If you are thinking there will not be a full NHL season played this year, where is your marker? Where does it begin and what does it look like to determine how many teams make it into the 2013 Playoffs (under the other assumption that a Lockout is not for a full season)?
Here at On Goal Analysis (OGA) we say the target is the NHL Winter Classic as a face-saving measure for not starting the season on time. (Please forgive us – here is a whole turkey leg instead of just a slice. Just come back to the table and have a seat…) Seeing’s how NHL teams would have averaged right at 32 – to – 33 games by 1 January, viola! A 50 game schedule!
But where does that leave teams? Does 50 games mean something different in terms of where teams are? The answer is yes…
The Eastern Conference at Game 50
Let’s start by looking at where the East stands on average at Game 50 (G50):
From our chart, you can see since the Lockout, your top eight teams in Eastern standings are (in order) NYR, BOS, CAR (because a division winner has to be crowned in the Southeast), PHI, BUF, NJD, OTT and PIT. Said another way, average play to G50 says the playoff picture would likely be NYR vs PIT, BOS vs OTT, CAR vs NJD and PHI vs BUF. Montreal would be less than one OT/SOL out of the playoff picture, that slim margin between the No. 8 and 9 seeds that often occurs.
BUT, if you look at play over the last three years only (which indicates newer winning trends), your top eight teams in Playoff order are: PHI vs NJD; WSH vs TBL; BOS vs BUF; and PIT vs NYR. A difference of two new teams is not unusual from playoff year to playoff year, either. Florida missing the playoffs would be exactly by one OT/SOL.
One more interesting note here is that difference over the last three years. Proof that the NHL is adjusting comes from the difference between the average Top 8/Bottom 7’s overall and the last three years’ Top 8/Bottom 7’s. The difference in the Eastern Top 8 average G50 points is a +2.083 between historical and the last three years of play. While they went up that amount (one win plus), the difference in the Bottom 7 average went down -0.993 points. Why is it not simple math? Because a larger chunk of that difference is in the number of three-point games where a team pulls one standings point for an OT or SO loss. And in our book, that is not lazy – that is called parity.
And our estimate is that it will take approximately 52 – 58 points to earn a playoff spot, with indications of contenders coming in strongly by Game 30 – 33.
So how different does the Western Conference look?
The Western Conference at G50
Here is the Western Conference G50 chart:
Post-Lockout ’04, the averages indicate the following playoff matchups: DET vs ANA; SJS vs CHI; VAN vs CGY; and NSH vs DAL. The less-than-one-OT/SOL difference after the No. 8 seed in this case stretches down to COL and MIN. So Nos. 7 – 10 are basically decided by tie-breakers. This proves there is more parity here in the Western Conference than ‘Back East.’
There are the same two, team differences in Playoff matchups if you go to the Last 3 Year averages: VAN vs DAL; DET vs LAK; SJS vs COL; and CHI vs NSH. And again, the difference between LAK, DAL, PHX and STL in the Nos. 7 – 10 positions respectively is tie breakers.
Here, improvement in the Top 8 average between all Post- Lockout ’04 teams and just the last three seasons is about half of the Eastern difference at a +1.054. The Bottom 7’s are a difference of -0.6326 points, or less than an OT/SOL.
And our final estimate is that it will take approximately 54 – 60 points to earn a playoff spot, with indications of contenders coming in strongly by Game 32 – 35.