We can debate until the end of time whether or not it would be the "best" thing for this franchise to try to make the playoffs this season. I think I've made the case that it would be "best" if they played hard, but lost just enough games to secure themselves a high draft pick. But, with this 10-game points streak (6-0-4) in which the club has earned 16 points and inserted itself into the discussion, there have been rumblings about playoffs.
I'm not here to be a total buzzkill. I'm here to point out why that simply won't happen. Let's look at a few of the main reasons why.
Games In Hand
You can look at the standings right now and see Columbus in 12th, just two points behind eighth-place San Jose. Sounds great, right? Well, not so fast. Columbus has been at or near the top of the games-played stat all season long. And, this is a week in which that comes home to roost: they play just two games this week, and other teams have a chance to catch up.
One of the weird things about the conference-only schedule that doesn't often get brought up is that EVERY game in the West means someone is getting two points. So, the Jackets (as of now) have after least four teams to jump over, and almost all of those teams have games in hand. Those games guarantee SOMEONE is getting two points every time out, and with so many teams in the log-jam, it makes it that much harder for the Jackets to move up.
Let's look at it in table form:
So, when you look at the possible points, the Jackets are bringing up the rear. Obviously, not all of those teams will HAVE that many points once they play 29 games, but the point is that the Jackets have already made their beds, and any and all of the teams between 6th and 14th have a chance to pass them over time.
In terms of possible points, the Jackets and Nashville find themselves down at the bottom. Yet, Nashville STILL has the edge over Columbus. Why?
Ah yes, it's The Howson Rule. The Jackets have a weird quirk in their record: they've recorded four of their 11 wins via the shootout. That leaves them with just seven regulation/OT wins. The Howson Rule states that the first tie breaker when two teams are tied with the same record--which Columbus and Nashville are as of Monday--is shoot-out wins: the team with more finishes behind the team with less.
Columbus has just seven regulation/OT wins, and that is, in fact, last in the Western Conference. This is not a complete smoking gun; San Jose is second-worst with just eight ROW, and they are currently sitting in the eighth spot.
The Jackets are smack in the middle of their best schedule stretch right now. Sure, they're playing better, but part of that has to be that they've been at home for seven of their last eight games. The Jackets are a much different team at home than they are on the road. Currently, they have an 8-4-5 record at home (21 of their 28 points) versus a 3-8-1 record on the road.
They struggle to score goals everywhere--currently 30th in the league at 2.07 gpg--but they are actually worse on the road than at home. In 17 home games, they've scored 40 goals, or 2.35 goals per home game. On the road, however, they've scored just 20 goals in 12 games, or 1.67 goals per road game.
On the other side of the coin, the Jackets have allowed 38 goals at home, or 2.24 goals allowed per home game. On the road, it's grim: 35 goals allowed in 12 games, or 2.92 goals allowed per game on the road.
In other words, road games = DEATH. The rub?
Of the 19 games left, 12 are on the road. Six of their final seven are in a row on the road.
Do any of us think that, if this team is desperate for points in the final seven games, that they can grab them on the road? I am not so confident.
Finally, I want to plug a website I have always loved, all the way back to the Jackets' lone playoff season: Sports Club Stats. Ken at SCS is the man, pure and simple. He has created a system that weights the season remaining based on previous results and what he calls "home field advantage" (which we've discussed above), and calculates each team's likelihood of making the playoffs.
It's a great site to check when you want to know what *other* games are most important to your team's efforts, and it presents a solid snapshot of how the standings REALLY look, especially in a jumbled schedule such as this with so many teams not having played the same number of games.
When we look at SCS's projections for the NHL Western Conference, the numbers do not favor Columbus:
Columbus currently sits at 14th in the projections, with just a 7.8% chance of making the playoffs. And that's AFTER a 10-game points run during which our goalie is playing completely outside of his mind.
So, let's just enjoy this ride for what it is: a stretch of some of the best hockey we've seen in Columbus in about four years. A franchise-record points streak. And, possibly still a precursor to a top-five pick: SCS's lottery projections still have the Jackets landing in the bottom-five of the lottery standings.
The one thing we shouldn't do, however, is start printing playoff tickets.
But, like Michael Corleone told his aging father, "We'll get there, Pop. We'll get there."