The "last 10" comparison isn't quite as weighty in my mind for this post as the prior one because we're trying to extrapolate future expectations of performance against past results. In the prior post, we looked at common results over the prior 10 games - much more of an apples-to-apples comparison. Still, nobody can predict the future, so the past is all we have to work with. And the recent past surely is a better point of comparison than an entire schedule that covers a team's performance from last fall through today.
So let's firmly affix our skeptics caps and proceed as if this analysis is really valid...and take this to its logical conclusion. Following is the March/April schedule for the CBJ - all the games after the trade deadline. It was easier for my data entry purposes to go in reverse, but the order of games isn't as relevant for this analysis.
- Counting each game as a unique opponent (hence, St. Louis will get counted three times, Vancouver twice), the Columbus Blue Jackets will play 15 games where the opponent is above .500 in their last 10 games. Of those, three are against Eastern Conference opponents and 12 are against Western Conference.
- Using the same methodology, six CBJ games are against teams that are at or below .500 in the last 10. Those six games are split evenly between Eastern and Western Conference opponents.
- There is one Western Canada swing in early March (with a pit stop - pun intended? - in St. Louis on the way home) and one Colorado/Phoenix trip later on in the month. Honestly, that's not horribly bad for a Western Conference team.
- There are 10 home games and 11 away games. Going back to the last post, I'm not sure which is better. So let's call it a wash.
- The average conference rank of our opponents (again, the same opponent will get counted as many times as we play them) is 7.7 during March and April. By comparison, the average over the CBJ's last 10 was 8.8.
If we know that the CBJ was 5-1 against teams at or below .500 in the prior 10 games, then it seems safe to predict another 5-1 record in the six games that they will play against similar teams. And, if they were 1-2-1 against teams above .500 in the last 10, that (very roughly) projects forward into a 4-7-4 record in the 15 games against like opponents in March and April.
All told, that works out to 9-8-4, or another 22 standings points. If Columbus goes 1-1-1 over the next three games (That's conservative, I know, but I'm guessing any worse and the CBJ garage sale will open up - functionally scuttling the season from a playoffs perspective.), that works out to 10-9-5, 25 more standings points. Add that to the 64 that they have, and that's 89 points. And I'm reading from people smarter than I that it will take somewhere in the 95-96 range to make the playoffs in the West. (I guessed it would take 96 back in October, but what do I know...)
Thus, I'm somewhat surprised to suggest that it will only take a relatively minor improvement in the CBJ's performance over what we've seen during the last 10 games to stay in the mix for a playoff spot. I say that I'm surprised because I honestly am...I figured that the Thanksgiving weekend meltdown had done in the Blue Jackets. But that's not the case. If the team keeps the same pace that they've been on and tacks on a few games taken to overtime instead of lost in regulation, or a couple games where the CBJ steal a regulation win, and we're seriously talking about a first round Stanley Cup playoffs appearance. Who woulda thunk.
At the start of the preseason "Time to Step Up" series, I said this:
|...this is a team that will have to thread the needle in 2010-2011 to achieve the success that CBJ fans have been hoping for over the past 10 NHL seasons. The margin for error is slim to none, especially in the murderers row that is the National Hockey League's Central Division. ... The playoffs CAN be achieved, but it's not a given.|
- DBJ, August 16, 2010
Then, at the close of training camp, I said this:
|I'm going to stick with my ongoing prediction - the Jackets will be right in the playoff mix into the last week of the season. They might get in, they might not, but it sure will be interesting (and indigestion-inducing!). |
- DBJ, October 4, 2010
As we near the three-quarter pole of the regular season, this prediction still feels about right. I never quite thought it would be a drama in three acts like it's been, but everything is evening out in the end (presuming things keep going according to form, which they haven't done all season).
Hang in there, folks...the REAL ride has just begun!
(But PLEASE don't ask me to make any predictions about how they'll do should they get into the playoffs. We're talking about a likely first-round matchup against Vancouver or Detroit, for pete's sake...)