Forecasting the EIHL’s Intense Playoff Race: Elite League Takeaways

Janne Laakkonen, Coventry Blaze (Image: Scott Wiggins)
Janne Laakkonen, Coventry Blaze (Image: Scott Wiggins)

There’s no point pretending otherwise: the playoff race in the Elite League is impossible to call, even as the post-season races into view.

All we know for certain at this point is that the Belfast Giants, Sheffield Steelers, and Cardiff Devils have clinched their spots in the playoffs. Beneath the Elite League’s top three, it’s a total crapshoot.

The Nottingham Panthers should be the next team to qualify, they’re 13 points above the playoff line with nine games left to play and remain in control of their destiny. Unless the Panthers embark on a serious losing run, they’ll end the season in fourth or fifth, thus avoiding Belfast, Sheffield, and Cardiff in round one.

Stephen Dixon, Cardiff Devils (Image; Dean Woolley)
Stephen Dixon, Cardiff Devils (Image; Dean Woolley)

However, it’s from fifth position and down that forecasting the rest of the season becomes less of a science and more of an art.

The Elite League’s bottom six clubs are separated by just 10 points heading down the stretch, setting up a fascinating end to the campaign.

With nine games left to play, the Manchester Storm are two points below the playoff line. If Ryan Finnerty’s side continue to win at their current rate (0.40), Manchester will end the season on 44 points.

As a result, teams hoping to secure a place in the playoffs should aim to finish the year on at least 45 points. With that in mind, let’s dig a little deeper…

In his latest Elite League Takeaways column for British Ice Hockey, Luke James pores over the Elite League’s playoff race.

Dissecting the Elite League’s Playoff Race:

Dundee Stars

Position: 5th

Record: 19-20-3

Points: 41

Games Remaining / Maximum Points: 12 / 63

Omar Pacha’s Dundee Stars are in the driver’s seat heading into the final stretch and could challenge Nottingham for fourth place.

Dundee are 7-3-0 since February 20, a stretch that includes back-to-back wins over the Steelers. Moreover, the Stars’ next three games are against teams around them in the standings. In other words, they’re in a fantastic position to not only qualify for the playoffs but also avoid the top three in round one.

Glasgow Clan

Position: 6th

Record: 18-20-5

Points: 41

Games Remaining / Maximum Points: 11 / 61

In his first season as Glasgow Clan head coach, Malcolm Cameron would’ve been forgiven for struggling out of the gate. His team, thrown together at relatively short notice, started the campaign behind schedule and faced an uphill battle from the off.

Despite that, the Clan are in a strong position as the post-season nears. Ranked third in the EIHL for power play conversion rate (24.2%), Glasgow have put together a strong season amid difficult circumstances.

Backstopped by Shane Starrett, Cameron has three point-per-game players on his books: Mathieu Roy, Colton Yellow Horn, and Mitch Jones. If they continue to produce down the stretch, Glasgow should have enough in the tank to qualify for the playoffs.

Guildford Flames

Position: 7th

Record: 18-22-4

Points: 40

Games Remaining / Maximum Points: 10 / 60

After the Guildford Flames’ 4-2 win over the Fife Flyers on Tuesday [22 March], Paul Dixon’s side are set up for a positive end to the season.

The Surrey-based club started 2021-22 in fine form, briefly sticking around the top three, but fell off as autumn turned into winter. Guildford’s form has been patchy since, trading impressive win streaks with devastating losing runs.

Paul Dixon, Guildford Flames (Image: Scott Wiggins)
Paul Dixon, Guildford Flames (Image: Scott Wiggins)

Down the stretch, the Flames have an impressive core to call upon. Jamal Watson – who plays forward and defence – has 41 points (11 goals, 30 assists) in 44 games this season. Ian McNulty, an out-and-out forward, has 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists) in the same number of appearances.

Provided they stay above the playoff line, the Flames could be a dark horse candidate in the postseason.

Coventry Blaze

Position: 8th

Record: 17-21-4

Points: 38

Games Remaining / Maximum Points: 12 / 62

Led by Danny Stewart, the Coventry Blaze have endured a topsy turvy season. The West Midlands outfit have played much of the campaign short-benched and import-light, impacted by injury and retirement.

Danny Stewart, Coventry Blaze (Image: Scott Wiggins)
Danny Stewart, Coventry Blaze (Image: Scott Wiggins)

Coventry, though still in the race for fifth, have lost their touch in front of goal lately. The Blaze are 0-4-1 since 12 March, averaging one goal per 60 over their last five games. However, their next three matches are against teams in the bottom half of the table – giving Stewart’s side a chance to turn their form around.

Manchester Storm

Position: 9th

Record: 16-25-4

Points: 36

Games Remaining / Maximum Points: 9 / 54

Although the Manchester Storm are only two points below the playoff line, their .400 win percentage is a problem for Ryan Finnerty.

However, Manchester are on a decent run of form. They’re 4-2-1 this month, a stretch that includes back-to-back wins over the Blaze. Here’s the catch: the Storm are running out of games to vault Coventry in the standings. Manchester’s nine remaining fixtures include three games against the Steelers and a home match versus Cardiff.

In other words, the challenge facing Finnerty’s men is stark. They must beat Sheffield – possibly multiple times – to stand a chance of finishing in the top eight.

Fife Flyers

Position: 10th

Record: 13-27-5

Points: 31

Games Remaining / Maximum Points: 9 / 49

Sadly for fans of the Fife Flyers, their team’s road loss to Guildford probably ended Todd Dutiaume’s playoff chase. To reach the magical 45-point mark, the Flyers must finish the season 7-2-0 or 6-1-2.

Although the Flyers aren’t likely to finish the campaign playing at a championship-calibre clip, there is a silver lining to consider.

Fife’s remaining fixtures are against Manchester, Glasgow (x3), Coventry, and Dundee (x4). There are winnable games for Dutiaume’s team on the horizon.

Join the conversation on Twitter by predicting which teams will come out on top in the Elite League’s playoff race.

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