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How many playoff teams can Canada expect in 2023-24?


The start of the National Hockey League regular season is upon us, and in most markets – the operative word being most – there is genuine hope for a return to the postseason.

Canadian hockey fans are no exception to the rule, even with seven clubs being in different parts of the franchise-building cycle. Save for perhaps the Montreal Canadiens – who are trying to climb out of the depths of a total rebuild starting this season – most fan bases north of the border are anticipating playoff hockey in April. And, in a couple of markets, perhaps May.

Before the puck drops on the season, I wanted to gauge the likelihood of postseason hockey in the north and how many teams may be able to cross that playoff threshold.

If we look at betting markets – just one of a number of ways to explore this – and back out the house’s cut, we can arrive at some reasonable playoff probabilities for all seven Canadian teams.

Here’s what each of those seven teams looks like before the beginning of the regular season:

We know Montreal is in tough to qualify for the playoffs as soon as this year, but it’s notable that most prognosticators see every other Canadian team as in the hunt to start the year, and only the Vancouver Canucks are priced as less likely than not to qualify.

Say what you will about the Canucks, but this is still a team with plenty of top-end talent at the forward position and a shored up goaltending position with Thatcher Demko and Casey DeSmith in net this season. If nothing else, that’s a recipe to be competitive.

With the implied probabilities covering a team’s theoretical talent level, we can simulate the upcoming NHL schedule thousands of times and provide a reasonable guess as to what we can expect by the time game 82 has been completed and the playoff field set.

Simulating the NHL schedule 10,000 times, we see the below distribution:

Not surprisingly, the most likely outcome for the season ahead sees four (or five) Canadian teams qualifying for the playoffs. Much of the volatility there concerns the four teams that are unlikely divisional contenders but likely top-three slot or wild-card contenders: the aforementioned Canucks, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, and Calgary Flames.

But the reason I love exercises like this is because it helps illustrate outliers. And though it’s extraordinarily rare, there is a path for all seven Canadian teams to reach the playoffs. In fact, it happened 30 times across our 10,000 simulations.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, something even more rare: in three simulations of the approaching season, zero Canadian teams qualified.

It would take something catastrophic across the lineups for the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs – two teams with genuine Stanley Cup aspirations – for this situation to manifest, but if we have learned anything from the rigours of the NHL season, volatility should be expected, and injuries are unavoidable. But both of these teams have the top-end talent and depth to overcome most anything. In fact, Toronto and Edmonton are both priced as favourites to win their respective division, though the Oilers will have to fight off the defending Stanley Cup champions in Vegas for that honour.

It’s time to get excited. Training camps and preseason hockey are officially over, and now we get to enjoy seven months of best-on-best competition. Enjoy the regular season!

Data via Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference,