Player Fatigue And The ’11-’12 Schedule – Out West

In Wednesday’s blog, we introduced the Fatigue Difficulty Factor, or FDF, for the Eastern Conference in the 2011-12 season. We now turn our attentions to the Western Conference. (Don’t forget when we mention ‘trends,’ we are referring to our Winning Hockey Trends blog .)

By Way Of FDF Review…

The FDF, is a four-factor calculation expressing the potential for fatigue to take its toll on a team’s ‘W’ column.

Once more the only positive FDF is derived from the:

– Number of Black and Blue (B&B) schedule – home-and-away pairs of – games

and the negative categories are:

Average number of days between games

– Number of back-to-back (B2B) games

Any stretch where the team returns from two or more games at least two time zones away

The factors above make the Western Conference’s average schedule FDF rating a –16 games lost per team to fatigue with a 5.8 negative,10-game periods per team number similar to the Eastern Conference. The slightly higher FDF than the East has a lot to do with time zones crossed in Western Conference travel. At the same time, the West has lost a slightly lower-than-the-East average of 35.27 games per team, per season since the Lockout. (The range has been from only 20 for the ‘05-‘06 Red Wings up to 53.5 for the ‘05-‘06 Blues.) These opposing numbers indicate a more fatiguing Western schedule than in the East but with teams who overcome the jet lag better.

Without further ado, here are the Western Conference FDF calculations. Where does your favorite team fall out?

The Western FDF

In order from easiest to most difficult, below are the 15 Western Conference teams’ analyses. Note a bold
indicates a positive FDF number and a bold, italics font underscores a team who could lose more games to fatigue than the average number of games conference teams lose per 10-game period.

1. Colorado has a Tampa Bay-tying FDF rating of –8.  By 10 game groupings, here are the Avalanche’s ratings:

10: –2    20: –2    30: –2    40: 0   50: –1    60: +4    70: –3    82: –2

In the plus column, COL plays four B&B pairs to play this season which assists their overall FDF: CHI (Game 1 – 10); SJS (Game 31 – 40); NSH (Game 51 – 60); and MIN (Game 61 – 70)

Overall, the triple –2 FDF’s across the first 30 games have one key effect on the team – an indication
of a predictable cycle in terms of fatigue and recovery. It is also interesting to note that when average losses for the team are 3.89 in every 10 since the Lockout, these 30 games are not more difficult to handle than the Avalanche norm. Games 31 – 60 are even better and combined make for a schedule COL should be able to pad with wins until the final 22 games which are a bit tougher, but not by much. As a whole, COL should be able to exploit their schedule this season better than any other Western Conference team. They will need to as the trending model indicates a likely second year in a row for the Avs in negative overall wins.

2. Nashville has a –10 FDF rating for this upcoming season but in an unpredictable manner:

10: –1    20: –1    30: –4   40: 0    50: –3    60: +5   70: 0   82: –6

NSH has one B&B pairing this season versus COL in the Game 41 – 50 stretch.

This is needed to offset the lack of recovery time and return from one trip across two time zones during those 10 games. Beyond the B&B, you remember the way NSH seasons normally go, right? Good starts as a general rule; a dip or two followed each time by a strong 10 games; the mid– to late–season call of Chasing Stanley by OGA; and a scary stretch of close games to close out the season. Right? That is what we have in terms of the FDF this season where NSH’s play should start out decently with lulls in the W column in November/ December and January/February. The final 12 games will be a crap shoot, but that is where NSH often works their hardest. Just hang on for the ride, Predator fans. Barring abnormal injuries, this team should keep playing past mid-April. NSH looks to be trending in negative wins this season so must take advantage of those stretches with less negative FDF rankings.

3. Both Dallas and Minnesota sport a –13 FDF. Dallas’ FDF falls out like this:

10: –2    20: 0    30: –1   40: –1    50: –2   60: –5    70: –3   82: +1

Dallas wastes no time in opening the season with a B2B pair in the first two games and throws another three more bookending pairs in there for good measure: CHI 7 – 8 OCT and CBJ 15 – 18 OCT (Game 1 – 10); and CGY 24 – 26 MAR and SJS 31 MAR – 3 APR (Game 71 – 82).

The Stars begin the season with a relatively favorable first 10 games at only a –2 FDF. But remember that is balanced by the +2 factored in for two B&B pairs. They will need some character to shine through at the
season’s onset. But Games 11 – 50 are not too difficult in terms of the FDF. It’s Game 51 – 70 where the going will get a bit rougher as they suffer with three each road trips to one or the other coast and B2B pairs of games. Their final 12 games are a bit less taxing and may be what lands them back in the playoffs after a three-year hiatus. DAL will have to break the current trending averages to gain a third straight year in positive win territory in order to overcome that Game 51 – 70 stretch.

Minnesota’s –13 comes a bit differently:

10: –2    20: –2    30: –3    40: –4   50: +4    60: 0   70: –3    82: –3

Minnesota only plays 2 B&B pairs: DET (Game 11 – 20); and COL (Game 61 – 70)

The schedule is a little rough on Minnesota this season with mostly negative FDF’s. Game 1 – 30 sits close to the Western Conference norm making the Wild’s task not any more difficult than other conference foes. But in late December/early January they could take a dip before they hit a string of games on through February that should bolster their position in the standings. If they only lose the six negative FDF games to close out the last 22 contests, they would be in great shape. But, as we say in the military, the
enemy has a vote. So all other teams will be lining up to get their W’s to secure playoff berths. Still, with a likely second positive wins trend on tap, maybe MIN fans will see their team on into the post season for the first time in three seasons.

5. Detroit is next with a –14 FDF:

10: +1    20: –3   30: –1    40: –3    50: –6    60: +1    70: 0   82: –3

Detroit lines up with only two B&B pairs: MIN (Game 1 – 10); and CBJ (Game 71 – 82).

For the Red Wings who have received OGA’s Chasing Stanley call by Game 20 in every season since the Lockout except ’09-’10, an opening, positive FDF is likely to continue as the norm. January is likely to be a bear, but they get from there through March with another FDF–favorable scheduling period. They also get to close out the season with only a Western average –3 FDF. Coupled with a positive winning trend for this year, Red Wings fans will most likely see the Winged Wheel remain one of only two teams who have made the playoffs every season since the Lockout.

6. Calgary comes after DET with a –15 FDF:

10: +1    20: –4   30: –3    40: –8    50: 0   60: +4   70: –2   82: –3

Calgary only has one B&B pair this season versus DAL (Game 71 – 82).

The positive FDF to open the season is a recipe for a potentially wrong, early Chasing Stanley call by OGA. Such calls may be premature as the –15 FDF over the next 30 games could see the Flames looking
more like a flame-out by 1 January before a bit of an FDF respite arrives. If they hold their own or can recover, with nine of the Western teams experiencing a greater FDF over their last 22 games, CGY may still find themselves ending the season with a push toward a playoff bid. This will be a tough one to call
for the Flames as they navigate this season despite a positive wins trend again this year.

7. Edmonton’s –16 in the last slot at or above the Western FDF average comes across this way:

10: –3    20: –1    30: –7    40:+1    50: +2    60: 0   70: –3    82: –5

Edmonton gets zero positive FDF benefit this season as they are B&B free.

The Oilers begin the season with a negative FDF that is about double the Western average. Youth and optimism will have to carry them in November where they will have a better-than-average FDF schedule. Woe is December, however, as they will have to overcome the -7 FDF caused in large measure by four B2B pairs with less recuperation time between games and pull out some fatigued wins. If they can avoid a Tee Time – eliminated from the playoffs – call by OGA before Christmas, their schedule should allow a positive respite on into February. Their trend can go either way this year, so they need to stack ‘em up in the W column during more the more positive winter span as the closing twelve games look to be less favorable.

8. Anaheim, Columbus and San Jose all three tie with a –17 rating. Continuing alphabetically, the Ducks’ FDF looks like this:

10: –2     20: –1    30: +1    40: 0   50: –2    60: –5    70: –5    82: –2

Anaheim has only one B&B pair this season but, as it should be, it is a Freeway Fracas with the LAK (Game 11 – 20).

For the Ducks, remaining healthy to begin the season could lead to very good things through Game 50/into February. All things equal, by then they could gain an OGA Chasing Stanley call. Then they hit a speed bump to overcome in a less favorable 20 games on through to mid-March. As long as they
hang in there, and coupled with their most likely positive wins trend this season, the Ducks close out the final 12 games in a less formidable FDF schedule.

Here is the FDF breakdown for the Blue Jackets:

10–2    20: +1    30: –2   40: –1    50: –3    60: –5    70: 0   82: –5

Columbus sports three B&B pairs on the positive side of the FDF this year: DAL (Game 1 – 10); STL (Game 61 – 70); and DET (Game 71 – 82).

As with ANA, the ‘Jackets first 50 games sport a relatively supportive FDF. We cringe at OGA as we are Columbus fans, but they have fooled us with early Chasing Stanley calls in the last two, consecutive seasons. Will we be fooled again? Absent a huge collapse, we likely wouldn’t be able to tell until February rolls around. Still, we note they are likely to experience a positive wins trend again this season and temper that with the knowledge they likely need seven more wins this year than last to make the post season. Do we seem wishy-washy? It’s Columbus’ fault. We will be keeping our eye on you, ‘Jackets…

And the Sharks close out the trio of –17’s like this:

10: –3     20: +2    30: –2    40:+2   50: –3    60: –5    70: –5    82: –3

San Jose has three pairs, ending the season with back-to-back B&B’s: COL (Game 21 – 30); and DAL and LAK (Game 71 – 82).

Firstly, we note San Jose stands with DET as the only other NHL team to appear in the post-season each year since the Lockout. That said, they gave Sharks fans a bit of a scare last year by not hitting that Chasing Stanley-like playing stride until the final 22 games of the season. So when you see they being the year with a –3 FDF, you are thinking ‘…If everyone is predicting this year as our year to compete for the Cup, why are we starting out so average?..’ It’s because that opening 10 game schedule is, for lack of a better term, weird. Just look at it. And with three B2B pairs to boot. So expect the surge to occur between November and January. And take comfort in the likely positive wins trend this season which is likely to show again to close out the season. See you with skates and gear on the ice in mid-April, Sharks

11. Los Angeles and the Phoenix fall out next, both with a –18.

The Kings’ FDF looks like this:

10: –1     20: –2    30: 0   40: –6    50: –2    60: 0   70: –4    82: –3

Beginning the season in Europe, the LAK only have two B&B ‘s throughout the season: ANA (Game 11 – 20); and SJS (Game 71 – 82).

So the battle cry for the Kings must be “Exploit, exploit, and exploit again…” to open the season. There’s that Euro jet lag to overcome, but the Kings look to exploit that by easing into a returning week on the road with only two games on the East coast. And they get through Game 30 with only three more B2B pairs and a good average days between games. The Christmas and New Year’s holidays may suck a bit, but there’s another 20 games following that are pretty favorable FDF-wise before they have to close out the season. The re-tooled Kings need to overcome what is on average supposed to be a negative wins trend this season as two less W’s may see them out of the playoffs. Go sign/convince Daughty to report and gel that team, Los Angeles. Time’s a wastin.’

The Coyotes’ FDF is the following:

10: 0     20: 0    30: –4   40: –6    50: –4    60:+4    70: –4    82: –4

As with EDM, the Coyotes have no positive FDF gain as they play no B&B pairs.

What they do have is a good, opening 20 game schedule to face in terms of the FDF. Late November to late January might leave a bad taste in their mouth. So February must be leaned upon to build up W-power toward the playoffs. Only ANA, EDM and VAN have as difficult an FDF schedule as the ‘Yotes
to close out the season’s last 22 games. And with another negative wins trend potentially looming this season, that needs to be a shallow trend as three more L’s this year over last could see Phoenix out on the links early.

13. Chicago carries a –20 into the season:

10: +2     20: –5    30: –3   40: +1    50: –6    60: –4   70: –3    82: –2

Chicago not only opens their B&B pairs with DAL in Games 1 and 2, but closes out the first 10 games with one more pair versus COL (Game 1 – 10).

So the ‘Hawks begin with a positive schedule in terms of fatigue and then are smacked in November with their second most difficult 10-game stretch to overcome. Depending on overall team health, they can exploit games from late November to early January before they hit another rough patch of ice. It is a consolation of sorts to point out their negative FDF trend progressively decreases as they close out their final 32 games. But they barely made it into the playoffs on the strength of a DAL Game 82 loss and face
another likely downward wins trend this season. Hope and cheer for their still youthful enthusiasm to show through and carry them into the playoffs for fourth consecutive season. Because hope by itself is not a winning method in the NHL.

14. St. Louis has a character building –21 FDF:

10: –5     20: +1    30: –2   40: –4    50: +2    60: –6    70: –5    82: –2

St. Louis has only one B&B pair on back-to-back nights late in the season against CBJ (Game 61 – 70).

The interviews from the St. Louis camp indicate an abundance of team optimism going into this season. Hold that thought opening the year as there is a chance they are only at .500 by the end of October. Then jump on the FDF roller coaster up in early November, moving downward into early January, back up briefly to open the new year before February comes harshly.  Since the Lockout, only one Western team has failed to make the playoffs while winning 10 of their final 12 games as a –2 FDF might suggest. Problem is, in 90 possible tries only five Western teams have won like that. So the Blues, with their likely positive wins trend this season, need to ensure that happens. They need at least three-to-four more wins
than last year to see the post-season.

15. Finally, Vancouver has the most difficult schedule of any team out West with a – 23 FDF:

10: –4     20: –1    30: –2   40: –4    50: –1    60: –3   70: –3    82: –5

Not only did Vancouver play longer in last season than anyone other than BOS and now has to play on opening night of the new NHL season, they have no B&B pairs to add a positive spin to their FDF.

How do you add to key injuries and long-season-just-completed stumbling blocks in terms of a repeat visit to the Stanley Cup Finals? For the Canucks, you schedule them an FDF that is just shy of the League worst. They also join BUF as the only two teams with an FDF absent any periods of break-even or positive rankings. VAN fans need to be on notice – it may really look like they have a hangover to open the season before November and December will seem a bit more kind. Mid-January to early February
will be the last chance to catch a decent breath as the Canucks could understandably drop one-third of their final 32 games. So don’t think President’s Trophy this year – be satisfied with a Top 8 slot from a slightly negative wins trend and then let team character take over in the post-season.


The potential ups and downs:

October Ups: CGY, CHI, and DET; October Downs: VAN

November Ups: CBJ, SJS, and STL; November Downs: CGY and CHI

November/December Ups: ANA; November/December Downs: EDM, NSH and PHX

December Ups: CHI, EDM and SJS; December Downs: CGY, LAK, MIN, PHX, STL and VAN

January Ups: EDM, MIN and STL; January Downs: CHI, DET and PHX

February Ups: CGY, COL, DET, NSH and PHX; February Downs: ANA, CHI, CBJ, DAL, SJS and STL

March Ups: None; March Downs: ANA, LAK, PHX, SJS and STL

March/April Ups: DAL; March/April Downs: CBJ, EDM, NSH, PHX and VAN

As with the East, the biggest question about schedule fatigue is who can exploit their positive FDF periods and hang on when the schedule is less favorable? The answers begin to come as the Western Conference begins their quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup.



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