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:
|1. Washington Capitals||1. Chicago Blackhawks|
|2. Boston Bruins||2. San Jose Sharks|
|3. Philadelphia Flyers||3. Vancouver Canucks|
|4. Pittsburgh Penguins||4. Nashville Predators|
|5. New York Rangers||5. St. Louis Blues|
|6. Montreal Canadiens||6. Detroit Red Wings|
|7. Buffalo Sabres||7. Los Angeles Kings|
|8. Tampa Bay Lightning||8. Anaheim Ducks|
|9. New York Islanders||9. Calgary Flames|
|10. New Jersey Devils||10. Edmonton Oilers|
|11. Toronto Maple Leafs||11. Columbus Blue Jackets|
|12. Carolina Hurricanes||12. Colorado Avalanche|
|13. Winnipeg Jets||13. Minnesota Wild|
|14. Ottawa Senators||14. Phoenix Coyotes|
|15. Florida Panthers||15. 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.
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.
|New playoff teams from the previous season – East||2||2||1||4||3||1||2||3||Start of Conference Standings|
|New playoff teams from the previous season – West||1||4||4||1||2||3||4||2|
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):
So what’s the conclusion?
|Finished||Playoffs||Non-Playoff||Improved||Worse off||Repeated Position|
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.