Can the Sharks Make the Playoffs? — Teal Sunglasses for March 31, 2015

Teal Sunglasses is an occasional collection of things and opinions about hockey, the San Jose Sharks and sports in general. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.

Most rational people look at the Sharks record and go schedule their tee times — in fact, I called it for the fat lady a while ago.

And yet, Laurie and I were talking about the schedules the other night, and it was clear that Dallas’s schedule is an absolute disaster for them, and Winnipeg Jet’s aren’t sending chocolates to the schedule makers right now, either. And the Sharks have been playing just well enough that  had to wonder — do they have a chance?

Well, mathematically, yes. Maybe. Barely. Here’s the math, for your amusement and bar bets.

My view is there are five teams chasing two playoff spots: the third seed in the Pacific and the second wildcard spot. The first wildcard spot is out of reach. The five teams chasing those two spots are:

  • San Jose (83 points, 6 to play)
  • Dallas (84 points, 5 to play)
  • Los Angeles (88 points, six to play)
  • Winnipeg (90 points, five to play)
  • Calgary (91 points, five to play)

To factor in the overtime points, I use Points-per-game instead of wins and losses because it simplifies the math a lot.

So what I did was look at each of these team’s remaining schedule, what’s at home, what’s away, which games are back to back (and on the road requiring travel?) and how many games are against other teams in this fight. Out of that I gave each team a relative strength of schedule value. Here are (as of the time I’m writing this) the remaining schedules and for each opponent their # of points in the last ten games as well, as a way of judging how well they’re playing. (the three stars are games where two of these teams go head to head against each other)

  • San Jose: 83 [11/20]
    • Col [11/20]
    • Ari [4/20]
    • @Ari [4/20] – BTB
    • Dal [14/20] ***
    • @Edm [12/20]
    • @LA [11/20] ***
  • Dallas: 84 [14/20]
    • StL [10/20]
    • @Nas [13/20]
    • @San [11/20] ***
    • @Ana [14/20]
    • Nas [13/20]
  • Los Angeles 88 [11/20]
    • Edm [12/20]
    • Col [11/20]
    • @Van [15/20]
    • @Edm [12/20] – BTB
    • @Cal [12/20] ***
    • San [11/20] ***
  • Winnipeg 90 [12/20]
    • NYR [12/20]
    • Van [13/20]
    • @Min [16/20]
    • @StL [10/20] – BTB
    • @Col [11/20]
    • Cal [12/20] ***
  • Calgary 91 [12/20]
    • @StL [10/20]
    • @Edm [12/20]
    • Ari [4/20]
    • LA [11/20] ***
    • @Winnipeg [12/20] ***

Strength of Schedule

I looked at each team’s remaining schedule, how well they were playing, how well their opponents were playing, whether they had back to backs and how many opponents were in this fight for the playoffs. For each team, I assigned an adjustment value, with softer schedules adding points to their predicted final point count, and tough schedules deducting.

The good news is the Sharks have the easiest schedule of the teams in this fight — except, of course, for their tendency to lose games to weaker teams. If you’re Winnipeg or especially Dallas, this last two weeks do you no favors. These are my strength of schedule adjustments, which are the number of points I expect the final results to change from what the trend is predicting:

  • San Jose (+2)
  • Dallas (-2)
  • Los Angeles (0)
  • Winnipeg (-1)
  • Calgary (+1)

Predictions

What’s all this mean?

Max Points is the most points a team can get if it runs its schedule — wins every game left. Trend Points is what we can expect a team to end up with based on their points per game over the last ten games. And the Predicted Points is my prediction based on the trend and my evaluation of strength of schedule.

  • San Jose
    • Max Points: 95
    • Trend points: 89
    • Predicted points: 91
  • Dallas
    • Max Points: 94
    • Trend points: 91
    • Predicted points: 89
  • Los Angeles
    • Max Points: 100
    • Trend points: 94
    • Predicted points:94
  • Winnipeg
    • Max Points: 102
    • Trend points: 97
    • Predicted points: 96
  • Calgary
    • Max Points: 101
    • Trend points: 96
    • Predicted points: 97

In other words

The sharks have a non-zero chance of making the playoffs, but it’s really, really close to zero.

My predicted finish is:

  • Calgary: 97 points and third seed in the Pacific
  • Winnipeg: 96 points and 2nd Wildcard seed
  • Los Angeles: 94 points and missing the playoffs
  • San Jose: 91 points and missing the playoffs
  • Dallas: 89 points and missing the playoffs

So I do expect the Sharks to pass Dallas, but not quite catch LA, much less catching both LA and Winnipeg and slipping into the playoffs. I expect it to take 95 points to make the playoffs, and the Sharks would have to literally run the table to get there. There’s nothing in the Sharks play, either recently or any time this season, to cause me to believe that remotely possible. But this playoff race is close enough to not make assumptions, but there’s nothing in the math, or in the team’s recent play, to make me think anything’s going to change at this point.

If I’m Winnipeg, I’m keeping a close eye on the Kings. The Kings could make this interesting — and probably will. This means that last game of the season, with San Jose in Los Angeles to close things out, could well be the game that means the Kings make it in or not. If I’m the Jets, I’m going to want to play to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Or at least, happen to the Jets, because if Winnipeg ramps up its play a bit, all it might take is one more win than predicted for them to lap Calgary — and while I’m predicting Calgary to come out on top here, one or two wins or losses could well be the difference between third seed in the playoffs and watching from the outside. None of the three teams seriously chasing those last two spots has any margin of error, and the one who makes mistakes in the last six games will be the one to miss out. It’s that close.

But for San Jose, I have to say it’s over, except for that possible chance to spoil things for the Kings, which given the history between the two teams, should make that last game of the season likely meaningful, very frisky, and a lot of fun to watch.

The only thing Dallas is playing for now is for the pride of not letting San Jose sneak past at the last minute. And given their schedule, that may be tough.

There is enough good hockey here though to keep hockey fans happy until the second season starts.

At this point? I’ll take that.

And then we’ll see how the Sharks react to missing the dance for the first time in a while.

Late edit: thinking upon this a bit more, how close were the Sharks to making the playoffs? If the Sharks had won the game against Winnipeg on March 17 that would put San Jose at a predicted 93 points, LA at a predicted 94 points, and Winnipeg at a predicted 94 points. In other words, one game difference and there’s a virtual three way tie for that last spot. If the Sharks were to have won that game and EITHER of the two Calgary games in February, all four of these teams would have been a dead heat with the Sharks being the team to beat.

And if the Sharks had won the outdoor game against LA, one of those two games against Calgary, and the game against Winnipeg, they would have pretty clearly beaten out everyone and taken third in the Pacific.

But the fact is, in games against teams it’s now fighting to pass to make the playoffs, the Sharks are  4-5-1 (9 points of 20 possible) against the teams currently fighting for those playoff spots. As a measure of how well the Sharks played against teams the record says are about equivalent in performance this season, their record is — mediocre.

But a good argument can be made the difference between playoffs and golf in San Jose is three games and about six goals.

Close, but no cigar. Six goals against teams they knew they had to beat — and didn’t.