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Vancouver Canucks' Jason Garrison, right, battles with Calgary Flames' Jarome Iginla during second period NHL action in Calgary on Sunday, March 3, 2013. (Larry MacDougal/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Vancouver Canucks' Jason Garrison, right, battles with Calgary Flames' Jarome Iginla during second period NHL action in Calgary on Sunday, March 3, 2013. (Larry MacDougal/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Dowbiggin: Button charts NHL playoff probabilities Add to ...

With the compressed NHL schedule, fans can be excused if they’re a bit confused. Is four points out of a playoff spot no sweat or no-way-out? Does the proliferation of three-point games mean it’s easier or harder to earn a spot? Frankly, we’re confused in this one-time-only Lockout Special.

TSN hockey analyst and former Calgary GM Craig Button has quantified the hurdles to holding onto a postseason berth or trying to jump up into a playoff spot. He produces his own daily form chart on the playoff possibilities that show who'll make it and who will fall by the wayside.

“People look at the standings and see that their team is just four or five points out,” says Button. “But we’re almost at the halfway point. If you’re that far behind with four teams between you and a playoff spot it’s going to be very hard to make a dramatic jump in the standings.”

Heading into action Sunday, Button’s charts estimated that it will take 51 points to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. In the tougher Western Conference, it will take 53 points and some tiebreakers to reach the postseason.

The good news for Canadian teams starts with the Montreal Canadiens (who beat Boston Sunday to take over first in the East). Despite their overtime 7-6 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday, the Habs need to win just 10 of their remaining 25 games to reach the estimated 51-point barrier. Montreal (projected to earn 63 points) needs to win fewer than 40 per cent of its remaining available points to get into the playoffs.

Despite its catastrophic injuries, Ottawa’s in good shape, too. The Senators need to win 12 games to hit the 51-point mark. Their pace now gets them a playoff-worthy 55 points.

Toronto has a tougher road, needing to garner 50 per cent of its remaining points to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004. That translates into 13 wins more. Based on their current pace the Leafs would have 57 points at season’s end, good enough for the playoffs.

Winnipeg (projected to win 49 points) needs 53.7 per cent of their future points to slip into the Eastern playoffs. Button’s spreadsheet prediction has them barely out of the playoffs with 48 points in April.

In the West, the scenario is less promising for Canadian teams. Even the injury-plagued Vancouver Canucks, first in the Northwest, have to earn 51.2 per cent of their remaining points (or 15 wins) to get in above the 55-point barrier that Button projects for Western teams.

It’s an even tougher road for the Alberta teams. Edmonton (which lost to Minnesota Sunday) is just three points back of the playoffs but with three teams (including the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles) between them and eighth place. They need to win 60 per cent of their available points (or 17 games) from here out.

Calgary’s prognosis is even more dire. Despite a 4-2 win 0ver the Canucks Sunday, the Flames have three teams between them and eighth. The Flames will need to win 17 of 28 games to get to Button’s 53-point threshold for the postseason. By the program’s numbers, the Flames will finish eight points out of the postseason unless things change.

For the record, Button’s projections show the New York Rangers grabbing the last spot in the East with 56 points, nudging Philadelphia out of the playoffs. In the West, the Kings should bump Nashville out. Button sees four Western teams ending up tied at 53 with Minnesota losing on the tiebreakers. That’s very tight.

“Obviously these numbers can’t predict changes like injuries or trades,” says Button. “A team on the edge might pick up a player that makes a difference or a favourite could have a rash of injuries that knock them out. What the projections show is just how tight the playoffs are and how hard it is to move up with three-point games. But also how difficult it will be to concede being out of the playoffs around the trade deadline”

One league executive underscored Button’s comments about injuries, telling us that with so many games being played in so few days, the Stanley Cup winner is likely going to be the team that stays the most of its best players healthy at the end of the season.

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Major league baseball teams are quietly grumbling about allowing their players to play in the World Baseball Classic, which started this weekend in Japan. Like their hockey colleagues, MLB owners and GMs are concerned about injury and time away from building for the season.

So why does MLB think the Classic is worthwhile? The 2009 final game, won by Japan, was the sixth most viewed TV program in the world that year. Next question...

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