The Carolina Hurricanes probably shouldn't have wasted their time with hockey for most of this season and instead worked for a landscaping business.
Because that's exactly what they ended up doing—digging the team a hole. A large hole. And, also, a hole they have to climb out of. While the team has definitely done its share of helping the franchise out of the trench lately, winning nine of its last eleven games as well as five straight, this will be no easy task.
It's going to be a tough, and miraculous, stretch for Carolina if they want to put together an amazing streak and sneak into the playoffs. The good news is that if they can do it, the 'Canes might be one of the most feared eighth seeds ever . The bad news...well, let's just say it'll be everything but impossible for them to even qualify for the postseason.
Because the Olympic break still extends for anther two weeks, the Hurricanes are going to enter March rested but impatient, nine points out of a playoff spot with six spots to jump. While that doesn't seem too bad at first, consider our calculations.
Over the past four seasons before this one, following the NHL lockout, the playoff cutoff line in both conferences has been between 91 and 96 every time, with the average of the eight playoff teams figuring out to be exactly 93 points.
Given that, at the moment, the Western Conference's playoff cutoff line is five points higher than the East's, we can estimate that the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference is going to have about 90 points (with the eighth seed in the West having around 95).
That means that the Hurricanes are going to have to earn 35 points (they have 55 at the moment) in 21 games—a stretch where only 42 points are possible. The Hurricanes will basically have to earn every possible point except for seven, one sixth of their highest mathematically possible amount. And that's only to get approximately near the cutoff!
Additionally, the schedule isn't going to make it easy. First of all, these spring games are going to be packed together—Carolina plays 21 games in the last 40 days of the regular season. There are only going to be three stretches of two days without a game, and there are two back-to-backs also included.
Furthermore, the schedule is set to include only one Western team (Phoenix on March 12), and 11 of the 20 games against the East are against teams in the top seven spots at the moment.
While Carolina will nearly split the final set of games in terms of location, with 10 in Raleigh compared to 11 away, the Hurricanes will stay in the southeast quite a bit. They're set to play nine of those games in the division, playing each team at least once with three matches apiece with Washington and Atlanta.
The upcoming agenda is also going to be very streaky as there are a couple interesting, while not particularly game-changing, notes that appear as soon as you glance at it in calendar format. In the final six weeks of the regular season, the Hurricanes will play every Thursday and Saturday, but have no remaining games on Friday and only one more on a Monday.
This intriguing and difficult schedule is going to make it even tougher for a Hurricanes squad that, despite their recent upturn, is still third-to-last in the NHL. With such a tight six weeks coming up following the rest of the Olympic break, the 'Canes might have to have a miraculous spring if they want to meet the required quota of 15 wins or more in just 21 games.
Also, we have to factor in that the decision of whether they even want to try and make a run for it could be a tough one. While it might become a far simpler choice if the Hurricanes play just so-so hockey for the first two weeks of March, right now the risk/reward factor is a big issue in many minds.
Do the Hurricanes players and coaches want to try and go for gold (or more like eighth place), or do they want to plan for the future—gain experience for prospects, manage to hold on to a top-five overall draft pick, and focus on trading to rebuild the roster? That may be a tough question to answer at the moment!
However, if the final decision is to be ambitious and try for the postseason, it will set the stage for what is looking to be a very tense and interesting spring for Carolina players and followers.
But the "hail mary" of hockey is likely not to come without a price—not only for the team as a whole, especially with the fact that falling short will be all but inevitable, but for fans like me loading up on tickets in hopes of perhaps seeing first-hand the next "Miracle on Ice".
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the Carolina Hurricanes. In his 17 months so far with the site, he has written over 160 articles and received over 100,000 total reads.
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