To Hope, or Not to Hope... Revisited.

Two weeks ago, I made a post addressing what the Isles' playoff hopes were, based on the standings at the time, as well as strength of schedule (especially vs. the teams directly above them in the standings), and number of games those teams had remaining against each other.

Given the ensuing discussion - especially as it pertains to those saying the playoffs are within reach vs. those saying it's time to trade away some players - I said I'd go back and look again at the situation, right before the trade deadline. Has anything changed?

Reader be warned: Last time, I concluded that I wouldn't blame Garth Snow for trading players away, given how bleak the situation looked. If you didn't like what I said then (I actually hadn't given up hope yet at that point), you're likely not going to like what I say now.

First off, let's see some of the same basic information as last time. Keep in mind that I'm typing this as the Isles are playing the Sens, the day before Trade Deadline Day, so as to give everyone a chance to discuss the post if they are so inclined. So these stats are as of the close of business on Saturday 2/25/12. Here are the standings of teams 7 through 15, as well as their remaining strength of schedule:

Strth of

GP Pts Sched Rank
7. Florida 60 68 0.531 30
8. Winnipeg 64 68 0.549 22
9. Washington 62 67 0.558 17
10. Toronto 62 65 0.558 18
11. Buffalo 62 62 0.561 13
12. NY Islanders 61 60 0.575 5
13. Tampa Bay 61 60 0.552 21
14. Carolina 62 59 0.561 14
15. Montreal 62 58 0.545 26

Including anyone above Florida is a bit of a reach at this point. Ottawa is six clear of Florida at the time of this exercise. So, the Isles have the fifth-toughest strength of schedule in the league for the rest of the season, and second-worst in the Eastern Conference (Pittsburgh has the only tougher set of opponents left). This isn't terribly different from when I did this two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the Isles have only seven games left against the opponents you see above. Here are the games everyone has left against each other:

7. Florida --- 2 1 2 1 1 0 3 2 12
8. Winnipeg 2 --- 2 0 1 1 2 2 0 10
9. Washington 1 2 --- 1 1 2 2 1 1 11
10. Toronto 2 0 1 --- 2 1 2 1 2 11
11. Buffalo 1 1 1 2 --- 0 1 1 2 9
12. NY Islanders 1 1 2 1 0 --- 1 0 1 7
13. Tampa Bay 0 2 2 2 1 1 --- 2 2 12
14. Carolina 3 2 1 1 1 0 2 --- 1 11
15. Montreal 2 0 1 2 2 1 2 1 --- 11

This is a major problem. Everyone else has far more games left against the immediate competition. And with the Bettman Bonus Point, that makes a lot of points to have to earn the rest of the way - regardless of opponent. In just considering these games, if everything breaks the Isles' way, it still might not be enough to get to eighth. For example, if the Isles and Florida (since they're in seventh anyway, it would be good for them to win every head-to-head game against all competition) win every game in regulation, and the 8th through 11th place teams lose every game in regulation, the Isles are still not in eighth, because the teams below the Isles must have won those head-to-head games against the teams above the Isles. I actually tried to come up with a situation where the Isles would get to the final playoff seed, not counting games these teams have left against the top six teams in the East and any remaining games vs. the West. Here's what I came up with:

Points New
Earned Games Standings Standings
GP Pts H-2-H Remaining Points Position
7. Florida 60 68 22 10 90 7
8. Winnipeg 64 68 2 8 70 13
9. Washington 62 67 2 9 69 14
10. Toronto 62 65 6 9 71 12
11. Buffalo 62 62 6 11 68 15
12. NY Islanders 61 60 14 14 74 9
13. Tampa Bay 61 60 16 9 76 8
14. Carolina 62 59 14 9 73 10
15. Montreal 62 58 14 9 72 11

(The column just to the left of the current standings points is the number of points each of the teams would earn head-to-head against the other teams on this list. Games Remaining would be the number of all other games each team has left. New Standings points would be what each team would have if all these head-to-head games were played first, before all other games against the top six in the East and everyone in the West)

Assuming what I said earlier, except with a few of the games going the other way (where teams above 12th beat teams below 12th, so that those teams don't leapfrog the Isles), the Isles are still only 9th. And this is with zero head-to-head games going to overtime. There are 24 games remaining amongst this group of teams, and assuming all of these games turn out exactly as I input them (the odds of which, assuming a coin flip for each game, is 0.17%), the Isles would be ninth, two points behind Tampa Bay. Note that if I changed a few more games, I could likely inch the Isles just up to eighth, but you get the point. Now, it's true that the Isles would at that point still have 14 games left against other teams (Rags, Pens, Flyers, etc), but.... did I mention how much tougher that strength of schedule is?

Now, obviously winning every game would be enough to get there (102 points), or winning all these head-to-heads and then having the Isles keep their heads above water against the other East teams. But neither of those are realistic, nor is it realistic that the head-to-head games will be decided without Bettman Bonus Points, and that those games will break exactly the way the Isles need to jump ahead of everyone. As I type this, the Isles just gave up the empty netter to the Sens, and Tampa won a game against one of the top six East teams. And the playoffs become even more improbable.

I hate to say it, especially because I don't like to kill anyone's enthusiasm, but the Isles are sellers. This will (or at least should) surprise almost no one. Quite simply, the league hands out extra standings points like candy. If the Bettman Bonus Point didn't exist and the standings would be the same as they are now, it would still be difficult to climb over these teams, but it would be far more possible. But with the extra points, everything you see above can only get worse for our team. Despite being six or eight points out, the Islanders simply aren't going to get there unless the hockey gods pull of a miracle so grand that it'd even get airtime on - dare I say it? - ESPN. This is why the point for an OT/Shootout loss will likely always be around, because it keeps false hope alive, and therefore fannies in the seats until near the end of the season.

I just hope Garth Snow can see how dire the situation is. I'm not saying the Isles should trade away P.A. Parenteau or Evgeni Nabokov or any other specific player, but if the Isles make any trades, it should be to send away players who don't fit into this team's future.

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