Breaking Down Every NHL Team's Playoff Chances Post-Trade Deadline

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor IMarch 6, 2014

Breaking Down Every NHL Team's Playoff Chances Post-Trade Deadline

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Now that the trade deadline dust has had 24 hours to settle, how has the NHL playoff picture changed? Teams like Montreal, Minnesota, Los Angeles and the Rangers have greatly improved their situations, while teams like Vancouver, Columbus and Tampa Bay have been stung.

    To compute every team's chances of making the playoffs, a combination of various statistical approaches were used, like those published by Sports Club Stats, Playoff Status and Hockey Reference. Each of these systems takes the current positioning of each team and the matchups in the schedule's remaining games into account.

    While this isn't a complete breakdown of the trades that were made, those with the most significant impact on each team's calculated chances are studied.

    In the end, we've got all 30 NHL teams coming up, including where they are now, what to expect and the impact of the trade deadline on their playoff chances. Let's begin!

    All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.


30. Buffalo Sabres: 0%

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Buffalo Sabres started the season with only 14 points in their first 30 games and currently sit dead last overall, six points back of Edmonton.

    This will be their third straight playoff absence, their eighth in 12 years, and they haven't won a playoff series since 2007. Their winning percentage is the worst since they went 16-43-19 in 1971-72, their sophomore season.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The sell-mode Sabres are always a team to watch at the trade deadline. Phil Housley, Tom Barrasso, Ryan Miller, Tyler Ennis and Nikita Zadorov were all drafted with picks that were acquired at the deadline.

    Buffalo could very well have done it again, acquiring St. Louis' 2015 first-round selection, along with Chris Stewart, pending unrestricted free agent Jaroslav Halak and prospect William Carrier for pending unrestricted free agents Ryan Miller and Steve Ott.

    If Miller signs with the Blues and/or the team advances to the Western Conference Final, the Sabres would also receive St. Louis' first-round selection in 2014. Halak was then moved to Washington for Michal Neuvirth.

    It was a great move in what has otherwise been a very bleak season.

    The Sabres also acquired two second-round selections and Torrey Mitchell from Minnesota in the Matt Moulson deal, and they plucked Cory Conacher off the waiver wire.

    What to Expect: Even without their star goalie, the Sabres are still in a position to play spoiler down the stretch. They just beat San Jose, Boston and Carolina.

    They may not be in the hunt for a playoff spot, but they are a young team with players competing for roster spots for next season. This is a team that could be rebuilt faster than you'd think.

29. Edmonton Oilers: 0%

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    Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: A pessimistic preseason projection may have been questioned by David Staples of the Edmonton Journal, but even a majority of his own readers agreed with that dismal view. They are among those who are unsurprised by Edmonton's lackluster season, one in which the team currently sits second last in the NHL with just 50 points.

    This will mean that the Oilers haven't made the playoffs since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 and that they could get the first overall selection for the fourth time in five seasons.

    Trade Deadline Impact: Stymied by unexpectedly bad goaltending, and a predictably bad blue line, the Oilers used the trade deadline as an opportunity to do more than just sell of veteran UFAs.

    They addressed the first problem by extending Ben Scrivens for two years at $2.3 million per year and by dealing Ilya Bryzgalov to Minnesota and replacing him with Anaheim's Viktor Fasth. Their blue line, however, will remain a problem to resolve in the offseason.

    Other than those moves, Edmonton was, unsurprisingly, in seller's mode, most notably dealing off veterans Nick Schultz and Ales Hemsky to Columbus and Ottawa, respectively.

    What to Expect: Don't completely dismiss the Oilers down the stretch. They're 6-2-2 over their last 10 games and have the type of young and talented lineup that can spoil a game or two against unwary opponents.

28. New York Islanders: 0%

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: Last year, the Islanders made the playoffs after a five-season absence. This 2013-14 campaign started off well enough, but by early November, they went into a free fall from which they were unable to recover.

    This comes as quite a surprise to most pundits. Out of the 26 analysts who published their preseason projections, only Hockey Prospectus' stat-based VUKOTA system and I projected the Islanders to finish last in their division. Only two others, including B/R's own Dave Lozo, even had them in second last.

    The Islanders took a big gamble by opting not to upgrade their goaltending nor their blue line and got stung by both decisions to the largest possible extent. The Islanders currently have 56 points, are last in the division and 14th in the Eastern Conference.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The New York Islanders were obviously in sell mode, most notably trading pending UFAs Thomas Vanek to Montreal for a prospect and a pick and Andrew MacDonald to Philadelphia for picks.

    What to Expect: The Islanders are now without John Tavares and Thomas Vanek. Can Kyle Okposo and those that remain score without them?

    The Islanders are on a cold 3-8-1 slump and may be one of the most beatable teams down the stretch.

27. Florida Panthers: 0%

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    WILFREDO LEE/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Panthers are third last in the NHL with 53 points. Florida made the playoffs in two of their first four seasons and then only twice in the 16 years since then.

    Given their young stars, their decent possession game and their many valuable pick-ups like Brad Boyes, Tom Gilbert, Tim Thomas and Scott Gomez, I was optimistic about the team this season, ranking them fifth in the Atlantic division. I could, however, find only one other analyst that projected the Panthers to finish any higher than second last.

    Trade Deadline Impact: Florida used the trade deadline to address its goaltending situation, both now and in the long term.

    The Panthers picked up Roberto Luongo from Vancouver for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias and then dealt Tim Thomas to Dallas for backup Dan Ellis. A Luongo-Ellis tandem should be a small but important improvement over Thomas-Clemmensen.

    The Panthers did sell off pending UFAs Marcel Goc to Pittsburgh and Mike Weaver to Montreal but extended Brad Boyes for two years at just north of $2.6 million and picked up Brandon Pirri from the Chicago Blackhawks.

    What to Expect: While they are not technically mathematically eliminated, making the playoffs would essentially require the Panthers to go undefeated down the stretch while every other Eastern Conference team simultaneously falls apart. The Panthers have earned only four points in their last 10 games. 

    That being said, the Panthers have actually been an above-average possession team all year, and Luongo could help them play the role of spoiler down the stretch.

26. Calgary Flames: 0%

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    Terence Leung/Getty Images

    Where They Stand: The Calgary Flames are about to miss the postseason for the fifth consecutive season. More alarmingly, they have advanced past the first round only once since winning the Stanley Cup way back in 1989.

    Trade Deadline Impact: Other than dealing Lee Stempniak to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Reto Berra to the Colorado Avalanche, the Flames were strangely quiet.

    Calgary did shop veteran Mike Cammalleri but didn't receive an offer that was sufficiently attractive to part ways with him.

    What to Expect: The rebuilding Calgary Flames were expected to be bad. I was unable to find a single analyst who predicted them to finish anywhere except in the Pacific Division basement.

    With only Joni Ortio in nets, a power play scoring on just 13.8 percent of its opportunities and the league's second-worst offense overall, the Flames are unlikely to pose a serious threat to anyone except their fellow draft lottery contenders.

25. Nashville Predators: 2.7%

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Nashville Predators are, somewhat unexpectedly, last in the Central division with 62 points and 12th in the Western Conference. They are, nevertheless, only six points out of the eighth playoff position.

    Assuming the Predators do miss the playoffs, it will be for the second consecutive season after making seven postseason appearances in eight years.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The only significant move was swapping pending UFAs with Detroit.

    Nashville gave up David Legwand, who was set to lead the team in scoring for the first time since 2002-03. He is the team's all-time leader in goals, assists and points.

    In return, the Predators received veteran depth forward Patrick Eaves, a draft pick and a prospect.

    The Predators also dealt temporary backup goalie Devan Dubnyk to Montreal.

    What to Expect: Despite winning only one of their last six games, the Preds could actually be a tough team to face down the stretch. Pekka Rinne is back from his hip injury, and their possession game is starting to show signs of improvement.

24. Ottawa Senators: 10.8%

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Ottawa Senators have 65 points, which is four points out of a postseason position. That could mean missing the playoffs for the third time in six seasons after 11 straight appearances.

    The Senators are sixth in the Atlantic and 12th in the Eastern Conference. These are sobering facts for someone who infamously projected them to win the Presidents' Trophy this year.

    Trade Deadline Impact: One of Ottawa's biggest problems this season was the failure of Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza to find any chemistry on the scoring line. The Senators have 20 games to test whether the acquisition of Ales Hemsky from the Edmonton Oilers will address that.

    The 30-year-old Czech forward was once one of the game's great playmakers, but he gradually lost his scoring-line opportunities to Edmonton's ever-growing abundance of young scoring talent. A change of scenery could rekindle Hemsky's scoring touch.

    What to Expect: The Senators are a good possession team and could be very difficult to play against down the stretch.

    I wasn't alone in my high expectations for the Senators. Fourteen of the 25 other analysts who published their preseason projections also had Ottawa first or second in the Atlantic Division, and only one had them any lower than fourth.

    Even the Senators themselves had the confidence to keep their team together instead of selling off the pieces. They extended Chris Phillips for two more years at $2.5 million per season and let go no one except Cory Conacher, who was claimed off waivers by Buffalo.

    If there is a team that goes on a hot stretch and steals a playoff spot this year, the smart money is on it being the Senators. 

23. Vancouver Canucks: 11.7%

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Vancouver Canucks are about to snap a five-season playoff streak and miss the postseason for only the third time in 13 seasons. They currently have their worst winning percentage since prior to that stretch.

    The Canucks currently sit at 66 points, fifth in the Pacific Division and 11th in the Western Conference. They are only two points back of Dallas for the final position, but it is a spot for which four teams are competing.

    Trade Deadline Impact: Vancouver finally found a taker for Roberto Luongo's contract. He was dealt to Florida for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias.

    The former might not be of much use, as the 24-year-old goalie has just an .898 career save percentage. And indeed, an Eddie Lack-Markstrom tandem down the stretch virtually assures the Canucks' absence from the postseason and could make them one of the league's more beatable teams.

    Shawn Matthias, on the other hand, could be a useful, big, solid checking-line center.

    Perhaps the biggest news was that Ryan Kesler stayed put.

    What to Expect: This isn't that bad of a team—merely an average team that has been absolutely stung by injuries and underachievement. Those injuries struck most of its blue line and both Sedins at one point or another.

    The Canucks are consequently the coldest team in the NHL. They are 5-15-3 in 2014 and have only three points in their last 11 games. Strike another Canadian team off the list, and there will be some late nights north of the border for fans wanting to watch hockey in May.

22. Carolina Hurricanes: 15.8%

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: Carolina's postseason chances were up to about 39 percent at the Olympic break, but securing just two points on a five-game road trip hasn't done much to reduce those odds.

    The Hurricanes have 63 points, second last in the Metropolitan Division, and are quite likely to miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, the ninth time in 11 seasons and the 16th time in 21 seasons.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The Hurricanes wisely re-signed 27-year-old goalie Anton Khudobin and his sparkling .930 career save percentage for two more years at $2.25 million per season.

    This cleared a path to trade underachieving veteran Cam Ward, a deal that never transpired.

    Carolina did manage to find a taker for underachieving and overpaid veteran Tuomo Ruutu. New Jersey offered up Andrei Loktionov and a conditional pick in exchange.

    All in all, the Hurricanes were relatively quiet at the deadline.

    What to Expect: The most exciting thing happening in Carolina is on the blue line.

    It all started this offseason, when the Hurricanes did a great job acquiring veteran defensive help on the blue line for Justin Faulk and Jay Harrison. The Hurricanes signed top-four defensemen Andrej Sekera and Ron Hainsey for $4.75 million and depth option Mike Komisarek for just $0.7 million more.

    They also brought up rookies Brett Bellemore and Ryan Murphy, moved underperforming defender Tim Gleason to Toronto for overpaid veteran John-Michael Liles and anxiously await the return of Joni Pitkanen next season.

    Carolina finally has the blue line it needs to compete, especially if some of those key names can be re-signed for next season.

21. Washington Capitals: 19.5%

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: Stung by back-to-back losses to Philadelphia, the Washington Capitals have 68 points, which is fifth in the Metropolitan Division but only four points back of the second-place Flyers.

    Within the Eastern Conference, the Capitals are tied with Detroit for ninth, one point up on New Jersey and one point back of the final playoff spot held by Columbus.

    My take? Despite their deadline additions, Washington's six-year streak of playoff appearances is in serious jeopardy.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The Capitals picked up pending UFA Dustin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks for just a fourth-round draft pick.

    The huge 31-year-old power forward had 13 goals and 32 points in 49 games for the Ducks, Penner's best season since a 23-goal, 45-point campaign in 2010-11. He is essentially an offensive-focused player, and he has two Stanley Cup championships under his belt.

    Washington also resolved its glut of goaltenders, where the Caps had three players competing for two NHL roster spots. They chose to part with Michal Neuvirth, who was dealt to Buffalo for pending UFA Jaroslav Halak (the Sabres had acquired the Slovakian netminder from St. Louis in the Ryan Miller deal). Once Halak becomes a free agent this offseason, that allows Washington to go with Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer.

    What to Expect: It's risky to underestimate any team with a player like Alexander Ovechkin, who currently leads the NHL with 44 goals in 59 games and is fourth in overall scoring with 67 points. Especially since he shares such incredible offensive chemistry with linemate Nicklas Backstrom, who is ninth with 62 points.

    Nevertheless, I'm going against the Capitals. I ranked them seventh in the division in my preseason projections, lower than any analyst I could find, and their poor possession game has done nothing to change my opinion of them.

    Not only will the Capitals lose out on the final playoff spot, but they could possibly slide down behind Ottawa and Carolina.

20. Winnipeg Jets: 20.6%

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    Gerry Thomas/Getty Images

    Where They Stand: The Jets currently have the exact same winning percentage as last year. Their 67 points are sixth in the Central Division and tied with Phoenix for ninth in the Western Conference, one point back of the Dallas Stars and one point up on Vancouver for that final spot.

    Winnipeg is desperate for that playoff berth. The Jets have made the postseason just once in their 14-season franchise history, way back in 2006-07.

    Trade Deadline Impact: None. The Winnipeg Jets chose to stand pat.

    They had a wealth of goal-scoring talent available to move, including pending UFAs like Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi. The Jets also had a potential need for a goaltending upgrade over Ondrej Pavelec.

    Despite this situation, the team decided to stay firm and see if Paul Maurice can continue to win with the current roster as constructed.

    What to Expect: The Jets fired coach Claude Noel after going 19-23-5 and have caught fire under Paul Maurice, going 11-3-2 so far.

    While it looked like their playoff hopes were extinguished in mid-December, and remained so for at least a month, the Jets now have a lot of momentum.  

    Winnipeg dug itself a very deep hole, and now that it's playing well again, it remains to be seen if it is too little and/or too late. I believe it may be.

19. Phoenix Coyotes: 27.3%

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Phoenix Coyotes are in ninth place in the Western Conference, one point back of the Dallas Stars for the final playoff position.

    Last year was the first time they missed the postseason under coach Dave Tippett.

    Trade Deadline Impact: Phoenix, surprisingly, stood pat at the trade deadline.

    The Coyotes held on to veteran pending UFAs like Radim Vrbata, David Moss and Derek Morris and made no moves that affected their top lines.

    The only deals were some minor tweaks among their forward depth. Phoenix has always had a depth of scoring. Currently, there are eight Coyotes with at least 32 points. The team acquired secondary forwards Martin Erat and John Mitchell from Washington, while they jettisoned unused assets like David Rundblad and Mathieu Brisebois to Chicago and Chris Brown and Rostislav Klesla to Washington.

    Erat could be the most noteworthy addition. He led the Predators in scoring with 58 points in 71 games in 2011-12 before moving to Washington at last year's deadline. He has scored just two goals in 62 games since then but has added 25 assists. He's a quite usable two-way third-line forward.

    What to Expect: The Coyotes may only be one point out of a spot, but they're not the hottest team in the league right now.

    The team has gone 8-13-2 so far in 2014 and has dropped four of its last five. While the Coyotes should probably be expected to miss the postseason, this wouldn't be the first time they have been underestimated.

18. New Jersey Devils: 38.1%

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: I blame myself.

    After years of writing for various publications, I finally published a book that was entirely my own. I proudly pasted my name right on the front cover, and what did I put inside? My infamous projection that showed New Jersey competing for the Presidents' Trophy.

    Of course the Devils lost their first seven games in 2013-14 and nine of their first 10. The Devils are currently 11th in the Eastern Conference with 67 points. My sincere apologies to the city, its fans and the entire organization.

    The Devils are nevertheless just two points out of the final playoff position. It is possible that they can defy the odds, make the postseason and restore at least some of my dignity. It will otherwise be their first back-to-back playoff absences since 1987, right before Sean Burke and Brendan Shanahan's rookie seasons.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The big news isn't who the Devils traded but who they didn't trade. Most notably, they held on to pending UFAs Jaromir Jagr and Martin Brodeur.

    Their only move of any significance was the acquisition of overpaid and underachieving agitator Tuomo Ruutu from the Carolina Hurricanes. It cost New Jersey 23-year-old depth liner Andrei Loktionov and a conditional pick in 2017.

    What to Expect: The Devils had about a one-in-four shot at the playoffs going into the Olympic break and have won three out of four since then.

    New Jersey is an unusually strong possession team. The Devils spend a lot of time with the puck and/or in the opposing zone, but for two straight seasons, they have failed to convert that advantage into goals and wins in any kind of consistent fashion. They are kind of like the anti-Leafs.

    In my view, this team is simply far too talented to continue to slump. If the Devils do make the playoffs, then watch out for an upset.

17. Detroit Red Wings: 46.9%

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    John Smierciak/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Red Wings haven't missed the playoffs since 1990, the year before Sergei Fedorov's debut, and they are currently tied with Washington, one point outside the postseason picture.

    This comes as quite a surprise. Of the 26 analysts who published their preseason projections, only two had them fourth in the division and only the stat-based VUKOTA system had them lower. I was one of 16 analysts who even had them in the Atlantic Division's top two.

    Trade Deadline Impact: While they have been seeking a top-four defenseman ever since Nicklas Lidstrom's retirement, the Red Wings once again had to settle for more veteran forward depth.

    Two-way pending UFA center David Legwand was acquired from the Nashville Predators for Patrick Eaves, a pick and a prospect. This should do a great deal to offset the injuries they've suffered down the middle.

    What to Expect: The Red Wings went into the Olympic break on a nine-game streak of winning the possession game, earning a 5-2-2 record over that span.

    Unfortunately for their playoff chances, their two superstars—Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk—are both out with injuries, with the former likely not returning until the postseason, should the Wings make it.

    While their playoff hopes appear to be the proverbial coin flip, it has never been wise to bet against the Red Wings. They'll make it.

16. Dallas Stars: 47.4%

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Dallas Stars completely reinvented themselves this past offseason, from the front office and the bench all the way down to the team that's on the ice. They could consequently snap a five-year stretch as one of the two best non-playoff teams in the league (Calgary having historically been the other).

    While its playoff chances were in the teens at various points this year, including as late as mid-January, Dallas is hanging onto the final Western Conference position with 68 points, a single point up on Phoenix and Winnipeg and two points up on Vancouver.

    Trade Deadline Impact: Picking up Tim Thomas for Dan Ellis is a nice little upgrade to back up consistent starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Thomas is 40, but he has real upside as a short-term rental.

    The Stars blue line could take a hit with the loss of pending UFA and highly underrated top-pairing defenseman Stephane Robidas, who was dealt to the Anaheim Ducks.

    Though he'll be on injured reserve until late in the regular season, Robidas is the type of player that could have helped secure a playoff spot. Instead, they might be facing him in the first round even if they do manage to qualify without him.

    What to Expect: They may be an all-new team, but following the deadline, the Stars find themselves in the very familiar position of being a proverbial coin toss from making the playoffs.

    Personally, I like their playoff chances. They are a fundamentally improved team relative to previous seasons, and Thomas could very well secure two more difference-making points down the stretch that Dan Ellis would not.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets: 65.7%

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Where They Stand: Buoyed by 21-year-old Ryan Johansen's breakout season, the Blue Jackets are poised to qualify for the playoffs for just the second time in their 13-season franchise history.

    Columbus, which lost out last year on a tie-breaker, is currently hanging on to the final postseason position with 69 points, with Detroit, Washington and New Jersey all within two points.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The big deal was trading Marian Gaborik to the Los Angeles Kings for depth forward Matt Frattin and some picks. Given that the Blue Jackets have been without Gaborik for all but 22 games this season anyway, the difference in how they play down the stretch should barely be noticeable.

    The most significant addition was picking up defensive-minded veteran Nick Schultz from the Edmonton Oilers for a fifth-round pick. Even at the best of times, there are concerns about the ability of Columbus' blue line to play tough minutes without getting bombed possession-wise, and playing without Fedor Tyutin doesn't help.

    Should the Blue Jackets qualify for the postseason, even a depth defenseman like Schultz may prove to have been the critical difference-maker.

    What to Expect: Things were looking grim in December when the team's postseason chances fell into the teens.

    Columbus then went 12-3-0 with solid underlying possession numbers, and though the Jackets may be starting to cool off, there's still a good chance they'll make the playoffs and a slight chance they can pull off a first-round upset.

14. New York Rangers: 67.2%

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Rangers got off to a slow start but finally took off in early January. They are now at 70 points, one point ahead of Columbus for the final two postseason positions and two points back of Philadelphia for second in the Metropolitan Division.

    If they do make the playoffs, it will be their fourth straight postseason appearance and their eighth over the past nine seasons.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The Rangers made a huge splash by acquiring Martin St. Louis, last year's leading scorer. The small 38-year-old brings a lot of scoring—121 points over 110 games over the past two seasons combined, a total surpassed by only the incomparable Sidney Crosby.

    Did the Rangers give up too much? The concern isn't so much losing their captain and pending UFA Ryan Callahan, who is a fantastic do-it-all type player, but rather the two early draft picks.

    The answer to this question, just like the matter of whether goalie Henrik Lundqvist was paid too much, depends on how well they do in the playoffs. For example, trading Tony Amonte for Brian Noonan and Stephane Matteau would have been held in far less esteem had things gone differently for the Blueshirts back in 1994.

    What to Expect: The Rangers have been coming on hot, are a strong possession team and have adjusted to Alain Vigneault's unique form of player usage.

    Throw in Martin St. Louis and eventually a healthy Mats Zuccarello, and the Rangers will have an elite offense to go with their strong defensive top-four and legendary goaltender.

    Assuming they stay on top of what is a tight pack, the Rangers could be a great Stanley Cup dark horse.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs: 71.8%

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Toronto Maple Leafs have 74 points, good for third in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.

    They are a comfortable five points ahead of the eighth and final playoff position—or at least as comfortable as one can be in the super-tight Eastern Conference.

    The Leafs will most likely return to the postseason with back-to-back qualifications after a seven-season absence.

    Trade Deadline Impact: None.

    The Toronto Maple Leafs made their moves in the offseason and/or during the course of the pre-deadline regular season.

    What to Expect: The Leafs are led by speedy sniper Phil Kessel, who is second in the league scoring race with 70 points. 

    Kessel forms a nucleus with five other players in whom the Leafs have invested the most: Joffrey Lupul, David Clarkson, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Dion Phaneuf. The long-term fate of the team is currently in the hands of these six players.

    Toronto's continued success has come as somewhat of a surprise. Of the 25 analysts who published their preseason predictions, all of them had the Leafs projected to finish between fourth and sixth in the division, with only eight placing them at the top of that range. As for me, I had them seventh and deserve every bit of crow I've been served.

    What trips us all up is their poor possession-based play. Leave stats aside, and you can see just by watching that the Leafs play in their own zone and/or without the puck more frequently than any other team, including most of those competing for a draft-lottery position. They're outshot and outplayed every night but, just like last year, they win. 

    Have the Leafs found a way to succeed using a style where so many before them have failed, or are they living on a bubble that is about to burst? The issue may be settled soon, one way or the other.

12. Philadelphia Flyers: 73.3%

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    Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Flyers got off to a slow start but have fought back up to second place in the Metropolitan Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference.

    The Flyers have 72 points, which is three more than the eighth and final playoff position. It could lead to a return to the postseason and their 17th playoff appearance in the last 19 seasons.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The Flyers made a relatively minor tweak on their blue line, an area they have gradually but consistently improved over the past year.

    Philadelphia moved veteran Andrej Meszaros to Boston and replaced him with Andrew MacDonald from the New York Islanders.

    MacDonald is a pending UFA who was subjected to huge, tough minutes on one of the league's weakest blue lines. Being slotted into a second or even a third pairing could maximize the 27-year-old's effectiveness.

    What to Expect: Opinions of the Flyers have always been mixed. Of the 26 analysts who published their preseason projections, I was one of only seven who prediction a finishing in the Metropolitan's top three, and there were eight that had them in the bottom three.

    At first, the latter group appeared to be correct. The Flyers got off to a really bad start, opening the season at 1-7-0 and replacing coach Peter Laviolette with Craig Berube after only three games. Captain Claude Giroux was off to a similarly slow start and was snubbed from the Canadian Olympic team.

    The Flyers gradually but ultimately got up to full speed, Giroux is sixth in league scoring with 64 points and the team has won seven of its last eight games. Despite this strong play recently, there is always that lingering question about which version of the Flyers is the accurate one.

11. Minnesota Wild: 92.7%

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: It has been an up-and-down season for Minnesota, whose playoff chances dropped below 10 percent at the end of December.

    Bolstered by incredible goaltending from Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper, Minnesota has earned 75 points, good for fourth in their division and seventh in the Western Conference, and are seven points up on the three-team pack fighting for eighth.

    Minnesota is poised for back-to-back playoff appearances after a four-year absence. If the Wild stay over .600, it will be for the only second time in their 13-year history.

    Trade Deadline Impact: With Backstrom out for the season and Harding's status highly uncertain, the Wild were known to be shopping for a goalie. Ultimately, they settled on pending UFA Ilya Bryzgalov, who was acquired from Edmonton for a draft pick.

    The 33-year-old Russian is probably best known for failing to live up to a risky contract the Flyers offered him in the 2011 offseason, and he was one of their compliance buyouts two years later.

    It can be hard to judge a player objectively after a disappointment like that, but Bryzgalov's .906 save percentage over the past three seasons is 40th among the 48 goalies to play at least 50 games over that span, according to Hockey Reference. That's even worse than Backstrom, whose .899 save percentage this year pulled him down to 31st.

    Offensively, the Wild were likely in on the Thomas Vanek bidding as well but settled on Matt Moulson instead. Jason Pominville, last year's trade deadline pick up from Buffalo, currently leads the team in scoring with 42 points.

    What to Expect: Ring the alarm bells! Check out Minnesota's possession graph on Extra Skater. The Wild started out far stronger than expected but have been on a consistent decline throughout entire season. 

    Since this is a team that is absolutely reliant on elite goaltending, couldn't the Wild have done better than Ilya Bryzgalov to back up Darcy Kuemper?

    I know my answer. I was one of six analysts out of the 26 that posted their preseason projections who didn't have Minnesota finishing exactly third in their division. I had them fifth, where they may yet finish despite five straight wins and a seven-point cushion.

10. Montreal Canadiens: 95.4%

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: It looked like the Canadiens had the playoffs locked up in early December but put that in slight jeopardy with a 6-8-3 stretch that started just before the new year. They have been notoriously prone to such slow patches, which included a 3-6-1 stint early in the year.

    As it currently stands, Montreal has 77 points, good for third in the Eastern Conference and eight points ahead of the eighth spot. If all goes well for the Habs, then it will be their sixth playoff appearance in seven seasons.

    Trade Deadline Impact: Montreal won the Rent Thomas Vanek Sweepstakes surprisingly easily, costing the Habs prospect Sebastian Collberg and a second-round draft choice that is conditional on the pretty safe expectation that the team makes the playoffs.

    Given Carey Price's minor injury sustained in the Olympics, Montreal also acquired Devan Dubnyk from Nashville for some goaltending depth. Some fans have trouble looking past Dubnyk's bad season to remember the otherwise decent goalie he was previously.

    Perhaps a more significant addition could be Florida's Mike Weaver, a veteran tough-minutes defenseman needed badly on a blue line that is potentially only one pairing deep (albeit a rather dominant one).

    The Canadiens otherwise held firm, opting to keep the players who were rumored to have been shopped.

    What to Expect: I always felt that Montreal was a nicely balanced team, with a nice blend of veterans and youngsters, for example.

    The only potential weaknesses include blue-line depth and weak possession play. They have won the possession game just three times in their last 17 games, according to the data at Extra Skater.

    In the end, the Canadiens will go precisely as far as Carey Price takes them. As such, they remain a good dark-horse pick coming out of the East, with up to a four percent chance of winning their 25th Stanley Cup.

9. Tampa Bay Lightning: 95.5%

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    J Pat Carter/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Tampa Bay Lightning have 73 points, good for fourth in the Atlantic Division, fifth in the Eastern Conference and four more than the eighth and final playoff position.

    This comes as somewhat of a surprise to the pundits. Of the 26 analysts who posted their preseason projections, only one had them as high as fourth and only three more in fifth. Instead, the Bolts are poised to make their second postseason appearance in seven seasons.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The Lightning traded high-scoring superstar Martin St. Louis to the New York Rangers for pending UFA Ryan Callahan and a potential windfall of draft picks.

    Callahan is a classic do-it-all player. He's a hard-working, physical player who can generate offense and shut down top opponents. He can throw hits, block shots, work the power play and kill penalties.

    Offensively, he's no St. Louis, but he contributes in many additional ways that St. Louis does not. The end result isn't a wash, but it's as close to one as the Lightning could have realistically hoped.

    What to Expect: Though they are 3-7-0 in their last 10, the Lightning are a good team. If they can win without Steven Stamkos, then they should be able to win without St. Louis.

    Stamkos, potentially the world's second-greatest goal scorer, is back in the lineup. He is joined by Callahan and Valtteri Filppula, one of the biggest success stories among this year's risky free-agent investments. On the point, they have Victor Hedman, one of the most bizarre Olympic snubs.

    Goaltending was supposed to be an area of weakness; instead, Ben Bishop is having an unexpectedly Vezina-caliber season.

    The Bolts have eight rookies in their lineup: Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Radko Gudas, Nikita Kucherov, J.T. Brown, Richard Panik, Mark Barberio and Andrej Sustr.

    Add it all up, and Tampa Bay has the makings of an unpredictable wild card, and it has a three to six percent chance of winning its second Stanley Cup.

8. Los Angeles Kings: 97.6%

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Los Angeles Kings are a great bet to make their sixth straight postseason appearance.

    They have 76 points, which is good for sixth place in the Western Conference, one up on Minnesota and eight points more than the pack fighting for eighth place.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The Los Angeles Kings are great defensively but have some trouble scoring.

    After initially pursuing Sam Gagner, the Kings settled on pending UFA Marian Gaborik, courtesy of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who retained half his salary and took Matt Frattin and some picks in return.

    Los Angeles also made some depth and/or prospect moves with Buffalo, most notably picking up big defenseman Brayden McNabb.

    The pressure, however, will be on Marian Gaborik to provide enough scoring to significantly improve the team's chances of some postseason success.

    What to Expect: The Kings looked to be a playoff lock in mid-December but then went on a puzzling 5-14-2 stretch that started right before Christmas.

    Los Angeles, one of the league's strongest possession teams, seemed to have snapped out of that horrible slump with five straight wins. If so, it could be 2012 all over again.

7. Colorado Avalanche: 100%

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Where They Stand: The Colorado Avalanche got off to a shocking 14-2-0 start and persevered to currently stand fifth with 85 points.

    This will be their first postseason appearance in four years and their third in eight seasons. They will finish with their best record since winning the Stanley Cup in 2001, something they have a three to eight percent chance of repeating this year.

    Trade Deadline Impact: Though Paul Stastny and P.A. Parenteau were rumored to have been on the trading block, no moves were made other than picking up backup goalie Reto Berra from the Calgary Flames.

    What to Expect: Of the 26 analysts who posted preseason projections, only one ranked the Avalanche as high as third in the Central Division, the spot where the Avs currently sit. Twenty-one of them, myself included, had them no better than second last!

    The confusing part is their possession game, which was average at best for most of the season before starting to tail off in December. And yet they somehow find ways to consistently win games. For example, the Avalanche at one point were beaten in the possession game nine straight times but still posted a 6-3-0 record.

    Given their poor possession game, and the second-toughest post-Olympics schedule in the league, expect Colorado to slide a little bit before getting upset in the first or second round of the playoffs.

6. San Jose Sharks: 100%

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The San Jose Sharks are second in the Pacific Division with 85 points, which is good for a fourth-place tie in the Western Conference with Colorado.

    This will be San Jose's 10th straight playoff appearance. The team has missed the postseason just once since 1996-97, the year before Patrick Marleau's debut. Statistically, the Sharks have a four to eight percent chance of winning their first Stanley Cup.

    Trade Deadline Impact: None.

    The biggest transaction was dealing James Livingston to Los Angeles for a conditional seventh-round pick.

    What to Expect: The Sharks are a skilled team, an offensively elite team, a veteran team, a possession team and the best team down the middle.

    Their only potential weakness is average goaltending at best from Antti Niemi, but he was good enough to win the Stanley Cup as a Chicago Blackhawk in 2010.

    Could this finally be San Jose's year?

5. Chicago Blackhawks: 100%

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    M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Chicago Blackhawks are set to go 6-for-6 in terms of making the postseason with Joel Quenneville as coach following a 1-for-10 stretch with eight different bench bosses previously.

    The Blackhawks have 86 points, third in the Western Conference, and lead the league with 215 goals scored. They have between a four and nine percent chance of winning their third Stanley Cup in five seasons.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The Blackhawks were only looking for depth, and consequently, most of their moves were minor ones that will mostly impact their AHL franchise.

    The most notable deal was picking up veteran forward Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard a month ago from the New York Islanders, who retained half their salaries.

    Other than that, the Blackhawks picked up David Rundblad and Mathieu Brisebois from Phoenix, swapped Brad Winchester with Minnesota for Brian Connelly and dealt Brandon Pirri to Florida.

    What to Expect: The Blackhawks are not that hot, going 10-6-8 since Christmas, and will be without Marian Hossa for two to three weeks.

    That being said, anyone that faces Chicago expecting anything less than one of the league's most elite teams is in for a rather obvious surprise. The recent mortal streak notwithstanding, the Blackhawks remain a Cup favorite.  

4. Boston Bruins: 100%

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    Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Where They Stand: The Boston Bruins are a lock to qualify for their seventh consecutive postseason. They comfortably lead the Atlantic Division by eight points and are only three points back of Pittsburgh for the top seed.

    Boston has been to the Stanley Cup Final twice in the past three seasons, winning it all in 2011. There is at least a one-in-four chance of them reaching the finals once again. 

    Trade Deadline Impact: The Bruins were thought to be exploring options to acquire another defenseman, but their only move was picking up veteran blueliner Andrej Meszaros from the Philadelphia Flyers.

    A step in the right direction, but could blue-line depth remain their weakness?

    What to Expect: Everybody already knows what to expect from the Boston Bruins: great defensive play.

    To beat them, opponents need to get by defensively committed forwards like Patrice Bergeron, then past Zdeno Chara's stacked blue line and somehow get the puck past elite goaltender Tuukka Rask.

    Beating the Bruins means winning a lot of 2-1 games, and not many teams can consistently do that.

3. St. Louis Blues: 100%

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The St. Louis Blues lead the Central division with 88 points, two points up on the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and four points back of the Anaheim Ducks for the Presidents' Trophy.

    This is exactly where they were expected to be. Of the 26 analysts who published their preseason projections, I was one of five to place the Blues atop the Central Division, with the remainder all placing them in second.

    This will make Ken Hitchcock 3-for-3 on postseason appearances after the Blues were 1-for-6 in their post-Quenneville years. They will doubtlessly also have their best winning percentage in history and are only 10 wins back of their franchise record of 51, set back in 1999-00.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The Blues picked up Ryan Miller and Steve Ott for a package that included Jaroslav Halak and Chris Stewart.

    Miller may not be as big an upgrade in nets as it is commonly believed. Over the six years that Halak has been a starting goalie, his .917 save percentage ranks 13th out of the 54 goalies with at least 100 games, not far behind Miller's seventh-place .920, according to Hockey Reference.

    Nevertheless, even small, incremental improvements can make the difference in their quest for a top seed and a deep postseason run. Even Steve Ott's gritty and hard-working two-way play could ultimately prove to be a key difference-maker.

    What to Expect: The Blues are an elite team. They are led by one of this year's most effective top lines of Alexander Steen, T.J. Oshie and David Backes, while their young talent—Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko—had their breakout seasons.

    St. Louis also boasts one of the league's best top-four defensive groups—Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk and Barret Jackman. A slight upgrade into top-10 goaltending makes the Blues a serious Stanley Cup threat, with about a 13 to 20 percent chance of ending the longest Stanley Cup drought in the league (tied with Toronto).

2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 100%

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Where They Stand: The Pittsburgh Penguins have 86 points and lead the Metropolitan Division by 14 points. They also lead the Boston Bruins by three points in the race for the top Eastern Conference seed.

    This will be their eighth straight playoff appearance, and they have a 12 to 17 percent chance of winning the Stanley Cup.

    Sidney Crosby leads the league with 83 points, 13 more than Phil Kessel in second place, and should finally regain the Hart Trophy he last had his name engraved upon in 2007. Evgeni Malkin has also squeezed into the top 10 leaderboard with 61 points.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The Penguins must be reading my work! Both of their acquisitions were listed in my recent Bleacher Report piece on the top value players available at the deadline. In fact, they were both in the top three.

    In two great moves, Pittsburgh acquired veteran pending UFAs Lee Stempniak from Calgary and Marcel Goc from Florida for a total of three picks no earlier than the third round.

    Without becoming too repetitious, both these veterans are excellent and versatile two-way players who can handle the tough minutes. Goc can win faceoffs, Stempniak can supplement the power play and they can both kill penalties. Fantastic moves for a playoff run.

    What to Expect: The Penguins were hit very hard by injuries this year. Currently, they have six players out of the lineup, including Paul Martin and Kris Letang on the blue line and Pascal Dupuis up front.

    Those injuries are the wild card here. While Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin together could get even the most depleted lineup at least as far as the conference finals, it will take a healthier team to secure their fourth Stanley Cup, especially on the blue line.

1. Anaheim Ducks: 100%

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    Where They Stand: The Anaheim Ducks are a lock for the postseason, with a 14 to 20 percent chance of winning the Stanley Cup.

    They are four points up on St. Louis for both the top conference seed and the Presidents' Trophy, which they have a 58 percent chance of capturing for the first time in franchise history.

    Trade Deadline Impact: The Ducks dealt large veteran scorer Dustin Penner to the Washington Capitals and used the fourth-round selection they received to bolster their blue-line depth with Dallas' Stephane Robidas.

    Though he will remain out of the lineup for most of the regular season recovering from leg surgery, Robidas is a highly underrated two-way top-four veteran who should impact their postseason chances even more than Penner's departure.

    While the Ducks were believed to be making a move for either Ryan Kesler or Thomas Vanek, the only other deal they made involved shipping 31-year-old Viktor Fasth to the Edmonton Oilers.

    Given how effective a tandem the Ducks have in UFA Jonas Hiller and Frederik Andersen, and that they have Igor Bobkov and John Gibson in the system, it was an easy and safe trade for them to make.

    What to Expect: The Anaheim Ducks have already defied expectations. Of the 26 analysts who published preseason projections, not one predicted they would win the division title, and only three even had them in second place. Over half of them, myself included, had them finishing no better than fifth in the Pacific.

    What trips us up is how frequently it appears that the Ducks are being outplayed and outshot, but they still manage to skate away with the two points. At some point, we need to start taking them more seriously.

    Until their success can be explained, it is safest to expect that their 7-6 record over their last 13 games is more indicative of their true talent. Their favorable seed might get them through one playoff round but probably not two.

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.


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