Out of the playoffs December 1? Done like (Thanksgiving) dinner

When it comes to making the playoffs, things are pretty much decided by the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend, which gives a new meaning to Black Friday if you’re on the outside looking in.
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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

With the Thanksgiving weekend over and our American friends dealing with their turkey-induced lethargy, perhaps it’s a good time to tackle one of the enduring bits of conventional thinking in the NHL.

Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland has long contended that when it comes to making the playoffs, things are pretty much decided by the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend, which gives a new meaning to Black Friday if you’re on the outside looking in.

And if history is any indication, Holland is about three-quarters correct. Over the past 10 seasons there have been 160 playoff spots up for grabs. Of the 160 teams that have held down a playoff spot after the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend, 41 of them have finished the season out of the playoff picture. (We obviously didn’t include last season because the battle between the billionaires and the millionaires prevented us from having any NHL hockey until January.)

For teams that are currently out of the playoffs, there is some sliver of hope in the fact the only time all eight playoff seeds have ultimately finished the season that way was in the Eastern Conference in 2008-09. Every other year, there has been some movement, usually a couple of teams per conference moving out and another couple moving in.

The bad news, though, is that if you’re more than five points out at this point, your chances of making the playoffs are almost non-existent. Which means that if history is any indication, Ottawa, the Islanders, Florida, Buffalo, Dallas, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton can begin making plans for next season right now. Only twice in the past 10 years has a team that was more than five points out at this point in the season made the playoffs. The New York Islanders in 2002-03 were 8-13-3-0 and 13th in the Eastern Conference, but went 27-21-8-2 to make the playoffs. The 2005-06 San Jose Sharks, who were 8-11-4 and in 12th place in the Western Conference, went 36-16-7 the rest of the way to reach the post-season.

But the numbers get more daunting when you look at them more closely. Of the 41 teams that have gotten themselves back into the playoff picture after U.S. Thanksgiving, 22 of them have been only two or fewer points out of a playoff spot. That means historically, if you’re more than two points out of the playoffs at this point of the season, your chances of making the playoffs are just over 10 percent.

Now this is valuable information, particularly for a team such as the Islanders. They’re eight points out of a playoff spot in the worst division in hockey and should be coming to the conclusion that this season has already gone down the sinkhole. Does that mean they start shopping Thomas Vanek around right now to get the first-round pick back that they gave up in the deal rather than wait until closer to the trade deadline when his value as a rental will drop?

By the same token, if you’re more than five points in the clear at this point, you might want to consider setting your playoff seating prices. Only six times in the past 10 years has a team had a playoff spot secured by more than five points, then gone on to lose it. Three of those occurred in 2001-02, when the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames were eight points to the good and both spiralled out of the playoffs and the New York Rangers were up by seven and ended up out.

And the great news for last year’s Stanley Cup finalists, who currently hold down first spot in their respective conferences, is that no team in first place after U.S. Thanksgiving has ever missed the playoffs.

Listed below are the teams in the past 10 seasons that have missed the playoffs after being in a playoff spot after U.S. Thanksgiving (along with their point leads in parentheses).

2001-02

EAST

NY Rangers (+7)

WEST

Edmonton (+8), Calgary (+8), Dallas (+1)

2002-03

EAST

Carolina (+4), Pittsburgh (+3), NY Rangers (+1)

WEST

Los Angeles (+0)

2003-04

EAST

Atlanta (+5), Buffalo (+2), NY Rangers (+2)

WEST

Los Angeles (+1)

2005-06

EAST

Toronto (+4)

WEST

Los Angeles (+5), Vancouver (+4)

2006-07

EAST

Toronto (+5), Montreal (+4), Carolina (+4)

WEST

Edmonton (+4), Colorado (+1)

2007-08

EAST

Carolina (+6), NY Islanders (+1)

WEST

St. Louis (+1), Chicago (+1), Vancouver (+1), Columbus (+1)

2008-09

WEST

Minnesota (+6), Nashville (+1)

2009-10

EAST

Atlanta (+2), Tampa Bay (+1)

WEST

Calgary (+7), Dallas (+3)

2010-11

EAST

Atlanta (+4)

WEST

Columbus (+2), Dallas (+1), Colorado (+1), St. Louis (+1)

2011-12

EAST

Toronto (+5), Buffalo (+2)

WEST

Minnesota (+3), Dallas (+1)

And here are the teams that have been out of the playoffs at U.S. Thanksgiving that have clawed their way back into the playoffs by the end of the season (along with their deficits in parentheses).

2001-02

EAST

New Jersey (-3)

WEST

Phoenix (-0), Colorado (-1), Los Angeles (-5)

2002-03

EAST

Toronto (-2), Washington (-4), NY Islanders (-7)

WEST

Colorado (-0)

2003-04

EAST

Montreal (-2), Ottawa (-2), NY Islanders (-5)

WEST

Calgary (-3)

2005-06

EAST

New Jersey (-5)

WEST

Anaheim (-5), San Jose (-9)

2006-07

EAST

New Jersey (-2), Pittsburgh (-3), Ottawa (-4)

WEST

Vancouver (-1), Calgary (-2)

2007-08

EAST

Pittsburgh (-2), Washington (-7)

WEST

Colorado (-1), San Jose (-1), Nashville (-2), Calgary (-3)

2008-09

WEST

Columbus (-1), St. Louis (-2)

2009-10

EAST

Philadelphia (-1), Montreal (-2)

WEST

Vancouver (-3), Detroit (-3)

2010-11

EAST

Buffalo (-5)

WEST

Los Angeles (-1), San Jose (-1), Anaheim (-2), Nashville (-4)

2011-12

EAST

New Jersey (-0), Ottawa (-1)

WEST

Edmonton (-1), Nashville (-3)

Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.

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