FanPost

Heed No Bullhorn When It Calls (Hawks' Playoff Hopes)

Wind blows cold from the west
I smell coffee, I smell doughnuts for the press...

I've grown quite weary, as I suppose many of you have, of the doomsday talk from some commenters and members of the media, especially after Hawks losses. So after the San Jose loss, I figured I'd put together some statistics to dispel some of the uninformed opinions that have been thrown out there as statements of fact. Comments like "Wake up, folks, unless they get about 70% of the available points in their remaining games, there's no mathematical way this team can recover in time to make the playoffs" are simply untrue. And it's not homerism that makes me say that - it's stats man.

There's nothing mind-blowing here like the stuff put together by Verstig, TMFF and GMH, but I think it achieves its purpose and will put some things in a better light. Also, with the difference in games-in-hand, it can be difficult to judge just where the Hawks are in comparison to their competition. This should make those comparisons much easier. So without delay, let's look at the good, the bad and the ugly...

First off, since the Hawks have on average 4 games-in-hand over the other Western Conference teams, they are tied for 2nd in the conference in Points: ("sorted by" columns are in orange)

There's no guaranty that the other teams will win those 4 games, and it's only 4 games, so this obviously isn't such a bad position to be in.

The next chart looks at Points Percentage which is the number of points obtained divided by the maximum number of points available (# of games played multiplied by 2). I then took this percentage and multiplied it by 82 games to predict the number of points at the end of the season based on each team's current Points Percentage. For all of these charts, the predicted playoff team names (based on Points Percentage) are in yellow.

The final playoff spot would go to San Jose with 97 points since the LA Kings would have more wins. The Hawks would finish in 11th place in the conference. But Points Percentage does not take into account Goal Differential or Strength of Schedule (SOS) which are the basis for the Simple Rating System (SRS) used to more accurately predict the playoff bound teams at the end of the season.

Teams ranked by Goal Differential:

Hawks have the 6th best Goal Differential per Game in the conference, right up there with the teams who appear playoff bound.

GoalDiff is easy enough to understand, so next we'll look at the meat and potatoes of SRS, Strength of Schedule (SOS).

There are many different formulas one can use to derive SOS. The formula I used is denominated in goals above/goals below average, where 0 is average. The formula is as follows:

R_Team A = (Team A Goal Differential per Game) + (1/Games) ((R_Team B) + (R_Team C) + (R_Team D) + . . . . ))

So for the Hawks it would look something like this:

R_Hawks = (0.19) + (1/26) ((R_COL) + (R_DET) + (R_BUF) + . . . . ))

The Hawks' rating should equal their average goal margin or Average Goal Differential (which is +0.19), plus the average of their opponents' ratings. Each team's rating is dependent on their competitions' ratings, so the numbers need to be run a few times until the results are stagnant. Here is a very good explanation of this rating system from Pro-Football-Reference.com.

From PFR: It is a predictive system rather than a retrodictive system - this is a very important distinction. You can use these ratings to answer the question: which team is stronger? I.e. which team is more likely to win a game tomorrow? Or you can use them to answer the question: which of these teams accomplished more in the past? Some systems answer the first questions more accurately; they are called predictive systems. Others answer the latter question more accurately; they are called retrodictive systems. As it turns out, this is a pretty good predictive system.

Since the Hawks are 1 game away from being basically 1/3 of the way into the season, I believe there is a large enough sample size to start looking at this rating system seriously. Here are the current Strength of Schedule (SOS) results:

Oh noooes! We're doomed!!! Based on their competition so far, the Hawks have the weakest SOS in the Western Conference. Not good, eh? Well, don't fret yet. That's only half of the story. Plus, aside from St. Louis, all of the potential playoff teams have played weak schedules too. Now let's put it all together...

Simple Rating System (SRS) is a rating that takes into account average goal differential and strength of schedule. Simply stated, SRS is Average Goal Differential plus SOS.

I used the SOS ratings from Hockey-Reference.com and inserted them into my own spreadsheet, so my SRS results differ slightly, but not by much. Here are the results ranked by SRS:

Hawks are currently 9th in SRS at a +0.03. Things are looking up. When looking to predict what the future may hold, SRS is one of the best systems to use. Not so easily convinced of the relevance of SRS? Here are some facts to consider:

  • In 2009-2010, only 1 of the 15 teams with positive SRS ratings did not make the playoffs. That was St. Louis (+0.04), who finished with 90 points.
  • The Hawks tied Washington (+0.82) for the best SRS rating in the entire league last year. The Hawks won the Stanley Cup.
  • The finals appearance of the Philadelphia Flyers was not so surprising if you considered their SRS. Despite sneaking into the playoffs, the Flyers had the 2nd best SRS (+0.23) in the Eastern Conference.
  • San Jose, who made it to the Conference Finals, had the 2nd best SRS (+0.59) in the Western Conference behind the Hawks, to whom they eventually lost.
  • 6 of the top 7 teams, ranked by SRS, were from the Western Conference.
  • In 2008-09, only 2 of the 14 teams with positive SRS ratings did not make the playoffs, Minnesota (89 points) and Buffalo (91 points).
  • Detroit had the best SRS (+0.78) in the Western Conference that year, followed by the Hawks (+0.54). The Wings beat the Hawks in the Conference Finals.
  • In 2007-2008, only 3 of the 15 teams with positive SRS ratings missed the playoffs: the Hawks, Vancouver and Buffalo. Each team missed the playoffs by 4 points or less.
  • Detroit had the league best SRS (+1.08) and went on to beat the Penguins, who had the best SRS in the Eastern Conference (+0.41), in the Stanley Cup Finals .
  • In 2006-2007, only 1 of the 14 teams with a positive SRS missed the playoffs. That was Colorado, who finished with 95 points.

Despite their inconsistent play up to this point in the season, the Hawks have a positive SRS and are improving. This bodes well since teams with a positive SRS have made the playoffs 87.9% of the time over the past 4 years.

So how bad are things? Not bad at all. Let's go back to the Points Percentage rankings. The 3rd ranked St. Louis Blues have a 0.0 Goal Differential, good for 10th in the conference. They have been winning the close games, whereas the Hawks up to this point have been losing them.

Let's take a look at a revised Points Percentage ranking, assuming the Hawks won just 2 of those close games:

If the Hawks could've pulled out just 2 measly wins, they would be on pace not only to make the playoffs, but to finish 3rd in the conference with 101 points! It's amazing how 2 wins can change one's perspective on how the Hawks have been doing during a season where we expected them to start off slowly.

But let's get back again to where things actually are today and what the Hawks need to do from here on out to pretty much ensure a playoff spot. Since the Sharks and Kings are on pace for 97 points, the Hawks would need to get to 98 to stay out of a tiebreaker situation. Here are some possible W-L-OTL records that would get them to 98 points:

The Hawks would have to capture 62.5% of the maximum available points to get to 98 points. That's only a winning percentage between .536 and .589 based on the four scenarios above.

Many people have been throwing out a "magic number" of 95 points to make the playoffs, so let's look at that too:

The Hawks would only have to capture 59.8% of the maximum available points to get to 95. That's a winning percentage between .500 and .554. Hardly out of reach since the Hawks already have a winning percentage of .500 so far this season. They would just need to turn a couple of those losses into OT losses.

One more note. If the Hawks win their next game, they will be 14-11-2 (30 pts) after 27 games (basically 1/3 of the way into the season). That equals a .556 Points Percentage which multiplies out to 91 points after 82 games. Basically, the Hawks would have to win just 1 more game per 1/3 of the season to get to 95 points.

So the next time someone tells you that they are 100% correct in saying that you need to "come to grips with the fact that the season is essentially over," feel free to tell them where to go - point them to this FanPost.

That is all.

Go Hawks!

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