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Monday, January 19, 2009

The NHL’s Half-Mile Pole Analysis

The NHL’s fourth furlong has passed with Game 40’s now in the books for all teams and 20 of 30 teams' Playoff fates decided. What does the League look like at this juncture when analyzed past the standings? As in the 30-Game Marker report, we will look at the NHL, the Conferences, and on down through the individual team echelons.

NHL Standings at Game 30

For the Game 31-40 period, the NHL average against OGA’s Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC) has increased from an historical 22.03 to the current 22.1. This is a very modest PQC gain of +.07, but is down from +.223 at the Game-30 marker. This tells us teams as a league whole are playing right about on the historical average.

Given the difference with the Game 30 mark, you might think it means more teams have lost more games than in the previous evaluation period. This is not the case as 14 teams improved in total wins, 13 teams declined and three teams had no change from Game 30 to Game 40. The overall team play affect, however, seems to indicate there is trend developing that might lower both Conferences’ minimum wins/points required to clinch a Playoff position. This potential drop requires further evaluation by OGA, however, so stay tuned for more updates.

One contributing factor to the difference between the historical average and this season’s Game-40 period is the drop off in ‘three-point games’ in December from the preceding two months. Where OCTOBER and NOVEMBER’s number of games proceeding into extra periods was an increase of 27.39% above the average, in DECEMBER the average was only a scant rise of 6.56% above post-Lockout numbers. In other words, when teams won over the Game-40 period, a lot more won in regulation than at the beginning of the season.

Scoring is still up this season to an average of 5.804 goals per game from 5.57 (overall) last season. The increase in scoring, however, is down from 5.85 at the Game 30 mark. It is a small drop off and could be tied to the vast amount of injuries teams are experiencing and chemistry problems present when new faces are infused into the lineup. While we here at OGA have not looked at stats from previous seasons, we have found that the average number of skaters per team that have played in every game for their club this season is only 6.37 (on 11 January). LOS ANGELES and the RANGERS both have 10 who have done so and they stand as the only organizations in double digits. The ISLANDERS are the lowest with three.

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

The Eastern Conference

The East ended the 40-game span only a –.28 lower against the PQC than the Conference's post-Lockout, historical average. This figure is –.28 lower than the same comparison of averages at the Game 30 mark. Both figures, however, are below the League’s PQC average by a combined average of –.57 with the Game 40 period standing as the greatest difference at a –.73. This difference would seem to indicate to OGA the number of points required to secure a Playoff berth in the East would rest somewhere around 91 – 92 points. If you removed BOSTON from the equation, then the East is a full –1.1 off.

The East’s average Goals For (GF) is greater than the West by +2.6, and shows an overall increase of +3.2 over the Game 30 period. In the last 10 games, the East has been scoring more than the West.

The gap between highest and lowest team winning percentage in the East has increased. The difference was 33.3% through Game 30 and is now 42.5%. BOSTON is winning at a 77.5% clip, while the ISLANDERS are only winning 35% of the time. This fact coupled with the one before means in the East, winning teams are doing so more often than a minority of teams who are suffering the burden of losses.

Because of the decrease in Eastern PQC and scoring, the overall model MIGHT require adjusting for this Conference. OGA will monitor this trend for possible adjustment to the model in the near future.

The Western Conference

The West regressed in overall PQC average compared to the 30-Game mark. The +.6 increase over the historical average they enjoyed at Game 30 fell back to +.413. In the grand scheme of things, this might still call for an adjustment of the PQC model. But removing SAN JOSE and/or DETROIT drops the Western PQC below both the historical NHL and Conference averages.
The average Goals For in the West trailed off rather noticeably between teams Game 31 and Game 40. The advantage they enjoyed over the East has tilted to the other side of the ice as detailed above. For example, SAN JOSE’s goal differential is only +0.1 in this 10 games versus +1.8 in the previous furlong. Being one of the West’s leading teams, their performance drop-off hurts the overall average.

The difference between highest and lowest winning percentages in the West was 33.9% at Game 30 but is now 37.5%. Despite the increase, this is still a loss from the Game 30 average of 41.7%. In the West the ‘upper echelon’ of teams have won less games when compared to the rest of the pack.

There are two, general statements to be made where the West is concerned. Firstly is the fact that the Western Conference played below average over the course of the Game 31 – 40 period. This is shown in all relevant, statistical categories. Second is the fact that the upper two teams’ COMBINED PQC’s and the fierce competition in the West skew the model enough to indicate the bottom half of the Conference playoff picture might need LESS points that normal to qualify for a playoff berth. OGA will be watching the second statement closely for any adjustments that need to be made in the coming furlongs.

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

In the East:

The average PQC difference between the eighth-seeded Eastern team’s PQC and that of the teams that stand a chance of qualifying is –10.3, a noteworthy change from the Game 30 period as teams’ performance begins to spread out winners and losers. The Conference has seven teams IN the Playoffs, five more OUT, and three fighting over a seat at the table. PITTSBURGH’s slide is assisting the three teams that have not yet qualified per the OGA model. But BUFFALO, CAROLINA and FLORIDA need to have a combination of five regulation losses and one OTL in the PENS’ next seven games, and a near-max out effort in this evaluation period to be called IN. For the bottom seven teams to cover the distance and move into the upper tier of teams, they need from .5-to-9.5 more wins.

In the West:

The difference between No. 8 and the rest of the West is –3.86, a change from Game 30 of a significant –2.5. The West has six teams IN the Playoffs, two just short of OUT, two OUT, and four playing In The Curve. The difference from the No. 8 seed to the 14th is only 2.5 wins as this conference south of the top two teams is more competitive than the East against the PQC.
These facts tell us the gap between those IN and OUT of the Playoff race in Eastern teams is almost triple the same gap in the West. The Western Conference’s race to the Playoffs is therefore still due to be significantly tighter than in the East.

Team Notes:

At the 30-game mark, OGA’s analysis indicated 12 teams had qualified for the Playoffs with SAN JOSE performing best in the group Chasing Stanley. There is now a baker’s dozen as CALGARY is the only team to join this group at Game 40. The complete list now includes: BOSTON; CALGARY; 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; six are in the West; and SAN JOSE is still the leader of this pack at this time with BOSTON hot on their heels.

In the last report, MINNESOTA looked to be in trouble at the Game-30 mark. They had regressed in PQC from +1, to even, to a –.8 over 30 Games and had slipped down the standings. As this post is being written, however, they look to be rebounding a bit despite the loss of MARIAN GABORIK and are just a shade above even. In the Game 30 report, I ranted about the possibility of a lack of heart on GABORIK’s part and it seems he has a legitimate injury. I also did some research and was interested to find that old-Eastern European block countries’ school teachers and parents’ number one concern was not necessarily a student’s class rank – it was how their health was faring. This was due in large measure to such issues as not having nationally established and enforced health standards for such things as the dumping of industrial pollutants into sources of drinking water. That kind of concern over your day-to-day well-being can be a sociological imprint in your character that becomes second nature and that is likely what is going on with GABORIK. If that is the case, the ’no heart’ comment may have been too hasty an opinion. In any case, it seems to be the WILD have seen the last of MARIAN on their ice.

Also, PITTSBURGH is eating a free-fall sandwich whose main ingredients seem to include a lack of confidence, a possible lack of tolerance for the coach, and a lack of players due to injuries. After being called IN the playoffs by OGA on 18 NOVEMBER, they have trailed off in PQC rankings each 10-game evaluation period. In an NHL whose 16 teams currently holding a Playoff position in the standings are winning at an average 63.6% clip, the PENS are only winning 51.1% of their games. At that sustained pace, they will become an OGA Shot Off The Post – a mistaken call that occurs on average 13% of the time – by the final furlong of the season.

Once again, there are NO teams in the next 10-game stretch that stand a better-than-marginal chance of clinching a Playoff berth. Both BUFFALO and FLORIDA would need to complete this evaluation period just about perfect in order to clinch. This means whichever one of them could be called ‘Chasing Stanley’ will be decided no later than Monday, 19 January when these two clubs meet at the Bank Atlantic Center in The Sunshine State. Such teams in the East as BUFFALO, CAROLINA and FLORIDA, and in the West, ANAHEIM, COLUMBUS, DALLAS, EDMONTON, and PHOENIX will flirt with playing In The Curve, awaiting the elimination of others in that list in order to secure one of the few, remaining Playoff positions.

NASHVILLE, OTTAWA and TORONTO seem to be only marginally at Tee Time, OGA’s ranking for eliminated from the Playoffs. If they continue play along their present winning percentages, however, they will remain well entrenched at Tee Time with ATLANTA, the ISLANDERS, ST. LOUIS and TAMPA BAY. The list of the eliminated is more likely to expand than a name is added to the Chasing Stanley list as COLORADO and LOS ANGELES will find themselves OUT of the post-season if they do not vastly improve their winning percentage over the remainder of this evaluation period.

If PITTSBURGH does not go 0-for-5 and COLORADO and LOS ANGELES find themselves eliminated over the remainder of this evaluation period, that will mean OGA has called 73.3% of the NHL either IN or OUT of the Playoffs this season by no later than 5 February.


There are several lessons learned as the NHL hits the Half-Mile Point of the season. First up is that teams in this furlong seem to be playing more along historical averages than in previous evaluation periods. Some of the factors influencing the overall drop in productivity from the Game 1 – 30 spread are: a significant drop in ‘three-point games’ proceeding to OT or a Shootout; while average scoring per game is still increased versus the 2007/2008 season, the improvement is beginning to decline; and the average number of players that have played in every game for their team this season is only a hair over six (6).

Two additionally important notes are: the Eastern Conference scored and won more than the West in the Game 31-40 period; and no new teams are likely to clinch a Playoff berth in the Game 50 period, while COLORADO and LOS ANGELES may find themselves eliminated. Those eliminations would indicate more than 73% of the NHL’s Playoff picture has been decided by 5 February. This is why at OGA we say make trades and change out any coaches NOW versus early MARCH because changes at that juncture would, in almost all cases, be irrelevant to the Playoff picture?

There is still more hockey to play with some exciting battles for Playoff position occurring, 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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