Hockey Prospectus knows its stuff more than even the most well-known hockey "experts", but even they know it's tough to project the now-shortened 2013 National Hockey League season.
And that makes looking at the San Jose Sharks this year even more difficult, of course.
Despite the Sharks' recent success, anything can happen in a short season, and the Western Conference standings this year -- with a short schedule -- should be even more bunched than they were last year, when the final six playoff teams finished within nine points of each other.
Before the lockout and work stoppage that ended up in the cancellation of so many regular-season games, HP projected the Sharks to finish with 97 points in the full 82-game season -- good enough for second-best in the Western Conference.
Only Chicago (99), Vancouver (99) and Los Angeles (97) were expected to do as well as San Jose.
Now, with only a 48-game schedule seemingly on the horizon, HP analysis puts the Sharks at 57 points -- again second in the conference.
But the difference in the short-season projections is the bunching of teams within a narrow range of point totals, which means even the smallest variations in performance expectation will have very high impacts on the playoff picture.
The top ten teams in the conference project from 53 to 58 points, for example: Chicago and Vancouver top out with 58 projected points, and Colorado, Dallas and Calgary check in with 53 projected points.
In the middle, Los Angeles (57), San Jose (57), St. Louis (56), Detroit (54) and Nashville (54) all project to be in a dogfight for postseason seeding.
Edmonton and Minnesota (52 points projected, each) are right in the fray as well.
Again, all this is just statistical projection, and they actually have to play the games. But fewer contests on the ice means less margin for error since the total number of games/opportunities is almost half of what is usually is in a full season.
Basically, based on the past few seasons, we all know the Sharks have the talent to compete. But a sense of urgency and an ability to perform on a consistently high level every game is going to determine how well San Jose actually does this season.