The Calgary Flames lost on Saturday at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.
By the time you read this, there’s a non-trivial chance that the Flames may have fallen out of a wildcard spot in the Western Conference. [ed. Still clinging to that second spot, but 10th in the West in points percentage – albeit .02 back of that last spot.] You see, the Flames have played more games than almost every other Western team – particularly the teams chasing them.
Not all is lost in terms of Calgary’s playoff chances. But a glance at their remaining 33 games and the strength of the teams they’re facing reveals very little margin for error from here on out.
The Flames have 33 games remaining and have three fairly large gaps in their schedule:
- The NHL’s All-Star Break (Jan. 27-30)
- The “bye week” negotiated by the NHL and the NHLPA (Feb. 8-12)
- A random three day gap between games in early March (Mar. 6-8)
In other words, when you take into account these gaps in the schedule the Flames will play an awful lot of hockey in a short period of time. It’s good because it doesn’t give them time to stew over efforts like we saw this past week, but it also doesn’t afford them with much practice time to fix things either.
The Flames have 15 home games remaining and 18 road games.
To contextualize how rough the next few weeks could be for the local sports team, let’s break the teams Calgary is playing from here on out into a few simple groups.
Playoff Locks: These teams have a 90% or higher probability of being in the playoffs according to Sports Club Stats. These guys are teams that are flat-out good and don’t give their opponents very many opportunities to gain points.
The Flames play teams from this grouping 10 times – Minnesota, Washington, Pittsburgh (twice), San Jose (twice), Montreal, NY Rangers and Anaheim (twice). It’s worth noting, though, that both San Jose and Anaheim games are at the very near the end of the season so it’s possible, though not entirely likely, that the Sharks and Ducks could start resting their big guns late in the season to keep them fresh for the playoffs.
The Flames have won seven times in 19 games against the Locks.
Playoff Probables: These teams have a larger than 65% but less than 90% probability of being in the playoffs. These teams are pretty good, but just not quite as consistently terrifying as the teams in the “locks” group. The Flames play teams from this grouping eight times – Ottawa, Toronto, Nashville (twice) and Los Angeles (four times).
The Flames have won twice in four games against the Probables.
Bubble Teams: Teams with larger than 35% but less than 65% probability of being in the playoffs. These are teams that are about as good as the Flames are, give or take. The Flames play only one game against a team in this group: St. Louis. The Flames have won once in two games against St. Louis.
Playoff Pretenders: Teams with less than 35% probability of being in the playoffs. These are flawed teams. They might lack goaltending or scoring or just overall consistency. The Flames play teams from this group 13 times – Boston, Carolina, Vancouver, NY Islanders, Winnipeg, Dallas, Tampa, Philadelphia, Florida, Detroit, New Jersey, Arizona and Colorado.
The Flames have won 14 times in 24 games against the Pretenders.
There are two relatively simple ways to project how the remaining 33 games will go based on past performances: how the Flames opponents have fared overall and how well the Flames have fared against similar opponents.
Expected Points: If you look at this season’s points percentages of Calgary’s remaining opponents and factor in that each NHL game this season averages 2.25 points handed out (and adjust the points percentages accordingly), the Flames project to get approximate 37 points and finish the season with 88 points overall. This method is tidy, but does ignore the fact that games will see the Flames get zero, one or two points, not a weird fraction in each game. It probably overestimates.
Categorical Results: If you take Calgary’s performance against each category of team and extrapolate their records across their remaining games, the Flames would win about 16 games to capture 32 points. They would finish the season with 83 points total. This method ignores the possibility of overtime or shootout losses for the Flames, but also lacks a bit of nuance because it presumes the Flames will win as much as they have all season – it assumes a level of consistency that probably doesn’t exist.
Using a method that probably overestimates performance the Flames will finish with 88 points (a 55% probability of making the playoffs) and using a method that probably underestimates performance they’ll finish with 83 points (a 3.7% probability) that leaves them with basically zero margin for error.