Breaking down the important races in the final week of the NHL season

Updated: April 1, 2016 at 10:34 am by Cam Lewis

There’s only (just over) one week left! Over the past few days, the Western Conference Wild Card race settled itself out pretty quickly, as the Minnesota Wild hammered the Colorado Avalanche, essentially dashing whatever playoff hopes they thought they had left. With that being out of the picture, there are only two major races to focus on in the final week of the season: The Eastern Conference Wild Card, and Tank Central.

In terms of the East, it’s fair to say that Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders are in, but the Bruins, Red Wings, and Flyers are still battling for two playoff positions. And in terms of tanking, wow, this is a tough one. Six different teams are within only three points of each other for last place, so there’s only a slight margin of error for these teams as they try to increase their lottery odds. 

Eastern Conference Wild Card Race

Okay, I think at this point, we can take the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders out of the “Are they going to make it?!” category and focus on the three other teams who are vying for two playoff positions. Right now, the Detroit Red Wings are sitting on the outside looking in with their never-ending playoff streak at risk, while the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins sit right within arm’s reach. 

(Key: Bolded in the schedule are teams also involved in this race, and in italics are teams who are ahead of a given team in the standings.) 

Philadelphia Flyers: 38-25-15 (89 points) with six games remaining (vs Ottawa, at Pittsburgh, at Detroit, vs Toronto, vs Pittsburgh, at New York Islanders). 

Boston Bruins: 40-29-8 (88 points) with five games remaining (at St. Louis, at Chicago, vs Carolina, vs Detroit, vs Ottawa). 

Detroit Red Wings: 38-28-11 (87 points) with five games remaining (vs Minnesota, at Toronto, vs Philadelphia, at Boston, at New York Rangers). 

The Flyers are in a pretty cozy position here. Well, nobody who’s hanging on to a playoff position by two points with just over a week left is ever cozy, but, relatively sneaking, they’re comfortable. Right now, they have one more game in hand than the Red Wings and Bruins, giving them an opportunity to separate themselves from Detroit in the Wild Card race. Also, two of their games are coming against pretty awful squads at home against Toronto and Ottawa, so if they manage not to mess those ones up, there’s some room for error in their other games against Pittsburgh and the Islanders. 

The Bruins are about to get going on a mini-Western Conference gauntlet to tie up a trip that saw them play eight of nine games on the road. They’ll play the Blues today, the Blackhawks on Sunday, and then return home for three games against Carolina, Detroit, and Ottawa. There isn’t much room for error here, because only really one of their final games is being played against a team that’s bad, because the Hurricanes aren’t really a pushover. 

Finally, Detroit is the team that has the most work to do, obviously, because they need to climb over one of these two teams. Luckily for them, the Wings play both the teams they’re trying to catch in the next week! And judging by the way their schedules look, there’s a very good chance that when they’re head to Boston on Thursday, they’ll be within two points of each other in the standings. Of course, ideally, the Wings would have a really easy schedule to close out the season, but this is the next best thing. Right in front of them, they have a chance to take down either the Flyers or the Bruins and make up four points in the standings on either of them. 

Prediction: I think that this really comes down to Detroit and Boston. The extra game in hand for the Flyers will be huge for separating space between them and Detroit, while the Bruins difficult road trip will ultimately be their demise. The Flyers will grab the Wild Card, Detroit will make the Atlantic Division’s third seed, while the Bruins will finish right on the outside like they did last year. 

Tank Central! 

How are there this many bad teams in the league at one time? Dead last to 25th overall in the standings is separated by only three points (!!!) with a week to go in the season, so it’s anybody’s guess as to who’s going to end up with that coveted 20 per cent chance to draft first overall. 

(KEY: Bolded in the schedule are teams who are also really bad.)

Calgary Flames: 32-40-6 (70 points) with four games remaining (at Edmonton, vs Los Angeles, vs Vancouver, at Minnesota). 

Winnipeg Jets: 31-39-7 (69 points) with five games remaining (vs Chicago, vs Minnesota, at Anaheim, at San Jose, at Los Angeles). 

Vancouver Canucks: 28-36-13 (69 points) with five games remaining (at Anaheim, vs Los Angeles, at Edmonton, at Calgary, vs Edmonton). 

Columbus Blue Jackets: 30-39-8 (68 points) with five games remaining (at Carolina, vs New York Rangers, at Toronto, at Buffalo, vs Chicago). 

Toronto Maple Leafs: 28-38-11 (67 points) with five games remaining (vs Detroit, vs Florida, vs Columbus, at Philadelphia, at New Jersey). 

Edmonton Oilers: 30-42-7 (67 points) with three games remaining (vs Calgary, vs Vancouver, at Vancouver). 

The Flames and Oilers are in the best positions moving forward, because they’re the only two teams in the group who have fewer than five games remaining. The Oilers are currently tied for last place with just three games to go in the season, but those games are coming against Vancouver and Calgary, meaning there aren’t any easy losses coming. The Flames, on the other hand, have four games left, at while two are against Vancouver or Edmonton, they also have to play L.A. and Minnesota. But still, it certainly isn’t packed with automatic losses. 

The Leafs, Blue Jackets, Canucks, and Jets are all within two points of each other and they all have five games left. Toronto and Columbus play each other one more time, and the rest of their games otherwise come against teams who aren’t awful, so the loser of that head-to-head (winner of that tank-off) will be sitting pretty in terms of the lottery standings. The Canucks are in a similar position to Edmonton and Calgary, since they’re all playing each other, so while Vancouver may have some easy losses in L.A. and Anaheim coming up (wasn’t San jose supposed to be an easy loss, too?) their final three games are very winnable. 

Low-key, the Jets are in an excellent tanking position here. They have no more games against other tanking teams, meaning, if they mess up and win one, they won’t make a huge four point jump in the standings. They have five games left, and all of them are pretty tough, and none of them could directly screw with their tank chances if they do somehow manage to win. 

Prediction: The Oilers, Flames, and Canucks playing each other to close out the season will certainly result in some juicy tank battles, and as a result, they’ll probably all play themselves out of last place. It may come down to the team who manages to lose between Toronto and Columbus, but when push comes to shove, nobody is going to have an easier time losing than Winnipeg will down the stretch.