In the West: How many points will it take?

Is there a psychic in the house? " LA Kings Insider
What is the magic number of points needed to make the playoffs in the Western Conference? Right now, it’s on track to be 97. For a while, the Kings worked under the premise that it would be 95. That was reasonable, given that in the first five post-lockout seasons, the eighth-place teams in the Western Conference have finished, respectively, with 95, 96, 91, 91 and 95 points. Might it take more this season. Dallas, currently in ninth-place, is on a point-per-game trajectory that suggests a final point total of 96.8, which suggests that the eighth-place team might need 97. Now, the other side of that is that the number of late-season intra-division games — particularly in the Pacific Division — might slow that point pace. 

I started this post with the idea that Rich was wrong, but it turns out he's right. Then I had the idea that he was right, but being very conservative. But it turns out he might actually be underestimating the number. 

As it stands right now (Rich wrote this before last night's game), current point totals project to a three-way tie for 7th between ANA, DAL and NAS, at 97 points. That would mean that one of those teams would miss the playoffs with 97 points.

Based on that, 98 is a better target. And if you're a team looking for some kind of comfort zone, it's better to over-shoot than under-shoot. 

That said -- and nothing is certain in the wild West -- if I had to bet, I would bet on the 8th place team at no more than 96. But there's a catch...

The catch is, the 9th place team might end up with 96 points, too. And the 10th place team. 

More on that later.

I want to focus on why it's still reasonable to predict the playoff threshold will be 96 points, maybe even 95.

  • According to our old friends at Sportsclubstats, a 95 point finish for the Kings is good enough (in SCS's 100,000,000 simulations) roughly 50% of the time. You don't want to reduce your own team's actual odds to a coin flip, but just focus on the fact that the odds of 95 points being good enough are 50:50.
  • For the Kings, 94 points drops the odds to around 1:4. 
  • At 96 points, the odds are around 80%, more if they win more in reg. or OT, less if they insist on winning in SOs and losing in regulation. 
  • The reason that the number drops when you start simulating the games is that, as Rich pointed out, everyone is playing everyone else. You can't just project up to 98 points in a vacuum. Winning those extra points takes them away from somebody else (probably; thanks, Gary). 
  • I count 11 games in which two of LA, PHX, DAL, CHI, ANA, NAS or CGY play each other. That's somewhere between 11 and 22 points that somebody is NOT going to get. Or, if you prefer, eleven potentially 4 point games. 

Last year I came up with an arbitrary formula for predicting how the last 10 or 20 games would play out for everyone, and it worked pretty well. What I did was, I assumed everyone would get half the possible points out of tough games, and 2/3rds of the so-called non-tough games. When in doubt, all judgment calls went against the Kings (in terms of which games were easy and which were tough, in terms of splitting fractions of points, etc.).

  • The Kings -- play the Sharks twice, Ducks twice and the Stars, Coyotes and Canucks once. If they get half of those points, and get 2/3rds of the rest (COL, EDM -- okay, round down to 1/2, just to be extra conservative), they'll end up at 97. 
  • The Ducks -- play the Stars twice, the Sharks twice, the Kings twice, and the Preds, Hawks and Flames once. Their "easy" game is against COL. I give them that one. 96 points. 
  • The Stars -- have the Ducks twice, and the Coyotes, Sharks, Kings and Preds once. And they have that nice season-closing game against Minnesota (who would like to spoil their playoff chances, I'm thinking). They have three "easy" games. 7 from the first group and 4 from the second, gets them 96 points. 
  • The Hawks -- have the Ducks once. But they also play Tampa, Montreal and Boston, and they have three games against the Wings. Seven points from that group, and four points from their "easy" games, that gets them to 97.
  • The Coyotes -- only have eight games left; they have the Kings and Stars once, and a deadly three games against the Sharks. Five points from the tough games and four from the easy games gets them to 98.
  • The Flames -- have the Sharks and Ducks, the Canucks, the Blues, the Avs and a pair against the Oilers. I'm going to count the Edmonton games in the easy column even though I expect them not to be, rivalry and all. I'll be generous and round up on the easy games, giving them 6 out of the possible 8 points. And 3 from the tough games. That's 11. Which gets them to 96.
  • The Preds -- have the Ducks and Stars, and two other tough games against the Canucks and Wings. Four points from those and seven from the rest, gets them 97.

Those totals result in a final standings that look like this:

  • Phoenix in 4th with 98
  • L.A., Nashville and Chicago tied for 5th with 97, and
  • Anaheim, Dallas and Calgary tied for 8th with 96 points. 

That assumes unrelenting, even-handed parity. Presumably at least one team will do better than half the points in the tough games and 2/3 in the "easy" games (and yes I know there are no easy games), and at least one will do worse. That will (almost certainly) have the effect of lowering the number of points necessary. 

Going back to those projected point totals... first, the three-way tie for 4th:

LA, CHI and NAS have 34, 33 and 32 tie-breaker wins, currently. Since the Kings have more points than those two right now, my guess is that CHI would win the wins tie-breaker and get 5th (drawing PHX in the first round), leaving LA and NAS to move on to the head-to-head. Luckily, LA won that season series, so LA would get 6th (drawing the Sharks in the first round) and NAS 7th (drawing Detroit). 

Now, the 3-way tie for the last playoff spot. In this scenario, two teams will lose out and miss the playoffs because of the tie-breaker. It's Anaheim, Dallas and Calgary, three teams currently tied with 85 points. Anaheim has 36 wins, compared to Dallas's 33 and Calgary's 30. Since in this scenario they're still tied at the end of the season, I'm going to assume Anaheim maintains their lead in wins (though that would not be a lock by any stretch: Anaheim could win every game in a shoot-out, for example).

With that assumption, Anaheim takes 8th and Dallas and Calgary are out. Anaheim faces Vancouver in the first round.
Now, all of this was based on the unscientific but pretty reasonable formula that the teams in the logjam will get 50% of their tough game points and 67% of their easy game points. Obviously, if one of the teams beneath the Kings does better than that...things change.

The Stars play the Ducks twice. The Flames play them once. If they want to tip the scales, those are the games to do it in. The Kings play the Ducks twice, too. But we knew that.

Look at the Ducks' schedule: DAL, NAS, CHI, COL, CGY, SJS, DAL, SJS, LA, LA.

More than any other team in this logjam, what the Ducks do will have a huge impact on the bottom four playoff seeds. I said this about Dallas a month ago, and it applies to Anaheim even more. With their schedules -- especially Anaheim's from here on -- if they make the playoffs, they will have earned it.

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