I awakend this morning by a dream, a vision, an epiphany. Jason Arnott was being called to center ice by Commissioner Bettman, flashbulbs were blinding, the roar of the crowd was deafening. There Arnott stood, about to put his hands on the Stanley Cup and hoist it to a delerious nation of Preds fans. Shea Weber had just been handed the Conn Smythe trophy for MVP.
I looked around and it was like a celebrity guess who. The Governor and his wife were standing and clapping, Faith Hill was screaming for joy and watching Tim McGraw perform on the band stage in person “I like it, I love it, I want some more of it”. Kellie Pickler, Carrie Underwood, and Taylor Swift were dancing, hugging, and being their typical “girls night out” selves. Frank Wycheck was clapping wondering what it would feel like if Kevin Dyson could only have reached another foot in Super Bowl XXXIV. Vince Young was excited and proclaiming that he would one day win the Super Bowl for the Titans. Dierks Bently was on the glass having a good ole time. Kings of Leon were up in a box suite standing and cheering. The only person missing was Craig Leopold, but he was stuck in Minnesota wondering why he sold the Predators.
Then I woke up. Frazzled, groggy, and wondering where the heck I was. Oh, I am at home, there are still 12 games left in the NHL regular season, and the playoffs aren’t yet guaranteed.
Such is the life of a hockey fan as spring weather starts to peak through the clouds. Those of us who sit at home, go to the games, or listen on the radio have no comprehension of the effort, dedication, and stuggles that NHL players must endure through an 82 game season. 82 games just to have a shot at making the playoffs. For the lucky 16 teams that get in, there is a feeling of accomplishment, but not achievement. They have accomplished one of their goals (making the playoffs), but achieved nothing (winning the Stanley Cup). No one ever remembers a team that almost won the Cup, much less a team that lost in one of the first 3 rounds of the playoffs.
Such is the goal of the Nashville Predators. A team built on chemistry, with draft picks, promising talent, but not established superstars. Nashville is a city who loves sports, especially a winner, but who hasn’t yet embraced hockey with open arms. But how that all would change with a deep run into the playoffs. Nashville doesn’t have to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals to convince Nashvillians that they are worth supporting, but they do need to get past the 1st round of the playoffs. Anything deeper would be icing on the cake. Nashville’s best years are ahead of them with an army of young tallent ready to energize the city. But for now, the Predators will have to rely on their chemistry, potential, and a fair bit of luck to get bast the 1st round. And that leaves Pred Nation hoping, and ultimately dreaming of what could be.
Oh, but wait, there are still 12 games left in the regular season and nothing is guaranteed. The Predators are currently in 7th place in the Western Conference, but have Detroit and Calgary hot on their trail. Ahead of Nashville, and within striking distance, are Los Angeles, Colorado, Vancouver, and Phoenix. While a 3rd or 4th seed are possible, they are highly unlikely and would require everyone ahead of Nashvile to collapse down the stretch. The 5th or 6th seeds, though, are very much in reach and would come with the added benefit of not having to play Chicago or San Jose who are both considered serious Stanley Cup contenders.
So what must Nashville do to make the playoffs and what is their ideal playoff seeding? Sport Club Stats has Nashville currently at 90% to make the playoffs at 83 points. There are a 100 combinations of Wins, Losses, and Overtime Losses that will get Nashville to the promised land, but the simple approach is just to win and not rely on everyone else. With 12 games remaining, Nashville need to win at least 5 games in regulation to have a better then 90% chance to get in. But just getting in shouldn’t be Nashville’s objective. Do they really want to play San Jose in the 1st round? I think not. To ideally position themselves for a deep playoff run, Nashville needs to get to the 5th or 6th position and avoid a 1st round series against San Jose or Chicago. To do that, they will have to set their sights much higher and get at least 8 wins out of 12 to have a shot at the 5th or 6th seed. Even then it would require Phoenix, Los Angeles, or Colorado to stuggle down the stretch
But what is the ultimate seed for Nashville? Forget about 7th or 8th as that would almost rule out getting out of the 1st round. But if Nashville can get paired up with Phoenix, Colorado, Los Angeles, or Vancouver, their chances of finally getting to the 2nd round become a possibility. Out of those 4 teams, Nashville’s best shot would be against Colorado or Los Angelas. Not saying that either of those teams aren’t capable of wining any game, but they don’t have experienced elite goal tenders like Phoenix and Vancouver do. And a hot goaltender can change the outcome of a 7 game series more then any other player on the ice.
Nashville’s remaining schedule has both a upside and a downside depending on how you look at it. Nashville has 8 home games remaining and 4 on the road. Traditionally, Nashville has had one of the best home records in the league, just not this year. If they can regain some of their home ice advantage, it will benefit them down the stretch. If they play like have this year at home, it could be a dissaster. Nashville also has the benefit of playing only 5 of their games against teams that are currently in a playoff position. Again, if Nashville beats the teams behind them and splits against the teams ahead of them, they are in good shape. The problem is that Nashville has a tendancy of losing the games they should win, and winning the games they should lose.
Remaining Schedule (Playoff Teams Highlighted)
8 Home Games– Stars, Wild, Blue Jackets, Kings, Coyotes, Red Wings, Blues(2)
4 Road Games – Coyotes, Red Wings, Blues, and Panthers
At this point in the season, it is pointless to suggest which games are the ‘important’ games as they all have a major impact. But the 2 Red Wings games will impact Nashville’s schedule more then any in that Detroit could actually pass Nashville in the standings if they get 4 points. Nashville currently owns the tie breaker with Detroit with 5 more wins and should be able to maintain their lead over Detroit unless they collapse down the stretch.
In the end, its quite simple. Pick 5 games out of 12 to get into the playoffs, pick 3 more to secure a 7th seed, and anything over 8 wins moves Nashville into a 5th or 6th seed. Let the fun begin and don’t stop dreaming.
About the Author
Written by Mark Jasper