Benmocha: Playoff Predictions – A Game Of Advantages And Disadvantages

by David Benmocha | Posted on Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

 

playoffs-logo-2014

Two months into the season and rumors are brewing of trades and firings. Todd McLellan, coach of the San Jose Sharks, has been on the hot seat since last season when his team had a 3-0 series advantage then lost to the Los Angeles Kings in four straight games. In his first 24 games of this season, his team is 10-10-4, which is not the team record that management was hoping for when they gave him a second chance. Considering most have already made their own predictions, what are the factors one must look at to understand the ratings and make predictions with clear insight?

By now all of the teams have played at least 24 games, which is the equivalent to the average team that makes it to the Stanley Cup finals. At 24 games, the sample size is now large enough to evaluate each team’s strengths and weaknesses without one game dramatically altering the assessment. The NHL season is 82 games and since the season is long and vigorous, we must break up 82 games into quarters of 24 games, 22 games, 20 games and 16 games.

The reasoning for these varied sample sizes is to assess both the start and finish more accurately. The start of 24 games gives us the largest pool to offset poor performances. The finish is the final 16 games, which provides an analysis of the momentum and vigor leading to the playoffs. This allows for the two sections in the middle to display the team’s resilience in the midst of a long season.

Realistically, a NHL team can only move forward in this structure if they are winning more than half (13 wins) of their games and moves backwards if they lose more than half (11 wins or less) of their games. Teams that win exactly 50% (12 games) earned a chance to restart and gain ground on their opponents for a playoff spot. This breakdown is not unique, and decision makers have always presumed their teams’ expectations for the rest of the season around Thanksgiving. What does become unique is the way in which one imposes value on a team’s record.

In the 2004-2005 lockouts, the NHL dismissed ties. Instead they awarded shootouts and overtime losses to be one point. Team records are now recorded in this order; Wins, losses and shootout or overtime losses. A win gives a team two points, a loss counts for zero points and a shootout or overtime loss awards one point. This system is deceiving and problematic. For an example, last year the Washington Capitals anticipated making the playoffs with a 38-30-14 record. This record demonstrates a great team winning eight games over 50% and gaining ground on their opponents. In reality, their record was 38-44, putting them six games under a 50% win percentage.

Teams are continually pursuing the playoffs and 16 teams out of the 30 will gain entrance. In other words, teams that win 50% of their games will be playoff teams with the addition of one team under a 50% win percentage in the mix. The altercation of perspective on records provides a more accurate analysis for General Managers and decision makers to consider when deciding to trade, sign or release players onto the open market.

There is an easy method to understanding this concept by readjusting team records strictly into Win/Loss categories and compiling nine years of data since the last NHL lockout. I have grouped teams by their win percentage and by the number of total wins. The categories are Tier 1 for teams with 16 wins or more, Tier 2 for teams with 13-15 wins, Restart for teams with exactly 12 wins, Tier 3 for teams with 8-11 wins and Tier 4 for teams with 7 or less wins.

Methodology:

  1. Combined OTL/ SO record with losses
  2. Compiled Win/Loss records for all 30 teams for the past nine years (since lockout)
  3. Classified Teams by their number of wins over a span of 24 games
  4. Cross-referenced classifications by playoff success in the same year (Nine years of data)
  5. Evaluated playoff eligibility by classifications

Playoff Layout:

No playoffs: 14 teams

First round:  16 teams

Second round:  Eight teams

Third round:  Four teams

Fourth round:  Two teams

Stanley Cup Winner

Stanley Cup Finalist

Tier 1

Teams that reach 16 wins or more in a 24 game sample size have a winning percentage that is 66.66% or higher. Teams that win 2/3rd or more of their games have a 96.87% probability of making the playoffs in the past nine years.

Tier1

Distance to the Cup (Teams lost)

Round 1:  Conference Quarter Finals: 43.75%

Round 2:  Conference Semi Finals: 25.00%

Round 3:  Conference Finals: 9.37%

Round 4:  Stanley Cup Finals: 21.87%

Above is an indication of Tier 1 teams’ success in the playoffs. Of the 96.87% of Tier 1 teams who make the playoffs; 43.75% of them lose in the first round. 25.00% of those teams lose in the second round, 9.37% lose in the third round and 21.87% of teams make it to the fourth round; Stanley Cup Finals.

Tier 2

Teams that win 13-15 games in the same 24 game sample sizes are grouped under Tier 2. These teams have a win percentage of 54.16%, 58.33% and 62.50%. Teams in this category have a 74.72% probability of making the playoffs. Setting themselves up for at least a first round exit in the playoffs.

Tier2

 

 

 

 

 

Results of the 74.72% of teams who make the playoffs

Round 1:  Conference Quarter Finals: 51.47%

Round 2:  Conference Semi Finals: 23.52%

Round 3:  Conference Finals: 16.17%

Round 4:  Stanley Cup Finals: 8.82%

Above is an indication of Tier 2 teams’ success in the playoffs. Of the 74.72% of Tier 2 teams who make the playoffs; 51.47% of them lose in the first round. 23.52% of those teams lose in the second round, 16.17% lose in the third round, and 8.82% of teams make it to the fourthh round; Stanley Cup Finals.

Restart

Teams that win exactly 50% of their games, which represents 12 wins, are grouped under Restart. These teams have not gained ground nor lost ground. Teams in this category have a 55.88% probability of making the playoffs.

Restart

 

 

Results of the 55.88% of teams who make the playoffs

Round 1:  Conference Quarter Finals: 42.50%

Round 2:  Conference Semi Finals: 31.57%

Round 3:  Conference Finals: 10.52%

Round 4:  Stanley Cup Finals: 15.78%

Above is an indication of Restart teams’ success in the playoffs. Of the 55.88% of Restart teams who make the playoffs; 42.50% of them lose in the first round. 31.57% of those teams lose in the second round, 10.52% lose in the third round and 15.78% of teams make it to the fourth round; Stanley Cup Finals.

Tier 3

Teams that win 8-11 games in the 24 game sample sizes have respective winning percentages of 33.33%, 37.50%, 41.66% and 45.83%.  Tier 3 teams have a 26.59% probability of making the playoffs.

Tier3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Results of the 26.59% of teams who make the playoffs

Round 1:  Conference Quarter Finals: 56.00%

Round 2:  Conference Semi Finals: 24.00%

Round 3:  Conference Finals: 12.00%

Round 4:  Stanley Cup Finals: 8.00%

Above is an indication of Tier 3 teams’ success in the playoffs. Of the 26.59% of Tier 3 teams who make the playoffs; 56.00% of them lose in the first round. 24.00% of those teams lose in the second round, 12.00% lose in the third round and 8.00% of teams make it to the fourth round; Stanley Cup Finals.

Tier 4

Teams that won seven games or less in 24 games are in the Tier 4 group. This group contains teams that will not make the playoffs because of their low win percentage and their inability to end losing streaks in the first 24 games of the season. In the past nine years, there has yet to be a team that sneaks into the playoffs with a win percentage of 30% or lower. The reason why this is infeasible is due to increased level of competition in the NHL. Since the lockout, there is a narrower gap between teams just a little over .500, at .500 and a little under .500 that drives competition up and increases the intensity of a tight race down to the last game of the season.

Tier4

 

 

 

What does this mean for the Tampa Bay Lightning?

Prediction

Teams in the Tier 1 category have affirmed and attested a spot for the playoffs proving their elite record and quality of hockey the first 24 games of the season. Teams in Tier 2 have put themselves in an honorable position to make the playoffs, but there will be a few teams depreciating from their category as the season goes on. Teams in Restart have been mediocre and have not played to their potential as of yet. Out of 3-4 teams, two are likely to emerge and be contenders in the playoffs. Teams in Tier 3 will have a significant challenge to overcome a poor start to the season, but still have potential to make the playoffs. Out of 10-11 teams, there will be 2 or 3 teams that will increase their level of play and squeeze into the playoffs. Teams in Tier 4 will be eliminated from contention and should start looking to rebuild their organization from the top down.

Threats

The biggest threats to the Tampa Bay Lightning are the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadians and Detroit Red Wings. Over the past nine years, each team has moved past the first round of the playoffs at least three times. While Detroit and Boston each won a Stanley Cup and made it past the first round at least five times. These three teams have a lengthy and notorious history for success in the playoffs. While the Bolts and Canadians have emerged with the advantage of being a 16 game winner out of the first 24 games, Boston and Detroit do not trail far behind with 14 wins. As the season progresses, watch for these teams to play against one another; the winner will gain a significant advantage for a win plus a win against a direct competitor for entry into the playoffs carrying more weight and value to the results.

Advantage

The Tampa Bay Lightning join the elite group of Montreal Canadians, New York Islanders, Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues as the only teams with 16 wins or more. Tier 1 category gives a team the best chance at going deep into the playoffs, allowing for mistakes to be forgiven. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s team record has provided barriers for other teams to secure a spot in the playoffs. As the Bolts strive for a successful season, it is important to note that the season is not over. The probabilities are high and favored, but it will be the process of winning games that the organization will focus their energy on. The results are a product of the Lightning’s resilience, energy, focus and determination that will show at the end of the season. As the season goes along, it is crucial that the bolts stay above .500 win percentage at each checkpoint till the end of the season to ensure their postseason success. The next sample size will be 22 games, bringing the total game played to 46 games of data. The more games the team plays, the more the data will tell.

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David Benmocha
About the Author

Writer, David Benmocha, attended South Kent Prep School and graduated from Manhattanville College with a degree in Finance. He is involved with the Tampa Elite Hockey Club and takes classes at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Biostatistics. He is interested in sports history and predictive analytics. His goal is to be the GM of a sports franchise.

Displaying 9 Comments
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  1. ITMAN says:

    Very interesting read. Can’t wait to see if the percentages prove out. One thing for sure, the Bolts are set up very well…so far.

  2. Jake says:

    I look forward to your columns covering the next 22, 20 and 16 games.

    • David Benmocha David Benmocha says:

      Thank you. I really appreciate all my readers and critics alike. Feel free to comment and expand the conversation.

  3. Big Kahuna says:

    Are there any recent examples of teams that bucked the trend and made the playoffs after having a dismal first 24 games?

    • David Benmocha David Benmocha says:

      There were plenty of teams that were under 50% win percentage that went far in the playoffs. To highlight a few since 2005:

      2005-2006
      Anaheim Ducks went 9-15 = Lost in Conference Finals
      San Jose Sharks went 8-16 = Lost in Conference Semi Finals

      2006-2007
      Ottawa Senators went 11-13 = Lost in Stanley Cup Finals
      Pittsburgh Penguins went 11-13 = Lost in Conference Quarter Finals

      2007-2008
      Anaheim Ducks went 11-13 = Lost in Conference Finals
      Washington Capitals went 8-16 = Lost in Conference Quarter Finals

      2008-2009
      Chicago Blackhawks went 11-13 = Lost in Conference Finals
      Columbus Blue Jackets went 11-13 = Lost in Conference Quarter Finals
      St Louis Blues went 9-15 = Lost in Conference Quarter Finals

      2009-2010
      Detroit Red Wings went 11-13 = Lost in Conference Semi Finals

      2010- 2011
      Anaheim Ducks went 10-14 = Lost in Conference Quarter Finals
      Buffalo Sabres went 9-15 = Lost in Conference Quarter Finals
      Chicago Blackhawks went 11-13 = Lost in Conference Quarter Finals
      Nashville Predators went 11-13 = Lost in Conference Semi Finals

      2011-2012
      Nashville Predators went 11-13 = Lost in Conference Semi Finals

      2012-2013
      New York Rangers went 10-14 = Lost in Conference Quarter Finals
      San Jose Sharks went 11-13 = Lost in Conference Semi Finals
      Vancouver Canucks went 10-4 = Lost in Conference Quarter Finals
      Washington Capitals went 10-14 = Lost in Conference Quarter Finals

      2013-2014
      Columbus Blue Jackets went 9-15 = Lost in Conference Quarter Finals
      Detroit Red Wings went 10-14 = Lost in Conference Quarter Finals
      Philadelphia Flyers went 10-14 = Lost in Conference Quarter Finals

      As you can see, there are teams from Tier 3 that make the playoffs but it is very difficult to do so. Also, teams that do make the playoffs from Tier 3 generally do not go very deep into the playoffs because of the increase of competition since the new rule changes.

  4. Tony V says:

    Just wondering, if you take the numbers back further than nine years, do you think they would be much different?

    • David Benmocha David Benmocha says:

      I believe the numbers would indicate the competitiveness of rivalries during the particular era that is researched. The NHL in the old days was dominated by the same teams year after year accumulating the golden era. Franchises that dominate their generation such as the Edmonton Oilers in the 80’s, Montreal Canadiens in the 70’s and 80’s, and even the Detroit Red Wings currently from the 90’s and 2000’s success all play a role in understanding organization sustainability. Much of the recent rule changes have been with the intention to increase speed, skill, scoring. Through their successes, I am noticing an increase of competition between the teams in tier 2, restart and tier 3. Because of this increased competition there is a smaller probability of a team in Tier 3 making the playoffs thus creating a bigger advantage for having a winning record in the first 24 games of the season. There are also more different teams fighting for playoff contention than in previous years.

      What is unique about 9 year period is that the NHL finally stopped recording ties after the 2004-2005 lockout. This small change has created a large impact in how teams are ranked with the implementation of Overtime losses and shootout losses being awarded 1 point. The value of a win in the entertainment business, such as sports, is only as value as the participants and the environment/location of the celebrated win. Fans desire high levels of entertainment with the 50% chance of celebrating at the end of the night. Increasing scoring opportunities and providing a more entertaining game is where the NHL is moving towards with 3 vs. 3 hockey after regulation time has expired. The league is in the midst of testing these concepts now in the minor leagues.

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