New Year, New Playoff Format: How many points is enough points?

This season seems like it is going to just fly past us. We ached and clamored for hockey ever since the Stanley Cup final, where we watched Dallas climb to the second best team in the league and there is no shame in admitting it. Something sparked in Dallas and we are all here to enjoy it.

Now we start a new season and already Dallas got hit with a false start penalty. (4) games postponed due to COVID. We had to endure watching everyone else have nice things and watch other teams do hockey type things...why not us? Then the team got the Rona all sorted out (mostly) and started against Nashville. "Kickedthecrapoutof" is not a word, but it darn well should be, because Dallas did that to Nashville and turned around and did it to Detroit later the same week.

Four for Four and gaining (8) points is a beautiful way to start the season. But how much is enough? Surely the stars won't go 56-0-0. Right?

To get into how much is enough, we have to break into the numbers just a little bit. There are multiple ways to come up with a satisfying answer to this, and surely there are second level calculus equations to figure that out, but I am only going to focus on the basics and the facts.

Here are the current standings:

Discover Central GP W L OT PTS
1 Columbus 8 3 2 3 9
2 Dallas 4 4 0 0 8
3 Nashville 7 4 3 0 8
4 Florida 4 3 0 1 7
5 Tampa Bay 5 3 1 1 7
6 Chicago 8 2 3 3 7
7 Carolina 4 3 1 0 6
8 Detroit 8 2 5 1


Formula #1: Super Simple Monkey Math (SSMM)

Lets assume all teams here play all 56 games. That gives every team 112 possible points to start the season. The Playoff format this year allows every division to have the top 4 make the playoffs. So...Dallas only needs to technically beat (4) other teams. Thus, SSMM tells us we need more than 56 points (112 total points / 2 points per game).

Formula #2: Less Simple Monkey Math (LSMM)

Lets again assume all teams here play all 56 games. More realistic version of events is not all teams will win and lose the same number of games. It also stands to reason some teams will pick up points in OTL and SOL during their campaigns. Last year, all western conference teams lost in overtime or shootout about 4.5% of the time. 95.5% of the results on average were 2 point wins (Reg, OT, SO) or Regulation Losses. I am going to assume with (8) teams playing only each other there will be more familiarity and an increased likelihood that games will be close by the end of the 3rd period. So, I am bumping my assumption up to 10% of games will be OTL and SOL for all teams.

Here is the grid I came up with:

Assumption: 10% of Losses are OTL/SOL
Team Win% Wins Losses OTL/SOL Total Points
A 56 80% 45 10 1 91
B 56 70% 39 15 2 80
C 56 60% 34 20 2 70
D 56 51% 29 24 3 61
E 56 49% 27 26 3 57
F 56 40% 22 31 3 47
G 56 30% 17 35 4 38
H 56 20% 11 41 5 27
400% 224 224

The important pieces of information are total wins = total losses and total OTL/SOL. Also, total winning percentages should be even across all 8 teams. All teams could win and lose 50% of their games, but every additional win for one team is a loss for another. Yay math!

So, to be one of the top 4 teams, the grid tells us that, as long as the winning percentage is a nice even bell curve, more than 57 points gets you in the playoffs. That is...(checks notes) one point higher than SSMM. All that work for one more point of accuracy. Almost doesn't seem worth it.

Formula 3: Not Simple Monkey Math (NSMM)

Standard assumptions apply: all 56 games, 10% are OTL/SOL. This time...we will go my last years winning percentage to gauge how good the division really is. I understand teams like Detroit and Chicago were historically bad last year and Tampa Bay and Dallas and Carolina trended in the other direction, but it gives us a starting barometer on the season, which is the best we can hope for at this point.

Assumption: 10% of Losses are OTL/SOL
Team Games Win% Wins Losses OTL/SOL Total Points
TBL 56 66% 37 17 2 76
CAR 56 57% 32 22 2 66
DAL 56 55% 31 23 3 65
NSH 56 52% 29 24 3 61
FLA 56 51% 28 25 3 59
CBJ 56 46% 26 27 3 55
CHI 56 44% 25 28 3 53
DET 56 28% 16 36 4 36
399% 224 224

Using the NSMM version, our number needed to reach the post season rises to 60! Advanced math pays off again! Even though this division has teams that are in some kind of rebuild mode (Detroit, Chicago, Columbus), it is also bolstered very evenly by teams primed to compete for a Stanley Cup this year (Tampa Bay, Dallas, Carolina).


Depending on how much math you tend to enjoy in your normal average day, your answer to the question of how many points the Dallas Stars need to make the postseason in this super weird version of a season lies between 56 and 60 points. Given that Dallas already has 8 points and has (potentially) 52 games left in the season, the math suggests that if they go .500 for the rest of the season, they would mathematically make the playoffs.

Here's hoping the Stars never lose a game again and we don't have to do any math to figure out how good of a team we are actually watching this year.

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