On Goal Analysis (OGA) thought we would have a look at the 2013-14 schedules in terms of ‘Division Battles,’ or those periods where teams played a large percentage of games in a 10-game stretch against Division foes. Then we decided that is not holistic enough. So we gave you a redeaux of Eastern Conference Schedule Analysis in our first installment of “Over The Boards…” Now we follow up with a look at the Western Conference’s 2013-14 schedule difficulties.
Where will you favorite Western team have trouble this season? Did the scheduling bosses at NHL HQ screw them over? It may or may not seem like it, so we had to have an analytical look.
Below you will see the second of our two-part blog that assesses at The Western Conference’s schedules in 10-game furlongs, or what OGA measures the Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC) by. (If you have not been initiated to the PQC, it is a melting pot of statistical inputs that aids us in telling you an average of 90 days before the mathematical call who will and will not make it into the Playoffs with about 90% accuracy.) How difficult the schedule may be potentially tells us a lot of things.
To review, here are the three things we analyzed for an overall team negative schedule rating and how:
1. Average Days (to play each 10-game furlong). The Eastern Conference average is 24.375 days. Out West, the average is 24.25. For every game at 23 or less, the team got a -0.5 rating. For every day above 24, they got a +0.5. This assumes the average is normal, under it makes recovery more difficult, and more than average allows for better rested players.
2. Division Games (played each 10-game furlong). The Eastern Conference averages 3.75 games played within the division every 10-game stretch. For the Western Conference that number is 4.5. So the +/-0.5 per game standard is the same here as for Days for under/over four-in-10 games within the division respectively. This assumes these games are a bit more hard fought than others based on the division-centric Playoff format this season.
3. Back-2–Back (played each 10-game furlong). It is reasonable to assume any team can land at least one B2B pair of games each furlong. Teams are awarded a -0.5 rating for each pair more than one in a 10-game stretch, and a +0.5 if they had none. This assumes these games tend to hamper teams’ recovery regimens.
Below in the charts, you will also see some highlighting colors:
1. Dark Red blocks indicate the worst possible 10-game schedule stint in the Conference.
2. Pink indicates a team-worst 10-game schedule block.
3. Light Green indicates a team-best 10-game furlong.
4. And Dark Green blocks indicate the best possible 10-game spread in the Conference.
Without further ado…
The Central Division (Click on the chart to expand it for easier reading)
1. While not sporting the overall worst 10-game stretch in the West, Chicago has the most difficult overall schedule per the OGA criteria. Their -12 rating is barely better than New Jersey’s -13 for the worst in the East. And Blackhawk fan conspiracy theorists might say this is the NHL’s attempt to rob them of ‘Dynasty’ status. Ah, but wait one minute… You CAN take solace in the fact that when four of seven Central teams’ worst 10-game stretches occur in the Game 61 – 70 (G61 – G70) timeframe, Chicago is having their easiest stretch. The rest of the Central in order of hardest to easiest schedules are: Minnesota and Nashville at a -9.5; Dallas at -8; St. Louis and Winnipeg at -7.5; and Colorado at -3.5, the ‘easiest’ in the West.
2. St. Louis holds the worst possible, final 22-games to close out the season in the NHL with a total -6.5 rating. Health and character is what will see them through.
3. Colorado (G1–10), Minnesota (G11–20) and DAL (G51–60) all have a Western Conference best-possible 10-game stretch.
4. As a whole, the G51–60 run is best for Central Division teams. For the most part, this is due to the days of break for the 2014 Olympics for those who do not play, most games not being played within the Div and a relative lack of B2B games.
5. Team hardest runs are: Games 1 through 10 – Nashville; Games 11 through 20 – Winnipeg; and Games 21 through 30 – Chicago and Minnesota; Games 41 through 50 – Dallas; and Games 61 through 70 for Colorado, Dallas (again), Nashville (again) and St. Louis. Your favorite teams are likely to struggle a bit here.
6. The Central’s (and West’s) best team furlongs are indicated in Number 3 above. That said, the other, best runs are: Games 11 through 20 and Games 31 through 40 – Nashville (which just about makes the two, worst game runs an overall wash; Games 41 through 50 – Winnipeg; Games 51 through 60 – St. Louis; Games 61 through 70 – Chicago; and Games 71 through 82 – Winnipeg (again). These periods should be more conducive to victory. If not, then your team is facing any number of issues, with injuries being at the top of the list.
The Pacific Division
1. Overall, Vancouver lands the most difficult schedule in the Pacific Division under our criteria at a -11. This rating ties Carolina for the 4th most difficult 82 games in the season (behind New Jersey, Chicago and the Islanders). With the stigma of an out, really out, oh! wait! back in goaltender and a new, defensively oriented coach and system, this might just place the Canucks on the playoff bubble this season instead of the lock to show up that they have been the past several seasons.
2. The rest of the Pacific Division falls out after New Jersey in line of hardest to most favorable as follows: Los Angeles at -10; Anaheim at -9; Calgary and Edmonton both at -8.5; Phoenix at -6.5; and San Jose at -6.
3. Vancouver nets the most difficult 10-game stretch in the Game 41 – 50 timeframe with a -4 rating. This ties the same -4 rating for the Islanders and Detroit in the East. It is due to the Days, Div and B2B numbers all being out of whack against the Canucks. Christmas time and New Years may be a bit rough in B.C.
4. The best overall 10 games for Pacific teams is in the G31–40 period. During this timeframe, you could see more Pacific division teams than Central teams at the top of the Western standings. That does not mean it is how everything will end in early April, however.
5. Team hardest runs are: Games 1 through 10 – Calgary and Phoenix; Games 11 through 20 – San Jose; Games 31 through 40 – Edmonton; Games 41 through 50 – Anaheim, Edmonton (for the second furlong in a row and when the Oilers may find themselves eliminated if they do not push through), Phoenix and Vancouver (as previously mentioned); Games 51 through 60 – Los Angeles; Games 61 through 70 – Calgary again; and Games 71 through 82 – Edmonton (for a third time) and Los Angeles (again). Predictions here? Expect a shift in the standings in late January/early February tilted toward the Central division. Edmonton, as a bubble team anyway, needs a perfect storm of pox’s against their fellow Pacific teams and outstanding play on their part to make the playoffs this season. Los Angeles needs to be squirrels this year, storing up as many wins as they can before the Olympic break because their road to the playoffs afterwards will be fraught with hard times.
6. Team best runs are: Games 1 through 10 – Edmonton (giving the Oiler faithful some measure of false hope); Games 11 through 20 – Calgary; Games 21 through 30 – Phoenix; and Games 31 through 40 – Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Vancouver; Games 51 through 60 – Calgary (again) and San Jose; and Game 71 through 82 – Vancouver. San Jose, unless they implode, will make the playoffs again as the only team in the West to do so since the 2004-5 Lockout following Detroit’s departure to the East. In fact, we say at least four of the Western playoff teams come from the Pacific if not five.
So what did we learn, chronologically speaking, about the Western Conference this upcoming year?
1. Colorado and Edmonton fans’ teams may zoom right on out toward the top of the Western standings in the opening 10 games. The problem is, Colorado might remain as a bubble team at the end of the season, but Edmonton likely will not.
2. By late-November, Minnesota may be high in the rankings due to a schedule boost. It will remain to be seen how the finish out the season, however.
3. The standings are likely to sport more Pacific teams in the Top 8 than their Central brethren by the G40 (New Years-ish) mark, but the ship should right to a more even keel by the G60 (end-of-the-Olympics) timeframe.
4. Vancouver cannot afford to tube the G41–50 furlong despite how difficult that stretch will be.
5. Dallas may be looking (traditionally) good by the G60 mark (right after the Olympics) and then struggle in March. Many will say, ‘…Here we go again….’ But their final 12 games are more favorable. THAT is where their battleship is traditionally sunk. So making the playoffs this year will be a wait and see thing. (Just don’t get too wrapped up in March.)
6. February onward will be tough for Los Angeles. Their performance leading up to the Olympics (hopefully, around .650 Hockey) will dictate their ability to appear in the post-season.
7. And overall, will the conspiracy theorists say the NHL is out to get Chicago while trying to launch San Jose to the Stanley Cup finals? They are, after all, the bookends of hard and easy schedules this season. Again, we say, naaaah! – you have to play 82 games for that to be determined.
And that is the West and how the sked may influence your teams’ fortunes. Keep an eye out for the OGA analysis of the 2013-14 NHL season as the calendar progresses…