1Sean Monahan
Photo Credit: Candice Ward / USA Today Sports

Looking at magic and tragic numbers

Now that the Calgary Flames have mostly solidified their playoff status – barring an epic collapse, they’re in – we’ve gotten a lot of variants of the same question. Can the Flames pass (a team)? Where will the Flames finish? In the interest of providing some context to the answers we’ll eventually give, and to show off some math, let’s look at two things: magic numbers and tragic numbers.

Magic Numbers

If you follow Pat Steinberg (and if you don’t, shame), you’ll notice he tweets out magic numbers for the Flames every night. Magic numbers are a calculation that tells you what combination of Flames wins and opponent losses guarantee that the Flames finish ahead of them. The idea is for the number to illustrate how the Flames can get their point differential with the other team large enough that the other team cannot tie them in points with the number of games they have remaining. When the number gets down to zero, the Flames are mathematically guaranteed to stay ahead of the other team in the standings.

As of this morning, here are the Flames’ magic numbers (their wins and the other team’s losses) to finish ahead of the leading Western teams:

  • Los Angeles: 5
  • St. Louis: 9
  • Nashville: 9
  • Anaheim: 11
  • Edmonton: 11
  • San Jose: 12
  • Minnesota: 14.5
  • Chicago: 16.5

With nine games left, it’ll be very tough to catch Minnesota or Chicago. San Jose, Anaheim and Edmonton are doable (considering the Flames play San Jose and Anaheim twice each), but a bit tricky. Staying ahead of St. Louis and Nashville is a possibility, again noting that the Flames play each team once. And staying ahead of Los Angeles seems really simple, even before you take into account their two remaining meetings.

Tragic Numbers

Tragic numbers are, in essence, the exact opposite of a magic number. Tragic numbers tell you what combination of opponent wins and Flames losses to guarantee that the Flames finish behind them. The idea is for the number to illustrate how the teams the Flames are chasing can get their point differential large enough that the Flames cannot tie them in points with the number of games they have remaining. When the number gets down to zero, the Flames are mathematically guaranteed to stay behind the other team in the standings.

As of this morning, here are the Flames’ tragic numbers to stay behind the leading Western teams:

  • Chicago: 2.5
  • Minnesota: 5.5
  • San Jose: 7
  • Edmonton: 9
  • Anaheim: 9
  • Nashville: 11
  • St. Louis: 11
  • Los Angeles: 15