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Playoff probability: Do you believe in magic?

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Is it the Fates that rule us, or someone else entirely?

NHL: Florida Panthers at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

In our last look at probability and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ playoff chances, someone said something interesting in the comments. It was about fatalism or fate.

This is an old idea that all of us humans of various sorts seem to like to make stories about. In cultures heavily influenced by the Greeks, we have tales of three women who control the destiny of every person.

Bernardo Strozzi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

They spin the thread, measure it and then ultimately cut it. It’s a story about life and death and about the unpredictability of it all. Some outside force cuts the thread; we don’t control our future.

It’s also a story that says somewhere someone knows with perfect clarity how it will all come out. And as we very much discovered yesterday, people really do demand that of their fortunetellers to the point that any lime the longshot comes in, the whole system of odds-making falls into disrepute.

But the truth is thread cutting weavers who have formed the cloth of the future before we’ve lived it aren’t the Greek figures of myth we need. We need Hermes.

Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011) This file is licensed under the Creative Commons 

This is the god for us. He is, according to Wikipedia:

Hermes is considered a god of transitions and boundaries. He is described as quick and cunning, moving freely between the worlds of the mortal and divine. He is also portrayed as an emissary and messenger of the gods; an intercessor between mortals and the divine, and conductor of souls into the afterlife. He has been viewed as the protector and patron of herdsmen, thieves, oratory and wit, literature and poetry, athletics and sports, invention and trade, roads, boundaries and travelers.

So, he does zone entries and exits; he’s really fast and smart, and he gets through the neutral zone like no one else. He’s the god of sports, and he can help the team travel across all sorts of borders (so useful these days), not just blue lines.

I think we all realize Kasperi Kapanen bears more than a passing resemblance to Hermes, and that he has conferred that border crossing prowess onto his besty William Nylander. So obviously, the Leafs have secured the patronage of the right deity, and all is well.

So now that we have the supernatural on our side, let’s look at the math.

First, let’s jump back to the past and look at this points chart.

What I like about this style of chart is the error bars. Those are the lozenges on the right side at the end of each line and they show the range of high probability results from the model. Any probability model returns a range of possible outcomes centred on a mean. The line here is the mean. The lozenge covers a bigger range of what is most likely.

It’s a little difficult to see because the Atlantic is a knotted up set of threads—the Fates felt like leaving them in a tangle—but the entire blue lozenge is above the dotted line for the playoff cutoff. This was before last night’s win.

McCurdy’s model includes:

  • Unblocked shot generation at 5v5;
  • Unblocked shot suppression at 5v5;
  • Shot generation on the power-play;
  • Shot suppression while short-handed;
  • Team 5v5 goals per shot-on-goal ("shooting percentage");
  • Goaltender save percentage at 5v5;
  • Non-offsetting minor penalties, drawn and taken;
  • Rest; and
  • Home ice advantage.

MoneyPuck has his pies baked for us to sample and the two meaningful ones are:

As you can see, the Leafs share the chance with the Boston Bruins to hold the third place in the Atlantic and also the second wild card spot. The Leafs have a bigger share of third place chances and the Bruins the bigger shot at the wild card.

The third in the division chances only adds up to around 70 percent because both the Montréal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators have chances to drop to the spot. Montréal has not yet clinched a playoff spot, so a scenario exists, however unlikely, that they could miss the playoffs. It’s so small a chance that MoneyPuck’s data shows them at 100 percent. There is also a slim chance that the Lightning can get that third place spot as well.

The wild card chances are shared out with even more teams—the Hurricanes, the Lightning, the Islanders and a few others are all sharing it between them.

However, the most likely outcome by a large margin is that both Toronto and Boston make the playoffs. That is: the most likely thing to happen to the standings is nothing. Some times the status quo is more inevitable than change.


Do you believe in magic?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Of rock and roll? Yeah, okay.
    (101 votes)
  • 25%
    Kappy is obviously supernatural, so yes.
    (156 votes)
  • 9%
    How does a spreadsheet work, anyway? Magic.
    (60 votes)
  • 13%
    Magic sure, the Leafs winning? No way.
    (79 votes)
  • 34%
    What do you mean the Bruins are making the playoffs! How dare you say that!
    (210 votes)
606 votes total Vote Now