a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Thursday, 10 January 2013

01/10/13 Playoffs Or Bust: The Magic Number

So Adrian Dater at Sports Illustrated has the Oilers ranked as the 3rd best team in the NHL. But how many points will it take to make the playoffs in this shortened season? How many wins?

Since 2005-06 there have been seven 8th-seeded teams in the Western Conference. Together they have averaged 94 points to lock up that final playoff spot. So, they collected a combined average of 57.3% of a possible 164 points. That sort of team point percentage is what we might expect from an eighth seed in this abbreviated season.

In a 48 game regular season, 96 points are available for all teams. 57.3% of 96 points is 55 points. Could the team with the final Western Conference playoff spot end up with 55 points? Could the Oilers hit that number?

That's a record of something like 25-17-5, or maybe 24-17-7 or 23-18-9. Last season the Oilers had a record of 32-40-10, which is a point percentage of 45.1%. It's conceivable that the Oilers could improve this much, especially since their players will be in mid-season form and some other teams will lag behind.

But there's an interesting wrinkle in all this: each team will only play other teams in their Conference. In 2011-12, the Oilers played 18 games against Eastern Conference teams, which is roughly 22% of their schedule. That means they were able to steal points from the other Conference in their *ahem* push for the playoffs. What's more, conceding points to the East didn't matter as long as the Oilers got at least one from a given game. In 2012-13, any win steals points away from a Western Conference rival who is fighting for the same eight playoff spots. The importance of each game - and the points therein - is magnified.

That might be good for the Oilers, as overall the West got weaker this off season. San Jose is aging, along with Detroit and Calgary. Nicklas Lidstrom is gone. The Phoenix Coyotes can't keep winning with next to nothing. Columbus is already terrible and Rick Nash flew the coop. Question marks still surround Dallas, Anaheim and Nashville. There are still some quality teams in the West, but the Oilers are one of the few that significantly improved over the summer.

The downside is that the Oilers will play 18 games against divisional opponents in 2013 (37.5% of their schedule), while they only played 24 games against divisional opponents last year (29% of their schedule). The only easy points in the Northwest Division may be the Calgary Flames, and even they should not be totally written off. The Minnesota Wild are one of those few Western teams who managed to significantly upgrade in the off season. The Canucks are still the Canucks, and even Colorado should be better than they were last year.

But could the Oilers make it? Under these special circumstances it's possible, and it could help accelerate the rebuild for the young Oilers to get their feet wet in the playoffs.

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