Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a quick look at the competition that the Canes have for a spot in the 2020 NHL playoffs.
With 24 games to go, my standings math that adjusts for games played has the Canes tied for the eighth and final playoff spot and winning the tiebreaker. Bigger picture, the race right now has six teams within four points of each other and battling for four playoff spots. In play are the #3 slot for both divisions and both wild card slots. There are a couple other teams (Canadiens, Sabres, Rangers) that are not completely out of the race yet, but are long shots to catch and pass so many teams.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Of the teams in the hunt, the Maple Leafs are team most worth watching for Hurricanes fans. The Hurricanes own the team’s first-round draft pick in the upcoming draft, so a playoff miss would likely maximize where that pick lands. The Leafs have been on brink of collapse a couple times. A coaching change served as shock paddles earlier in the year, and more recently the team has been able to somehow stabilize things despite injuries on the blue line and in net. The Leafs have been treading water a bit lately, are still banged up on defense and are starting difficult stretch of schedule. Can they sink one more time and not rebound?
The Panthers have had an up and down 2019-20 season. After a slow start, they pushed up the standings but more recently have stumbled again. After a six-game winning streak, the Panthers have slumped again with a 3-6-1 record in their past 10 games. I like the Panthers on paper, and Bobrovsky has the potential to carry them if he gets hot late. But things just have not clicked at least for an extended basis thus far in 2019-20 which seems to put the Panthers at risk.
New York Islanders
The Islanders started the season red hot and were near the top of the NHL standings early in the season. But they have mostly rested on those laurels and been ‘meh’ since then. In the process, the Isles have played their way down from the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference and into the fray around the playoff cut line. The Isles are still a couple points ahead of this group but generally giving up ground. I dubbed Barry Trotz the best free agent pickup for the summer of 2018, and he is still factoring in the Isles’ success. The Isles play a sound structured game that minimizes scoring chances against and gives the goalies a chance. The positive is that the Isles are in most games which can help in collecting ‘tie’ points, but the team maybe lacks the sheer fire power to truly excel late.
Columbus Blue Jackets
As of little more than a week ago, the Blue Jackets were in the process up playing their way up into the next tier. But the Blue Jackets have faced two setbacks since then. First, they seemed to naturally just come back to Earth after an incredible hot streak. Second, the injury bug bit them hard with the loss of leaders and top players Seth Jones and Cam Atkinson. As a result, Columbus has cooled off and come back to the pack a bit. John Tortorella deserves coach of the year consideration for taking a team that was left for dead with the departure of Bobrovsky and Panarin and showing that hockey is not just about star power. The hope is that the loss of two players will be too much to overcome, but thus far Tortorella has been able to get the most out of this team.
The Flyers have lost two out of three but passed the Canes before that with a 7-3-1 stretch. The Flyers are arguably the team least likely to be in this position when the season started but are making it work with an interesting combination of veteran holdovers and next-generation players. The Flyers’ goaltending has been up and down and seems to have the potential to be an Achilles’ heel down the stretch.
My 2 cents
Of this group, I really liked the Panthers and Blue Jackets as of a week ago. The the key injuries for the Blue Jackets have the potential to become a downfall on a team light on high-end star power. And the Panthers continue to be a team that maybe is better on paper than it is on the ice.
The Leafs start a tough stretch with a game against the Canes in the middle of it. I keep hoping they falter because of the draft pick upgrade bonus, but so far they have been able to hold things together.
I have been a skeptic of the Flyers all season, but at some point one has to give them credit for where they are. My hope is that their goalies sink them if something else does not.
I am torn on the Islanders. On the one hand, I appreciate Trotz’s ability to mold a winner that is driven by the system more so than high-end talent. On the other hand, the players on the ice decide the outcome, and I do not think the Islanders are as talented as the Hurricanes.
For fun, my prediction is that the Panthers finish third in the Atlantic Division, that the Islanders hold onto third in the Metropolitan Division and that the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets seize the two wild card slots.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Of the six teams, which do you fear the most?
2) Which of the six is most likely to falter down the stretch?
3) Who are your picks for the four open playoff spots in the Eastern Conference?