Now that all sixteen berths in the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs have been clinched, I think now is an appropriate time to introduce some research I did earlier in the year.
Basically, I wanted to know how often a team that sat in a playoff spot after 48 games also sat in a playoff spot after 82 games. What I did to try and determine this is go back over the last four seasons (excluding this one) to see where a team sat in the standings after 48 games, and compared that to where they sat after 82 games as well. A fair criticism of this study would be to say that in an 82 game season, not every team reaches 48 games played at the same time. This leads to some variability, in that while one team may be playing their 48th game they may be playing a team in their 50th game, which clouds the accuracy of how many points a team would really have if they all finished with 48 games at the same time. I am not denying this at all. That is a just criticism of this research. However, generally speaking, what I'm about to show you serves more as a rough benchmark as to where teams sat after 48 games in previous years. I would also point out that the 2 or 3 point difference for some teams that may occur given the variability in games played would not be the difference between making and missing the playoffs for most teams.
For the tables I'm about to show you, the team name is a self-explanatory heading. Record, Points, and GD (Goal Differential) are, again, rough numbers of where a team was after 48 games in that season. The A82 (After 82) heading means the seed that a team actually finished in after having played all 82 games in that season. The teams highlighted in green are the ones that made the playoffs at the end of the full regular season, and the teams highlighted in red are the ones that missed the playoffs at the end of the full regular season. In these tables, obviously, teams ranked 1-8 in their conference would have made the playoffs after 48 games and the teams ranked 9-15 would not have. I also did account for seeding based on winning your division so don't worry about that.
The seeding is also rough in that when you go back and look at the NHL standings mid-season, they don't tell you ROW (Regular or Overtime Wins, the #1 tiebreaker in the NHL today), and head-to-head records aren't state but are sometimes implied (by one team being ahead of another in the standings despite a superior goal differential, for example). Again, my seeding for tiebreaking wasn't perfect here but I did the best I could. So, take all of this with a grain of salt.
Without further ado, here are my findings:
2008-2009 NHL Regular Season
Notes: -6 out of 8 teams in the Eastern Conference that made the playoffs after 82 games would have after 48 games. 4 out of 8 in the West. 10 out of 16 overall (62.5%).
-Pittsburgh and Carolina, the two teams not sitting in a playoff spot in the East after 48 games, made the playoffs after the full season and went on to both make the Eastern Conference Finals (Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup).
-St. Louis went on quite a run, going from 15th after 48 games to 6th after 82.
2009-2010 NHL Regular Season
-Montreal, the one team that would not have made the playoffs in the East after 48 games, made the Eastern Conference Finals after making the playoffs after 82 games and beating Washington and Pittsburgh as an 8 seed.
2010-2011 NHL Regular Season
Notes: 7 out of 8 teams that would have made the playoffs after 48 games made the playoffs after 82 games. 6 out of 8 in the West. 13 out of 16 overall (81.25%).
-San Jose, who would not have made the playoffs after 48 games, made the Western Conference Finals after finding a way to win their division.
2011-2012 NHL Regular Season:
Notes: -All 8 teams that would've made the playoffs after 48 games in the East last season made the playoffs after 82 games. 7 out of 8 in the West. 15 out of 16 overall (93.75%).
-Phoenix, who would've finished 12th in the West after 48 games, won their division and made the Western Conference Finals.
I think there are three main points I would take away from this research:
- Over the 4 seasons I looked at, a total of 52 teams that sat in a playoff spot after 48 games made the playoffs after 82 games. That is out of 64 teams, making it 81.25%. While the number seems to vary slightly from year to year, I would say that generally speaking, if your team sits in a playoff spot after 48 games, there is at least a 75% chance that you will make the playoffs. That means that for this shortened season, we probably would've seen 4 teams (at most) sitting in a playoff spot fall out of it.
- In every season I examined, there was at least 1 team that wasn't sitting in a playoff spot after 48 games that made it after 82 games that ended up going to the Conference Finals or further. While the lockout may screw with that trend this season and realignment may screw with that trend in the future, its interesting to examine the teams that ultimately end up playing great hockey for their final 34 games of the season and how that can correlate to playoff success as well.
- The number of teams that kept the exact same seed after 48 games and 82 games is so small that I won't even bother calculating it. But its definitely small. Ultimately, I think that while the chance of making the playoffs after 82 games if you sit in a spot after 48 games is very high, the chance of keeping the exact same seed is very small (whether you sit in a playoff spot or not). This doesn't come as any real surprise given the impact an extra 34 games for 30 different teams would have on their point percentage.