Standings Watch: How long before Dale Tallon pulls the plug on the season?

As of Monday night, the Panthers have 30 games remaining in the season and have spent the last couple of weeks trading tenth and eleventh place with the Sabres. The Cats are six points out of a three-way tie for eighth place with division rivals Carolina and Atlanta. As has been well documented, the Panthers seem headed for a record tenth year of missing the playoffs and the team is once again in the position of not quite being out of contention with a third of the season remaining.

There are arguably six or seven teams fighting for the last three spots, although it could also be argued that two teams are fighting for the last spot. I'll take the long view here and look at the teams beneath fifth place. With almost 30 games left, the Rangers and Canadiens are still a bad two-week stretch away from losing a spot.

Right now the relevant portion of the standings looks like this:

PL Team GP W L OT PTS L10 Streak
6 Montreal Canadiens 54 30 19 5 65 6-2-2 LOST 1
7 New York Rangers 55 29 22 4 62 3-6-1 LOST 2
8 Carolina Hurricanes 53 26 21 6 58 5-5-0 WON 1
9 Atlanta Thrashers 55 24 21 10 58 2-5-3
10 Buffalo Sabres 51 24 22 5 53 6-4-0 WON 1
11 Florida Panthers 52 23 23 6 52 3-3-4 WON 1

I spent some time looking at these six teams over at Sports Club Stats. The site runs millions of simulated seasons every night to calculate each team's odds of making the playoffs. All of the results that give the team any chance to make the playoffs are added and a percentage chance of post-season play is calculated. Right now, they have these teams with the following chance to make the playoffs:

Montreal 93.6
NY Rangers 83
Carolina 57
Buffalo 26.5
Florida 22.6
Atlanta 18.6

As shown here, Montreal is a virtual lock, with the Rangers not far behind. The last spot is the most contested, with Carolina having the best shot at it. The Panthers, however tenously, are still in, so I will look at how the team needs to perform down the stretch to actually make it happen.

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Since the lockout, the usual cutoff to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference is around 93. It was 92 in 2006 and 2007, 94 in 2008, 93 in 2009 and 88 in 2010. Last year seems to be an outlier and not a portent of things to come. The cutoff for each of the above six teams to have a 50% chance to make the playoffs is between 89 points (Carolina) and 91 points (virtually everyone else. At the same time, the point value where each of the teams has a 90% chance is between 92 (Rangers and Canadiens) and 95 (Atlanta). This suggests a cutoff somwhere between 90 and 94, comfortably within the range of the last few years.

The percentage chances to make the playoffs are computed from the overall number of simulated seasons in which a team qualifies. I looked at the record that came up the most for each team. As expected, the higher the percentage chance of the team, the closer this record corresponds to the actual pace they're on over the whole season.

Team Actual Record Simulated Record SimPoints Pace
Montreal 30-19-5 5-11-2 97 97
NY Rangers 29-22-4 15-10-2 94 94
Carolina 26-21-6 16-10-3 93 91
Buffalo 24-22-5 18-10-3 92 87
Florida 23-23-6 19-9-2 92 86
Thrashers 24-21-10 16-9-2 92 86

 

The point of all of this is to determine a win-loss record for the rest of the season that gives the Panthers a real chance to make the playoffs. Based on this, I'm going to say that the Panthers are going to need between 92 and 94 points to have a realistic shot at the post-season. This corresponds to a stretch record of 20-10-0 (or 19-9-2) to 21-9-0 (or 20-8-2). Said quickly, the Panthers can't afford more than 8 to 10 losses in the last 30, or they need to win two-thirds of their games.

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As stated previously, the Panthers have 30 games left. The first third of them are before the trade deadline. They have 17 home and 13 away games left. Of those, 7 are against other teams in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, 10 are against four of the top 5 teams in the Conference (2 each against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and 3 each against division rivals Tampa Bay and Washington), 7 are against teams below them in the Eastern Conference and 6 are against Western Conference teams.

The 7 games remaining against teams in the playoffs chase are:

Team Games Season Series To Win
Buffalo 2 2-0-0 1W
Atlanta 2 1-2-1 2W
Carolina 1 3-1-1 Lost
NY Rangers 1 2-1-0 W or OTL
Montreal 1 1-1-1 W

All of the season series save that against Carolina are winnable. This is important not only to keep the other team from getting the points, but as the Panthers found out a couple of years ago, the season series is of paramount importance come tie-breaking time. The bad news is that no matter what, the Panthers have to be a point ahead of Carolina to take a playoff spot ahead of them. They will, of course, want to win these games anyway, but these 7 are the most important for moving up and holding tie-breakers against teams close to them in the standings.

Looking ahead to the games before the trade deadline, to be on pace for 92 points, the Panthers will need 14 points in the 10 games, a 7-3 record. A 7-2-1 record would be even better. However, Dale Tallon has given the team the upcoming 5 game home stand to prove to him that he shouldn't break up the team at the deadline, so look for Dale to start making deals if they are worse than 4-1 when they go to Tampa on 2/19. It's too bad for the Panthers, since the easier opponents are in the second half of the set, but they've played themselves to this point.

The games before the trade deadline are as follows:

2/8 St Louis at Florida
2/10 Buffalo at Florida
2/13 San Jose at Florida
2/16 Philadelphia at Florida
2/18 Detroit at Florida
2/19 Florida at Tampa Bay
2/21 Florida at NY Islanders 
2/23 Florida at Ottawa
2/25 Florida at Atlanta
2/27 New Jersey at Florida

If the Panthers have lost more than 1 or 2 on the homestand and aren't looking good in Tampa immediately after, Dale Tallon will start making phone calls. Teams have been scouting Panthers games for weeks, so he shouldn't have any problems making some deals. If somehow, the Cats have managed 3 losses or less by the deadline, then Tallon will probably be less active, but still make a move or two.

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