They say that numbers can be used to prove almost anything. Then again, many will tell you that “numbers don’t lie."
When considering which teams make the NHL playoffs it invariably all comes down to a numbers game; with that in mind, let’s do a little math and speculate, shall we?
The Detroit Red Wings' 22-season playoff streak, the longest in all North American professional sports, hangs in the balance, and they will have exactly 19 games to make history yet again.
However, looking at the numbers to date and projecting where the Red Wings may end up at the end of the season just doesn’t add up to a whole lot to be optimistic about in Hockeytown.
Let’s start with the number of points the Red Wings currently have.
With a 29-22-13 record, Detroit has amassed 71 points, five points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, who currently own the third-place spot in the Atlantic Division, hardly an insurmountable mountain to climb to safely make the playoffs. However, this total ties them with the Columbus Blue Jackets and puts them only four points ahead of Ottawa in the Eastern Conference.
Realistically (and conservatively), the Red Wings will be in a dog fight for a wild-card playoff spot with five other teams the rest of the season (Tampa Bay, Columbus, New Jersey, Ottawa, Washington), but what’s the magic number to get in?
Well, last season’s eighth-place finishers in the East were the New York Islanders, who snuck in with 55 points. Since that total isn’t applicable given that the NHL was good enough to treat its fans to a full season this year, we’ll need to do a little math to make this number relevant.
The Islanders earned 1.15 points per game last season, which applied to a full 82-game schedule works out to 94 points for the season.
No one can be sure exactly how many points a team will need to earn a playoff berth this season, but 94 seems perfectly reasonable, if not a little conservative.
Assuming 94 points is the minimum price of admission to the postseason in the Eastern Conference this season, let’s take a look at where the Red Wings might finish.
Sitting at 71 points, the Red Wings would need to earn 23 points over the remaining 19 games to meet that mark. That works out to 1.2 points a game. So, projecting the Wings’ finish accordingly, they’d have to end the year going something like 10-7-2. This isn’t exactly a lofty goal, but can they do it?
Over their past 19 games, the Red Wings have a 9-7-3 record. If they simply continue as they have at this pace, they’ll end the year with 92 points. Should the previous projections prove to be right, Detroit will miss the playoffs by a single regulation win or perhaps two overtime or shootout losses.
Let’s set all these numbers aside for the moment and consider the team as represented by the players currently on the roster, or rather off of it.
Without Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm and Stephen Weiss—all out due to injury—the team is devoid of what was supposed to be a formidable core of forwards down the middle.
While new addition David Legwand and rookie Riley Sheahan will continue to add stability in the pivot position, a lack of talent at center is going to be a huge obstacle to winning consistently the rest of the season.
As they have of late, the Detroit Red Wings should continue to play with energy and a dogged determination to win on a nightly basis as they still clearly believe in head coach Mike Babcock’s system. However, missing so much talent, the Red Wings will be hard-pressed to earn the required points to extend their historic run of playoff appearances.
I suppose one could use numbers to prove almost anything, and in this case, let’s hope they’re lying.
*All statistics courtesy of NHL.com
Tune into the Knee Jerks Blog Talk Radio Show on Monday, March 10th at 7 EST to hear Matt talk about the Red Wings' playoff chances with Greg Eno and Big Al Beaton!