Tuesday, January 26, 2010

League Table Gazing

A Strange Fixation

As we settle down following round 12 of the goalie debate, the default is to look at the standings and decide what is on the horizon.

Last week, we were "out of the playoffs", teams had games in hand, there was little hope. This week, we're "in the playoffs", teams have played their extra games, things look up. Yet, the difference between last week and this was 2 wins and an OTL. Are you telling me the world has changed in 3 games?

The language of the standings

Can we please just inject a little bit of sanity to this daily discussion. Today Mike Boone tried to explain the connotations of every win-loss scenario that could occur this evening. In a bit of self-mockery, he once again called the game a 4-pointer. He's technically right. But then every game is a 4-pointer. If Florida loses every game after this one, then it's really only a two pointer for the Habs. That's because the playoffs don't begin tomorrow.

Since it is January, not April, I have some suggestions:

Not "in" or "out" of the playoffs

Can we not say the Habs are "in" or "out" every five minutes?

Let's clear something up. If the Habs lose tonight, they are not out of the playoffs. They are not in, if they win. All they do is increase their chances.

The standings are useful to remind inform us on wins that have happened, but they don't tell us much about the future. Just as they didn't tell us last week that St. Louis was a hotter opponent than the Devils.


Not every game has to define a season

A week ago, JT of The H Does Not... asked "What is this team playing for?". Today she's upping the drama for tonight's game by insinuating it will define a season. I know what she's getting at. We all talk about must wins, but let's try to learn from the lessons of a mere week ago: The season doesn't turn on a game.

Can we please relay the importance without looking for turning points as they happen, when nothing is turning, just continuing in the cycle of up and down.

This game means nothing more than next game or the game after that. All points count, but you only need to win half your games to make the playoffs. Losses are par for the course.


This year is not so special

"Oh, the playoffs have begun early this year." Actually, it's just the inane fretting that's begun early. Every season ends with a half dozen teams jostling for a couple of places. This season isn't so different. The big difference, so far as I can tell is that the West has dominated in interleague play and have brought about confusion as to what a good point total should be.


No one wins a tie break because they've played less games

There are established tie breaks, playing less games is not one of them. It would be more useful to discuss the real tie breaks, like season series, wins and goal differential. The Habs beat the Panthers, by the way, on each.


Playoff predictions

A fun website to keep an eye on, though not to worry too much about, at this time of year is Sports Club Stats. They use algorithms with goals scored and allowed, wins and losses and opponents to come up with a playoff probability. To give you an idea of how much sense this makes in January:



If you can find the Canadiens with the cursor, you'll see their past week has boosted their chances by 26% to make them the leading contender for 8th. The Rangers had the opposite week. To watch game-by-game at this point is a roller coaster ride. To make declarations based on a single game at this point makes little to no sense at all.

For your amusement, if the Canadiens do win tonight, the website says the Habs playoff chances will rise by about 8%. Down 8% if they lose. The Panthers see similar gains and losses. It's impressive, but guess what? Next game promises to have big implications too (maybe bigger), and the one after that, and the one after...

The Canadiens lowest probability of making the playoffs last season was about 83%. They made the playoffs, but on a tie break. The Hurricanes had a 21% chance of making the playoffs in January 2009, they played in the conference finals.


Frustrating as it may be, in the age of instant gratification, by all indications we'll probably have to wait for the games to be played before we can see who's in the playoffs, who holds the tie breaks, which games literally eliminate people from contention. The sooner we all realise that, the better.

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