Rangers among 6 NHL teams with chance at history

After the first game of his career, Auston Matthews was on pace to score 328 goals in 2016-17, so that kind of extrapolation can be wildly misleading. But as the NHL takes its holiday recess, if you take a gander at the standings you will see something that is unprecedented over the course of any of the previous 103 seasons in the books.

And that is six teams playing at a .690 percentage or better. Not to mention that all six — Carolina, Tampa Bay, Toronto, the Rangers, Washington and Florida — are in the East.

Is the upheaval to League Parity a function of the unequal impact the pandemic has had around the NHL? Very possibly so, given that last year’s unique season yielded a record four teams — Colorado, Vegas, Carolina and Florida — playing at that level after no NHL season before it had ever generated more than three clubs at .690 or better.

As a matter of fact, there hadn’t been a season with three teams playing .690 hockey since 1975-76. In the interim, there were 15 seasons with no .690 team, 19 seasons with one and seven seasons with two. Before 1975-76, there’d been two seasons with three teams reaching that standard, in 1971-72 and 1973-74.

A fast start to a season is always critical and even more so in this era of three-point games in which proximity in the standings is often an optical illusion. There are exceptions, of course, but losers’ points make it more difficult for teams to make up ground late in the season.

But with so much uncertainty looming, never has there been a better season in which to be at .690 through Christmas. Not even tomorrow is guaranteed. Multiple players might go down, teams might have to work with unwieldy schedules, all kinds of obstacles might emerge, but points that have already been banked are never going away.

You might say that teams whose records have boosted them to the top of the NHL have been vaccinated against the pandemic’s most disruptive effects.

Which brings us to the Rangers, whose 19-7-4 record translates to a .700 percentage that is tied for third overall with the Maple Leafs, and who have a nine-point cushion with a game in hand over the ninth-place (by percentages) Red Wings for a playoff spot. The Blueshirts not only have the points, but have only three postponements to be rescheduled, two at the Garden. These will represent advantages if an outbreak should sweep through the team.

Rangers center Mika Zibanejad
NHLI via Getty Images

“It’s huge for us and it’s going to be important going forward because we don’t know what the rest of the season is going to look like,” Mika Zibanejad said before the NHL wiped out this coming Monday’s 14-game slate. “We don’t know if this is the end after Christmas in terms of postponing games and how we go about things. We have to be prepared for everything.

“But definitely this is a good spot to be in, or a better spot than chasing and having to make up a lot of games and playing important games in a very short amount of time because of postponements. It’s definitely a better spot.”

If taxi squads are reintroduced, the league and PA must come to an agreement that would prohibit teams from sending players on two-way contracts to the auxiliary list on off-days in order to save cap space by getting their guys on AHL pay.

Of course, taking away a handful of each AHL team’s best players would have a significant impact on that league, but that has to be secondary. The NHL has an obligation to its paying customers to present the best product possible under these conditions.

I believe the tale because it was reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, but it never made any sense that of all the teams involved with games that had the potential of being postponed, only the Avalanche were given the option of voting whether to play when it came to their Dec. 16 match in Nashville against the Predators.

Avalanche goalie Pavel Francouz (#39) during the team’s loss to the Predators on Dec. 16.
NHLI via Getty Images

The game went on, Colorado losing 5-2 while playing with a 17-man roster that included five defensemen and one NHL-level goaltender, but we have been told by a source with knowledge of NHL/NHLPA protocols that even if a vote indeed had taken place, it would have had no impact on the game’s fate.

We were told that the panel of NHL and NHLPA physicians and infectious disease experts has the sole authority to determine whether any given game would proceed on schedule or be postponed.

The Canadiens have had only one game postponed at home, so if the league wishes to defer rescheduling it until later in the year when fans might be allowed to return in Quebec province, not much of an issue unless it unduly burdens the visiting Bruins, who have four makeups to play.

Capacity restriction of 50 percent in Ontario should have little impact on rescheduling the Senators’ five postponed home games given the fact the team is just over 60 percent for the season, anyway, at an average of 11,545.

So it is Christmas and Blake Wheeler, Ryan Getzlaf, Jakub Voracek and Jakob Silfverberg have combined for the grand total of zero goals at five-on-five.

Taylor Hall, meanwhile, has chipped in with one goal at five-on-five, which reminds me to pose the question whether he (Devils, 2018), Jose Theodore (Montreal, 2002), Al Rollins (Chicago, 1954) or Tommy Anderson (Americans, 1942) is the biggest Hart Trophy outlier in NHL history?

Finally, IIHF U-20 Men playing, IIHF U-18 Women not (for the second straight year). Who is surprised by hockey’s governing body’s priorities?