Bottoms Up is a weekly feature on Backhand Shelf that admits that sometimes the underdog doesn’t win: sometimes they just lose and lose and lose some more. In this edition, the losers are reminded that they have lost.
For the Blue Jackets, last Sunday’s loss to the St. Louis Blues may have seemed like just another in a long line of losses this season. It was the team’s 40th regulation loss of the season, but this particular loss wasn’t especially shameful in any way. It was a tight, 2-1 game in which the Blue Jackets outshot the Blues 34-26. All told, it was a pretty good showing against the Western Conference-leading Blues, who are the second-hottest team in the league behind the streaking Pittsburgh Penguins.
What was significant about that game, however, was that it marked the official elimination of the Blue Jackets from the playoffs. After that loss, there was simply no possible permutation of the schedule that could put Columbus in 8th place in the West, not even if they won all of their remaining games and those ahead of them lost all of their own. More accurately, the teams ahead of them simply could not lose all of their remaining games, as some of them were against each other.
So the Blue Jackets got the inevitable, yet still painful, news that this season was a complete and utter failure. It wasn’t really new news, but mathematics hadn’t chimed in yet and wanted to get their shot in.
At this point in the season, the teams in the basement of the NHL are essentially treading water in the middle of the ocean and the encroaching official elimination from the playoffs is the cold inevitability of death by drowning. They all know it’s coming and some have completely accepted their fate, choosing to sink rather than swim.
The Blue Jackets have known (or at least strongly suspected) that they were not going to make the playoffs for almost the entire season. After the worst start in franchise history, things improved from excruciatingly terrible to merely awful. The playoffs were a pipe dream for many moons, but now it’s official.
At this point in the season, receiving the news that you’re mathematically eliminated seems unnecessary and cruel. For the teams nearer to the playoffs, mathematical elimination will happen with a few games left and will certainly be disappointing, but it’s not the same as a kick in the ribs when you’re already lying in the gutter. Fortunately, the Blue Jackets won’t be alone in the gutter for long.
The next team to get the mathematical elimination slap in the face will be the Edmonton Oilers, who currently have 63 points and are 18 points back of 8th place Colorado, who have 81 points. If the Oilers win each of their 11 remaining games, they’ll finish with 85 points, so they’re still hanging in mathematically, but only by a thread. In fact, the fascinating Sports Club Stats already have their chance at making the playoffs as simply “No” rather than a percentage, indicating that there really is no chance.
There is, but only barely. The Coyotes and Avalanche sit at 7th and 8th, respectively, with 81 points. The Sharks, Kings, and Flames each have 80 points. If it was simply a matter of these five teams losing the rest of their games, it wouldn’t be a problem, but these teams face each other several times over the final games of the season. While this will make for a fascinating playoff race, it hastens the mathematical elimination of the Oilers, as well as the Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks.
The Sharks, for instance, have two games against the Coyotes, one against the Avalanche, and three against the Kings. That means that half of their 12 remaining games will be against teams with whom they are in direct competition for the playoffs, with their final two games being a home-and-home set against the Kings. If one of the Coyotes or Avalanche slip back and the Flames don’t challenge, those two final games of the season for the Kings and Sharks could decide who does and does not make the playoffs.
The only scenario I could find in which the Oilers make the playoffs is if the Sharks run away with the 7th seed, winning all 6 of those games against their direct competition. Even then, they would just squeak by. Mathematical elimination is just one loss or win away for the Oilers.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are just 6 regulation losses or 6 Edmonton wins from mathematically securing last place in the league. It helps that the Oilers beat the Blue Jackets 3-0 on Wednesday. The two teams meet one more time, but it seems unlikely that the Oilers will be able to catch the Jackets to wrest away the first overall pick. Fortunately for them, there’s still the draft lottery.