against.
Despite their wide-open approach, the Caps are unbeaten in their last six games down the stretch, with a 4-0-2 record. They're part of the big 80-point cluster in the East, and despite having played one more game than the Blue Jackets and Red Wings, they're well positioned to keep getting it done.
Look for Washington to squeak into the playoffs, then flame out in the first round—as usual.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Current Status: 8 games remaining, 36-30-8, 80 points, 10th place in Eastern Conference
Odds of Making Playoffs: 24.6 percent
Stock Report: CRASHING
Oh, Toronto! Two weeks ago you were sitting comfortably in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff pack. This isn't the time to lose six in a row!
The advanced stats crew has insisted all year that the Leafs' success has been a product of smoke-and-mirrors—unsustainable luck that made them look better than they were. The swoon started after goaltender Jonathan Bernier suffered a groin injury against the Los Angeles Kings on March 13, but hasn't stopped even though Bernier returned to action last Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues.
With only eight games remaining on their schedule, the Leafs have the smallest opportunity to earn points of the four teams currently clumped at 80. They're also suffering a huge confidence crisis while the Blue Jackets, Red Wings and Capitals are all playing pretty decent hockey.
Toronto's crash-and-burn exit from the 2013 playoffs at the hands of the Boston Bruins is the stuff of legend. Is the team's collapse this year coming just a little sooner?
New Jersey Devils
Current Status: 10 games remaining, 31-28-13, 75 points, 11th in Eastern Conference
Odds of Making Playoffs: 18.3 percent
Stock Report: FALLING
With 10 games left in their schedule, the New Jersey Devils are five points behind the group of four teams clustered at 80 points around the final playoff spots in the East. The Devils have never won more than three games in a row this season, but they'll need to string together some victories if they hope to avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight year.
Momentum is not on their side, but the schedule is. New Jersey has lost four of its last six but faces relatively easy opposition down the stretch, with games against just two teams currently in playoff positions.
The team's most critical upcoming matchup could be at home on April 4 against Washington, who's part of the same fight for those wild-card positions.
Leading scorer Jaromir Jagr is taking a positive attitude.
"We lost some games and some points that we shouldn't," he told the Associated Press (h/t SI.com), "But on the other side, we have the opportunity to make a great story if we make it, so it's at least exciting. That's the way I look at it. Something to remember, something special."
Current Status: 8 games remaining, 34-30-10, 78 points, 10th in Western Conference
Odds of Making Playoffs: 4.4 percent
Stock Report: RISING
Still four points out of eighth place, the Vancouver Canucks' odds of mounting a late charge to the playoffs are minuscule. The team has shown great heart through most of March, ever since they were all-but-eliminated after road losses to Phoenix and Dallas.
The Canucks have gone 6-3 since that time and are currently riding their first three-game win streak since December.
The Canucks' revolving door of injuries has continued, with Henrik Sedin now sidelined for the second time this year. The team's improved fortunes have come as a result of committed play and timely scoring from up and down the lineup.
Rookie goalie Eddie Lack has also returned to his steady self after a rough patch around the time of the trade of Vancouver's long-time incumbent Roberto Luongo.
The Canucks have already played more games than either Phoenix or Dallas, so any chance they have involves them staying red-hot while both the Coyotes and Stars falter.
Whether Vancouver makes the playoffs or not, a strong finish to the season restores some pride to a franchise that has been battered over the course of a rough year, and probably saves a few jobs along the way.
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