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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.