DENVER – Across minor league hockey, the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday serves as a benchmark of potential playoff teams come mid-April. NHL/AHL writer Patrick Williams did the dirty work yesterday during mass turkey consumption, breaking down the teams that were in playoff position last season come Thanksgiving (Nov. 22) versus those that actually made their way into the postseason five months later.
The statistical rule-of-thumb in hockey is that the playoff picture at American Thanksgiving is a good barometer for how the playoff picture ultimately shakes out.
— PATRICK WILLIAMS (@pwilliamsAHL) November 28, 2019
To dig deeper into the Thanksgiving theory, I took a look at the Pacific Division standings from November 22, 2018 and included them in the table below.
|TEAM||RECORD||POINTS||GAMES PLAYED||POINTS %||MADE PLAYOFFS?|
It’s fitting to note that the playoff predictions Williams lined out were based on points and not points percentage. Minor league hockey teams, at any level, play their games whenever arena availability allows. Because of this, the total games played throughout the regular season can vary from team to team. I bring this up because on Thanksgiving Day last year, games played in the Pacific Division ranged from 12 (San Diego) to 18 (Stockton).
If we were to base our playoff predictions from last season off of points percentage, the four teams slated to make the postseason would be San Jose (.750), Tucson (.656), San Diego (.583), and Bakersfield (.571). This is only slightly more accurate — eliminating Stockton in place of Bakersfield but still including Tucson, who Colorado finished one point ahead of in the standings to claim the fourth and final Pacific playoff spot in 2018-19.
Like Williams stated in his previously mentioned Twitter thread, being in the playoff picture come late November is only a semi-accurate tool and not the end-all be-all of who’s making the postseason. But hey, just for fun, here’s how the Pacific Division standings looked on Thanksgiving this year (November 28).
|TEAMS||RECORD||POINTS||GAMES PLAYED||POINTS %|
Whether looking at the standings from a points or points percentage perspective, the top four teams remain the same this year. And while it is just a mostly accurate representation of who’s playoff bound in 2020, there’s no reason why a team can’t either slowly descend out of the postseason (Tucson went 24-21-5-2 after turkey day last year, losing three of their last four regular season games) or scrape and claw their way into the first round (Colorado went 29-20-1-1 after Thanksgiving, with a nine-game winning streak in late February / early March and wins in two of their last three regular season games).
With only a little over 1/4 of the season played out, a lot can happen to change the supposed playoff picture (especially those bottom five spots, separated by only three points from third to seventh). We shall see how the “Thanksgiving Day Barometer” measures out come April.