Standings (from NHL.com) and statistics (from war-on-ice.com) as of the end of Friday's games.
After 24 games, the Ducks' 8-11-5 record is good for 21 points. The Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks (tied for 3rd in the Pacific) and the Minnesota Wild (2nd Wild Card) have 25 points, meaning the Ducks are four points out of a playoff spot. Four points out after Thanksgiving isn't good news, but it also isn't insurmountable. I am not arguing that the Ducks will make the playoffs this year, merely that they can make the playoffs, and if they do, it will not take an unprecedented miracle run.
The Statistics Argument
In recent years, the Ducks' division-leading teams have come under scrutiny for having mediocre possession numbers and high PDO. Many observers used these numbers to conclude that the Ducks were a middling team getting a good deal of puck luck. This season, we see the opposite happening in Anaheim. No Ducks team has posted better possession numbers throughout a regular season than the 2015-16 squad since the Stanley Cup team. This is the eleventh season since the 2004-05 lockout, and of those eleven teams, the current Ducks rank 3rd in 5v5 corsi (after 06-07 and 05-06) and dead last in PDO.
Furthermore, the teams the Ducks need to catch in order to make the playoffs all have their weaknesses in the stats department, particularly Arizona.
|CF% (NHL rank)||PDO (NHL rank)|
|ANA||52.0 (9)||97.0 (28)|
|ARI||48.1 (24)||101.3 (6)|
|VAN||49.5 (14)||100.4 (13)|
|MIN||48.6 (20)||101.9 (4)|
The good news, then, is that the Ducks are probably a better team that each of the three teams that stand between them and the playoffs. The bad news is that PDO doesn't have to run out (see 14-15 Calgary Flames and 13-14 Colorado Avalanche) and corsi doesn't have to come through (see 14-15 Los Angeles Kings). Again, my argument here is not that Ducks will make the playoffs. It's that if they do, nobody should be too surprised.
The Standings Argument
The overwhelming majority of teams four points back 24 games in don't make the playoffs. But some of them do. In the two full seasons of the current Wild Card format, four teams that were four or more points out of a playoff spot 24 games in to the season ended up making the playoffs.
2013-14 Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets sat a whopping nine points behind the tied Wild Card teams of Montreal and Toronto through 25 games (for all three teams, so no games in hand) the day after Thanksgiving. After 82 games, the BJs were a Wild Card team.
Caveat: They never passed Montreal, and Toronto was, well, Toronto.
2013-14 Philadelphia Flyers
At their 24-game mark, the Philadelphia Flyers were four points behind the Washington Capitals, who occupied the third place in the Metropolitan Division. By season's end, the Flyers had switched places with the Caps.
Caveat: The Flyers had a game in hand, so with that extra win were really two points behind Washington.
Caveat to the caveat: They finished four points above the Caps, so they would have made it even if they hadn't won their game in hand.
2013-14 Dallas Stars
Through 24 games that season, the Dallas Stars were seven points behind the Wild Card-holding Phoenix Coyotes (25 games). Yes, they held a game in hand, but even if you count that as a win, they were still five points behind the 'Yotes two days after Thanksgiving.
Caveat: Phoenix's second half, much like Toronto's in the Columbus situation, had as much to do with this as Dallas'.
2014-15 Ottawa Senators
On December 3, 2014, the Ottawa Senators had collected 25 points in 24 games, and they sat four points back of the two Wild Card teams who were tied with 29, Boston (26 games) and Toronto (24 games). By the end of the season, Ottawa was in and both those teams were out.
Caveat: Ottawa had two games in hand on Boston, and Toronto pulled another Toronto.
All of these teams needed somebody above them to fall apart, and all of them needed a huge turnaround in their own winning percentage. This year's Arizona, Vancouver, and Minnesota squads are each capable of playing the role of Toronto or Phoenix from years past. And given what we know about this Ducks team, they may well be capable of a big surge. But for them to make the playoffs, both of those things have to happen. Additionally, Anaheim will have to overcome the two games in hand if it wants to catch either Arizona or Minnesota.
24 games in, the 2015-16 Ducks making the playoffs is far from a sure thing, but it's even farther from impossible.
Edit: Arizona won on Saturday, giving them a six-point cushion over Anaheim with one game in hand. Which makes some of the math here faulty, but the premise stands.