The Oklahoma City Barons are pretty clearly one of the eight best teams in the AHL's Western Conference. Their +17 goal differential is tied for fourth overall in the Conference, and their points percentage of 0.583 puts them in a group of eight teams well clear of the rest of the pack. In the past, I've mused about sending players like Jeff Petry, Linus Omark, and even Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle down for a playoff run if they're happy to do it. An already strong team adding talent like that could help the Barons to a long playoff run, which would in turn help them to establish themselves in Oklahoma City, and would provide the players with a chance to win together, an experience that they could hopefully duplicate in Edmonton the following year. There are obviously some potential snags in this plan, but one of them is pretty big: if the playoffs started today, the Barons wouldn't qualify.
I know that I'd always assumed that the process to qualify for the AHL playoffs was the same as the process to qualify for the NHL playoffs, and if we look at those potential standings, the Barons look pretty secure:
Unfortunately for the Barons, because of an incredibly unbalanced schedule, that's not how playoff positions are determined. The AHL website explains:
In each division, the fourth-place team will play the first-place team in the division semifinals, while the second-place team plays the third-place team. There are two possible exceptions to the qualification rules in 2010-11: in each conference, if the fifth-place team in the eight-team division finishes with more points than the fourth-place team in the seven-team division, it would cross over and compete in the seven-team division's playoffs (if the fifth-place team in the eight-team division produces more points than the third-place team in the seven-team division, then the team that finishes first in the seven-team division shall play the team that finishes third in the seven-team division).
If you're a longtime fan of the NHL, the divisional format is familiar, and if you're a fan of the CFL (and I wouldn't put it past some of our Oklahoma readers), then the crossover is familiar too. Unfortunately, it's no good for the Barons. Let's take a quick look at the West Division and then North Division standings:
The Barons are just on the outside looking in both times. There is, of course, plenty of hockey to play, but considering the amount of money the organization has invested in the Barons, it would no doubt be a major disappointment for them to miss the playoffs. Here's hoping they pull it off.