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Vulgar Statistics: Western Conference Bubble Teams

02/27/11
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I actually wasn’t going to do this because let’s be honest, who cares about the Western Conference?  But the playoff race over there is so intriguing I just couldn’t stay away.  Honestly you could call everyone from third place San Jose (78 pts) on down to 13th place St. Louis (65 pts) a bubble team, but I decided to give San Jose (78 pts) and Phoenix (76 pts) the benefit of the doubt and St. Louis (65 pts) the middle finger.

I tracked a bunch of different things so the following chart is kind of all over the place.  The three basic factors I considered were the bubble teams’ strength of schedule, the breakdown of their games remaining (home, away, back to back, etc.), and their performance so far this season against their remaining opponents including a prediction of their final point total based on those numbers.  It doesn’t mean anything, and I’m not saying that things are going to shake out this way at all, but it does provide some illumination for the path ahead for each team.

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Minnesota should probably get an 8-A ranking since they have the same record as Chicago and Dallas, but ESPN.com ranked them ninth, and thus so did I.  The biggest surprise is that the strength of schedule numbers are more varied than those of the East, which is strange since the West is more congested.  The answer to this is that the Western schedules are weird with little variety to the remaining games and a few teams get caught with three games against a mediocre opponent like Edmonton, Colorado, and St. Louis while others might see three against one of their 70-ish points bubble competitors.

As is often the case with Western Conference schedules, there are large stretches of games either being played at home, or on the road which accounts for the fact that every team except for Minnesota and Columbus has significantly more of one than the other.  Minnesota in particular has a very favorable schedule with a small number of playoff teams, a weak remaining schedule, and a good track record against their remaining opponents and Anaheim is pretty much the opposite across the board.

Dallas, Anaheim, and Los Angeles, like Buffalo last week, are in the best positions to help themselves with the most games remaining against the teams they’re competing against for those playoff spots.  Los Angeles, despite their slim lead of two points, almost seems like a lock to get into the playoffs at this point because of their favorable schedule.  With their 12 home games and only 1 back to back, they might be the most rested team heading into the postseason which can only bode poorly for their opponents.

The point prediction is what it is.  If trends continue, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Calgary, and Nashville should nab the final four spots.  But like I said last week, they play the games for a reason.

Final Word:

Unfortunately I am far less intimately knowledgeable about the West than I am the East.  However I do know that Dallas and Nashville have some injury troubles among their forwards, that Anaheim is tanking hard after goalie Jonas Hiller’s injury, and that Chicago might still be looking to unload a few players to combat their cap woes.  If I had to pick one thing to go against what I’ve predicted, I would say that Chicago finds a way to hold onto their playoff spot at the expense of either Calgary or Minnesota.

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