The Numbers Game

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    A quick look at the NHL standings reveals that with 11 games remaining, the Toronto Maple Leafs have not yet been mathematically eliminated from either the playoffs, or last place overall.

    A numerical analysis reveals something even more interesting.  Mathematically-speaking, the Maple Leafs are leading the race for the 6th overall pick in the draft.

    The Mathematical Point of View

    Prior to the game on Thursday, March 19, the Toronto Maple Leafs have earned 71 points and have 11 games remaining.

    The team in the current #8 spot in the standings, the Carolina Hurricanes, have 81 points.

    It is mathematically possible for the Leafs to finish with 93 points … which means that from a mathematical point of view, they are still very much in the playoff race.

    It is also mathematically possible for the Leafs to finish in last place overall.  Currently, the New York Islanders hold the distinction of league celler-dwellers with 56 points, and 12 games remaining.   Mathematically speaking, the Islanders can still finish with 80 points – higher than the Leafs current point total.  Therefore, the Maple Leafs will remain in the hunt for the top overall pick until the last place team can no longer mathematically overcome their point total in the standings.

    The Logical Point of View

    Logic, however, differs from the mathematical perspective.   The numbers suggest that any team is capable of losing out, and any team is capable of winning out.  The reality lies somewhere in between.  Logic dictates that no team will lose its final ten games, and no team will win all of its final ten, either.  Given the recent success of teams at the bottom of the league, and the inconsistencies of teams battling for the lower playoff seeds, logic would suggest that a .500 record is a much safer assumption to make for just about any team in the bottom half of the conference, at this point.

    Example:

    The current #8 seed in the East, Carolina, has 81 points to date. This means that if the Hurricanes win 1 more game out of their remaining 10, the Leafs would have to play significantly better than .500 to remain in the playoff race. For instance, if Carolina wins two games they are at 85 points. The Leafs would have to earn 14 points (7 wins, or 3 wins and 8 OT losses) in their remaining 11 to match that. If Carolina goes .500 the rest of the way, that puts them at 91 points, meaning the Leafs could only afford a single overtime loss in their final 11 games to move past the Hurricanes in the standings. Logic, however, would suggest that the Leafs will not do so, given their remaining schedule (not to mention their inconsistency).

    Draft Positioning

    So, if the Leafs are indeed logically out of the playoff mix, then how do they stack up, numbers-wise, in the race for last place?

    Here are the relevant numbers: current place in standings, points, and games remaining, prior to games played Thursday, March 19.

    23rd – TOR – 71 pts – 11 gr
    24th – LA – 68 pts – 13 gr
    25th – OTW – 68 pts – 13 gr
    26th – PHX – 64 pts – 12 gr
    27th – COL – 64 pts – 11 gr
    28th – ATL – 64 pts – 11 gr
    29th – TB – 61 pts – 12 gr
    30th – NYI – 56 pts – 12 gr

    Assuming that the Toronto Maple Leafs go .500 the rest of the season — and that is entirely possible given (a) the way they have played lately and (b) their .500 overall record for the year to date — they would finish with 82 points.

    The Rundown

    • 82 points would prevent the Leafs from finishing last overall (NYI can only finish with 80 max).
    • With 2 regulation losses in their final 12 games, Tampa Bay will be unable to reach 82 points.
    • With 3 regulation losses in their final 11 games, Atlanta will be unable to reach 82 points.
    • With 3 regulation losses in their final 11 games, Colorado will be unable to reach 82 points.
    • With 4 regulation losses in their final 12 games, Phoenix will be unable to reach 82 points.

    Logic would, at this point, dictate that the Leafs will not finish with a top 5 pick. But suppose the Leafs play at a .266 clip, winning only 3 more games this season out of their remaining 11, while miraculously avoid any more OT losses. That puts them at 76 points, meaning:

    • NYI – 3 reg. losses in 12 games to finish below Leafs
    • TB – 5 reg. losses in 12 games to finish below Leafs
    • ATL – 6 reg. losses in 11 games to finish below Leafs
    • COL – 6 reg. losses in 11 games to finish below Leafs
    • PHX – 7 reg. losses in 12 games to finish below Leafs

    Brace yourselves, Leaf Nation, for the numbers show that even with a 3-8 (.266) record to close out the year, a top 5 pick would be dependent on Phoenix finishing better than 5-7.

    And then you still have to factor in what happens to Ottawa and Los Angeles. Both have a significant chance of overtaking Toronto in the standings, and with each having 2 games in hand on the Leafs, and both only 3 points (2 wins) behind the Leafs, logic would dictate that very scenario is likely to play out.

    The End Result

    After all of that analysis, we can come to one simple conclusion:

    The Toronto Maple Leafs are most likely to finish 25th in league standings (and thus the 6th overall pick), with no chance at the top overall pick and a marginal chance of winning the #5 pick overall.

    Hey, I didn’t say this post had a happy ending.   Or perhaps it does.  Brayden Schenn should still be available in the 6-spot on draft day … perhaps the thought of going .500 the rest of the way isn’t so frightening, after all.

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