Gobble gobble! The NY Islanders have reached Thanksgiving and what can be considered the first benchmark of the season. The standings are beginning to take shape, and organizations are analyzing where they need to improve and whether or not they have ground to make up.
Each team has played 18-22 games, with the NJ Devils, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, and the Vegas Golden Knights leading their respective divisions. It may seem a bit early, but recent history has shown that being in playoff position on Thanksgiving Day gives a pretty good indication of whether or not a team will make the playoffs.
Over the past five seasons, teams in playoff position on Thanksgiving Day had made the playoffs 75% of the time (2019-2020 playoff position was determined on point percentage when the shutdown occurred using the current playoff format). Though many factors come into play, like games played or key players missing through the first two months of the season, 75% is still quite the high number with 60+ games to be played.
The Islanders did fall into the 25% category once in this period when they were third in the Metropolitan Division in 2017-18 with 26 points, only to finish the season with 80 points and miss out on the playoffs as the fifth-place team in the Wild Card standings.
Aside from just being in playoff position while stuffing your face with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, or whatever else is within reaching distance, standing within the division can also give a sense of where your team stands regarding playing into the spring months.
Here are the percentages of making the playoffs (based on the last five seasons) determined by division standings through Thanksgiving:
1st Place: 95%
2nd Place: 75%
3rd Place: 60%
Last season the Eastern Conference was pretty locked up only a few weeks into the season. This year, there is much more parity aside from first place in the Metropolitan, Atlantic, and Pacific divisions. The Devils, Bruins, and Golden Knights are beginning to separate themselves from the pack, leading their divisions by eight, nine, and seven points, respectively.
With 95% of division leaders on Thanksgiving reaching the playoffs, these teams are in pole position to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The only team to fail to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in this period was the St. Louis Blues in the 2017-18 season when they missed the playoffs by one spot.
The Islanders are currently sitting in second place in the Metro Division, with a 75% chance of reaching the playoffs, putting themselves in a good position at the season's quarter-way mark.
Frequently snatching points from the jaws of defeat, the Isles are a tough team to project. The important thing is that they have collected the points necessary to be in contention 21 games into the season. With a relatively healthy start to the season, the Isles have no choice but to continue their current pace, as six teams in the division are within seven points of each other.
As the Isles have proved this season with their third period comebacks, they're capable of leaning on teams and wearing them down. Like years past, this is a team opponents do not want to see in the playoffs. A heavy team with loads of experience, the odds are currently in favor of the blue and orange.