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The Shortened NHL Schedule: Who Prevails?


As we said previously, making the statement ‘…82 games have been cancelled…’ is a misnomer. The NHL has cancelled 2.73 games per team so far, or in reality, three games each. That is the equivalent of those extra three, cross-Conference games tacked onto the schedule each year. This blog was begun on the former Opening Night of the 2012-13 season. And if this Lockout drags on into November, we begin to lose things like pairs of Divisional matchups, games from other divisions in the Conference and the Cross-Conference meetings.

Even more interesting is we fans do not know the NHL’s timeline model. By that I mean from the day they say an agreement is in place, how long do they need to synchronize the schedule and begin play? Two weeks? Three? Is there to be a shortened pre-season on the front end and for how long? We hear on one hand that the sides are miles apart and out of the other side of their mouths the League is likely to be playing by Thanksgiving.

So let us speculate. If we do not have an agreement until, say, the first week in November, we might not see the first regular season action until post-Thanksgiving. Where are we then? Is it all that different than we might expect? History seems to say so.

After Thanksgiving

Below are how many games each team would have left following Thanksgiving from the original 2012-13 season:

Eastern Conference: BOS – 64; BUF – 65; CAR – 62; FLA – 64; MTL – 63; NJD – 65; NYI – 64; NYR – 64; OTT – 63; PHI – 64; PIT – 63; TBL – 66; TOR – 65; WSH – 63; WPG – 66; MIN – 62; AVG – 64.07; MAX – 66.

Western Conference: ANA – 64; CGY – 65; CHI – 64; COL – 66; CBJ – 66; DAL – 62; DET – 63; EDM – 64; LAK – 63; MIN – 63; NSH – 63; PHX – 66; SJS – 65; STL – 65; VAN – 63; MIN – 62; AVG – 64.13; MAX – 66.

So on average after Thanksgiving, we are talking 64 games left in the season per team from the current schedule. That could equal: 7 x Division Rivals (28 games); 2 x other Divisions in Conference (20 games); 15 x Cross-Conference (15 games); and one more, odd game (for a grand total of 64 games). What might work better, however, is to have a one-week ‘Pre-Season’ and simply cut four Divisional games down to a 60 game season that starts on, say, 1 December. That is just about the length that will allow for the HBO 24/7 build-up to the Winter Classic and Winter Classic play plus games for fans in every city to see over the holidays to boot. (Just in the nick of time.)

So we are staring down the barrel of what will most likely be a 60-game season. What does the 60-game mark look like historically for the seasons since the last Lockout (heretofore simply known as ‘The Last One’), and what would the Playoff landscape have looked like each year?

Playoffs In The 60’s

Let’s take this by Conference and year by year going backwards since our memories gear toward the most recent:

Here is how the 2011-12 Season looked both historically and at the 60 game mark:

In the Eastern Conference, this scenario makes Toronto fans happy as the Maple Leafs would not have been shut out of Playoff action since The Last One. Changes are Washington out for the Maple Leafs and two of four Playoff matchups. The difference between No. 8 and No. 9 is one win.

As for the Western Conference, there were no changes to the Playoff participants, just to every matchup. The difference between on the bench or on the links in mid-April is one OT/SO win.

The 2010-11 Season falls out as shown below:

For this playoffs back East, Florida knocks out Buffalo and no matchups remain the same. The difference between No. 8 and No. 9/10 is one OT/SO win. At this point, five teams have made the Playoffs both years and four teams have yet to see the post-season. We are averaging one new team, three new matchups and 1.5 points difference between No. 8 and No. 9 in the Eastern Conference’s post-season.

In the West, both Calgary and Minnesota edge their way in at the expense of Anaheim and Chicago and again, no matchups remain the same. The difference between No. 8 and No. 9/10/11/12 is one win, underscoring the extreme competitiveness in the Western Conference. So far, six teams have made the Playoffs both years and five teams have been left to their golf carts. We are averaging one new team, four new matchups and 1.5 points difference between No. 8 and No. 9 in out West.

The 2009-10 Season ends this way:

In the Eastern Conference, the post-season shows Tampa Bay knocking out Montreal and only the Pittsburgh-Ottawa matchup remaining the same. Our difference here between in and out is one OT/SO win. At this point we only have three teams to make all three Playoffs and only three we have not yet seen. Our averages are one new team, three new matchups and 1.33 points between the haves and have nots.

And for the Western Conference, Calgary nudges Detroit for the eighth seed by one OT/SO win. Since The Last One only two teams have appeared in every post-season, both come from the Western Conference, and Detroit is one of them. So this is a departure for the Red Wings. So far we have five teams in all three Playoffs while four have not yet been heard from. Our averages are one new team, 3.33 new matchups and the same 1.33 points as back East’ between Nos. 8 and 9 in the standings.

The 2008-09 Season comes out like so:

The East takes an interesting twist here. Up front Pittsburgh and Carolina would have been replaced by Florida and Buffalo and all matchups have changed. This has two, immediate ramifications. Most prominent is the fact that there would have been a new, 2009 Stanley Cup Champion without the Penguins in the post-season. (Would it have been Boston and Washington in the Conference Finals? Hmmmm…) And on a lesser but still interesting note, Florida, who has only made the Playoffs once since The Last One have now had three appearances. We are now down to two teams in all four Playoffs with three who have not made it in yet. Our averages are 1.25 new teams, 3.25 new matchups and 1.75 points between Nos. 8 and 9 in the standings.

And out West we have Minnesota and Edmonton displacing St. Louis and Anaheim. For the second straight year Dallas holds the 9th seed. All matchups for the third of four Playoff years are different here as well. As with the East, we have only two teams to see all four Playoffs while another two who have not yet made it in. Our averages are 1.25 new teams, 3.5 new matchups and one point between Nos. 8 and 9 in the standings.

2007-08 standings looked like this:

In this Eastern scenario, Carolina and Buffalo replace Washington and the New York Rangers. Washington, if you remember, made the amazing comeback under Bruce Boudreau to find themselves in the Playoffs after a Game 82 win over Florida in this season. But at Game 60 (G60) that year, they were not yet on anyone’s horizon. Carolina’s entrance into the G60 Playoff picture also marks the first time the Top Eight have had to dip down past the 8th seed to bring a Division ‘Champion’ up in terms of standings points. At this point, we have only Boston and Philadelphia who have seen all four Playoffs while now only the New York Islanders have not yet made it. Our averages are 1.4 new teams, 3.4 new matchups and 1.6 points between Nos. 8 and 9 in the standings.

As for the Western Conference, this season holds no changes to playoff teams, only designated matchups. But, we now have every Western team having made at least one playoff appearance while San Jose remains or only team to have been present all five seasons to date. Our Western averages are one new team, 3.6 new matchups and one point between Nos. 8 and 9 in the standings.

For the 2006-07 Season:

In the Eastern Conference, the presence of Atlanta/Winnipeg and the New York Islanders was no anomaly. Our glitch, however, is Toronto’s second Playoff appearance since The Last One at the expense of the New York Rangers who sit just out of it for the second season in a row. We now have no teams who have made the Playoffs all six years to date (Boston, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have made five) and none who failed to make it in (Carolina, the New York Islanders and Winnipeg/Atlanta have one appearance each). Eastern averages are now 1.33 new teams, 3.33 new matchups and 1.5 points between Nos. 8 and 9 in the standings.

For the 2006-07 Western Conference, Chicago displaces Minnesota for a Playoff spot in a year when the Blackhawks actually finished 13th in the standings. We also show three of four matchup changes. San Jose remains the only team to have seen the Playoffs every year since The Last One (Calgary, Detroit, Nashville and Vancouver sport five appearances) and there are none failing to make the Playoffs (Columbus, Edmonton and St. Louis each have one). Our averages now rest at one new team, 3.5 new matchups and one point between Nos. 8 and 9 in the standings.

And for our final G60 Playoff picture for the 2005-06 Season we have this:

In the most distant season in the past, there were no changes in terms of the historical Eastern teams to make the 2006 Playoffs. We also had three of four matchup changes. But here are the interesting, overall G60 averages:

  1. The Eastern Conference lost their Stanley Cup Champion in 2009 when Pittsburgh was not in the hunt at that time. Projected Conference Finalist then? Most likely Boston or Washington.
  2. No Eastern teams made the Playoffs every season since The Last One. New Jersey and Philadelphia both made it six times as with the historical case. But both the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh lost one post season appearance.
  3. Every Eastern team made the Playoffs at least once at the G60 mark. Historically, Florida, the New York Islanders and Winnipeg/Atlanta all made it just once. In this case Florida is one of the two big winners with three appearances. The other big winner? Toronto with two, versus no, trips into the post-season. And they are followed closely by Buffalo with five post-season appearances versus the three they historically earned.
  4. There was an average of 1.14 new teams entering the Eastern Conference Playoffs each year. This is not too far off from the historical record where the average was 1.57 new teams per season. On average, the 5th or 6th seed was replaced by a hotter G60 team although in 2007-08 a Division Champion (Washington) did not have a Playoff seed at that mark.
  5. Three of four matchup changes was our average between G60 and reality. There is no telling how that might have affected final outcomes. But it speaks to the dynamism of every win and OT/SO loss point.
  6. The final average – after a decent spread in the 2005-06 season – was 1.71 points between 8th and 9th place in the standings. Said another way, everyone needed to be one win better than the competition.

Of immediate note in the Western Conference is the fact Vancouver unseats San Jose as the only team who had not historically failed to make the playoffs. Anaheim also was absent based on an appearance by Los Angeles (who actually finished the season in 10th place). And for the fifth time in seven years, every matchup changed.

Here’s a rundown of the same key statistics as listed for the East above:

  1. The Western Conference lost no Stanley Cup Champions from a Playoff position at the G60 mark.
  2. As with the East, no Western teams made the Playoffs every season since The Last One. A core group of Calgary, Detroit, Nashville, San Jose and Vancouver all made it six times. This was not the historical case with the Canucks only making the Playoffs five times and Calgary, four.
  3. Every Western team made the Playoffs at least once at the G60 mark with Columbus and St. Louis holding the single tries. Historically, Edmonton holds the single appearance instead of St. Louis who has been twice. Where your Eastern average for numbers of times a team has made the post-season less than six times is 3.39, that number dips to 2.8 out West where the competition is closer.
  4. The same average of 1.14 new teams entering the Playoffs each year applies to the West just as it did in the East. The historical average is three teams, however, a difference between the two conferences of almost 1.5 teams. When you compare this fact to #3 above, you can see that, although there is Playoff team turnover, there remains a core of teams who dominate just enough to keep showing back up for play in most mid-April’s.
  5. On average there were 3.57 new matchup changes out of four for the West by the G60 mark. Again, there is no telling how this might have changed Stanley Cup Finals contenders, but chances are good considering the competitiveness in the West. On average, the 5th or 6th seed was supplanted although never lower than the 4th position. So in the West, pretty much every year you can count on the cream rising to the top that should be there anyway.
  6. The final average was one point’s difference between 8th and 9th place in the standings. Did we say the West was competitive?

As for the League as a whole, you can basically say a season of only 60 games this year would come out about like this:

Eastern Conference: New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston and Pittsburgh likely in with standings points between 85 and 74; Ottawa is likely in as well as Washington and/or Tampa Bay with points ranging between 74 and 67; historically, Buffalo, Montreal and the New York Rangers fight it out for the final one – to – two seeds in the 66 to 64 point range; but be mindful that anyone else – such as a Carolina, Toronto, Winnipeg or New York Islander team who is hot for about 40 of the 60 games can find their way into this shorter Playoff picture.

Western Conference: Detroit, Nashville, San Jose and Vancouver are likely in with standings points between 86 and 72; Los Angeles and Chicago are likely also in with points ranging between 74 and 70; that leaves Calgary, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota and Phoenix fighting it out for the remaining two seeds in the 70 – to 66 point range, and if history prevails, the Coyotes will be one team and the last will come from the other four listed; and sleepers include all of the rest of the conference as it is usually too close to call this Conference.

To be safe, teams should be shooting for 70 points / 35 wins (equivalent) / .583 to hit at least the 8th seed in a shortened, 60-game season.

Conclusion

If the tea leaves are what they seem to be, look for a 60-game NHL season this year beginning after Thanksgiving or in the first week of December. Take a look at the standings from last season and count on about one to two new teams per Conference to be present when the Playoffs roll around based on overall team health and the ability to be hot six times out of 10. And be prepared for surprises as they just may materialize in the 5th through 8th seeds.

Now all we need is the teams on the ice…

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