The respective teams of the Southern Professional Hockey League and the Federal Hockey League have anywhere from six to nine games left in their respective seasons, meaning this should typically be the most exciting time of the season, with fans, players, coaches, and management keeping an eye on the standings boards to see if their team can or will make the playoffs.
But a quick look at the standings shows that the final three weeks or so of the regular season will be anything but, as in both leagues, the playoff spots are either all spoken for, or essentially all wrapped up.
And really, the only thing worth keeping an eye on is seeding in the lower half of the standings to see who might be able to get home ice or avoid the top-seeds in their league’s playoffs.
Heading into this past weekend, there was hope for some excitement in the FHL playoff race, where with a sweep, the Danville Dashers could have pulled within two points and one win of the Port Huron Prowlers for the last playoff spot, and could have even put the Watertown Wolves in danger of missing the playoffs by making it a three-team race
Well, after the Dashers got a win Friday night, the Prowlers rebounded with regulation wins on Saturday and Sunday, and now we have this in the standings:
We went from a possible race to…well now Danville is 14 points and five wins back (FHL awards 3 points for a win, 2 for an OT win, 1 for an OT loss) of Port Huron in the standings, and three regulation wins and 13 back of Watertown with eight games to go.
They basically need to win out and hope that one of Port Huron or Watertown nose dives (they would likely need to go winless) over their final seven and nine games. Keep in mind that after the Dashers opened with a 7-1-1-0 (W-L-OTW-OTL) stretch, and since then have won nine times over the next 42 games. Long story short, there’s a very small chance, but it probably isn’t happening.
The Dashers will have their last real shot at a playoff run this weekend when they travel to Watertown for a three-game series, where a sweep would pull them even in regulation wins and within four in points. Anything else, even winning 2 of 3, would essentially end it because they would gain little ground while using up three games. Meanwhile, the other team they’re chasing, Port Huron, plays last-place Mentor three times this weekend, two in Mentor, one in Port Huron, so you have to assume they’re getting wins and points this weekend.
So really, the only drama left in the regular season is if Port Huron can jump Watertown (FHL standings aren’t based on points earned, but points percentage) and avoid a first round showdown with the juggernaut in Carolina, and having three against Mentor is a good place to start.
So yeah, “technically” there is still a race for the playoffs in the FHL, even if it could come to an end as soon as this weekend. It’s more than we can say about the SPHL though.
The SPHL playoff field was essentially a formality over the last two weekends due to Pensacola catching fire down the stretch, Quad City continuing to play lousy, and Evansville playing so bad in the first half the year that there was no chance of digging out of that hole.
Well, after the Fayetteville Marksmen drubbed Quad City to the tune of 5-1 on Sunday afternoon, it officially clinched the last playoff spot for Pensacola.
That’s right, with between six and eight games to go in the SPHL season, the playoff field is set. And if that wasn’t bad enough, two of the other three important races that might have an effect on the playoffs, who gets the No. 1 seed and first pick in the challenge round, and who the Top-3 seeds will be so they can actually choose who they play in the first round, are also basically set.
Peoria has an eight-point lead over Birmingham with each team having six games left, so again, Birmingham would need to essentially win out and then have Peoria collapse. Oh and Peoria plays Quad City and Evansville four times in the last six games. So congrats to your regular season champion Peoria Rivermen.
Meanwhile, Huntsville is up six on Knoxville for the No. 3 seed and has a game-in-hand over the Ice Bears. Now, there’s a chance that the Havoc could win those two games to pull within three points of Birmingham and make it a race for the No. 2 seed and second pick in the challenge round with six games to go, but essentially, we know who the Top-3 seeds are going to be in the challenge round.
Honestly, the only real drama that remains is which of the next five teams: Knoxville, Fayetteville, Macon, Roanoke, or even Pensacola, will emerge from the group for the No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage against whoever is left in the first round of the playoffs.
There’s certainly excitement in that and is worth keeping an eye on, but it’s not nearly as exciting as the thought of a team possibly being knocked out of the playoffs on the last weekend of the regular season.
Long story short, with the fields basically set (barring a miracle or massive collapse in the FHL), the playoffs can’t get here fast enough.