Past East Playoff Battles After The Trade Deadline

 

In appears that the Eastern Conference is in for a wild ride as 5 teams try to shoehorn their way into the final 2 playoff spots. I thought it would be interesting to look at how the last four seasons have played out following the Trade Deadline. I have constructed a table for each year that shows where each team stood on the Trade Deadline Day, how they played after Trade Day and their final rankings. Let's see what we can learn from recent history.

2005-06 East Playoff Race

The 2006 playoff race is the least interesting of the four. The 8 teams that were in a playoff position on Trade Day held serve and kept their spots--this is the only year of the four where there was no turnover after Trade Day. The Thrashers and Leafs both made a charge and increased their Winning % substantially after Trade Day but each finished one win shy of being tied for 8th.

One pattern that emerges in 2006 is that the top two seeds really coasted into the playoffs. This will be true of all four East post-lockout battles. The top seeds know they have qualified and they do not sustain their previous Win %. What is interesting is that the 3rd seed often increases their Win %--perhaps this is an effort to improve their home ice seeding for the post-season.

 

Team Pre Pts Post Pts Final Pts PRE W% Post W% Final W% Pre Pace Post Pace Final
CAR 91 21 112 0.734 0.525 0.683 120 86 112 IN
OTT 87 26 113 0.713 0.619 0.689 117 102 113 IN
BUF 85 25 110 0.697 0.595 0.671 114 98 110 IN
NYR 81 19 100 0.653 0.475 0.610 107 78 100 IN
PHI 80 21 101 0.635 0.553 0.616 104 91 101 IN
NJD 72 29 101 0.581 0.725 0.616 95 119 101 IN
TAM 70 22 92 0.556 0.579 0.561 91 95 92 HOLD
MON 69 24 93 0.556 0.600 0.567 91 98 93 HOLD
ATL 66 24 90 0.524 0.632 0.549 86 104 90 CHARGE
TOR 61 29 90 0.500 0.690 0.549 82 113 90 CHARGE
NYI 60 18 78 0.492 0.429 0.476 81 70 78 OUT
BOS 60 14 74 0.476 0.368 0.451 78 60 74 OUT
FLA 57 28 85 0.460 0.700 0.518 75 115 85 OUT
WSH 50 20 70 0.410 0.476 0.427 67 78 70 OUT
PIT 40 18 58 0.317 0.474 0.354 52 78 58 OUT


2006-07 East Playoff Race

The 2007 East Playoff Race was more exciting with the Rangers pulling a huge upset and coming from 7 points back to snag a post-season birth. To accomplish this feat they put together an insane .750 Win % and were on a pace for 123 points in the post-Trade Deadline part of the season. The 8th place team at the time of the trade deadline was defending Cup champs Carolina who were bumped out by a hot Rangers club and an anemic .472 Win % in the final quarter of the regular season. Montreal and Toronto were right in the mix at the Trade Deadline but the Thrashers pulled away and the Islanders just barely hung on.

 

Team Pre Pts Post Pts Final Pts PRE W% Post W% Final W% Pre Pace Post Pace Final
BUF 87 26 113 0.702 0.650 0.689 115 107 113 IN
NJD 84 23 107 0.667 0.605 0.652 109 99 107 IN
PIT 75 30 105 0.615 0.714 0.640 101 117 105 IN
OTT 76 29 105 0.613 0.725 0.640 101 119 105 IN
TAM 75 18 93 0.586 0.500 0.567 96 82 93 IN
ATL 74 23 97 0.569 0.676 0.591 93 111 97 IN
NYI 70 22 92 0.565 0.550 0.561 93 90 92 HOLD
CAR 71 17 88 0.555 0.472 0.537 91 77 88 FOLD
MON 72 18 90 0.554 0.529 0.549 91 87 90 CHARGE
TOR 69 22 91 0.548 0.579 0.555 90 95 91 CHARGE
NYR 64 30 94 0.516 0.750 0.573 85 123 94 UPSET
BOS 64 12 76 0.516 0.300 0.463 85 49 76 OUT
FLA 61 25 86 0.484 0.658 0.524 79 108 86 OUT
WSH 58 12 70 0.460 0.316 0.427 75 52 70 OUT
PHI 41 15 56 0.331 0.375 0.341 54 62 56 OUT

 

2007-08 East Playoff Race

The 2008 East race featured another dramatic come-from-behind story as the Washington Capitals completed one of the more amazing in-season turnaround stories. At the Tread Deadline the Caps were still 5 points back of the 8th place team but a crazy good .789 Win % allowed them to blow past the field of competitors and qualify. The Flyers managed to hold onto their spot, but the Sabres who lost the playoff spot they held on Trade Day due to the Caps surge into the  top 8. The Islanders were in the mix but they played expansion team bad in the final quarter of the season. The Carolina Hurricanes had some tough luck, they were in a three way tie for the 8th spot on Trade Day and managed to increase their Win %, but the red hot Caps surpassed them and the Flyers pulled away, leaving the Canes to play early golf.

 

Team Pre Pts Post Pts Final Pts PRE W% Post W% Final W% Pre Pace Post Pace Final
NJD 79 20 99 0.627 0.526 0.604 103 86 99 IN
OTT 78 16 94 0.619 0.421 0.573 102 69 94 IN
PIT 77 25 102 0.611 0.658 0.622 100 108 102 IN
MON 75 29 104 0.595 0.763 0.634 98 125 104 IN
BOS 70 24 94 0.574 0.571 0.573 94 94 94 IN
NYR 72 25 97 0.563 0.694 0.591 92 114 97 IN
PHI 69 26 95 0.548 0.684 0.579 90 112 95 HOLD
BUF 69 21 90 0.548 0.553 0.549 90 91 90 FOLD
NYI 67 12 79 0.532 0.316 0.482 87 52 79 OUT
CAR 69 23 92 0.531 0.676 0.561 87 111 92 CHARGE
WSH 64 30 94 0.508 0.789 0.573 83 129 94 UPSET
TOR 63 20 83 0.492 0.556 0.506 81 91 83 OUT
ATL 62 14 76 0.492 0.368 0.463 81 60 76 OUT
FLA 63 22 85 0.485 0.647 0.518 79 106 85 OUT
TAM 57 14 71 0.460 0.350 0.433 75 57 71 OUT

2008-09 East Playoff Race

Last year's playoff battle featured two upsets. There were 4 teams basically tied for the last 2 playoffs spots, based on Win percentage. Pittsburgh and Carolina would have been out, but each team played red hot over the final quarter and continued rolling right into the post-season where the would meet each other in the Eastern Conference Finals. Buffalo and Rangers were neck and neck with the Penguins and Hurricanes at Trade Day, the Rangers managed to hang on while the Sabres were bumped out of the playoffs. But the biggest fall was that of the Florida Panthers who had a small 2 point lead and kept star D Jay Bouwmeester only to see their Win % slip down the stretch and miss the post-season by one point.

 

Team Pre Pts Post Pts Final Pts PRE W% Post W% Final W% Pre Pace Post Pace Final
BOS 93 23 116 0.727 0.639 0.707 119 105 116 IN
NJD 87 19 106 0.680 0.528 0.646 111 87 106 IN
WSH 85 23 108 0.654 0.676 0.659 107 111 108 IN
PHI 78 21 99 0.629 0.525 0.604 103 86 99 IN
MON 75 18 93 0.586 0.500 0.567 96 82 93 IN
FLA 74 19 93 0.578 0.528 0.567 95 87 93 FOLD
NYR 72 23 95 0.563 0.639 0.579 92 105 95 HOLD
BUF 71 20 91 0.555 0.556 0.555 91 91 91
PIT 72 27 99 0.554 0.794 0.604 91 130 99 UPSET
CAR 71 26 97 0.546 0.765 0.591 90 125 97 UPSET
TOR 63 18 81 0.492 0.500 0.494 81 82 81 OUT
OTT 56 27 83 0.452 0.675 0.506 74 111 83 OUT
TAM 54 12 66 0.422 0.333 0.402 69 55 66 OUT
ATL 52 24 76 0.406 0.667 0.463 67 109 76 OUT
NYI 47 14 61 0.373 0.368 0.372 61 60 61 OUT

 

2009-10 East Playoff Race

Based on past patterns any team with a 3 point lead or greater is highly likely to make the post-season, so I count 6 likely playoff teams including the Flyers. Much like last year that leaves a desperate scramble of four teams (BOS, ATL, NYR, MON) for the last 2 berths. Tampa has an outside chance but they would need to play .750 hockey the rest of the way to have any shot. At the Trade Deadline Montreal had more points but other teams like the Thrasher have as many as 3 games in hand on them. If you look at points Montreal is in 7th, but if you look at Win % they are in 10th--that's how close the East is this year.

 

Team Pre Pts PRE W% Pre-Pace
WSH 90 0.726 119 IN
NJD 79 0.637 104 IN
PIT 78 0.619 102 IN
BUF 75 0.615 101 IN
OTT 76 0.594 97 IN
PHI 69 0.566 93 IN
BOS 65 0.533 87
ATL 64 0.525 86
NYR 65 0.516 85
MON 66 0.516 85
TAM 63 0.508 83
NYI 60 0.476 78 OUT
FLA 58 0.468 77 OUT
CAR 57 0.460 75 OUT
TOR 49 0.395 65 OUT

 

Post-Season Threshold: A Moving Target?

Careful readers may have noticed that if you look at the 8th place team on Trade Day and compare that with the final number of points won by the end-of-season 8th place team, the target rises over the final quarter of the season. How much does it go up? The first two years the number of points to qualify rose 1 point after the Trade Deadline and two years ago it rose a whopping 4 points, while last year it increased 2 points. My guess is that the fierce battle in the East will probably require 89-90 points to get in.

 

8th Place Team Points Pace
Season Trade Final Change
2006 91 92 1
2007 91 92 1
2008 90 94 4
2009 91 93 2
2010 86 ?? ??

 

Key Conclusions

  • It is extremely difficult for a team to make up ground after the Trade Deadline. If you're not within a point or two of 8th place on Trade Day the odds of making the post-season are very tough.
  • Only two teams have manged to overcome any sizable point deficit in the last 4 springs. The 2008 Washington Capitals made up 5 points and 2007 Rangers made up 7 points.Out of about 20 teams seeking to break into the top 8 only 10% have managed the feat over the last 4 springs.
  • No team with a 4 point cushion on Trade Day has collapsed and fallen out of the playoffs (although the 2008 Ottawa Senators almost pulled it off)
  • In recent years the bubble teams have increased their W% post-trade deadline which pushed up the number of points needed to get into 8th place.
  • In recent years the top two seeds have slacked off in the final weeks and coasted into the playoffs. But the #3 seed (at the Trade Deadline) has actually increased their W% each spring. Bubble teams sometimes have a higher W% post-Trade Deadline than the eventual #1 or #2 seeds.

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