Saturday, April 02, 2016

Destined to Draft Sixth: Flames On Track to Finish Second-Last in 'Sprint' for the Bottom

Note: This is a re-write of a story originally published on Friday. It has been updated to reflect two relevant and surprising results from Friday night: Vancouver's win in Honda Center because as Flames fans know, it's so easy to win there. Plus Winnipeg picking up a point against Chicago.

Six teams remain.

A glance at the NHL standings Saturday morning reveals that the 'chase' for 30th place has been reduced to six teams. Working our way West to East across the playoff-deprived Great White North, we have Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto.

Joining those five as an honorary Canadian territory in this back bacon basement battle are the Columbus Blue Jackets, who apparently didn't get the memo. Hey Torts, take off eh, ya hoser.

There's nobody else as the gap between the 25th place Canucks (71 points) and 24th place Sabres (75 points) for these particular cellar dwellers is just too vast with too few games remaining. That four-point separation is like the driving distance between Calgary and Winnipeg.

What this means for the Flames fans is with 98 percent certainty, they are assured of having a top-eight selection in the 2016 NHL Draft.

As for where in that top eight, that's where it really gets interesting. Now cross your fingers and keep on reading.

So, How Does It End?

I went through the remaining schedules for each of the six teams and after some pretty basic prognosticating, here's the order these six could end up finishing. That is, if from today through the end of the season, things unfold uneventfully and just as I've predicted.

25. Vancouver, 82 gm, 30-40-13 = 73 pts (26 ROW)
26. Calgary, 82 gm, 33-43-6 = 72 pts (31 ROW)
27. Edmonton, 82 gm, 32-43-7 = 71 pts (28 ROW)
28. Winnipeg, 82 gm, 31-44-8 = 70 pts (29 ROW)
29. Columbus, 82 gm, 31-43-8 = 70 pts (25 ROW)
30. Toronto, 82 gm, 28-43-11 = 67 pts (22 ROW)

Obviously, anything can happen as we've seen over the past week and a half with the Canucks and Oilers winning in San Jose, Vancouver rolling into Honda Center and picking up two points, the Jets beating Los Angeles and the Leafs defeating Anaheim. But, barring more surprise results on the out of town scoreboard combined with an unlikely four straight season-ending setbacks for the local hockey heroes, it will be difficult for the Flames to drop much further than 26th in the overall standings.

Remaining Skeds

The team-by-team results that generated the final standings above are broken down below. Each team's remaining games are listed along with my win/loss prediction for each.

I've also identified a 'key' game that is one to keep an eye on as well as an 'expect the unexpected' game. The latter is one that could yield an unexpected result and I explain why.

25. Vancouver Canucks

Today: 78 gm, 29-36-13 = 71 pts

79 - Monday, April 4, vs LA (L)
80 - Wednesday, April 6, at Edm (L)
81 - Thursday, April 7, at Cgy (L)
82 - Saturday, April 9, vs Edm (W)

Key Game - Oilers on April 9

The Canucks splitting their home-and-home with the Oilers could be the worst of outcomes for the Flames. While there's a chance Calgary could finish below both teams, there's also a risk that they could finish above both. The scenario that might be more favourable is the Flames hoping whoever wins April 6 then completes the sweep on April 9 and that should result in at least one team finishing ahead.

Expect the Unexpected - Flames on April 7

Plenty of unexpected just happened with the enigmatic Canucks scissoring a nine-game losing streak with wins on consecutive nights in California. So expecting more of the unexpected is easy and I look at that game against the Flames. Between Markus Granlund, Sven Baertschi (if he's back from his lower body injury) and Jake Virtanen, there are lots of Calgary connections and with that would come plenty of motivation.

26. Calgary Flames 

Today: 78 gm, 32-40-6 = 70 pts

79 - Saturday, April 2, at Edm (L)
80 - Tuesday, April 5, vs LA (L)
81 - Thursday, April 7, vs  Van (W)
82 - Saturday, April 9, at Min (L)

Key Game - Canucks on April 7

If the Oilers, who should be fired up for the final 'Battle of Alberta' instalment at Rexall, can prevail in that one, a couple rungs on the draft order ladder could be at stake when the Canucks roll into Calgary on Thursday. You know Micheal Ferland will be ready to go that night but who knows what to expect from the visitors. What we do know is a loss in that one could greatly benefit the Flames draft fortunes.

Expect the Unexpected - Wild on April 9

Despite how the last visit went when Niklas Backstrom was beaten six times in a not-so-friendly 6-2 rout by the Wild, the season finale in Minnesota doesn't necessarily set up the same way. Likely locked into their final placing by then, the Wild could rest some regulars that night including Devan Dubnyk, opening the window for a damaging Flames victory.

27. Winnipeg Jets

Today: 78 gm, 31-39-8 = 70 pts

79 - Sunday, April 3, vs Min (L)
80 - Tuesday, April 5, at Ana (L)
81 - Thursday, April 7, at SJ (L)
82 - Saturday, April 9, at LA (L)

Key Game - Ducks on April 5

Tasked with the most difficult schedule of the group, Winnipeg faces four tough and motivated opponents. However, a win in Anaheim to start off its three-game roadie through California could change the complexion significantly. Given how the Jets were ousted by the Ducks in the playoffs last year, one would assume Dustin Byfuglien and the boys will be fired up for that one.

Expect the Unexpected - Kings on April 9

If one of the Ducks or Kings pull away and make the finale in LA a meaningless affair for the home side, the Jets could pull out two points if coach Darryl Sutter opts to take advantage of the opportunity and rests some of his key cogs including Jonathan Quick.

28. Columbus Blue Jackets

Today: 77 gm, 30-39-8 = 68 pts

78 - Saturday, April 2, at Car (L)
79 - Monday, April 4, vs NYR (L)
80 - Wednesday, April 6, at Tor (W)
81 - Friday, April 8, at Buf (L)
82 - Saturday, April 9, vs Chi (L)

Key Game - Sabres on April 8

Especially if they're coming off a win in Toronto two nights earlier, a second straight victory against the Sabres (now without Robin Lehner) could really fire up the Blue Jackets and who knows, maybe a third straight win could follow the next day giving John Tortorella a reason to smile heading into the off-season.

Expect the Unexpected - Blackhawks on April 9

Same scenario as above. If Chicago has nothing to gain from that final game, expect Joel Quenneville to excuse a few regulars from the flight to Ohio (remember last year when the Flames left their top line at home for the finale) and that could set up nicely for Columbus, closing out the season in front of its home crowd.

29. Toronto Maple Leafs

Today: 77 gm, 28-38-11 = 67 pts

78 - Saturday, April 2, vs Det (L)
79 - Monday, April 4, vs Fla (L)
80 - Wednesday, April 6, vs Clb (L)
81 - Thursday, April 7, at Phi (L)
82 - Saturday, April 9, at NJ (L)

Key Game - Red Wings on April 2

It's a stretch of games against mostly teams with something to play for that could result in the final nails in the coffin of a 30th place finish. However, if Babcock can motivate his team to knock off his former club, perhaps that gives them a little juice for the final two games of the homestand.

Expect the Unexpected - Flyers on April 7

The Leafs could catch Philadelphia taking it easy if by that point if the Flyers are locked into their final placing by that point. That, along with the propensity of playoff-bound teams to take teams lightly sometimes, could result in Toronto pulling out an unexpected two points in the Wells Fargo Center.

30. Edmonton Oilers

Today: 79 gm, 30-42-7 = 67 pts

80 - Saturday, April 2, vs Cgy (W)
81 - Wednesday, April 6, vs Van (W)
82 - Saturday, April 9, at Van (L)

Key Game - Flames on April 2

There should be plenty of motivation to defeat the Flames in the final Calgary-Edmonton game at Rexall Place. However, a loss in that one and they'll have to stew about it for three days and that negativity and the looming potential of a last place finish could carry over into the back-to-back series with the Canucks.

Expect the Unexpected - Canucks on April 9

On the other hand, if they are coming off a pair of home wins, going to Vancouver and making it three straight victories to finish off the year would not be a surprise. The Oilers players have taken a lot of heat during another disappointing season. Getting comfortably out of the cellar and finishing as high as 25th place would be a moral victory.

Matthews, the Finns or Bust

There could be and inevitably will be some some surprise results along the way and you may have noticed that my predictions are entirely devoid of any three-point games. Nonetheless, for the purpose of this article I'm going to operate under the assumption the Flames will finish the season in 26th place as they are positioned today.

Based on all the variations of what could happen when the April 30 draft lottery takes place, here are the percentage odds of where Calgary could pick come the draft in June. I'd like to be able to say I worked out this math myself but in the immortal words of Jeff Spicoli, "I left that book in my locker, Mr. Hand."

Instead, I defer to for these calculations.

1. 8.5%
2. 8.8%
3. 9.0%
4. --
5. 9.1%
6. 35.5%
7. 25.5%
8. 3.7%

Note that if Calgary racks up a couple wins and climbs past Vancouver and back into 25th by season end, seventh pick becomes most likely (39.3%).

Inside the Percentages

For those not entirely familiar with the NHL draft lottery process that underwent a significant change last year and has been further modified this year in going from one team being picked in the lottery to three teams, here is some background on the above math, which is based on a 26th place finish for Calgary.
  • 8.5% Chance at Pick No. 1 - That's what it comes down to. That works out to around a 1-in-12 chance. Grab a full carton of 12 eggs, draw a smiley face on the bottom of one and put it back, then ask someone to pick an egg. If they pick the smiley face, you get Auston Matthews.
  • 26.3% Chance at a Top-Three Pick - It's roughly a 1-in-4 chance that Calgary would be one of the three teams pulled in the lottery. Make no mistake, the Flames would love a top-three pick as big Finnish right wingers Jesse Puljujärvi and Patrik Laine, ranked No. 2 and 3 by most, are exactly what they need. Grab a deck of cards, close your eyes and pick one. If you grab a diamond, congratulations.
  • Picking 6th is Most Likely - Of all the possible picks, 6th would be the most likely outcome with a 26th place finish. This scenario unfolds when two of the three teams selected in the lottery are teams that finished below Calgary in the standings and the other is a team that finished above them and gets to jump into the top three, bumping everyone else down one spot.
  • Less Than 4% Chance of Picking 8th - The only way Calgary could drop that far if they finish 26th is if all three teams selected in the lottery are teams that finished above the Flames in the standings. That's very unlikely considering the lottery odds for the teams 17th to 25th range from 1 to 7.5 percent. 

Factors Conspiring Against Calgary

As we enter this final stretch, the Flames are very much the underdog in the 'tank battle' as fans like to refer to it. With so few games remaining, there is little they can do to help their situation.

There will be pleas from desperate fans to play Jonas Hiller some more, thinking that the Swiss goalie's NHL-worst .879 save percentage is the path to more losses. But at this point, it's more about Calgary needing other teams to win and with some tough schedules ahead, not sure that will happen much the rest of the way. But then again, nobody saw Vancouver beating the Ducks on Friday either.

You can also put some blame on Johnny Gaudreau.

The other variable coming back to haunt the Flames is the volume of overtime wins. ROW is that column that comes to the forefront at this time of year as regulation/overtime wins is the first tie-breaker should point totals end up being even. Calgary owns the tie-breaker with all five of the other teams so the Flames need other teams to not just pull even with them, but move at least one point ahead.

With a few less 3-on-3 Gaudreau moments this year, more games would have gone to a shootout. In addition to a couple more points left on the table, that would have reduced the 'ROW' number and left Calgary in a less favourable tie-break position.

Mind you, there would have been far less excitement at the Saddledome if that happened and in a long and frustrating season in which there will be no NHL playoff hockey to watch live in Calgary, those great OT moments along the way should be savored, not lamented.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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1 comment:

  1. Flames will Finish 25th, draft 6th. I am betting Flames pick Juolevi, Nylander or Debrincat. Quote me on this after game 82, and after draft round 1