Maple Leafs Likely to Miss Playoffs, Hockey Analytics Suggest

At this time of year team records can be deceiving. Every year some teams get off to fast starts but then collapse, and others start slow but work their way into playoff position by season’s end.

Last year saw the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes come storming out of the gate to get 34 points in their first 25 games, tied for the 7th best start in the league, only to end up out of the playoffs with 89 points.

In the other direction, Columbus and Philadelphia started last year with 21 and 24 points, respectively, and worked their way up to 93 and 94 points, and playoff berths.
So what happened?

One of the biggest contributions of the current analytics movement has been to emphasize that teams can go on hot runs over relatively large stretches while being largely outplayed, but that such success is generally not sustainable for a full season. Conversely, teams can have prolonged stretches where the points don’t come, even though they’ve generally been the better team, but chances are that before long the points will start to come for those teams.

This isn’t to say that a team’s record after 25 games doesn’t matter. Far from it. But models that include both points and possession measures do significantly better in explaining who made the playoffs and who didn’t. Specifically, a model with both points and Score Adjusted Corsi fits the data the much better than models with just one variable, and better than any of the models with 2 variables that were looked at.

For those not familiar with Score Adjusted Corsi, it is a possession metric that reflects the fact that teams generally do better in terms of possession when they’re trailing (or worse when they’re ahead) – a phenomenon called “score effects” (see IJay’s Nov. 14 column for more on that point). Thus, some teams’ possession metrics look better than they really are simply because they play from behind a lot, while others look worse because they have the lead a lot.

From the model using both points and Score Adjusted Corsi, we found that on average, each additional point a team has at the 25 game mark increased their chance of making the playoffs by about 7.2 percentage points; each percentage point increase in their Score Adjusted Corsi increased their chance of making the playoffs by 8.1 percentage points.

So what does that mean for this year’s teams? We can generate probabilities for each team of making the post-season this year based on data from past seasons. Keep in mind that, as mentioned above, the model only accounts for 42% of the information that one would ideally like to have, and so should be taken with a grain of salt. For example, it doesn’t account for teams that have above average shooting or goaltending, nor does it take into consideration the information contained in the games that teams have played past the 25 game mark. Unfortunately, it does not even account for the recent change in playoff format, with divisions and wildcards. However, it does give insight as to who are likely candidates for collapses and who might yet climb up the standings.

According to the model, the team most likely to collapse is Calgary, with their chance of making the playoffs being only 34.6%, even though they had 32 points after 25 games, good for 6th best in the West and 3rd in their division.

In the East, Tampa Bay, Montreal and Detroit were sitting in the divisionally guaranteed playoff positions after 25 games, while Boston, Toronto and Florida were all tied with 29 points. Only 2 of those teams could make the playoffs as a wildcard, however, as either the Rangers or the Capitals would get the nod by virtue of being 3rd in the Metropolitan. According to the model, Toronto would be the odds on favourite to be on the outside looking in (again), while Washington would be favoured to get that 3rd divisional spot.

With just over a third of the season left to play, things can (and almost certainly will) change between now and the end of the season - but already there are some indications that all is not as the standings suggest. We’ll check back at the midseason point to see how things are progressing.

Data were taken from

Team Pts After 25 Gms Score Adj. Corsi Prob. of Playoffs Team Pts After 25 Gms Score Adj. Corsi Prob. of Playoffs
Nashville 36 53.6 99.19% Pittsburgh 36 52.4 98.45%
Vancouver 35 50.1 93.29% NY Islanders 36 53.6 99.19%
St Louis 34 51.3 94.11% Tampa Bay 36 53.5 99.14%
Anaheim 33 50.7 89.56% Montreal 34 49.3 87.49%
Chicago 33 57.2 99.54% Detroit 33 52.6 95.05%
Calgary 32 43.6 34.63% Boston 29 53.1 84.68%
Los Angeles 31 51.5 85.47% Florida 29 51.6 76.18%
Minnesota 29 55.1 92.46% Toronto 29 46.5 36.57%
Winnipeg 28 51.6 70.18% NY Rangers 26 50 43.36%
San Jose 26 53 67.50% Washington 26 52.4 62.91%
Arizona 23 47.2 9.77% Ottawa 25 47.5 19.29%
Dallas 23 49.4 20.06% New Jersey 22 49.7 16.85%
Colorado 23 44 2.52% Philadelphia 20 47.6 3.92%
Edmonton 16 49.4 1.71% Buffalo 20 36.2 <0.01%
Carolina 19 50.7 9.66%
Columbus 18 45.8 0.62%


1 Comment

  1. Nicholas Pushkarenko's Gravatar Nicholas Pushkarenko
    December 13, 2014    

    I do not think Toronto will miss the playoffs this year. When they miss the playoffs other years had
    a bunch of lost. And they have not. I just think people just hate the Maple Leafs.
    If they keep on playing as they are they will make the playoffs this year.

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