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Does Thanksgiving Really Matter?

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Thanksgiving has historically been an important marker in the Stanley Cup Playoff race.

As with any sport, it takes a few weeks before teams really know what they have. The marker that everyone picks is Thanksgiving Day. Typically, the saying goes, the teams who are in a playoff spot on American Thanksgiving will be the teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs come springtime. 

Is this just media hype, or does Thanksgiving really matter? Let’s take a look at the Thanksgiving standings from each season since the latest realignment and compare them with playoff teams.


2015-2016


Eastern ConferenceWestern Conference
MontrealDallas
OttawaSt. Louis
BostonNashville
N.Y. RangersLos Angeles
WashingtonSan Jose
NY IslandersVancouver
Detroit (WC)Chicago (WC)
Tampa Bay (WC)Minnesota (WC)


Last season, Thanksgiving was a pretty good indicator of what the playoffs would look like. At least on the Western side. Thanksgiving predicted seven of the final eight teams in the Western Conference. The Vancouver Canucks would eventually fall all the way down to sixth place in the Pacific Division, and ceded their playoff spot to the eventual division-winning Anaheim Ducks. 

The Eastern Conference is a little bit of a different story. Despite starting the season 9-0-0, the Montreal Canadiens would collapse after goalie Carey Price’s injury and finish in sixth place. The Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators would eventually finish third and fifth in the Wild Card race, respectively. Though Thanksgiving seemed to be a pretty good predictor of the year’s final teams, it missed the most important one: the Stanley Cup Champions. The Pittsburgh Penguins would eventually take the second spot in the Metropolitan Division and win the Stanley Cup.

Overall, Thanksgiving did a pretty good job of predicting the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It did, however, give hope to teams on the bubble that a playoff push certainly isn’t impossible.


2014-2015


Eastern ConferenceWestern Conference
MontrealNashville
Tampa BaySt. Louis
DetroitChicago
PittsburghAnaheim
N.Y. IslandersVancouver
WashingtonCalgary
Boston (WC)Los Angeles (WC)
Toronto (WC)Winnipeg (WC)

Thanksgiving Day 2014 was pretty spot on - even more so than Thanksgiving from last season. It missed three teams in total, missing only Ottawa, the Rangers, and the Minnesota Wild. This was another Thanksgiving that missed a division winner, as the Rangers would go on to win the Metropolitan Division (and the Presidents’ Trophy and the Eastern Conference Championship). This Thanksgiving did, however, successfully pick the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Even still, Thanksgiving proved to be a pretty good indicator of which teams would be playing for the Stanley Cup. This is pretty much exactly what the hockey community expects to see from the Thanksgiving mark of the season. If you aren’t in by the time the turkey hits the table, there’s a good chance you’re out for good.


2013-2014


Eastern ConferenceWestern Conference
BostonChicago
Tampa BaySt. Louis
DetroitColorado
PittsburghAnaheim
N.Y. RangersSan Jose
WashingtonLos Angeles
Montreal (WC)Phoenix (Arizona; WC)
Toronto (WC)Minnesota (WC)


The first Thanksgiving of the divisional realignment produced similar results, missing only three playoff teams. Again, the future Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings were also in a playoff spot at Thanksgiving, making the day successful in two of three seasons since the realignment. Overall, there is a strong correlation of teams in a playoff spot at Thanksgiving and teams that ultimately reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the three years since the divisions realigned, 79 percent of Thanksgiving playoff teams made the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the end of the season. Starting strong is important in today’s league, and the Thanksgiving cutoff date seems to support that notion. 


This Season

So what about this season? If previous seasons have shown anything, teams in the playoff picture at the end of this week have a good chance of being there when the regular season comes to a close. There are a few teams, though, that might be the few that eventually fall out.

Perhaps the best example of a team that could have some future trouble are the Metropolitan leading New York Rangers are rocking a league-high 105.26 PDO, which is a full four points above their expected PDO, according to Corsica Hockey. This can mostly be attributed by their bloated 12.5 percent shooting percentage, which is the highest in the leagues and just under three points above the second highest shooting percentage. These numbers suggest that this level of performance is unsustainable, though their high position in the standings could cushion them in a very competitive Metropolitan Division.

Similarly, the unexpectedly successful Columbus Blue Jackets (who hold the top Eastern Wild Card on the morning of November 21) might be in trouble. Much like the Rangers, the Blue Jackets are playing just under four points over their expected PDO. Unlike the Rangers, however, this might be more on the defensive side of the game. At five-on-five, the Blue Jackets are surrendering only 1.97 goals against per 60 minutes. This is will below their 2.79 expected goals against per 60 minutes, according to Corsica Hockey. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has looked like his former Vezina Trophy winning self after a few down seasons, though hoping for three shutouts every 15 starts (as he has posted so far) might be wishful thinking. This is especially troubling when you consider their weak 46.57 Fenwick For percentage. Though it may be easy to get caught up in the Thanksgiving hype, the stage has been set for a Columbus regression.

On the other hand, there’s still time for a team to make a comeback. The Thanksgiving cutoff has allowed for teams who were expected to be successful but slipped out of the gate to right the ship (see: Anaheim last season). This team might be the Florida Panthers, who were expected to challenge for an Atlantic Division championship. They are currently on the outside looking in, even though they are technically tied in point total for the last Wild Card spot (but their two extra games played put them outside). They’re on the right side of possession in both Corsi and Fenwick, which suggests for future correction based on possession. They’ve had some key injuries to start the season. The biggest injury is first-line forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who will miss the first 3-4 months of the season with a leg injury. Key secondary forwards like Nick Bjugstad have also missed time, though he was activated off injured reserve on November 21 and is set to make his season debut.

Though it might not be the end-all-be-all of the NHL regular season, Thanksgiving in the United States is a big day for team evaluations. What you see of your team on that day is likely what you’ll get for the rest of the year. The first few weeks of the season have historically proven themselves to be very important.

Edited by Justin Peroff, Kat Johansen.

SQuiz
For what season did the NHL realign to its 4 division format?
Created 11/21/16
  1. 2005-2006
  2. 2015-2016
  3. 1999-2000
  4. 2013-2014

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