And, as I'm sure other teams fans have had to listen to, the jokes and asterisks started piling up as soon as they clinched - it's a shortened season, so it doesn't count.1 This argument pretty much falls on deaf ears to the fans of playoff-bound teams, and is the most common argument to fans that will be adopting a new favourite team for the next few weeks.
But does it really not count? Forty-eight games was good enough for a long, long time, and is almost 60% of a full season, so how much change could there be over the remaining 34 unplayed games?
Turns out, not a whole ton, and, for the record, barring a repeat of last season's Mats Sundin jinxing, the Leafs would probably still be in. The tables are ugly and boring, but from 2008-09 to 2011-122, here's what's happened from, roughly, the 48-game mark through the end of those seasons.
2008-09: Buffalo (7th->10th) and Florida (8th->9th) were in the East playoffs at the 48-game season, but Carolina (9th->6th) and Pittsburgh (10th->4th) wound up getting in. In the West, Phoenix (5th->13th, the biggest drop), Edmonton (7th->11th), and Minnesota (8th->9th) switched places with Columbus (9th->7th), Vancouver (10th->3rd), and St. Louis (15th->6th, the biggest jump).
2009-10: Only one team in each conference were knocked out of a playoff spot after being in one at the 48-game mark - the Rangers (6th->9th) and Calgary (7th->10th), while Philadelphia (10th->7th) and Detroit (9th->5th) got in.
2010-11: Atlanta (8th->12th) pretty much sealed their relocation fate by losing a playoff spot to Buffalo (11th->7th). Dallas (3rd->9th) and Colorado (8th->14th) both suffered big drops in their positions in the West, while San Jose (10th->2nd) and Los Angeles (12th->7th) benefited.
2011-12: Sigh...you may have heard, but the Leafs (8th->13th) were in the playoffs for a good chunk of last season, but blew it, allowing Florida (9th->3rd) to leapfrog them. It wasn't much better in the West, as Minnesota (8th->12th) collapsed, and Phoenix (12th->3rd) made up for their collapse in 08-09.
Some other quick stats (I couldn't resist one ugly table):
|Standing @ 48 GP||Times Into/Out of Playoffs|
|3rd||1, Dallas in 10-11|
|5th||1, Phoenix in 08-09|
|6th||1, NY Rangers in 09-10|
|7th||3, Buffalo (08-09), Calgary (09-10), Edmonton (08-09)|
|8th||6, Toronto and Minnesota (11-12), Atlanta and Colorado (10-11), Florida and Minnesota (08-09)|
|9th||4, Florida (11-12), Detroit (09-10), Carolina and Columbus (08-09)|
|10th||4, San Jose (10-11), Philadelphia (09-10), Pittsburgh and Vancouver (08-09)|
|11th||1, Buffalo in 10-11|
|12th||2, Phoenix (11-12), Los Angeles (10-11)|
|15th||1, St. Louis in 08-09|
So yeah, pretty much, if you've got home-ice advantage at the 48-game mark (plus a decent division lead), you're probably in the playoffs, and if you've got a Top-10 pick in the Entry Draft, you're probably out. If you're on the cusp, it's a coin flip.
This post-season counts. When the Leafs are out of it, it still counts. Sorry your team's not in, better luck next year. For now, I'm just going to enjoy Leafs playoff hockey for the first time in nearly a decade, and look forward to 10 years of labour peace and 82-game seasons.
1 - I think a lot of that stems from Detroit fans that want to forget that they got swept during the last work stoppage-shortened Stanley Cup Finals
2 - A big big big thank you to ShrpSports for the info