Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What .500 means in the NHL

In sports, it's common to refer to teams as x games above or below .500 to get an idea of how well they are doing. But in the NHL these days, it's a meaningless assertion. Since the NHL instituted an extra point for overtime or shootout losses, some games have 3 total points awarded, while others only have 2. So just because a team has an equal number of wins and losses doesn’t mean it’s a .500 club.

Let’s take the 2009-10 Toronto Maple Leafs as an example. They are now 7-12-7, which on its own isn’t particularly terrible. But when you realize that those 7 OT losses are in fact losses, you can say that the team is 7-19, a truly horrible record. Yes, they get a point for those losses, but their opponent got two, so the Leafs fall further behind in the standings. A better example might be the New York Islanders, who are 10-10-7 – looks good at first, but in reality this team is struggling and currently out of the playoffs.

So what makes a .500 team in the NHL these days? To figure this out, you need to determine how many games go to overtime and therefore have that extra point awarded. This season, the number of overtime games is actually quite high – out of the 390 games played so far, 106 (27.2%) had bonus hockey. This means an extra 106 points available for the teams that win. So to determine what a .500 record should be you have to take the total number of points awarded (886) divided by the total number of teams (30) to get 29.53 points. Of course, right now teams may have played a different number of games, but the 390 total games played averages to exactly 26 games per team. So you’d be looking at 3.5 more wins than losses to be considered around .500 at this point in the season. Extrapolating these numbers for an 82-game schedule shows that 93.13 points would be required to be an average (.500) team. That's 11 more wins than non-OT losses and not that easy to achieve.

I suspect that by season’s end, the playoff cutoff will again be around 93-94 points and we’ll hear how wonderful it is that .500 teams can’t make the playoffs anymore. Now you know this isn’t quite true.



1 comment:

  1. D&M think this is very interesting.