With only 10 games left for the New Jersey Devils, it is debatable how many more games they will win. John had a quality piece up about that back on Monday when 13 were remaining. Of course, they managed to beat Edmonton when I started Mikko Koskinen in my fantasy hockey playoffs, but that’s besides the point. Today, let’s take a look at some of the major key stats and schedules of the teams near New Jersey in the standings. How do they looking heading down the final stretch, and how might that affect the Devils’ final position in the standings?
As of this writing (before Friday night’s games, so whatever NJ did against Vancouver, you can add that in), it looks to me like Ottawa has all but secured the worst record in the NHL this year. They are 4 back of Detroit and Los Angeles with 11 to play, and 7 back of New Jersey. The odds of the Devils ending up with the worst record in hockey is really slim at this point. They would need to essentially lose all of their remaining games, and Ottawa would need to play .500 hockey while Detroit and Los Angeles would need to win a few games. No easy task for all of that to take place.
Therefore, I want to look at the teams in the positions where New Jersey could realistically end up. To me, that looks like anywhere from 27th to 30th in the NHL. Right now, those teams are Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Detroit. The Devils are four behind Anaheim, and three ahead of the other two. That is close enough that the Devils could really end up ahead or behind any of those teams. That would put them anywhere from the 2nd through the 5th picks, before the lottery takes place.
First, let’s look at some basic stats of the teams in question. How do the Devils stack up in some key areas versus these other teams? This will give us some indication of how well the teams could potentially play down the stretch, even if not exactly. At this point, the rosters for these teams are not exactly as pristine as they were in October, but the numbers can still tell us something. Information from Natural Stat Trick and Offside Review. GF% and xGF% are score adjusted.
So these are some pretty bad numbers across the board. Makes sense coming from 4 of the bottom 5 teams in the NHL. PDO not included, of the percentage stats I listed above, only NJ’s high danger Corsi is above 50%. Everything else, for every team, is below 50%, most below 48%.
The Devils have the worst overall Corsi, however, and have been letting opponents run wild right in front of the net recently, so who knows how their actual high danger Corsi will play out the rest of the year. The Devils also have the worst luck of the four, so a couple bounces of the puck could lead to less points one way or another. However, the Devils do have the highest expected goals for of the four, and by a lot. Anaheim is expected to get crushed, Detroit not much better, and the Kings are still almost 2.5 percentage points below NJ in expected goals for. So that could work against NJ tanking worse than these three teams if their luck starts to push more towards the mean and those expected goals come to fruition.
Overall, I think if you’re just talking about the statistics there, you might think the Devils might have a little bit better of a chance to win some games than the other three teams, but that is far from definitive. Their luck has the most chance of improving towards the mean, and their xGF is much higher than their actual GF, also indicating a potential upward trend towards what should be. This might not mean anything over the last ten games, but it could lead to an extra couple of points, which could mean everything in the race to the bottom.
However, schedule of course also plays into it. Do the Devils have the hardest remaining schedule? Let’s see.
The good news for tanking here is that of the four teams, the Devils have the second least amount of games left. Both Los Angeles and Detroit have more. Those extra games give those teams more potential for points, which they could possibly gain.
There are not many games between these teams. The Devils play Detroit once, and Los Angeles plays Anaheim twice. That is it. I am not exactly sure the positives or negatives of that. Those two games between LA and Anaheim I would think would be good, as someone has to gain points in those games. Even better if they go to overtime, as both teams will gain points. If New Jersey actually manages to lose to Detroit, no easy feat I am sure, that would be the perfect scenario for tanking, but if the Devils score like they did against Edmonton the other night, that will almost certainly not happen.
Otherwise, as for playoff teams, Anaheim will play four teams currently in a playoff position, New Jersey will play five, Los Angeles will play six, and Detroit will play seven. Again, this is not perfect for NJ tanking and falling behind LA and Detroit, as both Los Angeles and Detroit will play more playoff teams, but they also play more games period, so that could cancel out.
In the end, all four of these teams are bad, there is no two ways around it. If you are rooting for the tank, the Devils need to lose as many games as possible to possibly get behind Los Angeles or Detroit, also really bad teams. But given some of the stats and what the schedules show, it could be possible to drop below one of them. The main thing would be for NJ’s luck to continue to stay low. If the team’s GF% does not try to catch up to xGF%, and if they remain the lowest of the four in terms of PDO, that should bode well. Either way, it is a good reason to watch the last ten games!