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Suddenly past the one-quarter mark of the 2017-18 season, finished with the November schedule and pushing rapidly toward being one-third of the way through the season, timing is right to start thinking about the standings.

Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a few angles on Eastern Conference standings math.


The current adjusted Eastern Conference standings

Because the Hurricanes have still played fewer games than most every other team, taking a quick glance at the standard NHL standings does not present a fair picture. That is because the standard standings format just tallies points and does nothing to account for games in hand. Using simple games above .500 math, the picture brightens a bit for the Hurricanes. Standings based on games above .500 currently place the Hurricanes only a point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals who are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.


The Hurricanes versus expected playoff pace

My math says that it takes 94-95 points to make the playoffs and also that the simple formula to accomplish this is to earn two-thirds of the possible points at home and half of the possible points on the road. That yields a total of 96-97 points which is actually a point or two extra.

Thus far, the Hurricanes have been strong on the road but weak at home. The team’s 5-4-2 mark away from Raleigh is one point more than my playoff pace. Home is another story however. At home, the Hurricanes’ 5-4-3 record is three points shy of my playoff pace. In total, the Hurricanes are two points short of a playoff pace which lines up reasonable well with the one-point deficit in the current standings (adjusted for games played).


The Hurricanes as compared to 2016-17

With Sunday’s win and Tuesday’s overtime loss point the Hurricanes are now two points better than their 2016-17 pace. That might not sound like much, but projected out over the full season it represents 7-8 points. Eight more points in 2016-17 would have tied the Hurricanes with the Maple Leafs for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.


Is the grass really greener?

In recent times, the Metropolitan Division has risen to the top and is arguably the toughest division in hockey. That bears out in the current standings. Right now, all five Eastern Conference playoff teams would come from the Metropolitan Division. In addition, if the Hurricane were instead in the Atlantic Division, they would be tied for the third and final divisional playoff spot. Worth noting is that the Western Conference does not so much offer an easier path to the playoffs. Fourth place in either division and also the final two playoff spots are filled by teams that are plus three wins above .500 which is the same as the cut line for the Eastern Conference.


Sizing up the competition

What concerns me most standings-wise right now is the way that some of the Metropolitan Division foes sprinting ahead right now. Five teams (Lightning, Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets, Devils and Islanders) are already plus seven or greater and seem to be running away from the pack. In addition, the two teams that the Hurricanes seem to be trying to catch right now are teams that figure to finish better than their current pace. While I do that it is possible that Penguins and Capitals take a step down in 2017-18, I think it is unlikely that the step down would be enough that they become an easy team to beat out for the final wild card slot. As such, the Hurricanes might be facing a tall task trying to catch up to two teams who are preparing to move up the standings now down.


Conflicting answers for the schedule ahead

Tuesday’s game in Columbus marked the start of an extended run of mostly road hockey. Counting Tuesday’s game, the Hurricanes will play 10 of their next 12 on the road before returning home for another round of home games during the holidays. My playoff math says that a 7-6 mark would be respectable (half of the points on the road). But with the way so many teams in the Metropolitan Division are surging right now, a 7-6 or 6-6 mark could see the Hurricanes fall even farther behind. As such, it would be nice to see the Hurricanes start fast on the trip, quickly push above .500 and then try to keep pace in the standings.


Stepping away from the math…Where are the Hurricanes right now?

Right now, the Hurricanes are very much in the big cluster of teams competing for the last couple playoff spots. The challenge here is that the NHL’s overtime loss points and the parity in the Metropolitan Division means that there could be 4-5 teams competing for the last playoff spot or two. That makes for simple odds of 50 percent or less. With a winning streak or just higher level of play, the Hurricanes are very much in the playoff chase right now. But at the same time, they are likely just one extended losing streak away from being out of it. Such is the life of an NHL playoff bubble team.


What does it take to make the playoffs?

I think making the playoffs will require two things First is that the Hurricanes will need to find at least one extended winning streak that vaults them up the standings. Something like 7-8 wins in a row would do it as would a stretch in which the team wins 12 of 14 or similar. Of the teams that pushed into the playoffs in 2016-17, most had at least one big winning streak to drive separation from .500. In addition to finding one burst that pushes the team upward, the other key is avoiding extended losing streaks. Thus far, the Hurricanes have scored well for rebounding fairly quickly. In looking at the schedule, February looks most favorable for pushing up the standings. Starting with January 30 and extending 20 days, the Hurricanes play a whopping 10 out of 11 games at home. If the Hurricanes can stay competitive until then, the home-heavy portion of the schedule could present an opportunity to push into the playoffs.


What say you Caniacs?


1) How many points will it take to make the playoffs and will the Hurricanes get there?


2) Which 2-3 of the Metropolitan Division teams currently above the Hurricanes have the best chance of being caught?


3) What will it take for the Hurricanes to find a higher gear and push up the standings?



Go Canes!


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