Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Out of the playoffs in November?

As play resumed in the WHL on Tuesday, the Calgary Hitmen and Lethbridge Hurricanes were five points out of the Eastern Conference’s last playoff spot.
Is it already too late? One might think not so, at least not this early into the season. After all, the Hitmen had played seven games, the Hurricanes 12.
However, with the advent of the three-point game, it would seem that conventional thinking is beginning to change.
Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada leads his weekly blog entry with thoughts on the subject.
Friedman begins:
A few years ago, I was chatting with a GM about a team that started the NHL season very nicely.
"I believe in the 10-game rule," he snorted. "You don't get a true sense of a team in the first 10 games. I don't put too much into a hot or cold start."
Well, he's modified that stance — slightly.
"With the three-point games, teams can't win the Stanley Cup in the first 10 games of the season," he said. "But they sure can lose it that quickly."
Friedman then spent some time working with the NHL standings in seasons since the lockout. What he learned is frightful if you’re on a team that falls too far off the pace in the early going.
He used Nov. 1 as the cutoff date and discovered that if a team is more than three points out of a playoff spot at that point the chances are slim that it will make up the lost ground.
Two teams were able to do it; 27 others failed. That’s right . . . 27!
“The Buffalo Sabres were four points in arrears on Nov. 1, 2011,” Friedman writes. “But that's absolutely cozy compared to the Calgary Flames, who were seven back on Nov. 1, 2007. Those recoveries are impressive, considering 27 other clubs failed to make the playoffs in the past six seasons when falling four points behind by that date.
“So, that's something to keep an eye on. If your team is two wins out of the playoffs at the beginning of November, the three-point games give it a seven per cent chance of recovery.”
Friedman’s weekly piece — and it should be a must visit for hockey fans — is right here.
For what it’s worth, I went back to the WHL standings over the last four seasons to see what was what as of Nov. 1. Yes, it is a small sample size, but that is as long as the present playoff format has been in play.
Over those four seasons, 12 teams were at least four points out of a playoff spot on Nov. 1. Only two — the Spokane Chiefs and Kelowna Rockets, both last season — were able to climb out of the hole and qualify for the playoffs.
Last season, on Nov. 1, Spokane was four points and Kelowna six out of eighth place in the Western Conference.
On Nov. 1, 2007, there were four teams at least four points back — Portland in the Western Conference; Prince Albert, Red Deer and Saskatoon in Eastern Conference. Not one of those four teams qualified for postseason play.
It will be interesting to see what the standings look like on Nov. 1 of this year and then to look back at season’s end and see what’s what.
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