Okay. Listen up. I want this thing to go smooth, and by the numbers — Lt. Gorman, Aliens
Regardless of Gorman’s stated desires, the viewer knew nothing of the sort was going to happen the moment he said the line. Likewise, the one thing we know about projecting numbers in sports is that the primary thing wrong with the projection is attempting to do one in the first place. Regardless, the simple mathematical truism of the NHL playoffs is that only eight of the fifteen Western Conference teams will make it into the dance. As of this writing, twelve clubs are within striking distance of the playoffs, just a hair beyond the halfway mark of the 2011-12 regular season. The other three are going to need significant amounts of genuflecting to pose a threat, and in the case of the Blue Jackets, four horsemen riding down from the heavens would be a good start.
The current Western Conference standings can be seen in the link below:
Per NHL.com, the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks are leading their respective divisions, with Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, Los Angeles and Minnesota rounding out the top eight. Colorado, Dallas, Phoenix and Calgary are also in the mix, all within four points of the eighth-seeded Minnesota Wild.
However, the standings do not account for games played, other than as theoretical tie-breakers. To wit, Phoenix is listed #11 and Calgary #12 despite the fact that they both have amassed 47 points, with Calgary having one more win. The simple reason is Calgary has also played one more game. Since the games played issue will resolve itself by season’s end, the question then becomes the following: who is really ahead of whom at this point of the season?
Too many variables exist to make a completely accurate mathematical argument: home versus road, injuries, coaching changes, hot/cold streaks, personnel changes and other factors that come into play during a long 82-game season. Assuming intangible or difficult-to-predict factors even themselves out (certainly a big assumption), what can be legitimately quantified is points/game earned both at home as well as on the road, adjusted for games played.
The primary flaw in utilizing this approach is the notion of statistical relevance. A result is called ‘statistically significant’ if it is unlikely to have occurred by chance. A sample size of between 41-46 games, split between the teens and twenties home/road depending upon the club, arguably is too small to be relied upon. However, it’s what we’ve got to work with, and for this piece, that factor will be overlooked.
Adjusting for home/road points per game and assuming every team has played an identical number of games, the order of the Western Conference standings as of the morning of 1/15/12 would look as follows:
*San Jose Sharks
St. Louis Blues
Detroit Red Wings
Los Angeles Kings
The first item to note is that these are the same eight teams currently listed in playoff position at NHL.com. The Dallas Stars, listed 10th in the standings, would rise to 9th, a shade behind Minnesota. Colorado would be 10th and Calgary 11th, with the final four slots belonging to Phoenix, Edmonton, Anaheim and Columbus.
Multiplying home and road points/game over a full 82 game schedule would produce the following positional order and point totals (rounded):
*Chicago Blackhawks: 119
*San Jose Sharks: 110
*Vancouver Canucks: 108
Nashville Predators: 111
St. Louis Blues: 105
Detroit Red Wings: 97
Los Angeles Kings: 95
Minnesota Wild: 94
Dallas Stars: 93
Colorado Avalanche: 89
Calgary Flames: 89
Phoenix Coyotes: 85
Edmonton Oilers: 70
Anaheim Ducks: 66
Columbus Blue Jackets: 54
Of the eight teams currently in playoff slots, Los Angeles has arguably been the most vexing. Expected to pose a legitimate Cup threat this season after the Richards and Gagne acquisitions, the offense completely fell off the table after a solid start, culminating in the dismissal of head coach Terry Murray. Under new coach Darryl Sutter, the Kings have posted a 7-1-4 record since his hiring just before Christmas. Not coincidentally, the team has seen its offense steadily improve, averaging 2.7 goals/game over the last seven encounters.
Streaks such as those experienced by the Kings (as well as all teams at one point or another) are the major wild card to whether or not the final standings resemble the postulated version above. However, we most certainly know one thing: after April 7th, it’s going to be game over, man … game over!”