Calgary’s Playoff Probability

Robert Vollman
January 30 2012 12:25PM

 

 

What are the chances Calgary makes the post-season this year?  Depending on your level of optimism, it’s statistically somewhere between 17% and 30%.

Five spots are arguably effectively sewn up (by Detroit, St. Louis, Vancouver, Chicago and San Jose) two more which are Los Angeles and Nashville’s to lose, and one likely up for grabs for any of Minnesota, Colorado, Phoenix, Dallas and yes, the Calgary Flames.  From this you might estimate Calgary’s probability of making the post-season at a maximum of 20%.

The optimistic fans might remember that Calgary bagged 42 points in their final 32 games last year, a pace that would leave them with 94 points and most assuredly a post-season position if repeated this year.

42 points isn’t entirely unrealistic when you consider that 19 of their remaining 32 games are at home rather than the road where they are arguably the league’s worst team (in terms of close game possession numbers).  Furthermore, only 2 or 3 of their remaining 13 road games are against legitimate play-off teams (Vancouver, San Jose and Los Angeles) – and the beatable Sharks have actually lost twice to the lowly Anaheim Ducks at home.

Pessimism

Some back-of-the-envelope math would normally give Calgary 20.7 points at home and 11.1 on the road for 31.8 points the rest of the way, but once we account for the relative weakness of the teams being played, a completely average team would earn 21.8 points at home, and 13.6 on the road for 35.4 points the rest of the way.

If Calgary can secure 35 points, as an NHL average team would, that would give them 87 points on the season. Interestingly that’s exactly where Hockey-Reference has them finishing, which is unfortunately good for only 12th place, 4 points back of the Minnesota Wild in 8th place. To close the gap and make the play-offs Calgary is going to have to play far better than their usual brand of hockey, something they did roughly 24% of the time in the thousand simulations.

If you don’t like the Hockey-Reference model, then you can check out one of several others.  SnarkSD over at Fear the Fin has a model based on shot-based possession statistics (Fenwick, to be specific), which unfortunately places Calgary’s chances of a post-season berth at a low of 16.6%, finishing with just 85 points, again in 12th place - 5 points short of the Dallas Stars in 8th. There’s at least one other site (Sports Club Stats) that’s equally pessimistic, placing their chances at just 17.7%.

Optimism

For a more optimistic view of their playoff potential, there are systems that place their chances as high as 29.0%, likely because they take Calgary’s soft schedule into account.

Let’s take a close look at what’s coming.

In order of difficulty:

Home Games: Detroit, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Vancouver x2, Chicago, San Jose, Los Angeles, Toronto, Dallas x2, Colorado, Phoenix x2, Winnipeg, Montreal, Anaheim, Columbus.

Away Games: Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles, Minnesota x2, Dallas x2, Phoenix x2, Colorado, Edmonton, Anaheim x2.

I hope you like Phoenix and Dallas, because 8 of the remaining 32 games are against them, and these are also teams vying for that precious play-off position.  In fact, 14 of the remaining 32 games are 4-point games (assuming you count the 2 against Los Angeles) – Calgary’s fate is truly in their own hands down the stretch. 

The good news is that in their 14 key games against five chief rivals, with the exception of Phoenix (a franchise whose only NHL post-season series victories are over Calgary), the Flames generally finish on the winning side.


Team     All-time  Last 10
Minnesota   .642    5-5
Los Angeles .571    5-5
Colorado    .550    9-1
Dallas      .544    7-3
Phoenix     .533    3-7

Winning these games will not only get them the points they need to make the post-season, but it will deprive their key competitors of the points they need – especially Phoenix and Dallas.

Phoenix

On paper, Phoenix should be beatable.  Look at their line-up and explain how they’re even in the play-off hunt  On defense they have (in order of average ice-time, and when healthy) Keith Yandle, 20-year-old rookie Oliver Ekman-Larsson, 38-year-old Adrian Aucoin, Rostislav Klesla, David Schlemko, and 33-year-olds Derek Morris and Michal Rozsival.  Their leading scorers are Ray Whitney (39), Radim Vrbata (30) and Shane Doan (35).  Lauri Korpikoski is their 4th leading scorer – think about that. 

Normally the Coyotes goaltending helps them into the post-season, but that can’t be the case this year, with mediocre Mike Smith backed up by Jason LaBarbera. Give Dave Tippett all the credit in the world for what he’s achieved, but barring exceptional luck this is not a play-off team. That’s probably why they’re 3-4-4 so far in 2012, and 6-9-1 in December, losing to teams like Columbus and Anaheim (twice). 

The Flames should definitely be able to get the minimum 6 points they need in their 4 games against Phoenix, a team unlikely to still be in the hunt in the season’s final weeks.

Dallas

The Stars are slightly more foreboding, but three of their leading five scorers have been stung by injuries recently – Mike Ribeiro, Jamie Benn and Brenden Morrow. 

The Dallas Stars are certainly a complete team and a legitimate post-season threat, but have been riding good luck from depth players like Eric Nystrom (14 goals on 72 shots), Sheldon Souray (17 points and a team-3rd-best +8) and Michael Ryder (team-leading 17 goals). 

They’re currently 5-2 in overtime and shoot-outs, and 6th best in the league with a .619 winning percentages in one-goal games.  Dallas started super-hot, 11-3 out of the gate, but cooled off considerably since then - they’re 4-5-2 in 2012, and 7-6 in December.

These four games will be tough contests, but these games are winnable, especially if Dallas has some injuries and is forced to continue on their depth players performing over their heads to continue along over .500.

Verdict

Various statistical models generate a spread of post-season probabilities, and while back of the envelope math may agree with the lower end of 17%, a closer look at their schedule would encourage even cynical fans to consider agreeing with the more optimistic near-30% end of the spectrum.

Calgary’s fate is in their own hands, with an easy road schedule, with almost half their remaining games against teams that are also in the hunt for that final post-season position.  There is virtually no margin for error, but there is a path to the post-season.

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Rob Vollman of www.HockeyAbstract.com is a regular feature writer on ESPN Insider, co-author of Hockey Prospectus 2010-11 and 2011-12, and regular contributor to NHL Numbers, Flames Nation and Arctic Ice Hockey. Innovator of Player Usage Charts, Quality Starts, GVS (Goals Versus Salary), the Snepsts Projection System, and known for work in League Equivalencies (NHLE). Twitter: @robvollmanNHL
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#1 Redd3vil
January 30 2012, 12:40PM
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how about them coilers!

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#2 Vintage Flame
January 30 2012, 01:03PM
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Flames: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you, Playoffs. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?
Playoffs: Not good.
Flames: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
Playoffs: I'd say more like one out of a million.
[pause]
Flames: So you're telling me there's a chance... *YEAH!*

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#3 Kevin R
January 30 2012, 01:28PM
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Vintage Flame wrote:

Flames: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you, Playoffs. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?
Playoffs: Not good.
Flames: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
Playoffs: I'd say more like one out of a million.
[pause]
Flames: So you're telling me there's a chance... *YEAH!*

Quit being an optimist, that's just silly. Oh, by the way, I got my 649 tickets today. :)

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#4 Vintage Flame
January 30 2012, 01:53PM
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Kevin R wrote:

Quit being an optimist, that's just silly. Oh, by the way, I got my 649 tickets today. :)

Despite Calgary being in the exact same position as last year, I have a lot more optimism for them this year.

They play the majority of their games at home and as Robert said, of the remaining road games, they only have 2 or 3 against playoff quality teams.

If the team wants to make any hay, they will have to not just rely on beating the weaker sisters like last year, they have to show that they can beat some teams with some meat on their bones.

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#5 Vowswithin
January 30 2012, 01:57PM
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@Vintage Flame

Too funny! :-) now that is worth you putting on twitter!

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#6 xis10ce
January 30 2012, 02:01PM
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Basically the way I see it the next 6 games really make or break any chance we have. Problem is in the next 6 we get the Red Wings, Blackhawks, Sharks, and Canucks. Plus just to spice things up we also have the Coyotes which is one of those must win 4pt games and the recently trending heavily upwards Ducks.

Come valentines day against the Leafs we will probably all but know if we are nearly on the brink of elimination or a serious contender for that last spot.

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#7 grodapare
January 30 2012, 02:16PM
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Hmmm, what year is this graph from? It would appear as though the Ducks and Blues are mislabeled if this is 2011/12. If that's true how reliable is the rest of the data?

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#8 Kent Wilson
January 30 2012, 02:37PM
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@grodapare

The graph is old. It's a header pic only and not an actual representation.

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#9 Vintage Flame
January 30 2012, 03:09PM
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Vowswithin wrote:

Too funny! :-) now that is worth you putting on twitter!

Lol.. I think it's more than 140 characters.. :(

It's actually dialogue from "Dumb and Dumber".. Kinda fitting I thought.

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#11 schevvy
January 30 2012, 04:00PM
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@Vintage Flame

PLAGERISM!!!!!!! NOT COOL MAN! :)

ps- that is a fantastic movie, truly a classic.

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#12 Kevin R
January 30 2012, 04:10PM
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Vintage Flame wrote:

Despite Calgary being in the exact same position as last year, I have a lot more optimism for them this year.

They play the majority of their games at home and as Robert said, of the remaining road games, they only have 2 or 3 against playoff quality teams.

If the team wants to make any hay, they will have to not just rely on beating the weaker sisters like last year, they have to show that they can beat some teams with some meat on their bones.

OK! You need to tell me who these next games can be considered soft in our favour: Detroit Chicago, Anaheim(one of the hottest teams in last 10 games), San Jose(2 losses already), Phoenix on a B2B on the road (when was the last time we won there?), Vanc(say no more) then lets roll into the following week: Toronto(0-1 this year), Dallas & LA(both teams we are fighting & will be playing with urgency). Then we get our soft game against the oilers before we wind up the month of Feb with Phoenix, Philly & St Louis. 13 games from now till the trade deadline. Whats your guess that record would be? Maybe we have a contest. My pick is we go 5-6-2 in these next 12 games & we sit in 11th place on Feb 28th. Just saying, I dont see asoft schedule when it counts.

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#13 schevvy
January 30 2012, 04:20PM
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Kevin R wrote:

OK! You need to tell me who these next games can be considered soft in our favour: Detroit Chicago, Anaheim(one of the hottest teams in last 10 games), San Jose(2 losses already), Phoenix on a B2B on the road (when was the last time we won there?), Vanc(say no more) then lets roll into the following week: Toronto(0-1 this year), Dallas & LA(both teams we are fighting & will be playing with urgency). Then we get our soft game against the oilers before we wind up the month of Feb with Phoenix, Philly & St Louis. 13 games from now till the trade deadline. Whats your guess that record would be? Maybe we have a contest. My pick is we go 5-6-2 in these next 12 games & we sit in 11th place on Feb 28th. Just saying, I dont see asoft schedule when it counts.

Hey Kevin. Here's the way I see these games.

Detroit and Chicago, despite being two of the top teams in the West, are winnable games in my opinion. Detroit is not that good on the road, we're 1-0 against them at home this year. Chicago even is not the best road team. We beat them as well at home, beat them pretty good too, 5-2! Anaheim is a house of horrors for the Flames, so not expecting much there. We competed well with San Jose and could've won both of those games with a few better bounces. Phoenix is a winnable games, yes we lost all 4 times vs them last year but before that had decent success vs them. Vancouver is a tough game.

The next week they got Toronto, and Calgary has dominated them at home recently. Dallas & LA are critical games. Remember they went 4-0 vs Dallas last year. They already beat LA this year and can compete with them. Oilers, well, they're the Oilers!

Then we have Phoenix again, Philly, a tough team but travelling across the continent, and St. Louis, who Calgary has played very well against at home.

Nobody is saying this is going to be easy. However, the schedule is not the worst it could be. I think that they have already gotten through the roughest part of the schedule. These games coming up are also mainly at home, where they have fared well so far. There's a glimmer I think! Not impossible.

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#14 John Deere Green
January 30 2012, 04:36PM
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I hope I am wrong, but here's my un-educated guess how the team will fair up to the trade deadline.

The Flames will be as close to a playoff position now as on the day of the deadline. Thus, contributing to neither a selloff nor a buy mode. Feaster will make a small deal brining in another Modin and try to somehow recoup his second round picks for the '12 and '13 drafts but comes up short.

I just don't see how this team, including the so-called "core", can rid themselves of the c word, CONSISTENCY! They may go on a little bit of a run, but they have shown the fans that the run is usually followed by INCONSISTENCY!, and will lose 4 or 5 in a row.

If there is any way of getting a top six forward to help get this team to somehow score more than 1 goal a game, I hope Feaster pulls the trigger. Also, if there's a snowball's chance in hell, someway, to get a top 2, maybe top 4 D-man, allowing Butler to go back to his #5-#6 D-man position, then I think the Flames will do well getting into the playoffs and maybe going on a nice little run perhaps.

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#15 Kent Wilson
January 30 2012, 04:36PM
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@Vintage Flame

I'm less optimistic myself. Flames are more injured and objectively worse than they were last year in most facets of the game. The only area that seems to have truly improved is goaltending thanks to Kipper's bounce back.

I assume they'll continue to try to eek out 1-0 and 2-1 wins, but that's a tough way to get along over a long period of time. If Kipper slides back at all, Flames are in trouble.

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#16 Kevin R
January 30 2012, 05:02PM
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@schevvy

I love the cups 1/2 full approach. I would be thrilled to see this team get to the playoffs. If we can escape the 1st 6 games at 3-3 or 3-2-1, I may agree with you. We'll see soon enough.

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#17 SmellOfVictory
January 30 2012, 06:36PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

I'm less optimistic myself. Flames are more injured and objectively worse than they were last year in most facets of the game. The only area that seems to have truly improved is goaltending thanks to Kipper's bounce back.

I assume they'll continue to try to eek out 1-0 and 2-1 wins, but that's a tough way to get along over a long period of time. If Kipper slides back at all, Flames are in trouble.

Gonna be 04 all over again! Booyah!

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#18 rain dogs
January 30 2012, 08:25PM
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"a closer look at their schedule would encourage even cynical fans to consider agreeing with the more optimistic near-30% end of the spectrum."

You could call me a cynical fan, and I certainly don't agree with near 30% chance.

Calgary has the same winning % as Phoenix and worse than all the other teams they are chasing.

They've also played the same number or more games than all but 1 team (COL)

They also have the worst goal differential of all the teams they are competing with and that's with Kipper playing lights out.

They're going to need at least 92 points to get in, likely 94. That's 40-42 points in 32 games.... 18-12-2 (~.625).

Calgary a top ten team for 32 games?

Not. Going. To. Happen.

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#19 schevvy
January 30 2012, 09:05PM
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SmellOfVictory wrote:

Gonna be 04 all over again! Booyah!

It'sfunny cause I can actually see somesimilarities between this year and 04. Kipper's playing really well, we're not scoring many goals, sure Iggy may not be near as good anymore but there is a better supporting cast. NOT SAYING IT'S GONNA HAPPEN. Please don't kill me. I just thought it'd be nice to bring out some positive vibes. Dare to dream, ladies and gents, dare to dream.

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#20 Vintage Flame
January 30 2012, 09:45PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

I'm less optimistic myself. Flames are more injured and objectively worse than they were last year in most facets of the game. The only area that seems to have truly improved is goaltending thanks to Kipper's bounce back.

I assume they'll continue to try to eek out 1-0 and 2-1 wins, but that's a tough way to get along over a long period of time. If Kipper slides back at all, Flames are in trouble.

I'm not sure why, but I am the eternal optimist with this team. I'm not saying this is going to be an easy road for them or that it's even probable.. but it is possible.

The Flames find themselves in the same position as last year but not in the same circumstances. They play much better at home and have the majority of their remaining games there. Their road record is not a doom and gloom schedule either. that being said, they are going to have to play their asses off and even pull a few rabbits out of their as.. er hats.

I totally agree with you on the Kipper variable. He is going to have to continue to play the way he has all season, but then again, has he given us or shown us any evidence that he can't or won't?

Injuries are killing this team but they have also played some mildly impressive hockey despite the fact.

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#21 Vintage Flame
January 30 2012, 10:12PM
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Kevin R wrote:

OK! You need to tell me who these next games can be considered soft in our favour: Detroit Chicago, Anaheim(one of the hottest teams in last 10 games), San Jose(2 losses already), Phoenix on a B2B on the road (when was the last time we won there?), Vanc(say no more) then lets roll into the following week: Toronto(0-1 this year), Dallas & LA(both teams we are fighting & will be playing with urgency). Then we get our soft game against the oilers before we wind up the month of Feb with Phoenix, Philly & St Louis. 13 games from now till the trade deadline. Whats your guess that record would be? Maybe we have a contest. My pick is we go 5-6-2 in these next 12 games & we sit in 11th place on Feb 28th. Just saying, I dont see asoft schedule when it counts.

Kev.. I was writing this long reply to your post.. and have deleted it and decided that why not write an article instead. I hope it answers your queries.

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#22 RKD
January 30 2012, 11:51PM
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Well the odds are stacked against the Flames but they only have themselves to blame.

They don't have to go .800 but do have to play around .650 or higher. It will be tough if they try to win 1-0 and 2-1 games. They have to steal a few games on the road.

The Glencross injury is pretty devastating, Cammalleri is going to have to pick up the slack and Iggy has to heat up and start scoring at a torrid pace.

Gotta go through Darryl Sutter and his Kings two more times if the Flames want those 4 points.

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#23 Kevin R
January 30 2012, 11:57PM
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Vintage Flame wrote:

Kev.. I was writing this long reply to your post.. and have deleted it and decided that why not write an article instead. I hope it answers your queries.

Awesome, look forward to it. I like some of the optimism & comparing Kipper to 04. & I think Kipper will be there for a run at a playoff this year. Its just that 04 you felt it. We added Marcus Nilson, Niemmenen & Simon & we already had the Polish Hammer Oliwa. We were a scary team to play. They had a great forecheck & cycle game going & you knew this team was destined to do some damage. What elevated the intensity even more was it was our first playoff in 7 years. I dont feel it with this team. We dont have that crushing dman on our blueline that makes players want to shoot the puck in rather than carry it. We also dont have a possession type of top line that you feel will score the clutch goals.Iggy was young & dominating & could change momentum. I saw some vintage Iggy in some of these last games, but I dont know man. 2 big pieces away & I'm not sure we can acquire these pieces without gutting our team. I really truly can see why Feaster & King are so torn on the direction of this team. We just gotta get .500 over the next 6 games & then I think destiny can be in their own hands if they can find the consistency to see this through.

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#24 exsanguinator
January 31 2012, 06:07AM
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@Vintage Flame

Injuries are killing this team but they have also played some mildly impressive hockey despite the fact.

I think that given their injury situation they are playing some pretty damn good hockey. I mean, they are one or two bodies away from icing a glorified AHL squad some nights and for them to still be between 2-4 points out of a playoff spot gives me a lot of hope.

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#25 the-wolf
January 31 2012, 07:40AM
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I'm of the opinion that Feb kills this team.

Feaster has said a couple of interesting things lately:

1) It's the owners who are dictating a 'win now' approach and all moves are designed around that. So I don't think Hanann or Sarich are moved.

2) That without Kipper this team wouldn't even be in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Paraphrased, but essentially his words.

Now, someone please try and reconcile those 2 things for me because I can't. Why is this team trying to win now when they're held together only by the play of their goaltender and are still on the outside looking in?

Feaster is at leat being 'honest,' if not 'intellectually honest.'

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