PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 08: P.K. Subban #76 of the Montreal Canadiens talks to teammates during the game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on January 8, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Bursting Bubbles: NHL Playoff Predictions

Many teams have now entered their final thirty games of the season. Depending on how they perform down the stretch these ‘bubble’ teams will either be on the golf links or at the rink in April. As of right now there are no Canadian teams in a playoff spot, but there are three that may squeak in, important word…may.

Some teams had great starts but have faltered lately. Others started poorly but have turned their seasons around into playoff contending fashion. Rebuilding teams have also turned the corner faster than anticipated, and although they may not have lengthy playoff runs, any post season experience is valuable, in my opinion.

I will highlight the eight teams within striking distance of a playoff spot as of January 8th play. The standings are guaranteed to change on a near nightly manner from now until April and as a hockey fan I am excited to see what will materialize. Let’s take a look at which bubble teams will be busted and which teams will float in.

New Jersey Devils               26-21-7 (1 point out)

The additions of Palmieri (20/15) and Henrique (17/17 +14) to the forward group has turned out great. Stempniak and Cammalleri are also playing well as the veterans of the team with thirty-nine and thirty-eight points respectively. The deciding factor on whether or not this team plays in the playoffs comes down to the man between the pipes though. Schneider is having a tremendous season and his 2.03GAA and .929SV% well exceed expectations.

My prediction: Float in

Carolina Hurricanes            24-21-9 (3 points out)

After a dismal start this team has turned it around, but is it too late for this year. Defenseman Faulk leads the team in points with thirty-four but his       -13 rating is less than desirable. Skinner (19/12) and the Staal brothers, with a combined 21/40 are back to their old selves. The additions of Versteeg also turned out well with his thirty-one-point campaign so far. The key is a top goalie, and although Ward is competent I don’t think he is the answer in net for this franchise. His 2.38GAA and .908SV% are admirable but not enough. Although they’re only three points out of a playoff spot I think it’s too little too late for this team and a very new look is soon to happen in Carolina.

My prediction: Burst

Montreal Canadiens               26-24-4 (4 points out)

Without its heart a team is likely to plummet. Price is exactly that for this team and it has shown that without him the Habs will struggle. Condon has done an admirable job between the pipes for this team with a 2.48GAA and .905SV% but he’s no Price and replacing the reigning Vezina winner is no easy task. Subban and Markov continue to contribute on offense with a combined 8/60. Come trade deadline I don’t expect the forward group to look the same. Either Galchenyuk or Gallagher may be traded. Eller has also been a disappointment for the team this year with a mere sixteen points and -9 rating. The duo of Plekanec and Pacioretty can lead this team, but without Price a historic start might end up with an absence from playoff hockey.

My prediction: Burst

Ottawa Senators                                25-23-6 (4 points out)

A great defence, well beyond Karlsson as well, and a young core forward group has this team in good position to make a playoff appearance this year. Ceci and Methot get overlooked on the blue line behind Karlsson, but they do the little things right and help make Andersons’ job in net a little easier every night. Ryan, Hoffman, and Zibanejad are all having great seasons and provide scoring threats on multiple lines. Stone and Turris are playing equally as well but their    -10 ratings are a bit of a sore spot. Anderson gives them a fighting chance every game with his .914SV% and 2.86GAA and I think the Sens are Canada’s best chance this season to bring the cup back north.

My prediction: Float in

Philadelphia Flyers                     23-19-9 (5 points out)

Trading Lecavalier and Schenn has turned out well for Philly. It looked like that trade may be a sign of looking forward to next year, but playoff hockey could happen this year. Without his brother on the bench Brayden has turned it around over the past month and now looks to have a forty-point season in hand. Giroux and Voracek are a great one-two punch and Simmonds is the uppercut that completes the trio. Couturier may not be a point producer but his +9 rating shows how detrimental he is to this teams’ success. Rookie defenseman Gostisbehere has also showed up on a mission with 9/18 +4 in 33 games this year. Mason and Neuvirth are both great goalies, but if the Flyers want to play in April this year I would go with Neuvirth. His 2.14GAA and .933SV% are exactly what this team needs to make in to the playoffs and possibly a run in them too.

My prediction: Float in

Minnesota Wild                   23-20-9 (3 points out)

Dubnyk is following up his Vezina finalist campaign last year with another top performance this season with a 2.37GAA and .918SV%. Vanek has been a great addition as well with twenty-nine points and veterans Koivu (10/25) and Parise (17/12) continue to play well. Suter and Spurgeon are a solid defensive pair with 12/41, but it’s the underperformance of forwards Neiderreiter and Pominville that has this team on the outside looking in. They have the veteran leadership and goalie to make the playoffs but playing in the Central division will not make it easy.

My prediction: Float in

Arizona Coyotes               24-22-6 (4 points out)

I think to only be four points out of a playoff spot at this stage in the season is already a big step in the right direction for this organization. The youth on this team has shown they can compete, but is a playoff appearance this year too soon, I think so. Ekman-Larsson leads the team in points with thirty-seven but a -9 rating is not want you want from your top blue liner. Boedker leads the forward group with 13/22 but a -23 rating is also crushing. Veterans Doan and Richardson are great mentors and have combined for 24/27 +13 this year. Domi and company should look to their example and take this season as a big step forward. Dominque is a solid goalie as well with a 2.64GAA and .915SV%. Arizona is not a 2016 playoff team, in my opinion, but 2017 I’d bet on.

My prediction: Burst

Vancouver Canucks               20-20-12 (6 points out)

Twelve overtime loses is not part of the makeup found in a playoff contender. The Sedin brothers, along with Hansen, are a formidable force with 45/62 +39 but that’s where the threat stops. Tanev is the only defenseman with a positive rating at three. Horvat, Burrows, and Vrbata have been a large disappointment this year combining for a measly 27/33 -59 rating. It may also be time to start rethinking who plays in net. Miller is having an okay season with a 2.64GAA and .914SV% but Markstrom is playing better at 2.38GAA and .923SV%. I know .26GAA and 9% might not seem like much, but for a struggling team any small variation can be the difference between a win and lose.

My prediction: Burst

The trade deadline with shine a lot of light on these teams and many others. If these bubble teams can manage to add that missing piece than a playoff berth is right around the corner. If they continue to struggle up to the deadline it is likely they will start to look ahead to next season in a deeper way.

Did I miss someone? Agree or disagree? Comment below and don’t forget to follow Super Two Sports on twitter @SuperTwo_Sports along with myself @GHam614

Thank you again for reading and enjoy the final third of the NHL season.

*stats as of January 8th

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