Awful Start Might Extinguish Flames Playoff Hopes

We’re 10 games into the 2015-16 Calgary Flames season, and I think it’s fair to say that the team has drastically under-shot everyone’s expectations to this point.

We’re about 12% of the way through the season, which is probably enough to start having real conversations about something that’s becoming pretty evident: even if the Flames manage to snap out of whatever deep-down funk they’re in right now, it might already be too late for them to make the playoffs.

WHAT’S THE CUT-OFF?

Through 10 games, the Flames are 2-7-1 and have earned 5 points in the NHL standings (out of an available 20). To figure out exactly how far back they are from the prospective playoff cut-line, we need to take a look back at the worst Western playoff teams of yore. And by “yore,” I mean the last five seasons.

  • In 2014-15, the Flames made the playoffs with 97 points (but 95 points would’ve gotten them in on tie-breakers).
  • In 2013-14, somehow 91 points got Dallas in.
  • In 2012-13, 55 points earned Minnesota a playoff spot in the lockout season (pro-rated over 82 games, that’s 94 points).
  • In 2011-12, Los Angeles qualified with 95 points.
  • In 2010-11, Chicago made it in with 97 points.

To be nice to Calgary, we’re going with the least points anybody could’ve made it in with, so for last season we’ll use 95 points as the number. The average over the past five seasons is 94.4 points, which we’ll round up to 95 points. So 95 points will probably get a team into the playoffs (and if we’re mean to Calgary, the number’s also 95 points).

THE DRIVE TO 95

So the Flames “only” need to earn 90 points in their remaining 72 games.

They will need to put up a record resembling 45-27-0 over their remaining schedule to do so, which would mean they have to go 18 games over .500 in order to make the playoffs. For those scoring at home, they presently have a points percentage of 25.0% and they’d need to bump that up to 62.5% over the remaining five and a half months to make the post-season.

The good news is the Flames still have 36 home and 36 away games remaining, so the schedule isn’t necessarily stacked against them. But they still have to get their act together and pick up two-thirds of their points from now until April to have a shot at the playoffs.

ARE THEY TOO FAR BACK?

Entering Thursday’s games, the Flames are 7 points back of Chicago – who have a game in hand – for the final Western playoff spot. Elliotte Friedman, and others, have observed that historically teams that aren’t in a playoff spot by November 1 of each year have a tough time making the post-season. The Flames have two games remaining between now and November 1 – against the powerhouse Habs and the energetic and talented Oilers – and it’s unlikely they’ll make up much ground.

Our buddy Ryan Lambert looked at the odds of a playoff berth last season and the gist is that the chances are about 9.5% of a team not in the playoffs on November 1 actually making it. I believe five teams have in recent years, which is the figure Friedman has thrown out recently on radio appearances.

From Lambert’s breakdown:

The three teams that did it at the time of that study: Calgary in
2006-07, Buffalo in 2010-11, and Boston in 2011-12. Since then, you can
also add in last year’s Philadelphia — which was was six points back on
Nov. 1 and needed a 39-21-10 record to get in — and Dallas — also six
points back, and went 35-25-9 — but you have to assume the latter was
helped significantly by the new playoff system and divisional alignment
that put fewer teams in the West. Those five teams averaged winning
percentages of about .624 over the final 70 or so games of the season.

So it can be done, but the teams that did it are few and far between, and really got their games together in a hurry after the first month of the schedule.

THE DIVISION WRINKLE

Remember, the wrinkle in the most recent playoff format tweak is that the top three teams in each division make it, regardless of how bad they are. So considering that the Central Division is very good and it’s likely that they’ll get the two Wild Card spots, too, then the challenge for Calgary is staying ahead of four teams. Any four.

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 11.31.08 PM

You don’t have to be faster than the bear, you just need to be faster than one or two people you can feed to the bear. In that sense, the Flames are “only” 6 points out of a spot. It’s a bit better, but it’s still a steep climb.

ARE THEY DOOMED?

To be honest? Probably, yeah.

But again, this team was supposed to be god-awful and painful to watch in 2013-14 and ended up being a fun team to cover on a regular basis because whether they won or lost, they did it in entertaining ways. And last season’s team wasn’t supposed to be any damn good either, and they ended up percentaging their way into the post-season and beating Vancouver – something folks around here always seem to enjoy.

So while it’s statistically unlikely that they’ll have a shot at the post-season – and you know how much we love statistics around here – I’m not ready to start digging their drive and writing their epitaph just yet.

But it really, really doesn’t look good right now. And everyone hoping for a return to the playoffs had better hope they fix whatever it is they need to figure out in a hurry, because the clock is ticking.

  • Burnward

    Another high draft pick certainly won’t hurt us. Adversity is a great teacher,perhaps a reality check following a “cinderella” year will be good for the kids and organization.

    I still love the team and we have alot of great pieces that will continue to improve as the years go by…we should be quite a handful in 2 years.

  • mattyc

    From twitter (before the Sens game).

    Likelihood of a true 61% win team going 2-7 is about 2.2%.

    Here’s the table, where you can see calculated probabilities for win% from 50% – 70% .

    the take-away message is that the first 9 games tell us there’s about a 91% chance this team is going to win less than 50% of its games this season, and about a 2% chance they’ll be good enough to get 95 points.

  • mattyc

    Time for re-boot on the definition of success for this season.The play-offs are highly un-likely.

    Success will need to come from other sources, such as young guys stepping up and taking charge, team work and management getting it right with analysis and chemistry of players.

    Play out the year with the 7 game segments and mix and match talent.

    The future is still very bright.

  • OKG

    While I’m not cheering for the team to crash and burn, a top 3 pick in this draft really would help complete the picture.

    Moreover, I hope a regression makes management think twice about the value of some of the veterans on the team.

    Younger, faster, hungrier.

  • OKG

    Too much over-parity in the NHL if the season can be decided after 10 games.

    Parity is good but there needs to a divide between playoff and non-playoff teams. Right now the divide is at 22nd place or so not 16th place.

    • ClayBort

      I don’t know if this is because of parity, or the result of a 30 team league. Baseball sees half empty parks in August because teams are out of it. It’s only going to get worse with expansion.

      • KACaribou

        I think you will find that those half-empty parks are those of poorly run teams like the Blue Jays. Great organizations know they can’t win every year, due to injuries and slumps that do naturally occur. But their fans look to the development for hope and interest, and continue to fill their parks.

        Blue Jays made the playoffs for the first time since 1993. St. Louis Cardinals in a market 1/2 the size of Toronto sells out consistently. This was also their 14th trip to the playoffs since 1993. They don’t make it every year, but the development and good management keeps the fans interested.

        I think a well run hockey team could do the same. Isn’t there a 20 year waiting period for Maple Leafs tickets? The Maple Leafs! How often do they make the playoffs? A run to try to make the playoffs when it is far more difficult to do so can create suspense every day for weeks or even months.

        • KACaribou

          You can’t compare playoff structure of both leagues & try to be the same. It’s also about revenue for the teams as well. Baseball plays double the regular season games as hockey, have way more lucrative tv contracts & market share in the US is light years ahead of the NHL. Eliminating half of the teams isn’t all that bad, it’s still pretty hard to make the playoffs in the NHL. The hard cap in the NHL make it that way. Look at the playoff races you get in the NHL. There aren’t too many nothing games until the last week.

  • KACaribou

    Too many teams make the playoffs anyway. I would like to see the NHL like the Majors. Make it hard to make the playoffs. It took the Blue Jays 22 years and they just about had a parade because they actually made the playoffs and even won 1 of the 3 series necessary to carry away the World Series.

    I would like to see the Division winners in, and a wild card game or mini-series. Yeah the Flames made the playoffs last year but they had no real chance to win the cup.

    If it were down to 10 teams with a shot, they would all be contenders for the big prize. I know it’s only a dream. But that’s okay.

    Until then, if the Flames played good competitive hockey every night like against Ottawa all season long and got a top 5 pick I would be perfectly satisfied. Build, build, build. They obviously aren’t as close as we had all hoped. But that’s okay too.

      • KACaribou

        Good comment Frets … but …

        The handle that always makes me smile is ………….. (drum roll) ……
        “Ville de Champignon” … what a great take on Edmonton’s inflated, but now-gone, slogan!

        Back on topic: there is no doubt that we have made it a very difficult row to hoe with this start.

        I am in total agreement that it is time to gradually revamp the line-up into a younger, faster group, but the practical downside of this start is that the trade value of many of our older players has likely gone down quite a bit! Oh sigh …

  • KACaribou

    “We’re 10 games into the 2015-16 Calgary Flames season, and I think it’s fair to say that the team has drastically under-shot everyone’s expectations to this point.”

    OR

    We’re 10 games into the 2015-16 Calgary Flames season, and I think it’s fair to say that the team has met the expectations of the broader analytics community, much like the Colorado Avalanche did in 2014-2015 and the Toronto Maple Leafs did in 2013-2014.