Magic Numbers: The Quest to Reach "Zero"

First off, I hope everyone is enjoying their Christmas break, or days off from work. I know I am!

A season or two ago, I started tracking the magic number, just for fun. It quickly became a bit of an obsession for me (as does everything else surrounding Dallas Stars hockey), and it's something that I update on my own after every Stars game. You can usually see me post a comment about it after a Stars win, but I've decided to try and turn it into a weekly post instead.

Before I post spreadsheets and numbers galore, though, I want to explain what exactly the magic number is. Unlike the posts from Josh or Brandon Bibb, these are not useful stats. They cannot be applied to see how well the team has been playing, or what areas the Stars need to work on. Instead, it's merely a countdown to securing a playoff spot. It's more of a "goal" that you can look at. At the beginning of the season, the magic number is 165, and, by game 82, the goal is to get that number to 0. Unfortunately, for the last three seasons, the Stars have been unsuccessful in doing just that.

If you're interested in learning about the magic number, and tracking it along with me (as well as some shallow analysis on how the other teams in our conference are doing), take a look after the jump...

The magic number is a fairly straightforward concept, and it's one that most people begin looking at towards the end of the season. It is the combination of your team's wins and opponent's losses needed in order to clinch the playoff berth. Usually, it's a bit easier to do in sports with a heavy division focus (Football or Baseball), and will be much less complicated starting next season. But, for now, we have to make a convoluted tracking system. An easy example for a magic number (as of today) is the Dallas Cowboys. Currently, their magic number is 2. Any combination of Cowboys wins + Giants losses that equals 2 will result in the Cowboys reaching the playoffs. Simple enough, right?

For hockey, it's not quite as straight forward, and there are a couple of reasons for that. First, at any given point in the season, some teams have played more or less than anyone else. The Sharks, for example, have played 4 fewer games than some of the other teams. The second factor to consider is that, unlike football or baseball, winning the division is not the primary goal. Instead, the focus is merely on finishing in the top 8. So instead of only having to worry about the team below you, you're worried about 7 other teams chasing after you. This is why standings on the NHL website can sometimes be deceiving. A team that has played 4 more games than anyone else should be at the top of those standings, when, realistically, at the end of the season, they will be in the middle or bottom (The Wild are a prime example of this, but we'll get to that). The easiest way to normalize this is to use "Possible Point Totals."

Possible point totals are easy enough to compute. You take the number of points a team currently has, as well as how many points they can still earn this season. So, for example, the Dallas Stars have earned 41 points this season. They have 48 games remaining, which means that if they won out, they would earn another 96 points. This brings the Stars' Possible Points to 137. (41 points earned + 48 games remaining*2 points per game = 137)

So, that means in order for a team to guarantee finishing in front of the Stars, they would have to earn 138 points. (Obviously, this is not going to happen. All teams lose during the season, which brings the number down.)

Let's assume for a moment that Chicago's main goal is to finish ahead of the Stars. They have already earned 48 points this season. Chicago's magic number would be 90. (138 points needed - 48 points earned = 90) This means that in order to beat Dallas, they need a combination of them winning points and us missing out on points that comes to a total of 90. Realistically, Chicago will earn around 60 of those, and we will miss out on 30.

Still with me? If not, I'll show you one more thing: At the beginning of the season, every team's magic number is 165. This is because your opponents can only get a maximum of 164 points during the season (82 games * 2 points per game). So as the season progresses, the magic number slowly ticks downward because your team earns points, and your opponents lose them.

Alright now, on to the spreadhseets!

Okay, I can't seem to get spreadsheets into the post, so I jerry rigged it a bit. I took some pictures of my excel, and inserted them instead. Below we have the current rankings of the Westen Conference, but ranked by Possible Points Total:


The "Seed" column is where they are currently ranked on the NHL's website. Since that is not how we're organizing them, that is why they appear out of order. Typically, as the season progresses, they will get closer and closer to the actual standings. The "N/A" next to teams will be their position in the Possible Point Standings from the prior week. Since this is the first week I'm doing this, it doesn't apply. I highlighted the 9th place team in our rankings (Which happens to be the 9th place team in the current standings), to make it easier to see who we have to beat.

With the Yotes having a possible 133 points left in the season, that means we need a combination totaling 134 to beat them. So our magic number comes from the following:


As I said above, the Stars have 48 games remaining this season. This means they can earn a total of 96 more points. If the magic number is 93, that means that we have control of our own destiny, with 3 points to spare. If the magic number is ever higher than the possible points remaining, that means that we are relying on other teams to help us make it into the playoff picture. This will become far more important in the final weeks of the season.

The other stat that I like to look at is the projected points total. All it does is apply a teams current points percentage (Something that DBD refers to on a semi regular basis), and applies it to the entire season. Below, the rankings are organized by the projected points total:


Almost exactly the same as the possible points this week, which allows for much less of a headache. Once again, the Yotes are in 9th place, with a projected points total of 91. That means that as of today, the Stars only need to earn 92 points in order to make the playoffs. With 41 of those points already earned, the Stars need 51 more points. That means a 25-22-1 record from here on out to make the playoffs. Realistically, this number will increase a bit. It's been ranging anywhere from 91 to 97, depending on the day.

What's really interesting to me is the different perspective that a team currently in a playoff spot has, compared to those out of one. For us, we only need 92 points to make the playoffs. But for Phoenix, they would need 95 points instead. So they need to go 28-19 to make the playoffs at this point. That's a much more daunting task than the one we have before us. As long as we stay in the top 8 positions, we won't have to worry about anything like that.

I think that will about do it for this post. Next week, we'll take a look at other teams, see how they are progressing, and try to narrow the race down a bit to see who are real competitors are. If you have any questions about this, or I didn't explain it well enough, please feel free to ask. I'll do my best to answer them!

This is a user-created FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of SB Nation or Defending Big D. FanPost opinions are valued expressions of opinion by passionate and knowledgeable hockey and Dallas Stars fans.

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