Aug 262011
 

Sure the NHL schedule officially begins in October, and training camps start in September. But for hockey fans, the season truly begins in August.

August is when hockey season preview magazines hit the store racks. This is a fan’s first indication of what the experts think is in store for the coming season.

If you’re a lucky fan, your franchise is predicted to make the playoffs. If you are truly lucky, your team is considered Stanley Cup contenders.

Which brings us to this year’s Sports Forecaster Hockey Yearbook.

The yearbook predicts the following standings for the 2011-12 season:

EastWest
1. Washington Capitals1. Chicago Blackhawks
2. Boston Bruins2. San Jose Sharks
3. Philadelphia Flyers3. Vancouver Canucks
4. Pittsburgh Penguins4. Nashville Predators
5. New York Rangers5. St. Louis Blues
6. Montreal Canadiens6. Detroit Red Wings
7. Buffalo Sabres7. Los Angeles Kings
8. Tampa Bay Lightning8. Anaheim Ducks
9. New York Islanders9. Calgary Flames
10. New Jersey Devils10. Edmonton Oilers
11. Toronto Maple Leafs11. Columbus Blue Jackets
12. Carolina Hurricanes12. Colorado Avalanche
13. Winnipeg Jets13. Minnesota Wild
14. Ottawa Senators14. Phoenix Coyotes
15. Florida Panthers15. Dallas Stars

What’s striking about the above list is how little has changed from last year. According to the magazine, the only new team to make the playoffs in 2011-12 will be the St. Louis Blues.

Huh?

This rather boring news led me to look at NHL standings since the league adopted a conference approach in 2000-01. Had the playoff teams, from year-to-year, been rather stable?

The answer, quite emphatically, was no.

Year2010-112009-102008-092007-082006-052003-042002-032001-022000-01
New playoff teams from the previous season – East22143123Start of Conference Standings
New playoff teams from the previous season – West14412342

Conclusion: unless we’re about to head into the most boring regular season of the past ten years, it looks like The Sports Forecaster’s standings are way out of whack.

***

This research did raise another question though – what is the predictability of year-to-year standings?

Using the 2000-01 season as a starting point, I examined how each team, based on their seeding the previous year, did in the standings the following year. Here’s the breakdown (and if rows of numbers scare you, there are highlights written beneath the charts):

Finished1st2nd3rd4th5th6th7th8th9th10th11th12th13th14th15th
1st540122120100000
2nd401422110020100
3rd231110113110021
4th123421221000000
5th132110311201101
6th023031102121011
7th121120202211012
8th101201231212200
9th101104031021211
10th202100200332030
11th011110114212201
12th000024003022122
13th001101220213113
14th011002000002723
15th000021010221243

So what’s the conclusion?

FinishedPlayoffsNon-PlayoffImprovedWorse offRepeated Position
1st94.44%5.56%0.00%72.22%27.78%
2nd83.33%16.67%22.22%77.78%0.00%
3rd55.56%44.44%27.78%66.67%5.56%
4th94.44%5.56%33.33%44.44%22.22%
5th66.67%33.33%38.89%55.56%5.56%
6th55.56%44.44%44.44%50.00%5.56%
7th50.00%50.00%38.89%50.00%11.11%
8th55.56%44.44%38.89%44.44%16.67%
9th55.56%44.44%55.56%38.89%5.56%
10th38.89%61.11%38.89%44.44%16.67%
11th33.33%66.67%66.67%27.78%5.56%
12th33.33%66.67%61.11%27.78%11.11%
13th38.89%61.11%72.22%22.22%5.56%
14th22.22%77.78%72.22%16.67%11.11%
15th22.22%77.78%83.33%0.00%16.67%

Even though the league promotes parity, there are certain trends year-to-year as to which seeds do and do not make the playoffs.

Using last year’s standings, how do these trends apply to the upcoming 2011-12 season?

  • In terms of making the playoffs the following season, the safest best are those teams that placed first or fourth in their respective conferences (2010-11 examples: Washington, Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Anaheim). They not only make the playoffs (again) the most, but they are the teams most likely to repeat their seeding the following season.
  • The second seed in each conference has never repeated as the second seed the following year. Good luck San Jose and Philadelphia.
  • The most likely playoff team from the previous season to improve its position the following season is the sixth seed (2010-11 examples: Montreal, Phoenix). Hard to believe the Coyotes will continue this trend this year.
  • Purely based on history, Carolina and Dallas (as the 9th seeds last year) have a better chance of making the playoffs than Buffalo and Los Angeles (as the 7th seeds last year). This trend looks sure to be broken in 2011-12, with Dallas having lost Brad Richards and Carolina likely icing a very young team. However, if you’re fans of Buffalo or Los Angeles, permission granted to throw up in your mouth a bit.
  • Sadly for Toronto Maple Leaf fans (or fans of any team that was the 10th-15th seed in their respective conference standings), while non-playoff teams usually improve their records from year-to-year, they’re still looking at less than a 40% chance of making the playoffs.
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