The All-Star break is over and the stakes are going to start to ramp up from now until the end of the season. It’s the stretch drive with eight playoff spots available to each conference — some more contentious than others.

The East presents an actual playoff race this season which is a welcome surprise after last year’s half-season dud. Out in the Wild West, things are more wide open than I’ve ever seen. It’s going to be a fascinating final 30-or-so games.

Every day we have an updated look at each team’s odds and where they stand, but sometimes it’s wise to dig deeper to understand why each team lands where it does, with the All-Star break serving as a perfect time for that. That’s the goal here with a focus on the East (you can find the West here).

I’ve separated the league into seven tiers based on the following probability ranges.

  • Basically in: Above 95 percent
  • Safe shots: 85-95 percent
  • Likely bets: 65-to-85 percent
  • The bubble: 35-to-65 percent
  • Unlikely bets: 15-to-35 percent
  • Long shots: 5-to-15 percent
  • Basically out: Below 5 percent

Here’s how each team in the East stacks up.


Basically in

  • Boston Bruins: >99 percent
  • Carolina Hurricanes: >99 percent
  • Toronto Maple Leafs: >99 percent
  • Tampa Bay Lightning: >99 percent
  • New Jersey Devils: >99 percent

This time last year there were eight teams from the East in this category, so consider it a blessing there are only five this time — arguably the five best teams in the league. It’s going to be a cage match once the playoffs start, but for now, it’s smooth sailing across the board.

Boston’s Brad Marchand celebrates a goal. (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

Safe shots

  • New York Rangers: 86 percent

The Rangers look like the next closest team to punch their ticket, on pace to finish 10 points higher than the Capitals. New York has one of the league’s best goalies, has improved its five-on-five game and has a power play that looks ready to explode (the Rangers are fourth in expected goals for but 22nd in actual goals). This is a good team, but the one concern is the fourth-toughest schedule going forward. That leaves some room for error, but the Rangers should take care of business.