Why the NHL postseason bracket appears less predictable

Codie McLachlan / Getty Images Sport / Getty

In hockey circles, American Thanksgiving is the initial checkpoint on the path to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Over the past decade, 76 percent of teams seeded in postseason standing in time for the mid-week holiday binge successfully qualify for the tournament. So as we stand now six weeks into the season, we can gauge who will be gearing up for a postseason run, and who should be devising a plan to make this losing season a productive one.

Except while the percentage of teams that consolidate their current advantage likely won't deviate from the prevailing standard, it doesn't seem as simple identifying the divide.

The East

The Rangers, Penguins, Capitals, Canadiens, and Lightning are the five teams that have created separation in the Metropolitan and Atlantic Divisions, and should be penciled into the bracket.

Then it's the Senators, Blue Jackets, and Devils - three teams that didn't qualify last season - holding down the remaining postseason spots. If we go by the percentages, that means we should expect at least one of those teams to keep it. However, of the eight remaining outsiders, seven (including three teams that made the postseason last year) are within four points of unseating one of the three teams with insubstantial advantages at Thanksgiving.

Only the last-place Islanders - another playoff team from a season ago - would remain outside the bracket in the event that they string a few wins together. But even then, the Islanders aren't a candidate to disband, meaning the entire 16-team conference could continuing chasing those eight playoff spots.

Out West

At the six-week mark, the Pacific Division-leading Oilers are the only change in the Western Conference playoff picture, having taken the place of last season's No. 1 seeded Stars.

Lack of turnover in the overall standings is likely a stronger predictive measure than the percentage of teams that typically maintain their postseason positions. And yet, five of the six teams outside the West standing are within three points from crashing in. Only the Coyotes seem to have opened an overwhelming deficit, having took a league-low 14 points from 18 games.

But what's a strong indicator that current structure could be flimsy is that the conference's strongest goal differentials belong to Edmonton and Minnesota - the two teams most would peg as likeliest to fall out. The Blackhawks, Sharks, Kings, Ducks, and Predators are just barely outscoring the competition at the quarter portion of the season, while the Blues own a negative differential at Thanksgiving.

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Why the NHL postseason bracket appears less predictable
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