Sunday, March 23, 2008

Making Sense of the Playoff Picture

If you have been following along I have been providing what I call a baseline analysis every Monday. But it is no longer required with so few games left. The latest standings provide an excellent idea of where the teams will stand at the end of the season.

That said, comparing the latest baseline values to those previous give a good idea of which teams are moving and in what direction. Of the teams near the top the Canadiens and Penguins have been steadily improving and are more or less tied for first. The Devils have faltered this week. The Senators have been remarkably consistent, motoring along playing .500 hockey.

The Leafs and Panthers have been the big upward movers. The Rangers and Flyers have inched up, while the Bruins have inched downward. The Sabres have held steady.

Here is how the eastern conference playoff picture looks on Monday, March 24:

PIT 0-6, 106
MON 0-6, 107
CAR 0-6, 99
NJD 1-6, 105
OTT 1-6, 103
NYR 3-4, 102
BOS 5-2,98
PHI 4-2, 98
WAS 6-0, 94
BUF 6-1, 95
TOR 6-0, 92
FLA 6-0, 93

The second item is how many games each team requires to make the 94 point playoff target. Although a team may make the eighth spot with fewer points, it is fairly safe to assume that if a team makes 94 points they will very likely make the playoffs.

The third item is the total number of points available should the team win all their remaining games.

Looking at the data we can see that the top seed in the conference is still up for grabs among the Canadiens, Penguins and Devils. All we can say with certainty is that these teams will be the 1, 2, and 4 seeds.

It is very unlikely that the Caps will catch the Canes for the top spot in the southeastern conference (and 3rd seed).

The Sens only need to win one of their remaining games to make the playoffs. The Rangers have done well enough that they only have to win 3 of their remaining 7.

At the bottom the Lightening and Thrashers are out of it, and it is safe to say that the Islanders and Leafs are such long shots that they are out of it too.

That leaves a 4-team logjam for the bottom two playoff slots: the Bruins, Flyers, Capitols and Sabres. Any two of these teams can make the playoffs. The Bruins and Flyers have a slim advantage and the Sabres are in a slightly better position than the Caps. For what it's worth, in the critical last four weeks the Flyers and Caps have been moving up, the Bruins have been sliding, and the Sabres have held steady. If that trend continues the Flyers will end up in 7th and the Bruins should edge the Caps for 8th, but all it would take would be a hot or cold streak by any of these teams...

Now down to the Bruins. Not making the playoffs would be easy: all they would have to do is lose their seven remaining games. To ensure they make the playoffs a 5-2 record would work nicely. Otherwise there is a simple rule of thumb: in order to steal the Bruins playoff spot, the Caps or Sabres need to win at least one more game than the Bruins. For example, if the Bruins win only 3 games, they may well find themselves out of the playoff picture should the Caps or Sabres win 4.

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