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Monday, December 22, 2008

The Game-30 Marker

The NHL’s third furlong has passed with Game 30’s now in the books for all teams and 17 of 30 teams' Playoff fates decided. What does the League look like way down deep in analysis past merely points in the standings? At On Goal Analysis (OGA), we stated at the Game 20 mark “…it is looking like we are on our way to more parity than in previous years and that it may take more W’s/points to land a Playoff spot….” Is this still the case or is OGA's original model still standing strong? As in the Quarter Pole report, we will look at these statements from the NHL down through the individual team echelons. In the sections below, you will see key points in bold, blue italics and one significant rant in bold, red italics...

NHL Standings at Game 30

For the Game 21-30 period, the NHL average against OGA’s Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC) has increased from the historical 16.56 to the current 16.78, a gain of +.223. This is a bit lower than the Quarter Pole’s +.265, but still means the average team is winning 1/4 of a game more at this point than in post-Lockout history. The math tells us despite the PQC increasing by a +1 per evaluation period in order to qualify for the Playoffs from here on out, in relative terms, the average team PQC has increased. This change is a result of three, key observations and their related statistics:

1. Scoring is still up this season to an average of 5.85 goals per game from 5.57 (overall) last season, an increase of +.28 goals per game and a +.02 from the Quarter Pole.

2. With 10 days still left in DECEMBER, the rate of games progressing into OT/SO has slowed a bit from the Game 20 pace but is still on track to surpass historical averages for the Christmas month. Per team, the average number of OT/SO games is now four (4), with the NEW YORK RANGERS and PHILADELPHIA having the most extra period games at 12 apiece. After all 19 DECEMBER games – the last day of our rating period – we stand at 71.8% of the month’s average number of OT/SO contests. So the increase in scoring, coupled with the extremely competitive nature of the NHL continues to push us toward more ‘three-point games.’ Correspondingly, the gain in PQC averages is a direct result of the increase in 'three point games.'

3. The above facts, however, cannot be applied to all teams in the NHL. This is because the gap between highest and lowest game-winning percentage for both East and West Conference teams is increasing. In the East, the difference was 30% through Game 20. It is now 40%. In the West, it was also 30% but is now 41.7%. This means winning teams are doing so more often than a minority of teams who are suffering the burden of losses.

How do these characteristics of the 2008/9 season affect Conference play?

The Eastern Conference

The East ended the 30-game span only a +.05 higher against the PQC than the Conference's post-Lockout, historical average. This figure is –.16 lower than the same measurement at the Quarter Pole. Both are also below the League’s PQC average by almost –.5. The East’s average Goals For (GF) is lower than the West by –.6 goals per game. They are, however, playing in more OT/SO games (by a total of nine) than ‘Out West.’ As far as winning goes, the statistical difference maker is the Southeast Division with a combined PQC of only 14.4 and the lowest goals scored total by TAMPA BAY. The Southeast's PQC serves to lower the Atlantic’s (17.4) and Northeast’s (17.3) combined averages. Overall the downward trend during this furlong is a righting of the ship, as it were, from the Quarter Pole and indicates OGA’s PQC needs no adjustment ‘Back East.’

The Western Conference

The West continues to enjoy improvements against the PQC just as in the last, 10-game period. For the Game 30-period, the Western PQC has increased to a +.6 over their historical average. This is a boost of +.277 over the Game 20 average. In order, conference averages are 17.7 for the Pacific Division, 17.4 for the Central and 16.5 for the Northeast. Looking at those numbers, two observations are clear. Firstly, it is easy to see that the higher PQC is bolstered by the winning ways of SAN JOSE in the Pacific and DETROIT in the Central. In fact, if you remove SAN JOSE from the equation, the Western PQC is only 16.5 and a –.1 below the historical model. Dropping the RED WINGS nets a 16.8 / +.2. We also see that the average GF versus Goals Against (GA) is in favor of the West by +1.6, and they have 55.5 OT/SO games versus the East’s 64.5. So with these factors in mind, and especially SAN JOSE’s and DETROIT’s dominance skewing the Western PQC, OGA's model in the West is right about on track.

Team Notes:

The difference between IN and OUT of a Playoff berth in the Conferences is telling:

In the East:
  • The average difference between the eighth-seeded Eastern team’s PQC and that of the bottom seven teams is –.7, a change of an additional –.14 from the Game 20 period. To cover that distance and move into the upper tier of teams, the bottom seven need from two-to-6.5 more wins.
  • The East also has eight teams playing above, and seven teams below, their historical PQC averages.

In the West:

  • The difference between No. 8 and the rest of the West is –.286, a change from Game 20 of a relatively insignificant –.072, because from-1/2-to-three wins are still required to catch No. 8.
  • The West also has nine teams above, four teams below, and two teams even with their historical PQC averages.

These facts display that the gap between those IN and OUT of the Playoff race in Eastern teams is more than twice as large as the same gap in the West. The Western Conference’s race to the Playoffs at this pace will therefore be significantly tighter than in the East.

At the 20-game mark, OGA’s analysis indicated 10 teams had qualified for the Playoffs with SAN JOSE performing best in the group Chasing Stanley. Another two teams have joined this croup at Game 30, both from the Eastern Conference. The complete list now includes: BOSTON; CHICAGO; DETROIT; MINNESOTA; MONTREAL; NEW JERSEY; NY RANGERS; PHILADELPHIA; PITTSBURGH; SAN JOSE; VANCOUVER; and WASHINGTON. Seven of these teams are in the East and almost set the Playoff picture there; five are in the West; and SAN JOSE is still the leader of this pack at this time.

Of those 12 teams, MINNESOTA looks to be in trouble. As a personal opinion, I would offer a likely reason is that MARIAN GABORIK is a Sean Avery of a different nature. Not the talented but loud, crude, and disruptive player on a team; but rather the talented, too-often hurt, seemingly unconcerned and possibly lacking heart kind of star player for a team that can make an organization question its own identity. If he is THE star player and it seems to his teammates that he does not really want to play like it appears to many on the outside, then you could have a disrupted, possibly disgruntled, locker room for a reason different than in a STARS-with-Avery space, but carrying the same end result. A lack of cohesion in the locker room can equal a less than polished effort on the ice. In affect, GABORIK is the on-contract version of NIEDERMAYER, SELANNE and SUNDIN who won’t play more than half of this season, and that are players only a home town crowd can love IF they contribute to the ‘W.’ The rest of us, however, are beginning to get tired of those who don’t want to show up every game. Injured, sure – nobody advocates playing and permanently hurting oneself. But there are an endless number of competitors who have played hurt and with an enormous volume of heart. That is not happening here with GABORIK who appeared unconcerned with signing a contract extension, in no hurry to get back on the ice after injury, and perpetually misses double-digit games. For MINNESOTA, this ‘disruption’ may be what is happening in the dressing room and is translating to a lack of the ‘W’ which is sorely needed to stay in the Playoff hunt.

Following that rant, OGA’s analysis says the other eleven teams who are Chasing Stanley are in position to stay that way barring a major collapse of PITTSBURGH.

There are no teams in the next 10-game stretch that stand a better-than-marginal chance of clinching a Playoff berth. For ANAHEIM, BUFFALO, CALGARY, CAROLINA, COLORADO, EDMONTON, FLORIDA, NASHVILLE, and PHOENIX, a major hot streak must ensue or they will all find themselves closer to merely In The Curve. If any team had to be chosen to move up the ladder, it would be the DUCKS and/or FLAMES, although both are likely to still fall a bit short of securing a Playoff position.

A TORONTO team that goes on an unbeaten streak for the remainder of this evaluation period could find itself Sharpening Skates, OGA’s tripwire indicator of closing in on securing a Playoff spot. Before we over-excite MAPLE LEAFS fans, this team is more likely to be at the lower end of teams In The Curve come early JANUARY instead of Chasing Stanley.

Three teams will only be able to remain In The Curve at best. The DALLAS STARS are still holding at OGA’s rating of Dusting Off Clubs with a possibility of a trend reversal looming via the departure of Sean Avery. This OGA rating is just above elimination from a Playoff berth. To move back In The Curve, they need to stay out of the ‘L’ column unless it is in extra stanzas that secures them standings points. COLUMBUS and LOS ANGELES are the other two teams and, frankly, anything less than an above average effort for this stretch will see both of these teams at Tee Time by Game 40.

At the 20 Game point, only one team – the NEW YORK ISLANDERS – had been considered at Tee Time, the OGA rating for elimination from Playoff contention. That team has since been joined over the last 10-game run by ATLANTA, OTTAWA, ST. LOUIS, and TAMPA BAY, however, as the rate of losing versus winning has increased for these teams. Of the five teams, only OTTAWA stands any real chance of being able to work their way back up to In The Curve. That is still going to require a lights-out performance by the SENATORS through this stretch, however.


Losing in the NHL is both cumulative and compounding. Cumulatively, doing so increases your level of difficulty for reaching the Playoffs because the odds of surging for long periods of time to make up the deficit are not in a team's favor when the average League winning percentage is only 56%. And losses compound upon themselves by assisting every team that defeats you on their own quest to earn a Playoff berth – a losing team must win their next game PLUS another one to even up the ledger. The only way to cut their catch-up-deficit (for lack of a better term) in half is for a loss to come in extra periods where team's gain at least one point in the standings. At this point in the season for several teams, unabated winning is the only hope they have for seeing the post-season. And looking deeper behind the W’s, L’s and standings points, On Goal Analysis cannot help but come to the conclusion that its proprietary PQC is still on track in both Conferences. As that remains the case, the current NHL landscape indicates one new team (BUFFALO, CAROLINA, FLORIDA or TORONTO) in the East and possibly two (CHICAGO and PHOENIX) additional Western clubs will change the Playoff race from last season.

There is still more hockey to play, but OGA’s PQC is beginning to solidify the picture. Stay logged in to www.ongoalanalysis.com to follow the calls…

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