After ceding to the football sports airwaves on Thanksgiving Day, the NHL returns on Black Friday with a full-day 14-game schedule. This year, the NHL Thanksgiving Showdown will air on TNT – a double headline that begins with Pennsylvania’s battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins visiting the Philadelphia Flyers (5:30 PM ET) and concluding with the St. Louis Blues visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning (8 PM ET) .
In hockey circles, it is widely believed that a team’s condition on Thanksgiving Day provides a strong indication of whether or not the playoffs will be in the picture next spring. The Blues and Lightning are just on the right side of that line, barely holding on to second place in their conference heading into Friday.
The Penguins have been in the playoffs for the last 16 consecutive seasons—the longest active streak in the league. They are tied with the Lightning on 23 points but are ninth in the East because they played one extra game. And the Flyers go into Friday’s game in 12th place in the East with a 7-8-5 record for 19 points, in danger of missing the postseason for the third year in a row.
Normally, about three-quarters of the teams in the playoffs on Thanksgiving will participate in the dance. After two seasons where the theory couldn’t be tested due to the effects of the pandemic schedule, it was proven right again last year: Exactly 12 of the 16 teams who were in the mix at Thanksgiving were still standing at the end of the season. One team changed hands in the Eastern Conference and three in the West.
In the East, the top three teams in the Atlantic Division on Thanksgiving Day were the same: Florida, Toronto and Tampa Bay. In the Metropolitan Division, the Carolinas and New York Rangers held that ground, while Pittsburgh moved up to third place after being just outside the wild card based on point percentage on Thanksgiving.
The Washington Capitals dropped from No. 2 in the Metros to No. 4, good for second place in the wild card category, while the Boston Bruins held on to No. 4 in the Atlantic and earned 1 wild card.
The Columbus Blue Jackets were the team out of position. They finished fourth in the D.C. division on Thanksgiving, with a 0.647 point percentage, but finished the year in sixth place, with a points percentage of just 494.
The Western Conference was more volatile.
The top three teams in the Central Division remained the same: Colorado, Minnesota, and St. Louis, although the first and second places swapped.
In the Pacific, Calgary and Edmonton finished first and second – but they also changed positions. But the Vegas Golden Knights finished third on Thanksgiving and ended up missing out entirely for the first time in their franchise history, as they were held back by a long list of injuries to key players.
Vegas were replaced by the Los Angeles Kings, who weren’t in the playoff picture at all this past Thanksgiving. Turkey Day in the West’s wild card team, the Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks, were both knocked out for the postseason. They were replaced by the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators.
Thanksgiving hopes for 2022
Which teams have the indoor track this season? Based on point percentage, here are the 16 playoff spots as of November 24, 2022:
Department of the Atlantic
- Boston Bruins – 20 GP, 34 points, 850
- Toronto Maple Leafs – 21 GP, 27 points, .643
- Detroit Red Wings – 19 GB, 24 points, 0.632
- New Jersey Devils – 20 GP, 32 points, 0.800
- New York Islanders – 21 GP, 26 points, .619
- Carolina Hurricanes – 20 GP, 24 points, 0.600
- Tampa Bay Lightning – 19 GP, 23 points, 605
- Pittsburgh Penguins – 20 GP, 23 points, 0.575
This list looks a little different than what you’ll see on sites like NHL.com, where teams are ranked by total points. Since the teams have not played the same number of games, it is best to rank by points percentage rather than total points. In doing so, Tampa Bay moves to Wild Card 1 and Pittsburgh moves ahead of the Rangers.
Three of the eight teams currently in the playoff spot didn’t make it to the dance last year – the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings. If the Devils and/or the Red Wings could sustain it, they would both be suffering from prolonged droughts. New Jersey’s only appearance in the playoffs in the past decade came in the 2017-18 season, a first round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Missed Detroit the past six years.
The 2022 Eastern Conference playoff teams that are currently under-rated: Rangers, Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals.
- Dallas Stars – 20 GP, 27 points, 675
- Colorado Avalanche – 18 GP, 23 points, 0.639
- Winnipeg Jets – 18 GP, 23 points, 0.639
- Vegas Golden Knights – 21 GP, 33 points, .786
- Seattle Kraken – 19 GP, 25 points, 658
- Los Angeles Kings – 22 GP, 24 points, .545
- Calgary Flames – 19GB, 21 points, 553
- St. Louis Blues – 19 GP – 20 points – 526
Like last season, Vegas and Winnipeg are in the mix again – and they’ll look to continue this time around. The Seattle Kraken is also off to a good start in its sophomore campaign. They hold on to the Pacific No. 1 spot and look like they could make a serious run in their first-ever playoff game.
The three teams for the playoffs dated 2022 that are currently short of the final line are the Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers and Nashville Predators. But it looks like the race will be very tight – all three of these teams also have 20 points, as do the Blues. Minnesota also played 19 games but had fewer wins in regulation (following tiebreaker), while the Oilers and Predators each played 20 games.
Plaintiff or competitor?
With just one point separating teams 7-11, there’s definitely room for movement in the Western Conference – three teams seem worthy of being pushed to the sidelines.
But after the Dallas Stars beat Vegas for their playoff spot last spring, both 2020 Western Conference finalists are comfortably back in the mix this season — with new coaches behind their benches and first in their respective divisions.
Winnipeg may be the biggest surprise early on in the West – rejuvenated under former Stars head coach Rick Bowness.
In the east, the Boston Bruins are dominated by former Dallas coach, Jim Montgomery. And former Tampa Bay assistant John Cooper, Derek Lalonde, took his Detroit Red Wings to a playoff spot in his first year as an NHL head coach.