There is no guarantee that the New York Islanders will return to the playoffs because they're in that position on Thanksgiving (or American Thanksgiving as our Canadian friends around the league call it), but league history suggests that it is a very strong indicator as to which teams will be in the post-season and which will fall short.
Why is it so important to secure a spot at the Thanksgiving playoff table?
With their latest come-from-behind win in Toronto on Monday night, the Islanders clinched a playoff spot ahead of Thursday regardless of the outcome of tonight's game against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers at UBS Arena. Are we making too big a deal of this? Maybe, but the statistics and Turkey day trend say otherwise and have been consistent for over 15 years.
If you go back to the 2005-06 season, 76.3 percent of the teams that were in a playoff position on American Thanksgiving made the playoffs, according to NHL Stats. Remarkably, that 77% number during the salary cap era has stayed true in both the four-division and six-division formats.
"Make no mistake, this Thanksgiving statistic, call it a deadline if you will, it is discussed in coaching rooms across the NHL. In the two I have been in we talked about it and how it was important that we were in position to try to be successful the rest of the way because it matters. It's real."- Mark Recchi, NHL.com
If the 'deadline' is very real for coaches, the front office, and players, it should be for fans as well. This is when you start looking at the standings with a more critical eye, trying to determine which teams are for real and which could be the pretenders that are amongst the 25% of teams that won't remain in playoff position come the spring.
A look at the Eastern Conference
Looking at the Eastern Conference standings, the Islanders, with 24 points (12-8-0) are tied with the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers for the fourth most in the Conference. While the Boston Bruins have been the most dominant team (17-2-0) and undefeated at home, they were expected to be in the playoff mix. The New Jersey Devils were not by most, but their current 13-game win streak will require a collapse of some point to not finish in the top eight. That means another team, and potentially a playoff regular could be left on the outside looking in.
Whether or not the Isles remain in playoff position will, of course, be determined by their play, but also whether or not two perennial playoff teams - the Pittsburgh Penguins (9-7-3) and Washington Capitals (7-10-3) turn things around or if age and slow deterioration of their rosters to keep star players has finally caught up with them.
Another team, last year's President Trophy-winning Florida Panthers, are also not in playoff position currently, but the Detroit Red Wings are. It would be surprising if those two teams don't find themselves with different fates at the end of the season.
Surely, those teams looking up at the eight playoff teams in spots by Thanksgiving have identified the Islanders and one of the more likely teams to drop out. Not only did they miss the playoffs last season, but their underlying stats and reliance on comeback wins and elite goaltending shows some softness in their 12 wins through 20 games. The Islanders have stolen more points than they've given up to opposing teams, but have time left to secure thier game and their spot in the post-season.