30 Thoughts: Playoff also-rans determined early in NHL | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in Canada30 Thoughts: Playoff also-rans determined early in NHL

Posted: Monday, October 21, 2013 | 10:17 AM

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Recent history shows NHL teams not within four points of a playoff berth by Nov. 1 find it hard to secure one at season's end. (Rob Leifheit/Reuters) Recent history shows NHL teams not within four points of a playoff berth by Nov. 1 find it hard to secure one at season's end. (Rob Leifheit/Reuters)

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Recent history suggests NHL teams need to be within four points of a playoff berth by Nov. 1 if they hope to secure one at season's end.

In last week's 30 Thoughts, there was one statistic a few people asked about, that just three of 32 NHL teams at least four points out of a playoff spot on Nov. 1 recovered to make the playoffs from 2005-06 to 2011-12 (Sources say no hockey was played by that date in 2012-13).

It is amazing to see how the "loser point" has changed the NHL game. The last season before its introduction was 1998-99. Back then, you got two points for a win, one for a tie and nothing if you lost in overtime. There was no shootout. 

That year, the two worst teams in the NHL as we threw out our Halloween costumes were the Colorado Avalanche (2-6-1) and San Jose Sharks (1-6-2). They were four and five points out of the playoffs, respectively. The Avalanche were a powerhouse and recovered to finish second in the Western Conference and reach the conference final. Their first-round opponent? The Sharks.

That simply does not happen anymore. Since the shootout entered the NHL, we've never had a season in which two teams came from that far back to make it. And only one of the three comeback kings was more than four points out. That was Calgary. The Flames were seven points out in 2006-07, then went 40-22-9 to make it. The other survivors were the Buffalo Sabres (2010-11) and Boston Bruins (2011-12). The Sabres went 40-22-8; the Bruins, 45-22-4.

Generally, working yourself into a panic about what your team does in the first 10 games is a bad idea. But what really stands out about this particular season is how many teams are in danger of falling so far behind.

For example, the highest number of teams to fall at least four points out of the playoffs by Nov. 1 in our sample size is seven. That was 2006-07, the year Calgary made it. The lowest was two. This year, there are, potentially, seven such teams in the Eastern Conference (remember the crossovers). The West has three.

Anyway, that's the explanation. The optimists will say, "Well, it's happened each of the last two full seasons, so it can be done again." Just don't show the pessimists the numbers.


1. For those of you wondering about Team Canada, the next meeting between the executive (Steve Yzerman, Doug Armstrong, Peter Chiarelli, Ken Holland, Kevin Lowe) will be in November.

2. Just when we thought we were finished with boardroom battles for eight years, this is going to be an interesting week between the NHL and NHL Players' Association. On Monday afternoon, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will hear Patrick Kaleta's appeal of the 10-game suspension levied by league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. This is not a popular move by the union, internally or externally. Outside of the Sabres dressing room, you won't find many players who support this. They feel Kaleta tries to hurt people and shouldn't be the test case for the newly created process (Personal opinion: those people are right). Basically, the NHLPA's position is you don't get to say he can't use what's available to him just because you don't like him.

3. It's expected that an "attack area" of this appeal will be Article 18.7 (e) of the new collective bargaining agreement. One of the reasons for the 10-game punishment was Kaleta's negative history, including fines. Part of that section reads fines "carry consequences for the balance of that season and any further Supplementary Discipline for On-Ice Conduct that is imposed in that season will take into account the offense for which the Player has been fined." Kaleta had not been fined in 2013-14.

4. Bettman can keep the same suspension, shorten it or even make it longer. If his decision keeps Kaleta at six games or more, the player has the option to take it to an independent arbitrator, which is the new wrinkle. The NHL is well aware that the NHLPA badly wants to test this process. It's up to the commish to see if we get that far.

5. The other battleground is Europe. Hockey Night in Canada analyst Glenn Healy reported on Hotstove Tonight that there will be no European games next season because the NHLPA dragged its feet. It sounds like that was news to the 'PA as there is a conversation scheduled for this week. What is definitely true: the NHL thinks the union moves at a glacial pace, while the union believes history proves these events don't need to be scheduled this quickly. Ah, memories of Manhattan sidewalks and bank vestibules.

6. I asked a few people who've seen New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist: "What do you see there? What's wrong?" There are two things mentioned. First, the team defence is not good, which can make any goalie look bad. The second is that he looks smaller. In September, Lundqvist said he felt faster in the new equipment. But a couple of guys pointed out that playing as deep as he does, there are more shooting holes than ever. When you've got time, you can find them.

7. It sounds as if half the NHL was in attendance for one of Lundqvist's best performances, last Wednesday's 2-0 win in Washington. The Rangers simply outworked the Capitals, who didn't get great reviews. You can see it on television; there is simply not the same energy or intensity from the team's best players when they aren't on the power play.

8. One top-level Capital excused from the criticism was Nicklas Backstrom. His even-strength competitiveness was not in question. 

9. The word on Philadlephia Flyers forward Claude Giroux -- three points in eight games -- is he is trying to do way too much. You can see him forcing plays that aren't there, especially as the losses and injuries mount. One thing teams look for in their best players is, do they raise their game when things are going badly? He's trying yet not succeeding.

10. The first occupant of head coach Craig Berube's doghouse was Andrej Meszaros, who the Flyers have tried to trade. You can certainly understand why they would try to move him. But could he be more useful to them as an expiring contract? The Flyers are at $56 million US for next year, with both cap-relief buyouts already used. Letting him walk and opening a $4-million hole would help, although not for this season.

11. A few tweeters asked, "Now that it's public Chris Pronger won't play again, will the Flyers be able to use his contract as cap relief until it expires?" The answer is yes because he suffered a hockey-related injury. The NHL would only have issues if he was healthy enough to return, only to have the team refuse to re-instate him. It would be great to see him play, but the future Hall of Famer seems at peace. Philadelphia will get $5 million US of long-term injury relief through 2016-17.

12. At this time last week, no doubt everyone thought Edmonton was going to make a goalie move. The Oilers didn't for two reasons. First, they just didn't believe what they could get would really solve their problems long-term. Brian Elliott and Jonas Hiller, for example, will be free agents with no guarantee of staying. Second, Devan Dubnyk finished strong last week, which is the easiest solution. It's also very possible the organization believes team defence is more worrisome than goaltending.

13. The Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues and Washington were certainly among the teams Edmonton talked to. There was some belief the Oilers had looked at Jake Allen and/or Thomas Greiss. But Allen is very much part of St. Louis's future and the Greiss stuff appears incorrect.

14. A couple of other questions about the Oilers: Did they look at the blue-line? Did they consider trading Nail Yakupov? On defence, I think it was the same issue as in goal, would they be able to find a long-term solution to the problem? The answer appears to be no, at a cost they were willing to pay. Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse aren't far away, although it doesn't solve the early-season problems.

15. As for Yakupov, it's just too early to give up on him. The guy is superbly talented. Complicating matters is some NHL general managers really do have Russophobia. 

16. As the Avalanche prepare for what should be a great game in Pittsburgh on Monday, I asked a couple of scouts about the biggest difference between their young players and Edmonton's. The No. 1 answer was "Colorado's check." The other response was, "They really come back to get the puck, so their defencemen don't have to handle it much."

17. Now that Edmonton is seemingly cooled on making moves, teams doing the most exploring appear to be the Flyers, Rangers and possibly New Jersey Devils. 

18. In a year in which the free-agent market for defencemen is limited, other teams believe the Los Angeles Kings will work to lock up both Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell. There have been some preliminary talks with Greene.

19. I'm not sure how relevant Ryan Miller's no-trade list is anymore. Should the Sabres decide to deal him, Miller would probably be willing to go anywhere he believes is a better situation. He's a free-agent after the season, so any risk is short term. Edmonton makes little sense for him or them. But if someone else on the list gives him a shot at the playoffs, would it surprise anyone if he changed his mind?

20. A lot of the concern in Buffalo surrounds Tyler Myers, who has regressed since his 2010 Calder Trophy (top rookie) season. But more and more, it's being heard about Mikhail Grigorenko, who has seen single-digit ice time in four of his last five games and has gone 14 NHL contests without a point.

21. Expectations for Calgary weren't any higher than for Buffalo. But the Flames have looked much more competitive. Down 4-1 in San Jose on Saturday night, they got to within a goal before losing. After disappointing first seasons in Alberta, the team told Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman more was expected. Both delivered early on. Wideman leads all players in average ice time and Hudler has nine points in seven games.

22. Hudler also invited Sean Monahan to live with him instead of a hotel. The team said it will decide Monahan's future after nine games. But it doesn't look like much of a decision. Same goes for Morgan Rielly in Toronto. The Penguins indicated that mark isn't as important to them with Olli Maatta. Playing 10 times burns the first year of an entry-level contract, moving them closer to arbitration and restricted free agency. If any of these rookies stay on the roster (not necessarily playing) for 40 games, their clock starts towards unrestricted free agency. That requires seven years of service and is probably the bigger organizational concern.

23. Speaking of kids, Montreal's line of Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher is gaining big-time respect. Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien had the last change during Saturday's game against Nashville and Predators head coach Barry Trotz worked hard to get Seth Jones and Shea Weber against them on the fly.

24. So when does Galchenyuk move to centre? "Right now, it's not really a conversation. It's going so well, why change it?" Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said, adding the team doesn't need Galchenyuk in the middle at this point. But he admitted, "It is going to happen."

25. I had a better chance of getting Bergevin's credit card PIN number than information about contract extensions for either Andrei Markov or P.K. Subban. One thing to remember, Bergevin's shown no fear of getting things done early (eg. Max Pacioretty).

26. Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy enter the week ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in scoring for the Carolina Hurricanes. Most of the points came at even strength, impressive considering they both get a lot of power-play time. Their work with the man advantage will go a long way to determining the team's fate. Faulk is more of a shooter, meaning Murphy runs the show. Right now, Carolina is 20th. But as he gains experience, improvement will come.

27. After the 2011 NCAA season, Carolina wanted Faulk to turn pro. He told them he would do it if he had a reasonable chance to make the Hurricanes the next season. I guess they weren't lying when they said yes.

28. When Carolina came in to Toronto last week, Mike Komisarek went for dinner with John-Michael Liles. Komisarek said he told Liles to make the best of the situation, to rediscover the joy of playing hockey. It's similar to what Curtis Leschyshyn once told Wade Redden: "You can't leave the game angry at the sport you gave your life to."

29. We all can't help but look at salaries with these guys. But sometimes, the players themselves need to see the bigger picture. Jordan Staal, for example, has two points in nine games. Given his contract ($6 million average), it looks bad. But scoring isn't the only way he can justify it. Staal didn't have a great season last year yet he looks more like himself this year, with some very competitive performances (His head-to-head with Pavel Datsyuk was really something). If he does that every night, Carolina will happily take it.

30. Martin Biron told a great story about walking into the Sabres dressing room for the first time in 1995-96. He remembered seeing posters of Matthew Barnaby, Brad May and Rob Ray in boxing robes and gloves and thinking, "What have I gotten myself into?" Those three combined for 917 penalty minutes that season). It turns out Biron got himself into a pretty good career: 14-plus NHL seasons and the friendliest disposition ever. Daniel Briere once joked that the best thing about Biron is "when he's around, no one else needs to talk." Undoubtedly, coming to a TV network near you.

Follow Elliotte Friedman on Twitter @FriedgeHNIC

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