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West could boast most points for non-playoff team

by Corey Masisak
There were two teams outside the top eight of the Western Conference with 85 points on Wednesday afternoon and it's possible the ninth- and 10th-place clubs in the West will have 86 by the end of the night.

The 2006-07 edition of the Colorado Avalanche holds the distinction of being the team with most points in NHL history (95) to not make the playoffs. Given how competitive and compact the conference standings are in the West this season, is that record in jeopardy?

Using three different methods to project the final standings, the simple answer is yes. It is quite possible that any of the seven teams currently slotted fourth through 10th in the West could finish the season with 95 or 96 points and not have a spot in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Based on every team's current 82-game pace, the final standings would look pretty similar to Wednesday. Chicago and Nashville would finish tied for sixth with 97 points, and the Blackhawks currently have one more non-shootout win than the Predators. They also hold the next tiebreaker (points earned against each other) if both teams end up with the same number of non-shootout victories.

Anaheim and Dallas are both on pace for a tie in eighth place with 96 points, but the Ducks have three more non-shootout wins than the Stars (the Ducks also have a 6-3 lead in points earned but the teams have two games left to play). The current 82-game pace for the Calgary Flames leaves them with only 92 because they only have seven contests left.

If the final projection is adjusted for home and road splits, Anaheim and Dallas again are projected to finish with 96 points and in a dead heat for eighth place with Calgary again in 10th place. Chicago would finish alone in seventh with 97 while Nashville and Los Angeles are tied for fifth with 98 (the two clubs are tied with 33 non-shootout wins and the Kings hold the head-to-head tiebreaker).

The final projection uses each team's pace since the All-Star Game. The Kings jump to a tie for fourth Phoenix at 100 points and Chicago is comfortably in sixth with 99. Anaheim and Nashville project to finish in a tie for seventh with 97 points, while Dallas and Calgary would end up with 94 in a tie for ninth.

Given Anaheim's lead in non-shootout victories (three more than Nashville and Dallas, seven more than Calgary) the Ducks are the one team in the bottom four that will probably be safe if they finish in a tie for eighth place.

A .500 record the rest of the way (5-5) would get Anaheim to 95 points, but that might be cutting it too close. Six wins (and reaching 97 points) should guarantee a spot in the postseason for the Ducks.

Teams have needed at least 96 points to reach the playoffs only one time in League history (the West in 2006-07). The second-most is 93, which has happened on four occasions and twice in each conference (most recently in the East in 2008-09).

It certainly looks, based on these projections, like teams in the West will need at least 96 points to earn a place in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and even 97 is a possibility. If Calgary or Dallas reaches 96 points, it is certainly plausible one (or both) of them could set a new, unwanted standard -- the Flames or Stars could finish an NHL season with the most points of a non-playoff team in League history.
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