New-Look HP! Unfiltered Articles Stats Glossary Contact Us
Hockey Prospectus home

New Look Hockey Prospectus is available with new Premium Content!
Limited time offer: $9.99 for an entire year!

<< Previous Article
Howe and Why (03/08)
Next Article >>
Player Power Rankings (03/10)

March 9, 2010
Driving To The Net
Home Stretch

by Timo Seppa

Printer-
friendly
Contact
Author

Upon the conclusion of the Olympic break, the 25 or so NHL franchises that still had legitimate postseason aspirations needed to hit the ground running, given the fact that a mere quarter of the 82 game season remained. Only a small fraction of teams were either completely out of the running––Edmonton, Columbus, Toronto, Carolina––or essentially locked into one of the top seeds––Washington, San Jose, Chicago––meaning that for all the other teams, the remainder of the season would be a desperate charge towards a potential playoff berth or a crucial battle for seeding. Whether Ottawa would lose momentum from before the break, whether Buffalo would suffer from a worn down Ryan Miller, whether Pittsburgh’s or Montreal’s general manager decided to add reinforcements before the trading deadline or not – the final twenty games in March and April would go a long way toward determining whom the remaining contenders would be, towards crowning an eventual Stanley Cup champion in June. If the regular season has been likened to a marathon, the home stretch of the 2009-10 season was now going to be much more like a sprint to the finish.

That was March 1st. Fast forward past the March 3rd trading deadline and through another week of games; teams now have 15-18 games remaining on their schedule. Aside from eyeballing the standings, can we make any educated guesses as to which bubble teams will make the playoffs? And what are the ramifications of the likely seeding?

Without delving into Goals For and Goals Against to get Pythagorean projections of future points, we can take a quick and dirty gander at the likeliest scenario for the final standings by taking into account current points, games remaining and opponents’ winning percentage. With the additional point possible for overtime/shootout losses, the post-Lockout NHL winning percentage (points divided by 2, divided by number of games played) is greater than .500. This season, the average winning percentage is .556, meaning that an average NHL team playing an average opponent would be expected to pick up 1.11 points per game remaining.

Let’s take a look now at what this simple calculation yields, and then apply some common sense to the results:

Eastern Conference - Final standings, base projection

Legend:

Seed: Projected seed

GR: Games Remaining

Opp %: Average win percentage of remaining opponents

Projected_Pts: Projected number of points

	
Seed Team	         W    L	   OL	Current_Pts GR	 Opp. %	Projected_Pts
1    Washington Capitals 44   13   8	96	    17	 0.537	122
2    Pittsburgh Penguins 40   22   4	84	    16	 0.543	105
3    Buffalo Sabres	 35   20   9	79	    18	 0.523	103
4    New Jersey Devils	 38   23   3	79	    18	 0.531	102
5    Ottawa Senators	 36   25   5	77	    16	 0.530	97
6    Philadelphia Flyers 34   26   4	72	    18	 0.538	93
7    Boston Bruins	 29   24   11	69	    18	 0.555	89
8    Montreal Canadiens	 32   29   6	70	    15	 0.507	87
9    Atlanta Thrashers	 28   26   10	66	    18	 0.564	84
10   New York Rangers	 29   28   9	67	    16	 0.523	84
11   Tampa Bay Lightning 27   26   11	65	    18	 0.557	83
12   Florida Panthers	 26   28   10	62	    18	 0.573	79
13   Carolina Hurricanes 27   31   7	61	    17	 0.594	76
14   New York Islanders	 26   31   8	60	    17	 0.558	76
15   Toronto Maple Leafs 20   33   12	52	    17	 0.530	66
								
     Average - East	 31.4 25.7 7.8	70.6	    17.1 0.544	89.8
     Average - All Teams 32.4 24.9 7.5	72.4	    17.1 0.556	91.6

Outlook – Eastern Conference

You’d have to look far and wide to find someone who didn’t think that Washington would be the Eastern Conference’s number one seed and the President’s Trophy winners. The Capitals make an interesting foe in the last week or two of the season: What will they have to play for? New Jersey’s poor play of late has helped give Pittsburgh the inside track to the Atlantic Division crown. Expect the excellent deadline acquisition of burgeoning winger Alexei Ponikarovsky to make up for the Pens’ slightly more difficult schedule and two fewer remaining games than the Devils. Many pundits looked at Ryan Miller’s overuse in the Olympics––yes, Tim Thomas could have gotten the Norway start, for instance––as a big negative for the Sabres’ stretch run. The fact is that Buffalo has an easy remaining schedule––even by Eastern Conference standards––and they’ve been hurt less by Miller’s wear than Ottawa has been by losing the tremendous momentum they had going into the Olympic break. Ultimately, though, will there be much difference between being a third, fourth, fifth or sixth seed in the East? Because barring a surprise, it will be Buffalo facing Ottawa or Philadelphia and New Jersey facing the other remaining one.

So who takes the final two playoff berths…and does it matter? The base projection has Boston solidly in seventh, but you have to be skeptical about that, given their mediocre play of recent and yet another injury to poor Marc Savard. If the Thrashers, Rangers or Lightning can get hot, they could displace the Bruins. Look especially to New York, with an easy schedule, the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist and an apparently healthy Marian Gaborik as a possibility to be that team. Other than a limited number of games remaining, Montreal is in decent shape as well, given the easiest remaining schedule in the NHL. Their amazing comeback against Anaheim on Sunday might have made all the difference when we look back at the end of the season. It’s hard to picture an eighth seed defeating the 2009-10 Capitals––much stronger than the squad the Rangers pushed to seven games last postseason––and even a healthy Montreal would have a tough go against the battle-tested Penguins.

Western Conference - Final standings, base projection

Legend:

Seed: Projected seed

GR: Games Remaining

Opp %: Average win percentage of remaining opponents

Projected_Pts: Projected number of points

	
Seed Team	           W	L    OL	 Current_Pts GR	  Opp. 	 Projected_Pts
1    San Jose Sharks	   42	14   9	 93	     17	  0.557	 117
2    Chicago Blackhawks	   43	17   5	 91	     17	  0.574	 114
3    Phoenix Coyotes	   39	22   5	 83	     16	  0.576	 102
4    Vancouver Canucks	   40	23   2	 82	     17	  0.584	 102
5    Los Angeles Kings	   38	22   4	 80	     18	  0.562	 102
6    Colorado Avalanche	   37	22   6	 80	     17	  0.587	 100
7    Nashville Predators   35	25   5	 75	     17	  0.563	 94
8    Detroit Red Wings	   31	22   12	 74	     17	  0.538	 94
9    Calgary Flames	   32	24   9	 73	     17	  0.605	 91
10   St. Louis Blues	   30	26   9	 69	     17	  0.520	 88
11   Anaheim Ducks	   30	27   8	 68	     17	  0.562	 86
12   Dallas Stars	   28	24   12	 68	     18	  0.605	 86
13   Minnesota Wild	   31	28   5	 67	     18	  0.564	 86
14   Columbus Blue Jackets 25	29   11	 61	     17	  0.566	 77
15   Edmonton Oilers	   21	38   6	 48	     17	  0.558	 61
								 
     Average - West	   33.5	24.2 7.2 74.1	     17.1 0.568	 93.4
     Average - All Teams   32.4	24.9 7.5 72.4	     17.1 0.556	 91.6

Outlook – Western Conference

San Jose and Chicago will battle for first overall in the Western Conference, not coming down to which team is better, but which team keeps their foot on the gas pedal longer. It’s tough to say whether coming in first or second will be more advantageous, as it depends on how things shake out with the seventh and eighth seeds. Much like in the East, the third through sixth place teams look like locks, with the exact order to be determined. Some advanced stats point to the Canucks being the best of this tier of teams, but ultimately, the first round winners could be any two of the teams.

Out of the teams vying for the dubious honor of facing the powerful Sharks and Blackhawks, Detroit is starting to have the feel of a playoff lock – And the easy schedule won’t hurt. The Sharks have to be praying that they won’t meet another tough first round foe, as the Red Wings clearly would be; that’s another upset special waiting to happen. With Calgary fading and seemingly in chaos––and facing very tough opposition over the stretch run––you’d be tempted to look to the Blues or Ducks as teams that could possibly beat out the Predators for the final playoff berth in the West; the Blues have the benefit of by far the easiest schedule in the West. Yes, Nashville has the upper hand based on more points in the bank, but don’t be surprised if St. Louis or Anaheim sneaks into the playoffs with a strong run. That’s exactly what those teams did last season.

Timo Seppa runs the statistical hockey site Ice Hockey Metrics. Follow Timo on Twitter at @timoseppa.

Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Timo by clicking here or click here to see Timo's other articles.

0 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Howe and Why (03/08)
Next Article >>
Player Power Rankings (03/10)

RECENTLY AT HOCKEY PROSPECTUS
Annoucements: Where Are The New Articles?
Zamboni Tracks: Who's That Guy? Special Edmo...
Hall Of Fame: My 2014 HHOF Inductees
On The Horizon: Four Nations And Junior "A" ...
A Closer Look: MacArthur-Turris-Ryan Keeping...


MORE BY TIMO SEPPA
2010-04-05 - Driving To The Net: Montreal Canadiens – Nou...
2010-03-31 - Driving To The Net: The Strange Case of the ...
2010-03-16 - Driving To The Net: Blue Shirts in, Blues st...
2010-03-09 - Driving To The Net: Home Stretch
2010-03-03 - Driving To The Net: Lost
2010-02-22 - Driving To The Net: Olympic Hockey - Road to...
2010-02-16 - Deadline Deals: Atlantic Division
More...

MORE DRIVING TO THE NET
2010-04-05 - Driving To The Net: Montreal Canadiens – Nou...
2010-03-31 - Driving To The Net: The Strange Case of the ...
2010-03-16 - Driving To The Net: Blue Shirts in, Blues st...
2010-03-09 - Driving To The Net: Home Stretch
2010-03-03 - Driving To The Net: Lost
2010-02-22 - Driving To The Net: Olympic Hockey - Road to...
2010-02-02 - Driving To The Net: Sather Successfully Impr...
More...