The Ottawa Senators need to make a gigantic leap up the standings if they want to participate in the play-offs next year. Fans of the team are likely very familiar with the number 27, the margin by which they failed to qualify for last year’s post-season. There can be no doubt that the team’s roster will be greatly improved, and anything but a substantial change in the end-of-season position will be a disappointment. However, expectations are riding high in the nation’s capital: you don’t shove all of your chips into the middle like Pierre Dorion did this off-season just to miss out on all the fun.
A fun parlour game for Sens fans to pass the dog days of summer has been breaking down just how exactly, Ottawa can be improved by 27 points. The rationale is usually a combination of the addition of Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux, and to a lesser degree Jake Sanderson, along with better health for several of the core players that missed substantial time this past season. As of this writing, however, I have yet to see anyone attempt to quantify just how likely a 27 point improvement really is. It seems like a big ask, and certainly that type of jump doesn’t happen often, but just how common an occurrence is it really? The answer is that since 2007-08, 15 full NHL seasons, there have been fifteen instances where a team improved by at least 27 points versus their year prior. He’s a (massive) table with all of the raw data in case you wanted to sort through it yourselves:
Some notes on the data:
- All of the seasons have been normalized to 82 games so that we can make apples-to-apples comparisons. Where the season was abbreviated, in 2012-13, 2019-20, and 2021, I took the PTS% for each team and pro-rated their pace to a full 82 game season.
- Improvements are then calculated by looking at the difference for each team from one season to the next. This leaves us with a sample of 425 “improvements”.
- The thirteen seasons in question: Anaheim Ducks 2012-13, Arizona Coyotes 09-10, Buffalo Sabres 2015-16, Columbus Blue Jackets 2012-13 and 2016-17, Calgary Flames 2021-22, Chicago 2012-13, Colorado Avalanche 2012-13 and 2017-18, Edmonton Oilers 2016-17, Los Angeles Kings 2021-22, Montreal Canadiens 2012-13, New Jersey Devils 2017-18, Tampa Bay Lightning 2013-14, Winnipeg Jets 2017-18
The good news for Sens fans is that with fifteen occurrences in fifteen seasons, we see an average of one team per year that meets the required threshold. It’s also good news that most of the big improvements have come in the back half of the sample and that two such cases were just last year: the Flames and the Kings. It’s far from impossible and it’s even been happening recently!
The bad news is that 15 out of 425 is a measly 3.5% of seasons. It doesn’t happen a lot. The worse news is that fully four of the fifteen came during the shortened 2012-13 season when the standings were particularly chaotic and the sample was the absolute smallest. Sustaining a very large improvement over 82 games is a lot harder than the mere 48 that every team played that season. The real number is probably closer to eleven out of 394, or 2.8%.
Where does that leave the Ottawa Senators’ 2022-23 play-off aspirations? Firmly in the realm of possible but highly unlikely — but maybe that will just make what comes next all the sweeter.