What the US Thanksgiving standings tell us about the 2023-24 NHL playoff hopes

It’s American Thanksgiving. Do you know where your team stands in the playoff race?

As most hockey fans know, the U.S. holiday — which begins about a quarter of the way through the NHL season — has long been an unofficial indicator by which we can measure a franchise’s postseason hopes. And as history shows us, it is pretty accurate.

Of the 240 teams that have been in the US Thanksgiving playoffs since the 2005-06* season, 184 made it to the postseason the following spring. This corresponds to a success rate of 76.7 percent. Of the 56 teams that fell out of the picture after the Thanksgiving milestone, 31 were within a single point of the final wild-card spot. Only two teams in the salary cap era have exited the playoffs after finishing 10 or more points out of last place.

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(*This statistic does not include the 2019-20 or 2020-21 seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

So what can we learn from the 2023 Thanksgiving playoff picture? Powered by Sportsnet Stats, here’s an overview of where things stand and some context based on previous years to help clarify what that means.


This is what the Eastern Conference looks like on Thursday morning:

Ten points separate the conference-leading Boston Bruins and the wild-card Detroit Red Wings, who are in the final playoff spot, while all eight teams not in the playoffs are within just seven points entering Thursday lay. We could see another fun wildcard race.

The Philadelphia Flyers pull off the biggest surprise in the first quarter of the season, far exceeding expectations and tiptoeing on the line between playoff teams and non-playoff teams, while the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders – both last Post-season teams – were spring – struggled to keep up.

What about teams that fall?

Since 2005-06, 26 teams have failed to make the playoffs because they had clinched a playoff spot by two or more points at US Thanksgiving. As expected, the vast majority of these clubs were four or fewer points clear of the final playoff spot – but there are some exceptions.

Most recently, in the 2017-18 season, the St. Louis Blues had a 10-point lead between themselves and the final playoff spot (but they finished the season out of the picture). It was the second time in three years that a team lost by double digits, with the Montreal Canadiens eliminated from contention in 2015-16 after building an 11-point lead over the then-last-place playoff team.


This is what the Western Conference looks like on Thursday morning:

The most pressing question in the West is: Can it? Edmonton Oilers Climb back into the competition? Nothing went according to plan for the club, which is now 10 points behind the Seattle Kraken for the second wildcard spot.

The Oilers are no strangers to being left out in the cold on Thanksgiving only to make a run – just last year they were .500 after 20 games since the US holiday, but had correspondingly little ground to make up on the then 20th Points for the Blues in the second wildcard spot. This year tells a very different story at this point in the season.

The odds are stacked against them under the Thanksgiving rule, but there is a 10-point increase has It’s been done before – albeit a while ago…

Looking at historical outliers to the Thanksgiving rule

On Thanksgiving morning 1959, the Chicago Black Hawks woke up 10 points out of the final playoff spot. By the following spring, they had worked their way well into the postseason. Even 64 years later, that playoff climb remains the steepest in the NHL, surpassed only by the 1970-71 Toronto Maple Leafs.

Of course, making the playoffs has become much more difficult since then, as the league has grown over the decades and parity in today’s game is at an all-time high, with only half the teams making it.

So let’s look at a more recent rise in contention: In the last decade, the 2013-14 Dallas Stars held the record for the largest point deficit overcome to make the playoffs – they were eight points shy of a playoff on Thanksgiving Day 2013 -Place and finished the campaign in second wildcard spot.

Playoff success among Thanksgiving outliers

As for what happens when these Thanksgiving rule outliers make it to the playoff round, let’s take a look at the last decade. Over the course of eight full seasons over the last 10 years – we’re not counting 2019-20 or 2020-21 – we’ve seen a total of 30 teams make the playoffs after being out of the picture at Thanksgiving, with at least three teams skipped are visible from the outside in every season.

Of those 30 teams, nine made it past Round 1, five made it to the conference finals and two reached the Stanley Cup Final. The ultimate success story of the last decade was the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues, who had failed a year earlier out of of the playoff picture after being in contention on Thanksgiving 2017. Before their incredible rise from the basement of the league to the top of the hockey world in the spring of 2019, they were seven points behind the second wild card team (Dallas) at the time of Thanksgiving 2018.

Most recently, we watched the Florida Panthers go from the second wild card spot to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the Vegas Golden Knights. By Thanksgiving 2022, they were just one point out of the second wild card spot in a tight Eastern Conference.

As is tradition, the biggest question at the NHL Thanksgiving table is: Who will attend this year?

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