It’s Monday morning, 9 November 2009. If we took the NHL’s current winning percentages, applied them to remaining schedules, and were forced to select the teams that would be in the 2010 Playoffs, what would be the call? (Note I factor in each OT/SOL as one-half of a win for percentage calculation’s sake.)
The Eastern Conference
The current spread of winning percentages times the number of games left back East gives us a top eight seeding as follows:
The winning percentages run from .733 for New Jersey down to .567 for Tampa Bay. The caveat here is, of course, that they will not keep up these percentages throughout the season or all of these teams will have over 100 points come April 11th.
The Western Conference
The current spread of winning percentages times the number of games left out West gives us a top eight seeding as follows:
The winning percentages out West run from .722 for both San Jose and Colorado down to .588 for both Phoenix and Dallas. If all of these teams maintained their winning percentages, it would take a minimum of 109 points for the 8th seed. This will not happen, however. The fact that two each from this group sit at both the top and bottom of the Conference spread indicates that we are due for another, grueling battle of parity out West. (Good for us!)
The Top Eights to The Conference Finalists
A note about the top eights above is the fact that three teams in the East and four in the West were not in the Playoffs the season before. Taken together, those seven ‘newbies’ out-pace the average turnover numbers of 2.667 East, 2.333 West and five NHL-wide. The average is just an average of course, but you could expect from 1-to-3 of the teams above to change before the end of the season, possibly making way for some combination of Atlanta, Boston, NY Islanders, Detroit, Vancouver, Nashville or Edmonton to see the post-season.
Sticking to the winning percentages since the Lockout this season, however, the average 8th seed winning percentage has been .566 in the East and .569 in the West. These percentages imply the East is currently just about on track for their 8th seed average. Said another way, Tampa Bay, playing just like they are now, has as good a shot as anybody of making it into the 2010 Playoffs.
The Western Conference, however, is, on average, inflated. But if .569 Hockey is the minimum requirement, the only other team within very close proximity at the moment is Detroit. That’s right – currently OUT of contention, the Red Wings. (This simply recognizes the delicate balance lost players, be it to trade or injury who otherwise were the core of a team’s winning ways, have on team performance. If you were thinking the opposing team who won a Game 7 in OT was ‘just lucky,’ you would be somewhat correct. It often times is more a surge of adrenaline for one side carrying them past the other’s momentary lapse which produces victory in that case. Either way, it is always a near thing when talking about being IN or OUT of a series.)
There are two spots to be holding in the top eight for each conference – Conference Champion and Runner Up. That’s because it is often said either of the two teams that get to that point could go on to the finals. The average winning percentage for Conference Finalists in the East is .638; in the West, it is .659. Runners Up in the conferences are .633 and .628 respectively. So from our current winning percentage listings above, the groups of teams that could fall into finalist seedings are:
Eastern Conference: New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Washington, Buffalo and Philadelphia
Western Conference: San Jose and Colorado (honorable mention to Chicago who is only a scant .003 beyond the numbers)
It is difficult to argue any of the above mentioned teams would not be plausible contenders for their respective Conference Finals. The only one that may throw some for a loop is Buffalo in the East due to their absence from the Playoffs over the last two seasons. (Just remember: if you are a Sabres’ fan or know your post-Lockout Playoff history, Buffalo WAS in the conference finals the two seasons they made it to the Playoffs.)
So who from the whittled down group above makes it to the finals based on where we are today? The average winning percentage for Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Finalists is .638; out West, it is .659. That suggests Finals made up of one each Eastern and Western teams below:
Eastern Conference: New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Washington, Buffalo or Philadelphia
Western Conference: San Jose or Colorado
Who would you then pick from this group of teams to win it all? In the East, there are several considerations.
Post-Lockout, New Jersey has never made it past the 2nd Round of the Playoffs. But writing them off ignores the fact in three of those four seasons they met the eventual Eastern Conference Champion twice and Runner-Up once. Is this their year? Do they have what it takes to go back where they haven’t been since the turn of the century?
Pittsburgh has to be a favorite. They might have fooled you with their abysmal play in pre-season, but that time of year is an anomaly. They have been to the Finals the last two seasons and could very well go again. Which begs the question, how ‘old’ does a team have to be before the Stanley Cup hangover kicks in?
It would make sense that Washington could be seen in the Conference Finals as another progressive step toward The Cup. They are, after all, playing better than last season. And they are currently doing it without their number one scorer.
Buffalo? A lot of us, and by ‘us’ I mean me as well, wrote them off before the season started. No bug acquisitions over the summer, some key losses and a highly suspect blue line all suggested they might not be where they currently are in the standings. It arguably still remains to be seen how they will fare come mid-April as they traditionally start strong and begin to lose ground around the Game 30 mark.
And Philly would not be too far-fetched a choice for the Finalist. A prognosticator or two out there put them in the Finals prior to the season’s start. What the Flyers need to get there is a strong finish and its correspondingly good, winning tempo of play.
In the Western Conference, we have all been waiting for San Jose to come around. After last season’s terribly swift ending, Jeremy Roenick retired with the statement that maybe the reason the Sharks didn’t progress was because nothing really challenged them during the season. Well, something challenged them in their first 10 games because they only played .550 Hockey in that span but have come on strong since. As with past seasons, but with jaundiced eye, we will see how it goes after April 11th.
Hmmm… Colorado? The Avalanche. THOSE Avalanche? From last season’s #30 team with two rookie centers in their top three pivots to Conference Finalist? Because that just does not compute in your head well, it makes more sense to say San Jose will be the Finalist.
So who from this distinguished group raises The Stanley Cup?
If the average winning percentage of the post-Lockout Stanley Cup Champion is .665, the winner could come from any of those same teams above if they continued to win at their current clip and the average remained accurate as a Cup-hoisting fortune teller. The winning percentage is not enough to go on by itself.
Average goals scored for the winner has been 268.25 over the course of the season. Throwing that in the mix, for the above teams, the ones who could project those numbers include:
Eastern Conference: Washington or Philadelphia
Western Conference: San Jose
My hand is forced at this point, so I must make a selection. I would say then using the winning percentage model with the late add-on of average goals scored, the Finals could very well come down to Washington versus San Jose. Both have ample talent. Both are hungry. Does the Cup go East or West this year? There are no prevailing winds of history to hang our hat on here. The East took it in 2006 and 2009 and the West the intervening years.
History be damned, then. I side right now, based on what we know of this season with the “Is Party Now” crowd. Prior to Game 20, I call the Washington Capitals the Stanley Cup Champions.
It is early in the season, so calling the Capitals the Stanley Cup Champs is obviously premature. What will be interesting, however, is to follow the train of thought above from winning percentage analysis throughout the season and see if the calculations still come out the same.
To that end, I will revisit this analysis that leads me to a prognostication of the Washington Capitals winning the Stanley Cup this season at around Game 40 (New Years) and the Olympic Break.
Be back soon….