Ranking the Playoff Chances for Canada's NHL Teams

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistJanuary 28, 2017

Ranking the Playoff Chances for Canada's NHL Teams

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    Canada's NHL teams are looking to get back into the playoff picture after a disastrous 2015-16 season.

    For the first time since 1970, no Canadian team featured in the NHL playoffs. And in the 1969-70 season, only two of the league's 12 teams hailed from Canada: the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    These days, Canada ices seven out of 30 clubs. All seven were sitting on the sidelines when the postseason began last April.

    With the spotlight shining on Los Angeles for the NHL's special 100th anniversary All-Star weekend, the league standings look considerably more promising for fans of Canadian hockey teams in 2016-17. At the All-Star break, four of Canada's seven teams hold playoff positions. Two others are knocking loudly on the door, and even the seventh has a chance of squeaking in.

    The overriding theme of the 2016-17 season has been "parity," so there's still plenty of room for movement in the standings over the final 10 weeks of the regular season.

    Here's a look at where Canada's seven teams stand and what lies in store for them the rest of the way.

7. Winnipeg Jets

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    Record: 52 GP, 23-25-4, 50 pts, sixth in the Central Division.


    Current Playoff Position: 12th in the Western Conference, three points out of second wild-card spot.


    What They'd Need to Do: The five worst defensive teams in the NHL all hail from the Western Conference. The Winnipeg Jets are among them—tied for 26th with 3.08 goals allowed per game and last overall with 161 goals against so far this season.

    The team's decision to move on from goaltender Ondrej Pavelec at the beginning of the season has backfired—both Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson have taken backward steps from their performances last season.

    Pavelec was recalled from the AHL's Manitoba Moose on January 17 and has posted a 2-2-0 record in four starts, with a .894 save percentage and 3.31 goals-against average. It doesn't appear that he'll be able provide the spark the Jets desperately need to make a playoff push.

    The good news for Winnipeg? With just three points separating them from a wild-card position, a solid stretch of play after the All-Star break could put them back in contention. But it looks like it'll be a battle between six teams for the two wild-card spots in the Western Conference, and the Jets' position is among the weakest.

    Four of the other five in that group have two or more games in hand on Winnipeg, and three of the five have more regulation or overtime wins, which would be the first tiebreaker if two teams finish the year with equal points.

    The feelgood stories in Winnipeg this year include dazzling rookie Patrik Laine and emerging youngsters Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers, who are both on pace for career years. The load will be on their shoulders if the Jets hope to push into a playoff spot.


    Chance of Playoff Appearance: Without improved goaltending, the Jets are going nowhere. The team's playoff chances top out at a grim 10 percent.

6. Vancouver Canucks

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    Record: 50 GP, 23-21-6, 52 pts, sixth in the Pacific Division.


    Current Playoff Position: 10th in the Western Conference, one point out of second wild-card spot.


    What They'd Need to Do: The Vancouver Canucks have dug out of their early-season doldrums thanks to a 9-3-3 record since Christmas. Veteran netminder Ryan Miller's play has been on par with the best of his career, and the team has gotten timely contributions from stalwarts like the Sedin twins and upstarts like Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi.

    Vancouver's 17-6-3 record on home ice is among the best in the league, but it's a different story away from Rogers Arena. The Canucks have tallied just four regulation wins as part of a grim 6-15-3 road record.

    The Canucks will play 17 of their remaining 32 games on the road, and 13 of those 17 are against Western Conference rivals. The Canucks will need to to come up with a solid collection of regulation road wins if they hope to outbattle the five other teams in the hunt for those wild-card spots in the West.


    Chance of Playoff Appearance: It'll be a tough assignment to turn around that road record, which has been an issue all year. Don't be surprised to see the Canucks fall out of the playoff hunt down the stretch; their chance of grabbing a postseason berth tops out at 25 percent.

5. Calgary Flames

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    Record: 52 GP, 25-24-3, 53 pts, fourth in the Pacific Division.


    Current Playoff Position: Eighth in the Western Conference, in second wild-card spot.


    What They'd Need to Do: The Calgary Flames are fighting for a postseason position in their first year under new coach Glen Gulutzan despite inconsistent netminding and a serious lack of discipline.

    Calgary leads the league in penalty minutes by a large margin. However, middle-of-the-pack penalty killing and a league-leading eight shorthanded goals have kept those penalties from being too costly this season.

    Goaltending, on the other hand, has been a serious issue. Brian Elliott hasn't been the saviour the Flames hoped they were getting when they acquired him from the St. Louis Blues last summer in exchange for two draft picks.

    Elliott's 2.88 goals-against average and .892 save percentage are a far cry from the numbers he put up during his last five seasons with the Blues. Even more importantly, he's not delivering wins—Elliott is 9-12-2 this season, while backup Chad Johnson is a steadier 16-12-1.

    The Flames allowed 20 goals during a recent four-game losing streak, but a solid performance from Elliott on January 26 sent his team into the All-Star break on a positive note—and back into a playoff position—thanks to a 3-2 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators.

    If the Flames hope to hang on to that spot, they'll need to watch out for the Los Angeles Kings, who are just one point behind them with three games in hand—and starting goaltender Jonathan Quick is expected to recover from his groin injury before the end of the regular season.

    Calgary and L.A. have four more head-to-head meetings scheduled before the end of the regular season. Those games will play a big part in determining the Flames' playoff hopes.


    Chance of Playoff Appearance: That wild-card spot is Calgary's to lose, but the Flames will need to fight to hang on to it—and not in a way that leaves them shorthanded any more than absolutely necessary.

    Expect the Kings to come hard, which puts the Flames' playoff odds at 40 percent.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Record: 47 GP, 23-15-9, 55 pts, fourth in the Atlantic Division.


    Current Playoff Position: Ninth in the Eastern Conference, one point out of second wild-card spot or third place in Atlantic.


    What They'd Need to Do: The Toronto Maple Leafs rebuild is miles ahead of schedule; now the team needs to keep its cool. Just one year after winning the draft lottery and selecting Auston Matthews first overall, the Leafs are in the thick of the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. 

    The rookies, led by Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, have exceeded all expectations and have been capably backed up by a group of less heralded new faces like Zach Hyman, Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev. Matt Martin and Leo Komarov have provided the veteran grit, Nazem Kadri has evolved into a team leader and Frederik Andersen has proved to be the magic bullet between the pipes.

    But with youth comes impetuousness, and that can lead to mistakes, especially in high-pressure situations. We've seen it with the Leafs' frequent late-game collapses—they've lost outright just once when leading after two periods, but their 18-1-6 record in that situation is still fifth-worst in the NHL.

    That stat hasn't been helped by going 1-6 in shootouts this season. Shootouts won't matter if the Leafs reach the playoffs in just their second year under coach Mike Babcock, but they could be crucial down the stretch, when games tighten up and rivals also fight for every possible point.


    Chance of Playoff Appearance: The Leafs' inexperience could make it difficult for them to punch their playoff ticket this season. They're also not helped by the fact that no Eastern Conference team is more than seven points away from that second wild-card spot. No team looks like it'll be mailing things in down the stretch.

    That being said, Toronto's not being chased by a two-time Cup champion, like the pressure that Calgary is facing from Los Angeles. Though the Flames are currently in a playoff spot and the Leafs are not, Toronto's odds of being in a favorable spot at the end of the season are stronger than Calgarys.

    The Leafs are right at the tipping point: 50/50.

3. Ottawa Senators

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    Record: 47 GP, 26-15-6, 58 pts, second in the Atlantic Division


    Current Playoff Position: Sixth in the Eastern Conference, three points clear of missing playoffs


    What They'd Need to Do: Stay the course. Under new coach Guy Boucher, the Ottawa Senators have developed a sense of defensive responsibility. After finishing 26th in the NHL with an average of 2.94 goals against in 2015-16, this year's Sens rank 12th, at 2.59.

    Even more impressively, Ottawa's improvement has come while starting goaltender Craig Anderson has been absent for the better part of two months while his wife, Nicholle, has been undergoing treatment for throat cancer, per Bruce Garrioch of the National Post. Mike Condon has done an admirable job of holding down the fort, posting a 14-7-5 record with a .916 save percentage and 2.43 goals-against average.

    Wayne Scanlan, also of the National Post, recently reported that Boucher declared his group has a "soul" this year. Following a series of strong performances against some of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, Scanlan is sold on the idea that this years Sens have the makeup to bring playoff hockey back to Ottawa.

    "Barring something unforeseen—a devastating spate of injuries or late collapse—the Senators have all the markings of a team destined to be among the top eight of the Eastern Conference and top three of the Atlantic," Scanlan said.


    Chance of Playoff Appearance: The Sens aren't getting much of a push from their Atlantic Division rivals, and they have five games in hand on their closest challenger, the third-place Boston Bruins. You can peg Ottawa's playoff chances at an excellent 85 percent.

2. Edmonton Oilers

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    Record: 51 GP, 28-15-8, 64 pts, Second in the Pacific Division


    Current Playoff Position: Fourth in the Western Conference, 12 points clear of missing playoffs


    What They'd Need to Do: Aim for the stars. Not only are the Edmonton Oilers in a solid playoff position, but they're tied with the San Jose Sharks for top spot in the Pacific and are only five points out of first place in the Western Conference.

    The Oilers are in the top 10 in the NHL both offensively and defensively, are getting Vezina-quality goaltending from workhorse Cam Talbot and could well mint their team's first MVP since Mark Messier in Connor McDavid, who holds a four-point lead over Sidney Crosby in the scoring race.

    After 10 dark years on the wrong side of the playoff cutline, this year's Oilers are a well-rounded team that's not just poised to get into the postseason but also to make some noise.


    Chance of Playoff Appearance: McDavid needs to stay healthy, and Talbot needs to avoid burnout. If those two conditions are met, the Oilers have a 95 percent chance of finally booking that elusive playoff spot.

1. Montreal Canadiens

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    Record: 50 GP, 29-14-7, 65 pts, first in the Atlantic Division


    Current Playoff Position: Fourth in the Eastern Conference, 10 points clear of missing playoffs


    What They'd Need to Do: The Montreal Canadiens started the season with a red-hot 13-1-1 run, which has set the stage for the team to cruise to an easy Atlantic Division title and a return to postseason action.

    In the 35 games since that start, the Canadiens are a relatively pedestrian 16-13-6, but they still hold a comfortable seven-point lead over the second-place Senators in the Atlantic. Every move by goaltender Carey Price goes under the microscope in the hockey-mad market of Montreal, but the big picture is that his numbers are just a little better than his career averages—a .921 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average.

    The good news is that Price is on pace to play a relatively comfortable 61 games, which should have him fresh for what Habs fans are hoping is a long postseason run.

    Add in the crushing play of Shea Weber on both sides of the puck and the game-breaking firepower of Alexander Radulov, and Montreal is looking like a team that's built for playoff hockey—and can stay in cruise control until it's time to click into gear.


    Chance of Playoff Appearance: Mathematically, it's almost impossible for the Canadiens to be knocked out of an Atlantic Division berth. Book 'em at 99 percent odds of making the playoffs.


    All stats courtesy of NHL.com, current through games completed Thursday, January 26.