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Time To Assess The NHL’s 2022-23 Playoff Picture

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After ceding the sports airwaves to football on Thanksgiving Day, the NHL returns on Black Friday with a full-day, 14-game schedule. This year, the NHL Thanksgiving Showdown will be broadcast on TNT — a double-header that begins with the Battle of Pennsylvania with the Pittsburgh Penguins visiting the Philadelphia Flyers (5:30 pm ET) and wraps up with the St. Louis Blues visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning (8 p.m. ET).

In hockey circles, it’s widely believed that a team’s status at Thanksgiving offers a strong indication of whether or not the playoffs will be in the picture next spring. The Blues and Lightning are on the right side of that line, barely, each holding down the second wild-card spot in their conference heading into Friday’s action.

The Penguins have made the playoffs for the last 16 consecutive seasons — the longest active streak in the league. They’re tied with the Lightning with 23 points but sit ninth in the East because they’ve played one additional game. And the Flyers go into Friday’s game in 12th place in the East with a record of 7-8-5 for 19 points, at the risk of missing the postseason for the third-straight year.

Typically, about three-quarters of the teams in playoff position at Thanksgiving will make it to the dance. After two seasons where the theory could not be tested due to schedule impacts from the pandemic, it proved true again last year: exactly 12 of 16 teams that were in the mix at Thanksgiving were still standing at the end of the season. One team changed in the Eastern Conference and three in the West.

In the East, the top three teams in the Atlantic Division at Thanksgiving were the same: Florida, Toronto and Tampa Bay. In the Metropolitan Division, Carolina and the New York Rangers maintained, while Pittsburgh climbed into third place after being just outside the wild card based on points percentage at Thanksgiving.

The Washington Capitals fell from second in the Metro to fourth, good for the second wild-card spot, while the Boston Bruins maintained fourth place in the Atlantic and snapped up Wild Card 1.

The Columbus Blue Jackets were the team that fell out of position. They were fourth in the Metropolitan Division at Thanksgiving, with a .647 points percentage, but finished the year in sixth place, with a points percentage of just .494.

The Western Conference was more volatile.

The top three teams in the Central Division remained the same: Colorado, Minnesota and St. Louis, although the top two swapped spots.

In the Pacific, Calgary and Edmonton finished first and second — but also switched positions. But the Vegas Golden Knights were in third place at Thanksgiving and ended up missing entirely for the first time in the history of their franchise, undone by a long list of injuries to key players.

Vegas was replaced by the Los Angeles Kings, who weren’t in the playoff picture at all last Thanksgiving. And both Turkey Day wild-card teams in the West, the Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks, also fell out of postseason position. They were replaced by the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators.

The 2022 Thanksgiving Hopefuls

Which teams have the inside track this season? Based on points percentage, here’s who’s in the 16 playoff positions as of Nov. 24, 2022:

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. Boston Bruins – 20 GP, 34 pts, .850
  2. Toronto Maple Leafs – 21 GP, 27 pts, .643
  3. Detroit Red Wings – 19 GP, 24 pts, .632

Metropolitan Division

  1. New Jersey Devils – 20 GP, 32 pts, .800
  2. New York Islanders – 21 GP, 26 pts, .619
  3. Carolina Hurricanes – 20 GP, 24 pts, .600

Wild Card

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning – 19 GP, 23 pts, .605
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins – 20 GP, 23 pts, .575

This list looks a little different than what you’ll see on sites like NHL.com, where teams are ranked by total points. Because teams have not played the same number of games, it is better to rank by points percentage than total points. When doing so, Tampa Bay moves up to Wild Card 1 and Pittsburgh nudges ahead of the Rangers.

Three of the eight teams currently in playoff position were not in the dance last year — the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings. If the Devils and/or Red Wings can maintain, they’ll both be snapping long droughts. New Jersey’s only playoff appearance in the last decade came in the 2017-18 season, a first-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Detroit has missed for the last six years.

The 2022 Eastern Conference playoff teams who are currently below the cutline: the Rangers, the Florida Panthers and the Washington Capitals.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. Dallas Stars – 20 GP, 27 pts, .675
  2. Colorado Avalanche – 18 GP, 23 pts, .639
  3. Winnipeg Jets – 18 GP, 23 pts, .639

Pacific Division

  1. Vegas Golden Knights – 21 GP, 33 pts, .786
  2. Seattle Kraken – 19 GP, 25 pts, .658
  3. Los Angeles Kings – 22 GP, 24 pts, .545

Wild Card

  1. Calgary Flames – 19 GP, 21 pts, .553
  2. St. Louis Blues – 19 GP, 20 pts, .526

Like last season, Vegas and Winnipeg are in the mix again — and will be looking to hold on this time. The Seattle Kraken are also off to a good start in their sophomore campaign. They’re holding onto second place in the Pacific and looking like they could take a serious run at their first-ever playoffs.

The three 2022 Western Conference playoff teams who are currently below the cutline are the Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers and Nashville Predators. But the race looks like it will be very tight — all three of those teams also have 20 points, the same as the Blues. Minnesota has also played 19 games but has fewer regulation wins (the next tiebreaker), while the Oilers and Predators have each played 20 games.

Pretender or Contender?

With one point separating Teams 7 through 11, there’s certainly room for movement in the Western Conference — where it looks like three pretty deserving teams will end up pushed to the sidelines.

But after the Dallas Stars edged out Vegas to earn their playoff spot last spring, the two 2020 Western Conference Finalists are both comfortably back in the mix this season — both with new coaches behind their benches and sitting first in their respective divisions.

Winnipeg might be the biggest surprise in the early going in the West — rejuvenated under the Stars’ former bench boss, Rick Bowness.

Over in the east, the Boston Bruins are dominating under another former Dallas coach, Jim Montgomery. And Jon Cooper’s former assistant in Tampa Bay, Derek Lalonde, has taken his Detroit Red Wings into playoff contention in his first year in an NHL head-coaching position.

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