Now almost exactly one third of the way through the 2016-17 and well into December, here are a couple different angles on the Hurricanes progress to date and prospects of breaking the 9-year playoff drought.
The simple math
If you adjust for games played by counting games in hand as 1 point, the Hurricanes are chasing the Philadelphia Flyers right now for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. By a pure points tally the Flyers are in third place in the Metropolitan Division, but that is largely because they have played 5 and 4 games more respectively than Washington and Columbus who are next in the points standings. My math says that the Flyers are 8 games above .500 compared to the Hurricanes being at exactly .500. The difference is 8 points if you adjust for games played. If you prefer to use the simple points tally, the answer is similar. By this math, the Hurricanes are 9 points behind Washington who would claim the final playoff spot.
The surging Metropolitan Division
What jumps out in perusing the standings is how well the Metropolitan Division. If the Hurricanes were entered in either the divisional chase in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division or more broadly in the Western Conference standings, the Canes would be 1-3 points of a playoff spot depending on if/how one accounted for differences in games played.
Shorter version is that at least so far in 2016-17, the Metropolitan Division is by far the best division in hockey record-wise, and that hurts in terms of the Hurricanes current playoff positioning.
In recent years, making the playoffs has generally required 95-96 points. By that estimation the Hurricanes are about 4-5 points behind schedule. If one uses my general rule of thumb that says the path to 95 points is to get two-thirds of the points at home and half of the points on the road, the situation looks slightly better. Because the Hurricanes’ schedule thus far has been road heavy (18 away versus 10 home), the Hurricanes are only 3 points off of a 95-point pace. The burning question is whether the red hot Metropolitan Division teams can continue their current pace that would push the required point total for a playoff berth north of 100 points.
Compared to 2015-16
Through 28 games, the Carolina Hurricanes are 4 points ahead of their 2015-16 pace that saw them 4 games below .500 at the same point in last season. This is encouraging in that the team did surge throughout the winter but seemed to be 3-5 points below where they needed to be to truly climb into the playoff chase. And this time last season, the Hurricanes were 9 points behind the final playoff spot, so it is disappointing that despite earning more points, the Hurricanes are only 1 point better off in terms of catching the eighth place team.
Is there reason for optimism that a surge and playoff contention is possible?
For those seeking (legitimate in my opinion) reason for optimism, I think 2 things are worth noting:
1) This is roughly the point in the season when the Hurricanes dialed it up a notch in 2015-16, so it is at least possible that the same happens again in 2016-17.
2) The Hurricanes have played more road games than any other team in the league so far – 18 road games against only 10 home games. The Hurricanes are 7-3 at home with 6 straight wins right now, so it is reasonable to believe that Bill Peters can coax more W’s out of home ice with the ability to control match ups.
Questions for debate
What say you Canes fans?
–Do you feel like the 2016-17 Hurricanes are in a better place than this time last season?
–Will the red hot Metropolitan Division revert back to a normal pace, or could it really take more than 100 points to finish fifth in the division and eighth in the Eastern Conference to win a playoff spot?
–Most significantly, will the Carolina Hurricanes still be playing hockey that matters in late March and early April?