Final Stretch: Analyzing the Three Horse Race to the Bottom

The Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, and Arizona Coyotes head into the final stretch for the race to the bottom.  The race is really heating up in a tight race.  As we enter the final few weeks of the season these three teams will battle for the opportunity to have a guarantee at drafting one of the super star prospects Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.  Buffalo enters the final stretch with a 3 point lead, but can they maintain the slim lead?  I took a look at the remaining schedules of all three teams to try to determine who has the best chance at winning the race.

Breaking Down the Schedule

The Sabres and Coyotes have 12 games remaining, while the Oilers have 11.  Arizona has the toughest remaining schedule with an opponents win percentage of .511, followed by the Oilers at .497, and the Sabres at .473.  Buffalo and Arizona have six games remaining at home, as well as six on the road.  The Sabres are a better home team with a .342 win percentage compared to .228 on the road.  Arizona is the opposite of the Sabres, with a better road win percentage of .314, against a .285 at home. Edmonton on the other hand finishes the season with 7 games at home and 4 on the road.  The Oilers play better at home with a .333 win percentage, while they struggle on the road with a .216.

Digging deeper, the Sabres have six games against the East and six games remaining against the West.  By the numbers the

Arizona Coyotes Shane Doan - Photo by Andy Martin Jr
Arizona Coyotes Shane Doan – Photo by Andy Martin Jr

Sabres are better against the West with a .375 win percentage.  The Coyotes have 7 games remaining against the West and 5 against the East.  Arizona has similar numbers with a .296 win percentage against the East and .302 against the West.  Edmonton is the team where we see the biggest discrepancy.  The Oilers have one game remaining against the East, and ten against the West.  This is bad news for the Yotes and Sabres, since the numbers show the Oilers are far better against the East.  Edmonton has a .466 winning percentage against the East and only a .142 against the West.

Lastly, I took into account the back to back sets each team has remaining on the schedule.  In most cases a team will at best split the back to back.  Arizona and Edmonton has one set of back to backs remaining, while the Sabres have 3 sets.

So what does all this mean?  Well let me break down how I see it.  First off lets lay out the magic number; in order for the Sabres to eliminate the Coyotes they need 21 points lost or earned by Arizona.  To eliminate the Oilers they need 19 lost or earned.  Buffalo also currently holds the tie breaker with the least amount of regulation and overtime wins.

Edmonton puts the best roster on the ice of the three teams, but most likely the worst goaltending.  The Oilers talent should keep them in most games and gave them the opportunity to earn more points.  If you assume the Oilers go 2-4-1 at home with one of those wins coming against the Eastern conference opponent Flyers.  This would give them a .285 home winning percentage and a .166 against their home Western Conference opponents.  Those numbers match up similar to the season totals the Oilers have put up in those categories.  The numbers indicate the Oilers will struggle on the road against the Western conference opponents.  A likely scenario would be a 0-3-1 finish on the road.  These scenarios would have the Oilers ending up earning six points going

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

2-7-2 and ending the season with 57 points.

Arizona struggles to score goals, but are able to keep themselves in games with better goaltending recently by Mike Smith.  If the Coyotes win games, it’ll likely be low scoring.  If Arizona goes 1-4-1 at home and 2-4-0 on the road.  It would give them a .166 winning percentage at home and .333 on the road; both similar to the season numbers.  The East versus West won’t matter here for Arizona since they have similar numbers against each conference.    The Coyotes would end the season going 3-8-1 earning 7 points and ending the season with a total of 57 points.

The Sabres, like the Coyotes struggle to score goals, but are buoyed by the surprise resurgence of goaltender Anders Lindback.  As I previously mentioned the Sabres have 3 sets of back to back.  Assuming the loss in the second game of the back to backs, the Sabres will start off with one loss at home and two on the road.  With four games against the West at home and two against the East, a 2-3-1 record at home is a likely scenario.  This gives Buffalo a .333 winning percentage at home to end the season.  If the Sabres go 1-4-1 on the road with a .166 winning percentage with 4 games against the East and two against the West.  The worst record on the road is attainable by the poor record against the East and struggles away from Buffalo this season.  The Sabres would finish the season at 3-7-2 with 8 points earned.  The season total in points for Buffalo would be 55 points.

If this scenario works out the standings would finish:

28th: Arizona-57 points

29th Edmonton- 57 Points

30th Buffalo- 55 points

Outside Factors

The biggest outside factor is the Coyotes and Sabres may be able to determine the outcome of this race on their own.  The two teams play each other on March 26th in Buffalo and then again 4 days later in Arizona on March 30th.  If either team pulls a

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

sweep of the series, it’ll likely mean that team will finish in 30th.  A series split will benefit the Sabres and keep the standings

status quo after the two match ups.  Both teams are very similar in how they play with strong goaltending and struggle in scoring

goals.  The two games will be fun to watch and stressful on both fan bases.

Another factor is the Taylor Hall effect for the Oilers.  The Edmonton leading scorer and star forward Taylor Hall is set to make a return sooner than later.  Hall will likely give the Oilers a boost and push them to gather a few more points in the final 11 games.  Edmonton will benefit from Hall’s leadership, scoring, and defensive prowess.

Lastly, Andres Lindback will have a big impact on how this race ends.  Lindback came to Buffalo with a .875 save percentage from Dallas.  In Buffalo, Lindback has found his comfort zone sporting a .934 save percentage in his 7 appearances.  The 6’6 goaltender showed what he can do by stealing two points from Boston with a 44 save performance.  I’m a believer in regression to the mean.  I can see Lindback easily falling back to his career average of a .904 save percentage.  However, if Lindback stays hot, the Sabres may earn enough points to fall out of last.

Hockey is a game of bounces and is very hard to measure.  Any team can beat any other team on any night, one of the reasons hockey is so great.  I use the numbers here to make an estimate on how this race may end. Following the 70+ game trends allows me to make an educated guess and fun talking points.  The final few weeks are going to be fun in the playoff race and the race to the bottom.