Time to assess the 2022-23 NHL playoff picture

After leaving sports coverage to football on Thanksgiving Day, the NHL returns on Black Friday with an all-day, 14-game schedule. This year, the NHL Thanksgiving Showdown will air on TNT — a double-header that begins with the Battle of Pennsylvania with the Pittsburgh Penguins visiting the Philadelphia Flyers (5:30 p.m. ET) and ends with a visit from the St. Louis Blues Tampa Bay Lightning (8 p.m. ET).

It is widely believed in hockey circles that a team’s status at Thanksgiving gives a strong indication of whether or not playoffs will be in play next spring. The Blues and Lightning are just to the right of that line, each holding the second wild card spot in their conference heading into Friday’s action.

The Penguins have made the playoffs for the past 16 straight seasons — the longest active streak in the league. They are level on points with the Lightning on 23 points but sit ninth in the East by playing an extra game. And the Flyers go into Friday’s game with a record of 7-8-5 and 19 points in 12th place in the East and in danger of missing the postseason for a third straight season.

Typically, about three-fourths of teams in playoff position make it to the Thanksgiving dance. After two seasons in which the theory could not be tested due to schedule effects from the pandemic, it proved true again last year: Exactly 12 out 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 Atlantic Division’s top three teams at Thanksgiving were the same: Florida, Toronto, and Tampa Bay. In the Metropolitan Division, Carolina and the New York Rangers held their ground, while Pittsburgh climbed to third place after being just outside the wild card based on point percentage at Thanksgiving.

The Washington Capitals fell from second place in the Metro to fourth, good for the second wildcard spot, while the Boston Bruins retained fourth place in the Atlantic and secured Wildcard 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 point percentage, but ended the year in sixth place with a mere .494 point percentage.

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 teams swapped places.

In the Pacific, Calgary and Edmonton finished first and second – but also swapped positions. But the Vegas Golden Knights finished third at Thanksgiving, missing out completely for the first time in their franchise’s history, nullified by a long list of key player injuries.

Vegas was replaced by the Los Angeles Kings, who didn’t make the playoffs at all last Thanksgiving. And the two wildcard teams for Turkey Day in the West, the Winnipeg Jets and the Anaheim Ducks, also fell from the postseason position. They were replaced by the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators.

The 2022 Thanksgiving hopefuls

Which teams have the inside lane this season? Based on point percentage, here’s who is in the 16 playoff positions on November 24, 2022:

east conference

Atlantic Division

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

metropolitan department

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

wildcard

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

This list looks a little different than sites like NHL.com, where teams are ranked by total points. Since teams have not played the same number of games, it is better to rank by point percentage than by total points. Tampa Bay moves up to Wild Card 1 and Pittsburgh pushes ahead of the Rangers.

Three of the eight teams currently in the playoffs didn’t make it last year — the New Jersey Devils, the New York Islanders and the Detroit Red Wings. If the Devils and/or Red Wings can hold out, they will both weather long droughts. New Jersey’s only playoff appearance in the past decade came in the 2017-18 season, a first-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Detroit has missed out in the last six years.

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

Western Conference

central department

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

Pacific Division

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

wildcard

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

Like last season, Vegas and Winnipeg are back – and will try to hold on this time. The Seattle Kraken have also made a good start to their second season. They hold second place in the Pacific and look like they could seriously compete in their first-ever playoffs.

The three 2022 Western Conference playoff teams currently below the cutline are the Minnesota Wild, the Edmonton Oilers, and the Nashville Predators. But the race looks very close – all three teams also have 20 points, as do the Blues. Minnesota has also played 19 games but has fewer regular wins (the next tiebreaker), while the Oilers and Predators have played 20 games each.

Pretender or Contender?

With a point between teams 7 through 11, there’s certainly room for movement in the Western Conference – where it looks like three fairly deserving teams are about to be marginalized.

But after the Dallas Stars ousted Vegas last spring to secure their place in the playoffs, the two 2020 Western Conference finalists are both comfortably back in the mix this season — both with new coaches behind their benches and in first place in their respective divisions.

Winnipeg might be the West’s biggest surprise in its early days — rejuvenated under former Stars’ bank boss Rick Bowness.

Over in the east, the Boston Bruins dominate under another former Dallas coach, Jim Montgomery. And Jon Cooper’s former Tampa Bay assistant, Derek Lalonde, led his Detroit Red Wings to the playoffs in his first year as NHL head coach.

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