Those Numbers aren't Magic (but mine are)

via blog.swivel.com

Helene Elliott confused the masses with this, in today's LA Times:

For a change, Kings have magic number for clinching playoff spot - latimes.com


Any combination of 19 points earned by the Kings or NOT earned by the ninth-place Calgary Flames will assure the Kings their first playoff berth since the 2001-02 season. Calgary, with 13 games left, has a maximum of 103 points; the Kings, who next face Chicago at Staples Center on Thursday, have 85 points. Nineteen would give them 104 and put them beyond the Flames' reach.

Why is this misleading?

Okay, to back up, she's getting her numbers from Rich Hammond, who outlined the whole thing here. Now, to quote myself explaining the way Rich is calculating the magic numbers compared to the way I have been, here is what I said in the comments:

Rich’s numbers are of course absolutely correct, and the only thing I would add is that any statistic has built-in assumptions. Rich’s magic number accepts that strict mathematical elimination is the standard, and so assumes the absolute worst case scenario of the Flames winning 13 straight.

The Flames have literally the worst schedule of any team in the league, and I think they will be lucky to win 3 of those 13 games. But that’s beside the point.

My version of these numbers [...] makes a different assumption, which is: I begin by making a determination of what the point total of the 8th seed is likely to be, and calculate the record each team needs to get to that mark. Because I want to be conservative, I have chosen 95 points (Rich’s model is 103 points, but changes based on who is in the 9th spot that day and what happens if they win the rest of their games). Historically, the magic number has been in the low 90s, but I selected 95 points because it is at that point total (for the Kings) that making the playoffs becomes a virtual-to-absolute certainty based on simulations such as the ones done by sportsclubstats. I predicted that the magic number could drop to 94 or lower if the competing teams beat the crap out of each other enough (it also could go higher if Calgary, Detroit and Nashville beat everyone else and only lose to each other). I have noticed over the last week or so that 94 is looking more likely, but I’m keeping 95, out of an abundance of caution.

Back to Elliott's article. She says that "any combination of 19 points earned by the Kings or NOT earned by the ninth-place Calgary Flames will assure the Kings [a playoff berth]" Not true. The key to Rich's numbers is whoever the 9th place team is. The Kings have to stay ahead of all the potential eighth place teams. Minnesota could easily catch Calgary by the end of Sunday (they play each other that night). And then Minnesota, not Calgary, will be the team to beat, magic-number-wise.

For example, if Calgary loses their next two games, they will only be able to get to 99 points. But if Minnesota wins their next two games, they will be able to get to 100. So the Kings would then need 16 points to top that, instead of 15 (if you're watching Calgary and forgetting about Minnesota).

The LA Times article has Kings fans watching the wrong ball. It's not just Calgary, it's Calgary and Minnesota and St. Louis and Dallas and even Anaheim (who would have to go 12-1-1 to get to 95 points, but it's not yet mathematically impossible for them to do that).

The comments section of Lakingsinsider.com has gone fairly panicky in contemplating the magic numbers. This is due in no small part to the PTSD which every Kings fan suffers thanks to 42 years of torment and/or playoff blue balls. People seem to think the Kings absolutely must get those magic 19 points, or all hope is lost. They don't. I'm hoping they will, because 104 points would be a nice achievement. 105 would be better, since that's the club record (set in '75).

But the fact is, 5-9-0 will get the Kings to 95 points. And that's almost certainly enough. You don't have to look at the other teams (though I do, because it's fun). Just get to 95 points. 94 would probably be enough. 93 might be. 92 probably won't be. So shoot for 95. Everything else will take care of itself.

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