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Your brain probably doesn’t run on pure numbers: Maple Leafs playoff chances

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The Leafs face forward without fear. The rest of us are not so sure of things.

Montreal Canadiens v Toronto Maple Leafs

I grew up at the track. I knew before I could do the arithmetic what order the odds were ranked. Is 8 to 5 better than 2 to 1, that sort of thing. It might not be the most normal childhood, but it taught lessons.

One lesson was that there were people who would take their losing tickets up to the wickets, shout at the teller in rage, and toss the useless paper at the offending employee. They always threw with all the force their anger would allow them, and the paper would flutter like flower petals harmlessly to the floor.

The people who did this were not upset that the 10 to 1 long shot hadn’t come in. They were shouting in rage that the favourite had been beaten by a nose and they’d lost their bet. A favourite should win after all, they figured, so something was wrong. The race was fixed, or the odds were bad. Someone was at fault, and their anger needed an outlet.

These angry people were ejected from the premises. The women who worked the ticket wickets would stand silently and take the shouting until their tormentors were dragged off. That was the seventies, mind you. And the world has spun around the sun a few times since then, and now we live in a modern society where athletes think the world is flat. Progress!

I gave up caring about gamblers and their habits a long time ago, but the lessons stuck. The favourite doesn’t always win. The long shot does win sometimes, and how you feel about the horse doesn’t decide where it places.

One time, I asked my mother to bet two dollars for me on a horse because the buggy had red wheels. And I was so sure, I can feel this in my heart to this day, I was so sure that horse would come in even though it was long shot. It was the red I’d fallen for, not the odds of turning two dollars into many more. But even so, I understand how it feels to fall.

It didn’t win.

There’s a store near my house on this modern flat earth, and they cater to the lesser vices: cigarettes, junk food, lottery tickets.

The chance of winning any prize in the Lotto 649 is 1 in 6.6 or about 15%. That’s mostly made up of the probability of winning a free ticket. The money prizes, even the small ones, are much less likely to be won. The big prize is one in approximately 14 million.

And yet, I’ve never seen anyone walk up to the counter in that store and shout in a rage at the clerks who sell the tickets because they’ve won something. No one has ever thrown their winning ticket with all their angry might to flutter to the floor because they didn’t lose like they should have expected to. They aren’t irate beyond reason that the long shot came in.

Our brains don’t work on pure numbers.

We feel things so powerfully, we don’t just fall in love with the idea it might be right, we know it will. We know that horse with the red wheels will win.

We’re wrong.

Once we have eliminated the impossible, what’s left is our range of possible outcomes, and all of them may come true.

I never studied the sort of math that odds makers use. I can’t create a model and calculate a probability. I don’t catch my own mice either, I have cats for that. So I found a few guys who do calculate NHL playoff probability in different ways. And here we can get together and look at their best guesses about which possible outcome will come true.

Let’s see where we are at today, and I have a musical accompaniment for you:

Fist some of MoneyPuck’s pie:

The Leafs are now, thanks to the Sens, much more likely to get second than third! How fast things change when there are so many teams sharing the probability. This is what parity in the league was supposed to get us, and are we not losing our hair and feeling faint most of the time? The Leafs total probability at 91 points with five games to play is not yet at Wayne Gretzky. Almost.

Dom Luszczyszyn has similar numbers.

Losing is the easiest way to change that future for the worse. Winning gets you to paradise sooner.

Is it time yet to look beyond just making the playoffs? Is it time to start looking at matchups and probabilities for the playoff rounds? Do you want to know the Leafs’ probability of making the second round?

Poll

Have you looked beyond just making the playoffs yet?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Second place is there to be grabbed, forget just getting in.
    (732 votes)
  • 21%
    Those guys say there’s a 3% chance they miss, you know.
    (376 votes)
  • 7%
    The second round matchups are making me think things.
    (128 votes)
  • 29%
    What will Auston Matthews look like with a beard?
    (523 votes)
1759 votes total Vote Now