Did you know: The Dallas Stars have taken away 71% of the available points in games played against their Pacific division rivals so far this season. In the 2011-2012 season, the Stars took away just 52% of the available points from their Pacific mates and ultimately missed the playoffs by six points.
Let's assume that everyone stays on pace for the second half of the season as they did for the first half. We're also going to assume that each team can replicate their points percentages against each division so that we can see where the points would project to based on the number of games left in each division for a team to play against. This is a little better than applying a straight points percentage across remaining games, since it takes into consideration how well (or terrible) a team plays against certain opponents with the remainder of their schedule (allowing us to see later on just how much those division games will play into points at the end of the season.)
Using this methodology, the projected points and standings would look like so:
- The Los Angeles Kings have the most division games left of anyone in the West with 14 games left to play against Pacific division foes. If one team in the West has their fate in their own hands, it would most definitely be the Kings.
- The Detroit Red Wings have the least amount of division games left of anyone in the West with just five games against Central opponents remaining. Which is probably a good thing for them, as they have pulled only 50% of points from their division opponents, down nearly 6% from their points percentage last season.
- The Dallas Stars have the best intra-division points percentage among Pacific division teams at 71%. Everyone else is in the 50-56% range. They area also in the only division that does not sport any team below the 50% points percentage threshold.
- The Northwest division is where Dallas is giving up their most points -- winning just a measly 44% of points available so far against those teams. With 12 more possible points available in games left against that division this season, this is a place where the Stars should focus on pulling out more points than they have been so far to ease the burden of a loss suffered against a division foe.
- There isn't much separation of teams from 4-13 in this model, with the narrowest of margins (only seven points) between fourth and tenth in the conference.
- The Pacific division illustrates the most parity in a division in the West. Whereas both the Central and Northwest seem to have clear cut leaders, middle, and bottom teams, the Pacific has most of their teams clumped around the same points percentage. The largest difference between highest and lowest points percentages in the Pacific is only 15%, whereas it is 28% in the Northwest and a whopping 57% in the Central (mostly due to the fact that the Chicago Blackhawks have not lost against a division opponent yet.)
Looking forward, just how important are the Pacific division games on the second half of the season for the Stars? Nearly half of their games left are against the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and Anaheim Ducks combined. If we place everyone into a vacuum where all teams play .500 hockey against every division for the rest of the schedule, Dallas would have to take away 61%of the available points in the Pacific showdowns to achieve an eighth seed in the West:
It takes bumping the Pacific division points percentage up to 68% in this scenario to increase the total points by 1 in the standings. That's a fairly large change in points percentage for one point, so this most likely tells us the Stars have to be at or over 50% points percentage in all divisions in order to keep their destiny within their own hands.
As we all know, hockey does not, in fact, occur within a vacuum. It is more likely that we will see some teams start to pull away from the others. I bet if we look at the numbers at the three-quarters mark of the season it will look like nothing in either of the graphs I've conjured up above. Here are a few things I think will happen, based on the numbers game and the remaining schedules of most teams.
Firstly, the Blackhawks, Ducks and St. Louis Blues will both end up with second half points percentages much lower than their first half - there is no way they can run at an 80%+ clip against an entire division for the length of a season (even if it is a shortened season.)
Secondly, the four remaining matchups between the Stars and Kings could easily make or break a season for either team -- points in those games will be critical down the stretch. Even more important for the Stars will be the four games left against the Ducks, however. The Ducks have gotten enough of a lead in the division that it is unlikely anyone can catch them, so taking points in those games will also be key to gaining ground on other teams in the standings for the Stars.
Thirdly, I'm not sure that the Phoenix Coyotes will make the playoffs without a lot of help. With the fewest games left against Pacific division opponents, they just don't have as much control over their destiny as the rest of the division does.
Lastly, the Stars are going to have to play better than .500 hockey down the stretch to make the playoffs. Being in the middle of the pack just won't do it in this competitive of a division. The cutoff line to make the playoffs looks to be about 54 points in the West, which means the Stars need to go 12-9-3 (or some combination thereof) to have a chance at the last seed. Even at that point, there could be a lot of teams with the same points total so winning in regulation or overtime (something the Stars are 4th best in the West at currently) will continue to be important. [But feel free to pick up some consolation points for losing at times too...]