Thursday, January 07, 2010

A statistical moral dilemma

So it's halfway-ish in the hockey season and I've been thinking recently of what we, as the Caniac Nation, should be cheering for. Should we hope for a massive winning streak for a chance at the playoffs, or should we be cheering for losses so that we can pick up the #1 pick?

Let's explore the first option. Currently the Canes are dead last in the NHL with an abysmal record of 11-23-7 and a measly 29 points. To compare, the Montreal Canadiens, who currently hold the last place in the Eastern Conference, have a record of 21-21-3 and 45 points.

Since the lockout the average number of points needed to make the playoffs was 92.75 points, so let's round that up to 93. By this benchmark, the Canes would need to gain 64 points in the last half of the season. That equates to 32 wins (ignoring OT losses and all of that nonsense). That means that the Canes would need to win 32 games out of the last 41 to even get close to the playoffs. That's a .780 winning percentage, or winning roughly 4 out of every 5 games.

Who seriously thinks that this team can pull that together? True, the Canes have been playing better of late, but "better" is still a 4-5-1 record in the last ten games, nowhere near the .780 that they would need.

I believe that means that the Canes are still mathematically alive but realistically out of the playoffs (not groundbreaking news, for certain).

What does that mean for us Caniacs? Do we cheer for trying our best and perhaps moving up a few spots in the standings to make this season look better - or at least the same as the other pathetic seasons we've had? Or do we want our team to lose, to ensure that prime draft position?

Let's look at that possibility. Again, the Canes are 11-23-7 with 29 points. The next closest losing team is Edmonton, loftily sitting at 16-22-5 and 37 points. That would mean that the Canes would need to win 4 straight games and have the Oilers lose 4 straight for the Oilers to "catch up" in this losing race. Unfortunately, the Oilers are 1-8-1 in their last ten, so it could be possible for that to happen.

Since the lockout, the last place team has had an average of 61.25 points, but that varies widely from the rather pathetic '06-'07 Flyers with 56 points to the comparatively successful Lightning of '07-'08 with 71 points. So, if we are to take that average of 61 as the maximum allowed number of points for the first draft pick, then the Canes would be allowed to gain 32 points in 41 games, or to have a winning percentage of .390. That's winning about 2 out of every 5 games or less.

Is anyone else beginning to get a sick feeling at the realization of how realistic it is that our Canes will finish in last place? If you look back at our schedule, I believe the only time we've won more than 2 out of any five games is the period between 11/15 and 11/ 21, where the Canes won 3 out of the four games in that week. That's it.

But, recently, the Canes have been playing more like a .500 team than a sub-.400 team. If you're following my logic this would put the Canes in the ugly limbo position that's not near the playoffs, but not worst in the league. What are we, as fans, supposed to cheer for here? Are we supposed to hope for wins that are possibly hurting our chances at a better future through the draft?

I do not know the answer to this question. It feels wrong to hope for my team to lose, no matter what the other consequences are, but it also feels hollow to cheer for victory when the likelihood of it doing the team any good is minuscule. Watching every loss and every poorly played game is agonizing - but I think that looking back at the standings and seeing that we were so close to [enter next 1st pick superstar here] will be painful as well.

My solution? Well, I'm certainly not going to stop cheering for my team - those who do so are just tacky. But, perhaps, looking forward at next season will make the losses seem like wins - winning the best draft position instead of the Stanley Cup.

What does that mean? I present a true win-win situation - a win means, well, a win. But a loss is now really a win in the duel of the bottomfeeders.

† Yes, I know that being last in the league does not guarantee the first pick in the draft due to the draft lottery. But it certainly helps.

‡ If this sounds like hopeless optimism, I assure you, it is.

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