By Thanksgiving, Stanley Cup Playoffs are mostly mapped out

Nov 21, 2017 3:05 AM

Every team in the National Hockey League is quickly skating past the 20-game mark, meaning one-quarter of the season is completed. It also means six of the eight playoffs berths in each conference have been determined. Already?

According to lore – and based on statistics – it doesn’t matter what happens over the balance of the regular season. At the conclusion of play on Thanksgiving Day, the odds are strong that participating clubs to the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be determined; the lone teams to drop the baton usually suffer a rash of injuries.

Well, that’s what I’ve been told ever since I published my first book about wagering on hockey in 1996. So I put the theory to the test and actually researched the hypothesis; was the postulate true, simply conjecture or an Old Wives’ Tale?

Last season, the so-called PATH Treatment (Protocol on American Thanksgiving in Hockey) resoundingly rang the bell, proving to be spot on.

In the Eastern Conference, six of the Top 8 clubs on Turkey Day did indeed advance come April, as only injury-plagued Tampa Bay (Steven Stamkos) missed the Stanley Cup party along with New Jersey. In the Western Conference, seven of the Top 8 moved on, as “my” Los Angeles Kings finally faltered without their No. 1 goalie, replaced by Calgary.

This season, to no surprise, the revamped Lightning and the Devils are at the top of the East; the Kings are tops in the Pacific Division. Even if you don’t like these three to win the Cup, you could’ve hedged on them at nice odds in the preseason Futures book.

So far this century, although one club holding the No. 1 seed, and a few others ranked second and third, would miss the postseason, obviously it was teams near the bottom that would drop from the competition.

So I went back further to determine the stability of the theorem. The proposition proved to be quite consistent.

  East West
2016-17 6 7
2015-16 5 7
2014-15 6 6
2013-14 5 6
2012-13 N/A N/A
2011-12 6 5
2010-11 7 6
2009-10 7 6
2008-09 7 6
2007-08 5 6
2006-07 6 7
2005-06 7 6
2004-05 NO SEASON
2003-04 6 6
2002-03 5 7
2001-02 7 5
2000-01 6 7
Average 6.1 6.2

Over the course of 15 applicable seasons this century, 6-of-8 teams remaining to gain a Stanley Cup berth is remarkably steady. Sure, there were a few 5s and 7s, yet there never was an 8 nor any 4s or less in 30 tries (15 years times two conferences). The league average is 6.13 teams/conference.

Since division realignment, the West is even stingier at 6.50, including 7-of-8 over the past two seasons.

For bettors, this means we can look to sub-.500 clubs to be more confident, knowing a few will leap into the Top 8 while getting plus-money on each wager.

Who will drop? I prefer to flip the question and focus on clubs who will overcome injury, are quickly developing, or are an experienced side off to a slow start.

One of those clubs was the Columbus Blue Jackets. In 2013-14, they were perched at 20th overall on American Thanksgiving Day. But the signs were there after Nov. 28, posting win streaks 3, 4 and finally 8 games to forge into a playoff slot.

Some bettors believe it’s easier to predict clubs currently winning that will turn from hot to cold – although I find it difficult to place “our” Vegas Golden Knights into that category – so let’s stay with teams anticipated to run from cold to hot:

Anaheim: Last Friday, there was a five-way tie for 6th place in the Western Conference, with the Ducks just one point behind the quintet and “out” of the playoff picture – yes, I know it’s November.

Look at this MASH unit: Ryan Getzlaf, Cam Fowler, Ryan Kesler, Jared Boll, Ondrei Kase, Patrick Eaves, and the latest, goalie Ryan Miller.

If forwards Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell, plus goalie John Gibson, can keep Anaheim close, the Ducks will have a ton of talented – and rested – talent to make a big push when January rolls around.

Elsewhere, what’s the excuse in San Jose (age), Minnesota (can’t score) and Edmonton (really can’t score)?

Washington: Although it’s not yet Turkey Day, the Caps and Detroit are tied for the No. 8 spot as we enter the week. The Caps have the scoring and goaltending to advance. The Capitals rank one win behind the leaders for fewest losses when out-shooting the opponent – an important yet unspoken statistic. The line-maker knows this, too, so you won’t find much value on the Caps.

As for Detroit, the Wings are overcoming their slow start in a new arena. Despite blowing a 3-1 third-period lead to Colorado on Sunday, they are now 3-0-2 at home in their last five. More interesting may be the teams not above Line 8 on the Eastern ladder: Boston, N.Y. Rangers (while the Islanders are currently “in”), and last season’s conference finalist Ottawa. When one of these get hot, get ready to fire on them.

Knights Knotes: In the entire NHL, which club owns the longest home-ice winning streak this season? Yup, it’s “our” guys in the desert, reaching seven straight following Sunday’s 4-2 win over L.A. as William Karlsson continued his hot point streak.

Despite media reports, goalie Malcolm Subban, who just came off the injury list, did not start. Instead, the kudos go to Maxime Legace, someone no one west of the Mississippi ever heard of prior to the expansion draft – he was signed to a two-way contract 10 days after the draft.

However, “Maxi” is now 4-5-1 with a steadily dropping GAA in emergency status for the Knights, keeping the club more than competitive following a rough start in his first two appearances.

I know the Voyager 1 space probe left the solar system and is traveling in interstellar space, but our own hockey version of “V-Ger” is also out there. With the win over the Kings, they only trail their regional rival by one point for first place in the Pacific Division.

I love strange analogies.