Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Playoffs? You want to talk about Playoffs?

It was an interesting card that Tom Renney played recently.
"It won't surprise me when we make the playoffs. It won't," Renney told reporters. "The biggest surprise of all might be if we don't.
"Just because I know how deep the care is. I know how willing they are to be coached. How proud they are, quite honestly, to be here doing this in Edmonton. That's the hard part about losing.
"The masses don't get an appreciation for how badly out guys want to do well and win and be a playoff team. When they have those tough nights, and there's more to come, we all know that, it's tough."
Some very bold words indeed. Unfortunately our job is to mate those words with the cold, hard icy world of reality and this is where things simply don't seem to make sense.

There is a great tool out there already that tackles the job of estimating (in a coarse way mind you) the probability of a team reaching the Let's-Make-Our-Owner-Some-Bling knockout stage of the season. It's the website Sports Club Stats and the site owner actually does a very good job explaining how it works. The Cliff Notes version basically takes the current league (and their current points and standings), and flips a coin for every game, with the coin being weighted towards teams with better records and/or home advantage. Do this enough times and you start seeing the statistical trends. The site owner, Ken Roberts, freely admits that the weighting of the 'coin' does not take into account things like team injuries, sprinkling jock-straps with powdered unicorn spleen, or Bruce Boudreau's incredibly high ratio of F-word to PG vocabulary.

After all that nebulous processing takes place what you have left with is millions of possibilities, and the percentage of those that place your team in the post season. The Oilers magic number right this second is 2.5%. Simply put in 45 million simulated runs of the remaining 51 games of the season, approximately 2.5% of those scenarios had the Oilers making the playoffs.

Further analysis after the hop.

The simulation also lists the kinds of numbers that would be expected to place the Oilers in the range of having a solid statistical shot at being a team with a berth. The first point total that has the Oilers in more playoff scenarios then not is if the Oilers go 29-16-6, a .627 winning percentage. For a frame of reference I did a quick check on post-lockout average cut-offs, and found that the east's average cut-off was 91.8 and the west's was 93.6. Two of the past five seasons in the west you would have gotten in with 93 so it's certainly in the realm of reason.

What is not reasonable is the .627 winning percentage (extra time losses worth half a win) over 51 games (62% of the schedule). Extrapolate that over a full season and you are looking at a shade over 51 win seasons. The last three seasons we've had 6, 6, and 3 teams play over that winning percentage by season end. So roughly speaking the top 5 teams play that well over the full schedule - and no one is mistaking the Oilers for a top 5 team.

I don't think that Renney, or the team, really cares about stats but you cannot ignore what is staring you right in the face. Here's something to chew on: of all the teams who have played as well (or better) than the Oilers in the last 10 games every single one of them is currently in a playoff spot.

I will end with the fact that I'm not saying give up hope. If the Oilers could somehow rattle off 8 of the next 10 (or 16 points anyway you slice it), we would pull ourselves up into a half-point pace that would be scraping the bottom of the 8th spot (~90 pts).  Throw in a couple heroic 4 pt games near the end of the season and it might just be possible. Get that young core into the mix down to the wire and maybe Renney's words will seem more prophetic than ludicrous.

In other words we need to start winning RIGHT NOW. Just need to have a little


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