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.
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.