To Hope, or Not to Hope...

...that is the ... yada yada yada.

There's been lots of talk about here recently about the Isles' chances of making the playoffs, especially in relation to the trade deadline (should we trade this guy or that guy or will they be the ones who get us to the Promised Land?). On one side, you have people seeing the points differential between the Isles and 8th place slowly shrinking, and on the other, you have those who count the number of teams between the Isles and 8th and say it can never happen.

So I had some spare time during lunch today to analyze the hill our team must climb. Here's what I found.

First up is determining how easy the Isles' remaining games will be. That's fairly simple: just figure out each team's strength of schedule for their remaining games (Str Schd column below). After listing all the remaining games and averaging out the points percentage of each team's remaining opponents (in other words, adding the current "winning percentage" of each opponent and then dividing by the remaining number of games left), we get this for the Eastern Conference:

W L OTL Pts Pts Pct Str Schd Rank
1. NY Rangers 37 13 5 79 0.718 0.54865 13
2. Boston 34 18 2 70 0.648 0.55747 9
3. Florida 27 17 11 65 0.591 0.52752 15
4. Philadelphia 31 18 7 69 0.616 0.56541 5
5. Pittsburgh 32 19 5 69 0.616 0.57112 4
6. New Jersey 32 20 4 68 0.607 0.57252 2
7. Ottawa 29 22 8 66 0.559 0.55766 8
8. Toronto 28 23 6 62 0.544 0.56359 6
9. Washington 28 23 5 61 0.545 0.54937 12
10. Winnipeg 26 26 6 58 0.500 0.55531 10
11. NY Islanders 24 24 8 56 0.500 0.57537 1
12. Montreal 23 25 9 55 0.482 0.54858 14
13. Buffalo 24 26 6 54 0.482 0.57175 3
14. Tampa Bay 24 26 6 54 0.482 0.55210 11
15. Carolina 21 25 11 53 0.465 0.56035 7

[Points percentage is the percentage of points your team has earned versus the total number of points that could have potentially earned. Therefore, if your team played 50 games so far, then there's 100 points up for grabs. If your team has 60 points, then your team has a .600 points percentage.]

The last column, Rank, shows who has the toughest remaining schedule, and our Isles are #1. Unfortunately, that's the opposite of a good thing. They have the toughest remaining schedule of all Eastern Conference teams, while the four teams immediately above them (Ottawa through Winnipeg) have either easy or middle-of-the-road schedules left to their seasons.

Yikes! This isn't starting off very well. I was going to next project how the teams would do based on their strength of schedule, but obviously at this point, any such calculation would only show the Isles dropping further. So let's try something else instead.

How about games remaining versus the competition? Four point games are incredibly crucial, so if the Isles win the majority of their games against the Ottawas and Washingtons, they'd be in pretty good shape, right? Let's just focus on seventh place (who the Isles currently trail by 10 points) down to the Isles' current position:

Points Games Potential
Behind vs. Gap
7. Ottawa 10 3 4
8. Toronto 6 1 4
9. Washington 5 2 1
10. Winnipeg 2 1 0
11. NY Islanders --- --- ---

If the Isles won each and every game against the teams that stand between themselves and the playoffs, the Isles would still be four points out (the "Potential Gap" above). But there's another thing to consider: games in hand. The Isles have three in hand on the Sens, and one in hand each on Washington and Winnipeg. If the Isles win all of those games as well, they'd leap frog the Sens, Caps, and Jets, and would be in 8th place, four points behind the Leafs. And remember: that's if the Isles win ALL of those head-to-head games, and then still find a way to maintain their razor-thin leads over the Sens, Caps and Jets the rest of the way, while carrying out the most difficult remaining schedule.

Add to that the fact that the teams above our Isles also have games remaining against each other. There are plenty of potential three-point games that can make life even more difficult: the Sens play the Caps, Jets, and Leafs once each. The Caps and Leafs play twice, as do the Caps and Jets. There will definitely be two points handed out to each of the teams above the Isles for each of these games, so at least some of those thin leads that the Isles would have if they won every head-to-head match-up with these teams are actually a mirage.

Look, I'm the first person who wants to believe that there's a chance the Isles are getting into the playoffs, but they would have to play so over their heads and then some to get it done. Is there a chance? Well, yes. In fact, according to Sports Club Stats, the odds stand around 4% before the start of tonight's games (assuming a coin-flip determining a victory). I'd love nothing more than to think they can pull it off, but if you were Garth Snow, and you did this math, it'd be hard not to start looking towards next year. [UPDATE: Actually, as pointed out by Mark D, the odds were 14% assuming coin flips. 4% was the odds when the program weighs the coin flip based on current records. Apparently they switched what the default is since the last time I've viewed the site. So Mark just tripled our chances! Woo-hoo!!!]

All of these stats are as of the close of 2/14/12. There are about a dozen days until the trade deadline, and about half a dozen Isles games. I'll revisit this issue a day or two before the deadline to see if anything changed significantly. But I would think that if the odds are still that bad at that point, Garth will start shopping a few people. Is it really worth holding on to players who you don't think will re-sign, just for that small sliver of a chance that all the planets align correctly for a #8 seed?

Sorry to those who might've had their hopes dampened by this. I'm sure you already knew the odds weren't good, but that didn't stop you before. No reason why you should stop now.

<em>Submitted FanPosts do not necessarily reflect the views of this blog or SB Nation. If you're reading this statement, you pass the fine print legalese test. Four stars for you.</em>