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Here comes the Central Division.

Saturday, March 14, 2009
It was just a few years ago that, amongst the hockey world, fans and writers alike bemoaned the fact that the Detroit Red Wings, winner of three of the last four President's Trophies, feasted upon a weak group of Central Division teams. The Blackhawks were in nothing short of disarray, and the Predators, while competitive, have never done better than .500 against the Wings since the season before the lockout. The Blues have fared just about the same, as well. And the Jackets? Well, this will be the first season they ever finish, at least, at .500 against the Winged Wheel.

This season? Well, true, the Hawks have been swept in their first four against the Wings, and so have the Blues for that matter in five of their six games. But in spite of this, the Central Division has ultimately found itself in a rather unique situation:

Barring the Hawks record in the last 10, as well as the current downtrend of the Predators, all of the teams in the Central have been scrapping it out rather diligently. The Blues, who could be considered the "worst" of the lot, are still just 2 points out of a playoff spot (this will change to at least 3 after tonight's games, it should be noted).

Of course part of this is related to the overall mediocrity of the teams vying for their part in the playoff picture, with some rather low point totals overall. But even factoring that in, there is the outside chance that each team in the Central Division -- yes, every team -- could get in to the playoffs.

Of course with so many inter-divisional match-ups in this final stretch, that is some tricky math to figure out, and I'm not going to even try and figure out how all that in-fighting between the Northwest is going to affect the final standings, as in seasons past it has definitely made things rather wonky. Going by Aaron Portzline of Puck Raker's recent post, in which he downgrades the minimal points needed to get to the playoffs to 90 (by the way, Porty, the Jackets need 12 more points, not 14), this is how it would shake out for each team:

Detroit: lolwut? They already have 99 points. Just move along, everyone.

Columbus: Of course the team we care about amongst all others, so whether or not the other Central Division teams make it is not important to us for the most part. So having said that, this team needs to settle in for about a .500 record over the next 13 games. Some examples of this are by going 6-7-0, or 5-6-2. Of course getting just the projected points needed is never what one is aiming for.

Now even though, record-wise, the Jackets seem to have the easiest path (excluding the Blackhawks), they also hold a lot of team's lives in their own hands in the Central. They have 2 more games against Nashville, and 3 more games against the Hawks and Blues, respectively. You'll see when I get to the Blues how a mere 3 games can mean life or death to St. Louis right now, as they have the most precarious hold on hopefully clawing in to the top 8.

Chicago: Barring a total collapse by the Hawks, there really isn't any way they can not get 90 points, as they sit with 83 in the bank and 16 games to go. A whole 3 wins and an OTL will get them to that magic number, but expect them to win more than just a fifth of their last 16.

Nashville: Now we start getting in to the teams that are definitely going to have a harder time of it. The Predators, in spite of their torrid pace in the recent weeks, have lost 3 straight, and as a result now sit a point out of a playoff berth today. Even a win against Phoenix tonight may not be enough, as they could still be out of the top 8 depending on who else wins tonight (if both Edmonton and Dallas win, suddenly the bar is 74 and no longer 72, and 7th seed will be either 73 or 74, factoring in potential OTLs or if Minnesota can beat Dallas).

The here and now aside, to make it to the nifty 90 the Predators have to go 9-4-1, or potentially 8-3-3. Either way, they have a real fight on their hands, especially with the way their offensive output has crashed right back to earth, with a total of 4 goals in their previous 3 losses. Pekka Rinne -- who I simply do not like on the grounds that the idea of him winning the Calder Trophy is ridiculous babble (in my homer opinion) -- can only carry this team for so long, after all.

St. Louis: It would have been a lot easier to make a case for St. Louis if they hadn't continued to choke against the Red Wings, like they did today when the Wings dropped a three-ton weight on their playoff hopes by hammering them for 3 goals in less than a minute, and going on to lose 5-2. But that is simply how it goes sometimes, and with 20 points separating them and 90 with 14 games to go, it's even uglier for the Blues than it is the Predators.

This team really has no more room for error, and if this late-season surge of theirs is going to pay off, they have to grab at least 10 wins in their final 14, going 10-4-0. Or if you want to show them a little leniency, they could potentially go for 9-3-2. But either way, they need six more wins than regulation losses.

Focusing specifically on what Nashville and St. Louis have to do, and from the position of someone who would be rooting for all five teams to make the playoffs in the division -- the first time ever in the NHL in who knows how long -- there's one small blessing in the fact that the Predators and the Blues do not face one another any more this season.

Both teams are in the unfortunate position of having a great majority of games on the road, too. The Blues and the Predators both have 9 road games and 5 home games left, and neither has a winning record when away from the confines of their home rinks, either.

Funny how the more and more we dissect this, the further and further away from getting 90 points these two teams are, huh?

Let me just close this topic up by saying that I really have no idea what could potentially happen over the next month. Logic would have dictated -- and certain bloggers from years past have even said this -- that the total points needed to get in to the playoffs would have risen due to the 3-point games that every team now plays thanks to the shootout. But instead, we've seen teams with as low as 94, 92, and even 91 points (Nashville last year) squeak on in, defying what should have been a rational assumption about points needed to get in.

I don't have the time, nor the energy to try and get in to what the current minimal point total could be to get in to the playoffs if we crunched every potential game conclusion between now and April, but with the way things have been going now, I almost wonder if we really will see a team make it in with 90, or even 89 for that matter. We'll just have to wait and see, right?

Labels: , ,

  • At 10:03 PM, Blogger Nancy said…

    What happened?!? You're posting more than I am...

  • At 5:11 PM, Blogger Michael said…

    Crazy things happen when boredom sets in, eh?

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Name: Michael
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About Me: A mid-20s male who feels much too old even before he's 30. Has a degree in Sport Management and after branching out and trying a few other things in the job market, has finally decided to go back to his first love of hockey and hope he can break in with a team, big or small, somehow.
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