The Toughest Playoff Spot?

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The Calgary Flames are on pace for a 93-point season.  Given that, and the pace of their competitors, their most likely finish in the Western Conference standings is 10th.  If they win out, they’ll finish with 97 points – and they’ll most likely still finish outside the playoffs, given the way the other contenders are playing.

The Anaheim Ducks, presently seventh in the West with 91 points, are on pace for a 98 point finish, which should put them eighth in the conference when the season ends.  If those trends hold, that will make this year’s Western Conference the toughest place to crack the playoffs in the post-lockout world.

Two years ago, Calgary took fifth place with a 98-point season.  Three years ago, Minnesota won their division with a 98-point season.  Many a team over the last few years has regarded a 98-point season as a successful one, as more than just sneaking into the playoffs.

How does this compare to the pre-lockout NHL, though?  Is this year unusually tough, or are the point totals so high only because of the shootout?

To answer that question, I revisited the Western Conference standings and adjusted them back to pre-lockout point levels, and then projected them over 82 games.  Here’s what the playoff picture looks like with those changes:

1. Vancouver: 113 points

2. Detroit: 101 points

3. San Jose: 99 points

4. Phoenix: 95 points

5. Anaheim: 94 points

6. Chicago: 93 points

7. Nashville: 93 points

8. Los Angeles: 91 points

9. Dallas: 90 points

10. Minnesota: 83 points

11. Calgary: 83 points

It’s funny to see how an arbitrary rule change shifts the landscape in a tightly packed conference.  Calgary’s no longer even close.  Suddenly, it’s Los Angeles in eighth with 91 points.

Based on these revised standings, this year hasn’t been especially tough.  In the four 30-team seasons before the lockout, 90 points was the minimum, and three times the eighth place team in the West finished with 91 points.

I’m not saying that the West is bad; on the contrary, the conference is quite good.  But this hasn’t been an especially difficult year for teams trying to make the playoffs, it’s just been a year with inflated point totals.