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Photo Credit: isuckatpicking

Countdown to the season question 17: Who makes the playoffs?

Predictions and hockey are like pizza and beer. They are good on their own, but when you put them together, to quote Jason Strudwick, “It’s like a bouquet of flavours coming in your mouth.”

That was Strudwick’s response when he tried the first ever Nation beer. True story. He said it live on the air. I burst out laughing and every time I play that clip on the show we still chuckle.

I can only imagine how he’d describe a beer/pizza combo, but predictions and hockey are a staple for any hockey fan.

Let’s be honest, even if you loathe predictions, you still read more than you like, while many of you will spend hours perusing every pre-season prognostication. I know I do.

The Oilers are proof things can change quickly. Last season, I was in the minority of people expecting them to make the playoffs. I didn’t think they’d reach 103 points, but I felt their drought would finally end. I didn’t see the Toronto Maple Leafs making the postseason, or a Predators/Penguins final. It is difficult to outline exactly what will unfold, but it is fun trying.

Unless you have a very unique crystal ball, it is impossible to predict which team will be hit hardest by the injury bug, or which team will surprise you.

Last season, we had seven teams return to the playoffs after missing the dance in 2016. That tied an NHL record for most “new” teams from the previous year. I don’t see that happening in 2017/2018. Four of those seven teams, Columbus (108), Minnesota (106) and Edmonton and Montreal (103) surpassed 100 points, while Toronto, Calgary and Ottawa were back in the chase for the Stanley Cup. It was Canada’s year of redemption.

The Oilers had a 33 point improvement, the Blue Jackets added 32 points, the Leafs had a 26 point increase, while Minnesota and Montreal jumped up 19 points, the Flames improved by 17 and Ottawa went from 85 in 2016 to 98 in 2017.

Only ten teams in NHL history have had a 35+ point improvement from one season to the next, so the Oilers and Blue Jackets’ massive increases in one year was unexpected.

Dallas had the largest collapse, dropping from 109 points to 79. This off-season they added Ken Hitchcock behind the bench, Ben Bishop in goal, Marc Methot on the blueline and Alex Radulov, Martin Hanzal and Tyler Pitlick up front. They will be better, but can they improve by 15 points in the ultra-competitive central and get back to the postseason?

DIVISIONS

Nov 29, 2016; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Leo Komarov (47) chase a loose puck during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll start in the Atlantic.

I don’t see any clear favourite, but I’ll take Tampa Bay to win the division. They missed the playoffs by one point last year and rarely had a healthy lineup. Nikita Kucherov is a world-class talent, and with a healthy Steven Stamkos they are an extremely dangerous duo. For poolies, look to draft Brayden Point as a sleeper. He is playing with Kucherov and Stamkos, and he’s a very smart player. He had 40 points in 68 games as a rookie last year, and I see him surpassing 55 this season.

Tampa Bay 103 points.
Toronto 100
Montreal 96

Buffalo 94
Boston 91
Ottawa 84
Florida  82
Detroit 71

Buffalo will be my surprise team in the Atlantic. A healthy Jack Eichel will make a major difference. Ottawa was the only playoff team with a negative goal differential last season. Erik Karlsson is a marvel, and it will suck not watching him in the playoffs, but I don’t see them making it. Montreal and Boston could be swapped out. The Habs scoring, or lack thereof, concerns me, but with Carey Price in net I can’t see them missing the dance. The Leafs lost 15 games in OT/SO last year. They were 1-7 in the SO. They will be better in the “skills competition.”

Metropolitan

The division of death the past few seasons. Teams in the Metro averaged 97.2 points last year and 95.8 points in 2016. They averaged seven more points per team than the Atlantic division in each of the past two seasons. Carolina looks like they are poised to make a splash, but at whose expense?

Columbus 108
Pittsburgh 102
Washington 100
NY Islanders 98
Carolina 94
NY Rangers 93
Philly 88
New Jersey 80

The Rangers will be forced to use Ondrej Pavelec more than they like, and you can ask Jets fans how that plays out. The Islanders missed the postseason by one point last year, and a full season with Doug Weight behind the bench puts them back in the dance. The Blue Jackets win the division and one playoff round. Artemi Panarin gives them a much-needed legitimate offensive threat.

Central

Feb 11, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) and Chicago Blackhawks forward Vinnie Hinostroza (48) fight during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, this was the weakest division, on a points-per-team basis at 88.8, but that was mainly due to the Avalanche being one of the worst teams in NHL history at 22-56-4. The Avalanche barely made any off-season moves, and while they will surpass 50 points they won’t be close to a playoff team.

Minnesota 109
Winnipeg 100
Chicago 97

Nashville 97
Dallas 96
St.Louis 93
Colorado 64

The Jets finally get some consistent goaltending and are back in the playoffs. This was the toughest division to predict. I think Chicago could dip even more with the loss of Marian Hossa, Nick Hjalmarsson and Panarin. But until they falter it is hard for me to count them out. Minnesota is a deep team, but they lack a true elite offensive player and the lack of an elite offensive star hurts come playoff time. The Blues are starting the season with injuries, and they will be this year’s 2017 Tampa Bay. A good team who misses the dance.

Pacific

Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Ducks start the season without Hampus Lindholm, Ryan Kesler and Sami Vatanen. That ends their five-year run of winning their division. The Sharks could make it and catch the fifth team in the central, but they were 19th in goals scored last year and they lost Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton is coming off knee surgery. They have an excellent D corps, but their lack of scoring is their weakness.

Edmonton 106
Anaheim 101
Calgary 95
San Jose 91
Los Angeles 89
Arizona 84
Vancouver 69
Las Vegas 60

It seems odd to have five teams from the Pacific to miss the playoffs, but it will happen. The Oilers win their first regular season division title since 1987. Arizona doesn’t have enough offence to make the playoffs. I won’t be surprised if Calgary dips into the AHL and recalls a goalie. I sense Mike Smith spends some time on the injury reserve.

WRAP UP

Canada will have five teams in the dance again and Montreal and Toronto will face off in the playoffs for the first time since 1979. It would be unreal if the Oilers and Flames find a way to meet up in the postseason. The provincial rivals haven’t met since Esa Tikkanen scored the game winner in overtime of game seven of the Smythe division semi-final in 1991. It would be glorious for both cities to meet up again.

Who do you have making the playoffs?

Who is your surprise team? Which regular drops out?

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • JimmyV1965

    Good to see you have the Jets in there JG. I think they have one of the most interesting teams in the league. On paper, they look dynamite. Their roster looks like one of the best in the league. Yet they never make the playoffs. The Hawks, on the other hand, appear to me to have one of the thinnest depth charts of the contending teams. Their third and fourth lines are so very meh. And their defence is even worse. If something happens to pensioners Keith or Seabrook that defence looks awful. Is there anyone out there who would swap the Jets roster for the Hawks? Not just for the future but today.

    Flames are really interesting too. They could be the best team in the Pacific or they might not make the playoffs. I’m not sold on the changes they made. I firmly believe Hamonic would be an Oiler today, but Chia simply did not want him. He traded Eberle for Strome. How much more did he need to get Hamonic? If he wanted him, Hamonic would be here.

  • E-Mac

    I like Carolina to surprise and make the playoffs.

    I like the Jets and the Stars will duke it out for the Central crown.

    I like the Oilers to make the Cup Final.

  • EzraElliott

    Looks like a good set of predictions to me, although I would have Carolina making it over Buffalo for the last wildcard spot in the East, Dallas higher/Winnipeg lower in the Central standings (but both make playoffs), and Montreal above Toronto in the Atlantic. Vegas, Vancouver, Detroit, and Colorado will partake in their own, separate competition to see who stays out of the basement.

  • Oiler Al

    Scary taught……. If 97 should get sidelined for a good number of games this team would not make the playoffs.Outside of Dri there is very little scoring beyond Mcdavid .

  • Randaman

    I think Carolina gets in instead of the Islanders. Besides Tavares, what have they got and don’t say Eberle because he’ll disappear in the tough games.

  • madjam

    Nice breakdown . Here is my guesses as to season pans out : Eastern : Wash.110 (still Presidents trophy winner despite dropping 8 points) ,Columbus 108 , Pitt. 105 , NYR 104 , Carolina 93 , Phil. 92 , NYI 90NJ 76 .
    Atlantic : Toronto 103 , TBay 100 , Bost. 97 , Mont. 96 , Ott. 95 , Florida 89 , Buff. 88 ,Detroit 70 .
    Central : Minn.102 , Chi. 101 , Dallas 99 , Nash. 90 , Winn. 89 , St.Louis 89 , Colorado 70 . They might only have 3 make playoffs this year by my prediction .
    Pacific : Edmonton 104 , Anaheim 103 , San Jose 97 , L.A. 93 , Calgary 90 , Vanc. 89 , Arizona 80 , Vegas 58 . Calgary might win crossover over Nashville due to extra games against Vegas basically .
    Basically took last years figures and added or deleted how many games they might lose this year as compared to last year .

  • Snoop Scottie Dogg

    I’m a little worried that because everything went right for the Oilers last season that they will have a hard time repeating their success. Especially with AS out until Christmas. He was the best D-man that they had for the first half of the season. I though JP would be on the tram to start the year but that isn’t happening. There are a few players that are in over their head and that reminds me of the DoD. Not that they will be that bad again but playoffs are not a slam dunk like everyone thinks.

    • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

      I know it’s been tough being an Oilers fan for the past 10 years, but the Oilers have 2 of the best players in the game right now, a solid D corps, and good #1 goalie. They’ll make the playoffs.

  • vetinari

    I am not so bullish on Toronto’s and Columbus’ ability to repeat last year’s performances. On the Oilers’ chances, I think we will make it to the conference finals but fall just a bit short– just enough to light the fire in McDavid and co. a bit brighter and take the team to the finals next year.

  • D

    You know with Ken Hitchcock making a return to Dallas, a playoff rematch with the Oilers is in order (after the Oilers boot out the Flames). I suspect the playoff results this time around against Edmonton will not be in Dallas’ favour.