Predicting any outcome in sports is pretty tough. And I type that mindful of the fact that millions of Americans are furiously filling out brackets right now as March Madness is about to tip off.
So, I'm not going to predict who will win which games from here on out. At least not right now.
I am going to try to perform some analysis on the strength of schedule for each of the key players battling with the Wild to make the Western Conference's playoffs.
To me, this is do-able after determining a couple givens.
First, that past performance IS indicative of future results. (At least as a meaningful variable.)
Second, that there is an advantage to playing at home, and thus a disadvantage to playing on the road.
For this analysis, I first ranked the teams in the NHL based on NHL.com's current league-wide standings. The best team in the league was ranked #1 and the worst team in the league was ranked #30.
Then I mapped out the remaining schedules for the following teams: Minnesota, Colorado, Calgary, Vancouver and Nashville. *I will keep an eye on Edmonton as they are making a late charge as well.
For each game, I attributed the same value as the ranking of the opponent. So, if Minnesota is playing Colorado, and Colorado is the 10th-ranked team, then that game gets a value of 10 to start with.
Then, I added 0.5 points if it was a home game, and subtracted 0.5 points if it was a road game. So if Minnesota is playing Colorado in St. Paul, the 10 becomes a 10.5; and if they are playing in Denver the 10 becomes a 9.5. The idea here is that the "harder" the game the lower the points attributed to it. Conversely, the "easier" the game, the higher the points attributed to it.
Then, I factored in the team in question's winning percentage (season-to-date) at home or away, depending on that particular game. So if Minnesota is playing Colorado at home, the original 10 becomes a 10.5, and then that value is multiplied by Minnesota's home winning percentage (0.645) for a final value of 7.42 for that particular game.
Finally, I totalled up and averaged all the points for all the remaining games.
Here are my results:
3. Minnesota 72 GP/84 pts
6. Calgary 72 GP/84 pts
7. Colorado 73 GP/84 pts
8. Vancouver 72 GP/82 pts
9. Nashville 73 GP/80 pts
*data from NHL.com
Total Strength of Schedule for remaining games:
Current home/away winning percentages:
Minnesota: home .645 / away .545
Colorado: home .657 / away .500
Calgary: home .643 / away .559
Vancouver: home .633 / away .531
Nashville: home .625 / away .485
*data from nhl.com
*So Colorado has the hardest remaining schedule, while Nashville has the easiest remaining schedule.
Colorado: With nine games remaining, the Avs give up a game in hand over everyone except Nashville. They have 2 games remaining against Edmonton - which would seem to be a good thing, except that Minnesota, Calgary and Vancouver all have two games against the Oilers as well. All of their 9 remaining games are in the division. Five of their remaining games are on the road, but their final game is at home, against the Wild.
Minnesota: With ten games left, the Wild has a rough road as well. They have one non-division game, but it's in San Jose and the Sharks have dominated the Wild this season (Wild is 0-3-0 against them). So that game in hand against the Avs is nice, but it's tempered by the opponent. The Wild does have four of their last five at home, but that final game in Denver (where they are 1-2-0 this season) looms very large. And a big four-game road trip (San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton) directly before that home stand could mean their shot at the division title is over by the time they get home.
Vancouver: Also has ten games remaining, and they have one game out of the division (vs. Phoenix). Tempering their relatively strong schedule ahead is a season-ending four game home stand (Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Calgary). Interesting to note that the Canucks have the worst home winning percentage of the four NW division teams at this point.
Calgary: Has the easiest schedule among the NW division teams for the sole reason that they have a game left against 23rd-ranked Columbus. Apart from that outlier, their schedule is pretty similar to Colorado, Minnesota and Vancouver. They do finish the season with a four-game road trip, but that can be a good thing in that it gets the team out of the craziness of being at home in crunch time.
Nashville: Has the easiest schedule of the group, though they give up a game in hand to Minnesota, Calgary and Vancouver. Two against Chicagao, St. Louis and Columbus certainly mitigate having two left against the Red Wings. They also finish with two straight at home (St. Louis, Chicago).
Given all this, you have to like Nashville's chances of sneaking into that 8th spot. Four teams from one division is tough anyway - especially with all the in-fighting they would have to do to get there. But who among the NW division teams falls? Tough to say Vancouver with that four-gamer at home to end it. I'll say Calgary looks to be in the most precarious situation with those four games on the road to end the season. And Minnesota can't like ending the season in Denver with so much on the line.