Friday, October 22, 2010

"Must Win" v. "Should Win" - DBJ's perspective

For those who have been actively following the Twitter activity of the Columbus Blue Jackets fan base and bloggers (not to mention the blogs themselves), you've probably noticed a little dialogue on the matter of whether the Blue Jackets are facing "must win" games at this point of the season.  Some, like Lee Auer of The JacketsBlog suggest that a game like tonight against Calgary is a "must win":
People who read this blog or follow the Jackets in general will think I’m crazy after this statement… This is ANOTHER must-win game. The Flames are a team that the Blue Jackets need to assert themselves on, especially at home, and that’s not even considering that the Flames have a goaltender making his NHL debut.
Our resident CBJ blogger/attorney, Jeff Little of The Hockey Writers, takes issue with the term (to be clear, this dialogue was extracted from the prior game):
...maybe semantics, but "must" means mandatory -- cannot succeed without it. This is a "should" win, no doubt.
It's a small thing, the question of "must win" games as opposed to "should win" games. However, it opens the door to discuss what really constitutes a "must win" within the context of an 82-game season. So permit me to take a shot at the question.

To me, the long haul of playoff positioning for a National Hockey League season means that consistency in team performance over time, or pace of point accumulation, is paramount.  Thus, winning games you SHOULD win now means you will have that many fewer MUST win games later.

The question then shifts to how many games need to be won - or, more precisely, how many points need to be accumulated - in order to make the playoffs.  Looking at, I learned that the 8th qualifying seed in the Stanley Cup playoffs since the lockout had the following point totals:  95 (09-10),91 (08-09), 91 (07-08),96 (06-07) and 95 (05-06).  The average of those numbers is 93.5, but I think it wisest to pad that number just a tad to ensure that the Blue Jackets will not be popping antacids in game 82 against Buffalo.

So, for argument's sake (and ease of arithmetic), let's push the bar to 96 points.  Post-lockout history appears fairly clear: If your team hits 96 points, you're probably watching a playoff game at your home arena.  Over an 82-game season, that means that your team needs to accumulate roughly 10 points for 6 sequences of 8 games and 9 points for 4 sequences.  That pace reflects an 80-game season, but the extra points gathered in the last couple of games could be looked at as "make-up" (or very real "must win") points if the need arises.

Make sense so far?  Good.

So let's look at the Blue Jackets' schedule in 8-game increments:

Games 1-8
1: "at" San Jose in Stockholm (Loss)
2: San Jose in Stockholm (Win)
3: Chicago (Loss)
4: at Minnesota (Win)
5: Anaheim (Win)
6: Calgary
7: at Chicago
8: Philadelphia
Games 9-16
9: Edmonton
10: at Colorado
11: Montreal
12: at Atlanta
13: Minnesota
14: St. Louis
15: Colorado
16: at Los Angeles
Games 17-24
17: at Anaheim
18: at Sharks
19: Nashville
20: at NY Islanders
21: Detroit
22: at Detroit
23: Nashville
24: at Buffalo
Games 25-32
25: Pittsburgh
26: Dallas
27: at St. Louis
28: NY Rangers
29: at Calgary
30: at Vancouver
31: at Edmonton
32: Dallas
Games 33-40
33: Calgary
34: Vancouver
35: at Chicago
36: Minnesota
37: at Toronto
38: Ottawa
39: at Nashville
40: at Phoenix
Games 41-48
41: at Anaheim
42: at Los Angeles
43: Phoenix
44: Detroit
45: at Detroit
46: at Tampa Bay
47: at Florida
48: at St. Louis
Games 49-56
49: Anaheim
50: Chicago
51: at Detroit
52: Edmonton
53: at Pittsburgh
54: San Jose
55: Colorado
56: at Dallas
Games 57-64
57: Los Angeles
58: at Chicago
59: Nashville
60: Phoenix
61: at Nashville
62: at Vancouver
63: at Edmonton
64: at Calgary
Games 65-72
65: at St. Louis
66: St. Louis
67: Los Angeles
68: Carolina
69: Boston
70: Detroit
71: at Minnesota
72: New Jersey
Games 73-80
73: at Colorado
74: at Phoenix
75: Vancouver
76: Florida
77: at Washington
78: Chicago
79: St. Louis
80: at Dallas
Extra games
81: at Nashville
82: Buffalo

Accumulating 10 points over any 8-game span means that the Blue Jackets would need to have the following records:
  • 5 wins, 3 regulation losses
  • 4 wins, 2 regulation losses, 2 overtime losses
  • 3 wins, 1 regulation loss, 4 overtime losses
Of course, any 8-game span with more than 5 wins is more than enough.

To get to 9 points in 8 games, the CBJ would need:
  • 4 wins, 3 regulation losses, 1 overtime loss
  • 3 wins, 2 regulation losses, 3 overtime losses
  • 2 wins, 1 regulation loss, 5 overtime losses
Let's consider the current span - Games 1-8.  With 5 games in the bag, the Blue Jackets have 6 points (3-2-0).  In order to maintain a 96-point pace, they would need to go 0-0-3 or 1-1-1 to get to 9 points, or 1-0-2 or 2-1-0 to get to 10.  This group includes:
  • Calgary (currently 3-3-0), 
  • Chicago (5-2-1) and 
  • Philadelphia (2-3-1).  
Not the hardest 3-game sequence, but by far not the easiest.  If you buy my philosophy of keeping a playoff-qualifying pace throughout the season, that makes tonight's Calgary game a "must win" on three levels: 
  1. Calgary appears to be a beatable team, 
  2. Calgary is arguably an easier target than either of last season's Stanley Cup Finals participating teams, Chicago or Philadelphia, though Philly clearly has had their own issues this season, and 
  3. Calgary could be considered a rival for a Western playoff spot, so a win against the Flames deprives them of points for their own playoff chase.  This makes a win over Calgary preferable to a win over Philly if one was forced to choose. (But I'd gladly take both wins, thank you.)
Of course, we're still in the section of the season where, as Jeff suggests, there are no "must win" games.  It's a "should win" game, to be sure, but not a bona fide "must win" by Jeff's strict standard.  However, by winning now, the Blue Jackets relieve pressure on themselves down the stretch...reducing the number of "must win" games.  A win in October counts just the same as a win in April, folks!

Barring an unforseen run of incredibly good fortune, this will be a nip-and-tuck type of season for the Blue Jackets as it relates to their playoff chances.  Scanning through the ten 8-game sequences, I can see some where 9 or 10 points is very reachable.  There are others (like Games 17-24...ouch!) where I'm scratching my head and wondering where the lucky puck will fall.  The margin for error is slim to none, and those 81st and 82nd games may very well come in handy.  

So that's how I look at the season - and how I look at the "should win"/"must win" discussion.  Hopefully it makes sense to you folks.



  1. 100% agree - must win

  2. Great post, man! Good stuff!

  3. Well DBJ -
    Should was didn't. Ow. Iginla's fight energized the flames way more than it did the CBJ. May we please see an end to the 'Rick Nash at Right Wing Experiment'! You note that he played left wing in the Olympics. Why not start by making our best player his best.
    Nash - Vermette - Voracek (pushing players)
    Juice - Brass - Filatov (passing players - Filtov has not earned a coveted left wing position. Make him play the right.)
    third and fourth lines are ok based on them leading the scoring.
    Rant complete.
    tx -

  4. This is a fantastic post. I feel much better about the CBJ after reading this.

  5. Now that we have beaten Philly, I think one can say your window of games played to points is too narrow when looking at every 8 games. Many said Calgary was a must win. It was a should win, not because of points either, but because they were a team we should beat.

    I prefer to use 12 points in every 10 games to monitor playoff pace. Still looking at 96 points after 80 games with to in the bank.

    With the win against Philly the CBJ only need 2 points over the next 2 games to achieve that mark.


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