The NHL season is winding down and every team has approximately seven games left on the schedule. As a result, the playoff picture is gaining clarity with each passing day. Let’s look at how the NHL playoff seedings might look.
As a quick reminder, the top three teams in each division make the playoffs and then the next two teams regardless of what division they are in earn wild card spots. In total, 16 teams will make the playoffs:
The Atlantic Division is all but wrapped up with the Tampa Bay Lightning in first, followed by the Boston Bruins, and then the Toronto Maple Leafs. No other team can realistically catch the third place Leafs. Tampa has a 6-point lead over Boston and they will probably win the division despite Boston having two games in hand.
Atlantic Division prediction: I will go chalk and take Tampa Bay, Boston and Toronto to stay in their current order.
As much clarity as the Atlantic has is how murky the Metropolitan picture is as we come down the final stretch. Washington will probably win the division, but after that it is a tight race.
Pittsburgh, Columbus and Philadelphia have 90, 89, and 88 points respectively with the Devils lurking with 84 and one game in hand compared to the other three divisional foes.
Pittsburgh has a significantly less challenging schedule than any of the other three teams. The Flyers’ schedule is brutal with road games at Pittsburgh, Dallas and Colorado. New Jersey and Columbus have similar scheduling difficulty levels the rest of the way.
Metropolitan Division prediction: Pittsburgh narrowly edges Washington to take the division on one of the last days of the year. Washington and Columbus take 2nd and 3rd comfortably.
The two wild card spots are mathematically still available to 9 teams, including the entire Metropolitan Division. Realistically speaking, however, the wild card is between the Flyers (88 points), Devils (84 points), and Florida Panthers (81 points).
One of the keys is that the Panthers have only played 72 games as opposed to the Flyers 75 and the Devils’ 74. Perhaps the most important single factor in determining the wild card will be if Tampa can pull away and win the Atlantic because Boston and Florida play 3 times. If Boston has nothing to play for, the edge goes to Florida.
Wild Card prediction: The Flyers stumble this week making the race much closer. The Devils get in because they have the easiest path. The final spot comes down to the 3 Florida-Boston games, with the slightest edge going to Philadelphia by virtue of their seven-point lead.
The Nashville Predators have run away with the Central Division and will easily earn the top seed in the conference. Likewise, Winnipeg has second place locked down. On the other hand, third place is wide open with Minnesota, Colorado, St. Louis, and Dallas all separated by only 6 points.
Central Division prediction: Nashville and Winnipeg are no-brainers. The other teams all have tough schedules down the stretch, so I’ll lean Minnesota because they have the point lead and the most games remaining.
The Pacific Division is a carbon copy of the Central with Vegas safely in first and San Jose with a big enough lead to assume they will get second place. Los Angeles, Anaheim and Calgary are all chasing the final spot.
Pacific Division prediction: Calgary is too far behind to challenge and Anaheim has a cupcake schedule the rest of the way. The top three end up as Las Vegas, San Jose and Anaheim.
Wild card prediction: The Kings have a schedule that is much more manageable than any of their Central Division foes, allowing them to grab one of the two remaining spots. Colorado is more talented than St. Louis, but the Blues have a slightly easier schedule. I say talent wins out and Colorado grabs the 8 seed.
The NHL season is coming to a close and there are some very exciting races, particularly out west where 6 teams are battling for four spots. In the East, 3 teams are fighting over the two wild card positions. It should be an exhilarating conclusion to the 2017-18 NHL season!