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Are We Closer to the Bottom or the Bubble?

Hard time for the Devils, but we've gone on a nice run recently. It's worth asking now which we are closer to, the bottom of the league and the 1st overall pick, or the bubble where we could accidentally fall into a playoff spot. I briefly analyze then ask for your opinions.

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Our Hated Rivals did us a favor Wednesday night. By beating Boston, they raised out chances of making the playoffs to 1% (with rounding). That is the highest it has been since a shootout win against Tampa Bay on December 17th. I'm not making these numbers up by the way, they are from Sports Club Stats. If you haven't heard of them they are the online authority for playoff chances in a number of sports. They use weighted percentages to offer a wide range of projections including the odds that each team finishes at a certain seed. This leads me into the first half of my article.

Cellar Vs Bubble Probabilistically (yes it's a word)

Below is a sheet I have created a few times over the course of the year to predict the McDavid Sweepsteaks. It combines the odds that every team finishes in every seed with the NHL Draft Lottery percentages to figure out the chances that each team gets the 1st overall pick. That probability is listed in the 2ns column. Each cell contains the percent chance that the team finishes in the seed listed in that column.

A couple things to focus in on here. One is that at 6.025%, the Devils are the 7th most likely team to end up with the 1st overall pick and likely with Connor McDavid. The second thing is the Devils playoff chances. Let's zoom in on those for a moment.

Seed 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
% chance Devils Finish 1 2 3 4 5 8 10 13 16 17 12 7 2

This is where we can zero in on where the Devils truly lie in the league as far as playoff chances are concerned. Now as mentioned before, the Devils only have a 1% chance of making the playoffs as of now. However I would argue based on an informal review that there is an average of 2-3 bubble teams which would extend the seeds of interest to the 19th seed. If we sum those then there is a 10% chance that the Devils are a bubble team by years end... That was an exceedingly boring couple of sentences and for that, I apologize. I also apologize that you as fans are forced to root for a team that has only a 1% playoff chance and a 10% chance of being respectable. But hey, it could be worse... we could be the Oilers.

Cellar Vs Bubble Logically

When I analyze the team conceptually, its tough to quantify how far we are from either the cellar or the bubble partially because its not clear what the units are.

For instance if I were to analyze how far we are from the bottom of the league measured in number of players needed to accomplish that finish, it'd clearly be the cellar. In my estimation we are 1 MAYBE 2 players away from being arguably the worst team in the league. If tomorrow, Corey Schneider and Jaromir Jagr both got injured, I would put us right down there with everyone other than maybe the Sabres. However I can't reasonably count the pieces that we need to contend legitimately for a playoff spot. We need forwards, but one isn't enough. We need another veteran defender too. And a tough-along-the-boards forward is also a need. I have no concept of how many of those things are necessary to make us a contender again. If you disagree with me then please comment below.

Another method of estimation is just looking at goal differential. Even or better is a contender and the Devils are -19. The worst team in the NHL is the Sabres at a really depressing -88.  Even the vastly superior Oilers are still -50 which makes the Devils closer to the bubble than the bottom in this metric.

The last way I can think about to analyze this is a bit of a "What-if" scenario. If just a few more things went right or wrong, where would we be. As mentioned before we could have had injuries to Jagr or Schneider, but those are 2 pretty stable players so that doesn't seem likely. If Schneider was just a bit worse we could have dropped a lot more games, particularly recently. If Larsson hadn't turned it around and if Severson hadn't come on so strong in the beginning we would have seen some much uglier times, but it is tough to see any of those individual events making us plummet to Sabreian levels. However, As @LW3H tracks year-round, The Devils have the 4th highest cap-hit of injured players in the NHL behind only Columbus, Philly, and Anaheim. If we had some consistency on this roster, I think we would be much better. The forwards changing every game can have a long-term effect on a team and I think we've seen it here. The Devil's were closer in "what-ifs" to being a playoff team than a cellar-dweller.

Your Thoughts

This is what this article is about. I'm curious what you guys have to say. I was just babbling for most of this, but I'm interested what Devils fans on the whole think of this team right now. Are we closer to the bubble or the bottom? Also, what do you think about the 6.025% chance for McDavid? Comment below.