It’s strange to say this on January 24th with 37 games to go, but it’s increasingly likely that the Ottawa Senators will be in the playoffs after missing them last year. Of course nothing is certain until they have clinched a playoff berth, but the odds are certainly in their favour.
It’s funny how rapidly things can change in a few weeks, because at the end of 2016, it was looking like the next three months would be a dog fight for the last few playoff spots. It still might be, but the Senators are now in a much better position than many of their divisional and conference opponents.
Here are the division standings as of Tuesday morning:
If you look at raw point totals, Ottawa looks like they are barely hanging on. However, their games played total sticks out like a sore thumb. Or whatever the good version of a sore thumb is.
Our friend Micah Blake McCurdy (who does fantastic work at Hockeyviz.com) released playoff chances as of Monday, and Ottawa sits as the 6th most likely team in the East to make it in:
Playoff chances, West and East. pic.twitter.com/Nh0EynyhRC— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) January 23, 2017
It may be hard to see, but Ottawa is that dark line that sits just below the 80% mark—-76% to be exact. If you notice, they have made quite the jump even since two weeks ago when they were hovering below 60%.
Their recent jump is even more pronounced when you look back a bit further.
The site SportsClubStats.com is not perfect because they don’t include external factors such as quality of opponent and quality of the team itself like Micah’s model does, but I find their numbers interesting nonetheless. For their model, they have Ottawa at a 87.1% chance to make it in.
What was that number on January 1st? 47.45%.
In the last three and a half weeks, they have risen quite high, and honestly that rise can be traced all the way back to November 20th after they lost to the Florida Panthers 4-1. That was their low-point on the season with just a 20.53% chance to make the playoffs.
Since then, they have a record of 15-8-4. The funny thing is, after the loss to the Panthers, they were 10-7-1 and on pace for 96 points. Since that game, they have played on a 103 point pace, which is obviously better, but not enormously different.
So why have Ottawa’s playoff chances risen about 60% since then? For two reasons.
Firstly, they have games in hand on almost every team in the conference. They have played five fewer than Boston, four fewer than Florida, three fewer than Tampa Bay, and Toronto and the Islanders are the only teams that have played as few as Ottawa. Despite that, they have more points than many of their conference opponents.
Which brings me to the second reason, and that is because an endless amount of teams in the East are absolutely crumbling.
The Boston Bruins should be better as they lead the league in corsi and have some good players, yet they are mired in a 3-6-2 slump and could fire their coach at any moment. The Tampa Bay Lightning are somehow dead last in the Eastern Conference after a 2-7-1 stretch, and have played more games than the two teams ahead of them (Detroit and Buffalo).
The Florida Panthers were supposed to be contenders this year, but injuries and inconsistency has plagued them to a sub-par 20-19-10 record. The Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres have played a bit better recently, although I don’t think anyone takes them seriously as a potential playoff team.
Even a team like the Philadelphia Flyers, who the Senators might have to battle for a wildcard spot, have been atrocious for a long stretch since their winning streak. That leaves us with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are essentially the only team close to Ottawa that has been playing well recently.
They are certainly a threat for the 2nd seed, and there is a very good possibility that the two of them match up in the first round. Sportsclubstats has it at a 51.2% chance of happening, and Micah has it at a more realistic percentage, but still a high one:
Odds for a Toronto-Ottawa first round matchup are about 3 to 1 at the moment. One of the more likely single matchups.— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) January 23, 2017
The point is, even if Toronto catches up to Ottawa, they are still looking pretty good for the rest of the season, because the 3rd seed or even a wildcard should be there for the taking.
Right now, the 9th seed in points percentage (Carolina) is on pace for only 85 points. In the end, the threshold will most likely be higher than that at around 90-92 perhaps, but the bar is not that high to clear for the Senators. Even to get to 92 points, they need 37 points in 37 games, or a record of something like 16-16-5. For 86 points, 13-19-5 would suffice.
Of course it would be better if Ottawa got the second or third seed rather than a wildcard, but nevertheless the playoffs are looking like a strong possibility right now.
If Ottawa does not take advantage of all their games in hand on teams, then their situation gets a bit more questionable, but they have still set themselves up well for the rest of the way. I’m not sure how good this team can really be or if they are better than some of the teams beneath them, but with points in the bank, they should not have to worry about missing the playoffs.
Hopefully for the first time in a long time we can worry about seeding for the playoffs, rather than just getting into them. There’s lots of games still to be played, but the odds are on the Senators side.
Just prepare yourselves for another excruciating Battle of Ontario.