Eastern Conference Pythagorean Expectations

It’s a little past the quarter pole of the NHL season and you’ll see some interesting things in the standings. The Florida Panthers are leading the Southeast, the Washington Capitals are out of the playoff race, the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs would make the playoffs if the season ended today and the Islanders are the worst team in the East. Okay, maybe that last one isn’t too far-fetched but there’s definitely a lot of things going on that many didn’t predict at the beginning of the year. To get a better idea of how these team’s are really performing, we’re going to look at their Pythagorean Expectations to see where they are projected to finish at the end of the year. 

More details after the jump

I know this sounds like some super, complex formula that gets easily dismissed but it’s really just an equation showing how many wins a team is expected to have based on their goal differential. Goals are what wins hockey games after all and this also gives us an idea of which teams are milking the extra point gained from OT/SO losses since those are not counted here. This also shows which teams are getting more clear victories (wins by more than one goal) as those often indicate success further down the line.

Pythagorean expectations were first drawn up by Bill James for baseball teams where he used team’s run differential to show how many wins a team was “expected” to have. What he did was divide the square of the amount of runs a team scored by the sum of the squares of the amount of runs a team scored and of how many they allowed and got a winning percentage out of that. For hockey, we do the same thing only by replacing runs with goals. It’s pretty simple. Cam Charron of Canucks Army did this for the Western Conference and explains things a little more thoroughly than I do here.

Here’s what the Pythagorean totals look like so far:

Team GF GA xW xPts Wins Points
Bruins 81 50 17 33 15 31
Rangers 65 49 14 28 14 31
Penguins 82 64 16 32 15 34
Flyers 80 68 13 27 13 29
Panthers 68 62 14 27 13 30
Sabers 68 63 13 26 13 27
Leafs 82 81 13 25 14 30
Canadiens 65 68 12 25 10 25
Capitals 72 77 11 22 12 25
Devils 58 64 10 21 12 25
Senators 77 86 11 22 12 26
Jets 71 80 11 22 10 24
Lightning 65 76 10 20 11 24
Hurricanes 64 91 9 18 8 20
Islanders 43 69 6 12 7 18

GF = Goals for, GA = Goals allowed, xW = expected win total, xPts = Expected points, Points = points so far

Boston has been dominant and what’s scary is that they are about two wins worse than their expected amount right now. They were struggling for a good couple weeks at the beginning of the year but have been back in full-force since then. The Penguins have also been fantastic this season and are a win worse than they should be but a couple of OT points have boosted them a little bit. The Habs have also been getting the short end of the stick this year as they are about two wins worse than they should be right now and are probably the most unlucky team in the East right now. Or at least they would be if it weren’t for a few OT points.

The Rangers, Panthers, Sabres and Flyers are playing in line with their expectations and it shows that Florida’s play isn’t that much of a fluke. They have a few guys playing over their heads but they’ve been playing some good hockey this season.

The Caps are actually a win better than their expectations right now and that’s mainly due to Vokoun & Neuvirth playing like garbage for the past month or so. The Leafs are also playing well above their expectations and their 7-4 record in one-goal games has a lot to do with that. They have a potent offense but their goaltending has been very weak. The Sens have also received the benefit of some luck this year as they are one win and four points better than their supposed to be.

There hasn’t been a lot of talk about how bad Tampa Bay has been this year as they are not only one of the worst possession teams in the league, they have scored only one more goal than Carolina, have gotten some poor goaltending and are slightly outperforming their expectations this season. The entire Southeast has been pretty weak this year when you look at this. The Canes have been abysmal at preventing goals and the Jets haven’t been much better. Both have been slightly worse than they should be right now but not by a lot.

My favorite part about this is how the Islanders are sitting at the bottom of the standings and have gotten slightly lucky this season. They are four points better than they should be right now which shows that the worst has yet to come on Long Island.

Here’s where each team projects to finish.

Team GF GA xW xPts
Bruins 81 50 59 119
Rangers 65 49 52 105
Penguins 82 64 51 102
Flyers 80 68 48 95
Panthers 68 62 45 90
Sabers 68 63 44 88
Leafs 82 81 42 83
Canadiens 65 68 39 78
Capitals 72 77 38 77
Devils 58 64 37 74
Senators 77 86 36 73
Jets 71 80 36 72
Lightning 65 76 35 69
Hurricanes 64 91 27 54
Islanders 43 69 23 46

Carolina is expected to finish with a lottery pick if they keep playing this bad but one thing the Pythagorean Expectation ignores is things like shooting and save percentage which change a lot over the year. Carolina is one of the worst teams in the league in both categories so I would expect them to have more than 54 points by the end of the year. Ward can not keep playing this bad.

The Islanders are on pace to finish with one of the worst point totals in the history of the NHL and while they’ve been bad, I don’t think they’ll finish that low. It should be noted that I didn’t count OT points here because it’s hard to predict how many of those a team will finish with in a season.

I’m also not buying the Bruins finishing with 119 points even if they have been dominant this season. Keep in mind, we’re looking at the pace that a team is on and with goals scored and allowed being largely luck driven, it’s difficult for a team to maintain a constant pace throughout an 82 game season. This method does give us a better idea of how a team is performing even if the method is a bit crude.

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