AHEAD BY A CENTURY
It’s only January, but the Hurricanes currently occupy 1st place in the East, and it’s fun to look ahead to the stretch drive. When it comes to the first round of the WHL playoffs, the difference between finishing 1st or 2nd in your division is significant.
What will the Canes need to do over the next two and a half months to top the division?
If I understand the WHL’s new(ish) playoff format correctly, were they to start today, Lethbridge would face the Edmonton Oil Kings. If Red Deer or Calgary passes Lethbridge in the Central Division, the 1st round changes dramatically for the Canes. I’m not point out anything groundbreaking here. It’s always more appealing to win your division and face a less accomplished opponent in the first round.
The reason I mention it at all, is it seems like the stakes are a little higher than normal this season. With the Rebel’s loaded for a deep playoff push, and a very strong Calgary team seemingly getting stronger at the deadline, the top three teams in the Central all have to be considered serious contenders. With how the playoffs work, one of those three teams is going to knock another out in the 1st round. As it stands now, and short of a huge second half by either Medicine Hat or Saskatoon, the division leaders will face one of either Edmonton or Regina (remember, we are a ways out yet so this is all speculation). No offense to either of those clubs, and understanding much has yet to play out – from what I’ve seen – I would much rather a seven game set with either the Pats or Oil Kings than the Hitmen or Rebels.
Again, nothing I’ve just said is profound. I merely want to set the stage and reinforce that winning the division would be massively beneficial in a year where the Rebel’s are hosting the Memorial Cup. So based on past seasons, what will the Hurricanes need to accomplish over their remaining games to ensure they win the division? Let’s look and see what we come up with…
Between 2012-2015, the lowest points total needed to finish in the top two of the conference (retrofitting the current wild card system) was 85 (Regina/Broncos tie 2013/14) – the highest eastern conference points total in the last three seasons was 114 (Wheat Kings 2014/2015). It’s kind of a messy argument because the recent implementation of the wild card playoff formula throws a wrinkle into things, but let’s just settle for the average (100 points). Assuming the Rebels are going to play very well down the stretch, that number may grow.
The Hurricanes have exactly 30 games remaining. They sit at exactly 60 points – good for 1st in the conference. Assuming they will need (at the bare minimum) 100 points to win the division (and that’s probably optimistic), the Hurricanes need to accumulate forty of a possible sixty points. That means winning 20/30 or some combination of wins and extra time loses (though those complicate things when they involve extra points to either RD or CAL). When you break it down, that equals out to somewhere around a .660 winning percentage (give or take). Wanna break it down more?
Win three of every five games from this point in and you will be in conversation for the division.
Putting aside their somewhat inflated PDO numbers, the Hurricanes currently boast a .714 meaning there is some wiggle room. Lethbridge is the hottest team in the league right now, posting a 9-1-0-0 in their last ten. It’s a great run, but it isn’t entirely sustainable, and they will eventually cool down. As long as we keep an even keel and understand that the moving target is 100 points, we can track the likeliness of a division win.
Ultimately to be the best you have to beat the best. It doesn’t matter if that’s in the first round, or the final. Keeping that in mind, 100 points is little more than a provocative and mindless number for fans to cling to. But seeing as I’m a hockey fan (and some would argue a mindless one at that), I’m gonna enjoy my provocative numbers and cheer for 100.
Get it? Ahead…. Benjamin Franklin’s head…. by a century … a century’s 100 years… ahead in the standings… ahhhh nevermind.