The National Hockey League deserves tremendous credit to create a culture where most teams (including delegations, coaching staff, and even their fans) believe they are in the playoffs for the most part of the season. The fact is a lot different.
One of the fascinating parts of NHL's regular series is how tough the level appears on the surface. Elite and terrible teams will become apparent at a very early stage, but in the middle of the pack always seems to be a confused mess. Consider conference competitions right now. There are nine groups in the east that are separated by four or less. There are eight teams left in the west, separated by four or less. Add to the fact that the drops are divided into the latest reorganization – at the end of the top three of the three best divisions in the three divisions – and you're still in a difficult situation.
But reality is completely different. So far, you have certainly heard of certain checkpoints or labels that the teams suggest to legitimize (or mitigate) their probability of falling potential. Some prefer to look at the team's position when the American Thanksgiving Day is rolled. Others wait to wait for Christmas. In many cases, we do not need so many games that we understand the fate of the team as it relates to the post-mix.
Even under the playoff system under the funky division, we have a very strong handle on the fate of the team with about 20 chips and possibly earlier. We do not need to perform complex simulations to understand the exact probabilities in different environments. We can simply use descriptive information for the 2013-14 season so that we can see how likely (or unlikely) the team reaches the postseason based on their performance on any number of games.
Below is a table showing a drop potential in the pace of a point and in playing games. As you can see, the probabilities are very obvious, but pay special attention here. The ugly beginnings are not easily overcome. The white-hot start is generally very encouraging as it is linked to the playoffs offer. The reason is double: Bank points are very valuable, and even a simple action such as a win / loss record tells quite well about the team's ability and ability to continue winning during the rest of the season.
Here's what the information looks like:
You can have these three buckets – teams with 0-25 percent chance to play at any time, teams with 25-75% chance to play at any time, and teams with 75 to 100 percent chance to play. Interesting to me is that models and trends based on historical data for a few years are very predictable.
But keep this in the NHL rating when sitting on Saturday's games books. Effectively each team is in the 30-35 game table so we have to have a very strong feel about which teams are likely to be out, which teams are likely to be involved and which teams are in the bubble.
Using the range and probabilities of our points based on historical data, we can already call six teams (from Ottawa to Los Angeles) because it is highly unlikely to make a playoff game. The other four teams (from Vancouver to Arizona) could join in the next five pairs as they are already sitting at the bottom of copper. At the other end of the spectrum, at least 7 teams (from Tampa Bay to Buffalo) appear to be locks to play, and Colorado can join them in just a few days.
The thing is, do not be scared by shocking investments. If involved in Colorado, half of the playoffs seem to have been reasonably decided. This means that 13 teams compete for the last eight points. It is still an incredible breed and it is impossible to predict how this segment evolves over time, but separating who really is in this playoff is important – especially if you are at the bottom of the general manager table and believe your team can be alive.
Listen frequently or read things like "the team is just a couple of wins back to the playroom", which certainly means the team is in the playoffs. Teams may even make aggressive, buy-on decisions to drive these two wins. But the fact is that the team is not just two wins away from the drop point. NHL has 30 other teams playing each other daily and at least two points that are guaranteed to be targeted each time the final whistle falls.
So, which seems easy to remove, is really quite difficult because the upcoming teams will continue to grab the points according to the schedule.