New Season Brings New Playoff Bar
In what’s now become one of the most infamous sports sound bites,former Indianapolis Colts (NFL) Head Coach Jim Mora once shrieked the following:
“Playoffs!? Don’t talk about… Playoffs? You kiddin’ me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game!”
These days, in Toronto, the attitude has become gloomy in much the same way, as the team stumbled through the tenure of yet another General Manager with this week’s dismissal of Brian Burke. Having not made the playoffs in what is now – as I write this – 3177 days, the mere thought of getting back to the dance is taboo for the faithful of the Blue and White.
Gone are the days of Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts and star goalies Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph. Welcome to the days of Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and two goalies who could only hope of playing at the level of their near certain playoff-bound predecessors.
With every new season, however, comes a sense of hope, a light at the end of a dark night if you will. That light comes with the countdown to 93 points, the assumed mark it will take, on an average year to make the NHL playoffs.
This year though, is no average year. With a condensed schedule and 48 games in a span of three and a half months for each of the 30 NHL clubs, the mark that will be set to make the playoffs will be much different from the 93 points normally required.
So what will it take this year? Well, one might assume that’s an easy enough equation, with 93 points equating to roughly 1.13 points-per-game or approximately 54 points over a 48 game stretch. While this could very well end up being the bar, or close enough, what needs to be considered in this distinctly unique season is that each and every one of the NHL games will be played between teams of the same conference. Thus, using the Leafs as an example, those points won on a Western road trip would not have been an effective measuring tool for the bar that will be required this time around.
In order to properly assess what it will take, I took last year’s Eastern Conference standings and calculated each team’s record against teams within the conference, resulting in a point-per-game standard that will more closely resemble this year’s mark. The results were intriguing…
|Team||Games Played||Wins||Loses||OT/SO Loses||PPG|
|Lowest PPG among top 8 teams||1.19|
For the Leafs chances, this doesn’t bode well for a team whose 48 game averages versus the East would have given them a record of more or less 20-24-4 for 44 points (0.92 PPG over 48 games).While this is no golden standard, and points will be redistributed like never before, it’s an approximate goal or milestone that teams hoping to make the playoffs should reach for in order to secure themselves a chance at the Stanley Cup. Plus or minus a win for two overtime/shootout losses (the equivalent in points) and a record closely resembling 26-17-5 will be good enough to secure a spot in the postseason.Making matters worse, not only did the Leafs benefit from playing the Western Conference last year (by comparison to their intra-conference worst 26-31-7 record, at least) but they also have what appears to be a taller hill to climb with the 8th best record sporting a 1.19PPG. Instead of the very attainable 54 point marker – or so we hope – the intra-conference stats show us that a record closer to 57 points is likely the more accurate bar.
With the additions of Jay McClemment, James van Riemsdyk and possibly one or more of Leo Komarov (the likeliest), Mark Fraser, Korbinian Holzer, Mike Kostka and Keith Aucoin, do the Leafs have what it takes to add the extra wins necessary to make the playoffs at whatever the mark does end up being? Once again, goaltending comes to the forefront, but I would hazard it’s unlikely, unless huge performances can be had from a tandem of Scrivens and Reimer and the team can miraculously begin to play sound defensive hockey – talk about taboo.
The Leafs will also likely need surprising teams that made last years’ playoffs to fizzle, mainly Florida and Ottawa and hope that teams like Tampa Bay and Carolina don’t take the next step many believe they’re capable of.
Either way, when teams are clawing and fighting for the playoffs and they’re on the brink, a new standard will be set in stretch that is sure to feature high-octane, nail-biting hockey right to the wire.
The NHL is back, and not a moment too soon.