Sunday, February 12, 2012

A 69 Is All Right Before Valentine's Day

(Originally published as a Broad Street Hockey FanPost)

The Philadelphia Flyers are going through a rough patch. You know this. I know this. Anyone watching the games knows this. Anyone looking at the box scores knows this. It is nothing in comparison to some teams have gone through this year, but for a Flyer team that has achieved more than was to be expected in August 2011, it is a rough spot, nonetheless. As with all rough spots, some panic has emerged. From some coming to a conclusion the Flyers are not the best team in the East, to panic about the Flyers chances at making the playoffs, there has been no shortage of various of reactions to the Flyers' latest slump. A slump is just that. A slump. Teams go through them all the time in the NHL. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find an NHL team that has not gone through some sort of slump this season. It's only nature.

But while the Flyers may be slumping, some perspective is important. It is February 11, 2011 and the Flyers have banked a grand total of 69 points. I was playing around on and discovered a nifty feature. You can go back on time and see how the standings looked any day since the start of the 2008-2009 season. Choose any day , and has what the standings looked like on that day. So with that in mind, I wondered if 69 points on February 11 is historically a good thing? Seeing as similar teams may not have 69 points exactly, I am expanding this by one to both sides. Included in this list are teams with 69 points, 68 points, and 70 points. This should create a bigger sample without diluting the pool so much that it destroys the conclusion. Seeing as the lockout introduced the now infamous Bettman Point, inflating a team's overall point total in comparison to the pre-lockout era, I am cutting this list off at the lockout. 69 points on February 11 now is not the same as it was before the lockout. Seeing as the NHL goes with an uneven and unbalanced schedule, I will also be providing the number of games played as proper context. The 2011-2012 Flyers have compiled their 69 points in 55 games.

2010-2011 season
Detroit Red Wings: 70 points. 54 games. Made playoffs as #3 seed in the West.
Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins: 69 points. 54 games. Made playoffs as #3 seed.
Washington Capitals: 68 points. 55 games. Made playoffs as #1 seed.
Teams above this threshold to miss the playoffs: No one
Teams below this threshold to make the playoffs: Washington Capitals (68), Montreal Canadiens (66), San Jose Sharks (66), Nashville Predators (65), Phoenix Coyotes (65), Anaheim Ducks (64), New York Rangers (62), Los Angeles Kings (61), Chicago Blackhawks (60), Buffalo Sabres (57)

2009-2010 season
Nashville Predators: 69 points. 59 games. Made playoffs as #7 seed.
Teams above this threshold to miss the playoffs: No one
Teams below this threshold to make the playoffs: Detroit Red Wings (65), Montreal Canadiens (64), Philadelphia Flyers (63), Boston Bruins (61)
It is important to note that because of the Olympic Break, teams had played more games by this point than in a normal year, therefore, there were more teams with 69 points by this date in the season. All 11 of these teams made the playoffs.

2008-2009 season
No teams on February 11 had 68-70 points.
Teams above this threshold to miss the playoffs: No one.
Teams below this threshold to make the playoffs: Calgary Flames (66), Chicago Blackhawks (66), Philadelphia Flyers (65), Montreal Canadiens (64), New York Rangers (63), Carolina Hurricanes (59), Anaheim Ducks (59), Vancouver Canucks (58), Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins (57), Columbus Blue Jackets (57), St. Louis Blues (50).

In case it has not become painfully obvious, the Philadelphia Flyers are in an all right position at the moment, even when you consider their slump and bad defense. The 2011 Stanley Cup Boston Bruins had 69 points on this day last year, though granted with one less game played. The 2009 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins had 57 points racked in this time three years ago with exactly 55 games played. If you thought the Flyers, had it rough, imagine how Penguins fans felt then. 57 points. 55 games. 5-4-1 in their last 10 games. And they won. And here we are stressing about how a 69 point team with the same number of games played are not even going to be able to qualify for the playoffs. At this point, such fears are more than just a tad silly.

Granted, this is still a small sample size and granted, the Boston Red Sox a 9-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in September, a deficit that had never been overcome before. Flukes happen, collapses happen, the improbable becomes possible in sports. However, we have to assess the data that we have and look at the trends. This data is not perfect. Points through a date are not the best way to assess a team. The sample size is admittedly very small. But, when one takes a look at the above data, to conclude that the 2011-2012 Philadelphia Flyers have no chance of making the playoffs is verging on ridiculous. Let's wait for an actual extended losing streak combined with a significant drop in play before pressing the panic button.

Is it possible the Flyers miss out on the playoffs this year? Of course it is possible. They have not yet clinched a playoff berth, therefore, there is definitely a chance. But saying such a collapse is likely or even predicting one at this point reeks of over-reactive irrationality at best and blatant stupidity at worst. Sometimes, a little perspective is a good thing. And in this case, Lady Perspective is smiling down on the Flyers.

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