Have you allowed yourself to think about the playoff race yet? We’re hovering around the halfway point of the 2022-23 season, and this is where I start to wonder which 16 teams we will realistically see come April.

The picture is getting clearer when it comes to locks, with teams like the Boston Bruins and Vegas Golden Knights leading the way to punching their postseason tickets. But this year feels particularly bonkers when it comes to the middle of the pack.

The Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild are all in the 40-50 point range in the West.

The Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders are in the same predicament in the East, with the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning a tier above, all separated by only one point.

There are so many possibilities between now and the end of the regular season in April. Let’s take a look at where the emerging bubble playoff teams are at and what they’ll need to do to make it in.


Buffalo Sabres

Fans of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes may roll their eyes, but other than that it feels like most people are rooting for the Sabres to snap their 11-year, league-leading playoff drought. This Sabres season has been so categorically Buffalonian—it started out equal parts strong and fun, with electric wins and a star emerging in Tage Thompson.

Then out of nowhere came eight straight regulation losses. No NHL team since 2000 has qualified for the playoffs after dropping eight consecutive games in a row. Could these Sabres be the first of the century?

Their response to that eight-game skid inspires hope, starting with the 7-2 win over Montreal as the immediate follow-up. They’ve been consistent ever since, never dropping more than two in a row. They’re fourth in the Atlantic at 20-17-2, and Tage Thompson keeps Tage Thompsoning.

If the season ended today, the Sabres would be right outside of an Eastern Conference wild-card spot. But that could easily change with how tight the middle of the pack is, and with how positive Buffalo’s trajectory has been since the Very Bad No Good Eight-Game Losing Streak.

This team has endured all the ups and downs typical of the Buffalo sports experience, but you get the feeling the culture has actually changed this time. They want it, the great people of Buffalo want it, and that city deserves it for more reasons than we can possibly count.

Also, often lost in all the Jack Eichel talk is the fact that this is Jeff Skinner’s 13th NHL season and he still hasn’t made the playoffs. The timing of his trade from Carolina was unlucky, and I’d love to see him make the playoffs.

*Sigh.* I am once again rocking with the Buffalo Sabres. Please don’t make me regret it.

Desperation: 9.5/10. Imagine they went through the ups and downs of this season just to miss the playoffs for the 12th consecutive year?

Should you join the bandwagon?: 10/10. No notes.

Playoff chances*: 7/10. I want to believe and, against my better judgment, I do believe. But let’s not be ridiculous.

*Disclaimer: the “playoff chances” section is based on vibes. These calculations don’t mean anything in relation to each other, it’s simply a 1-10 rating on how much I just feel like the team will qualify for the playoffs.